Newsmakers

Science  06 Feb 2009:
Vol. 323, Issue 5915, pp. 695
  1. THREE Q'S

    CREDIT: SABIN VACCINE INSTITUTE

    In recent years, infectious diseases researcher Peter Hotez has advocated fighting disease to help bring peace and stability to countries ridden with conflict. Hotez, along with former U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy Thompson, reiterated that message in a January editorial in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, arguing that helping to vanquish neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) would advance U.S. foreign policy goals, including combating terrorism. Hotez is president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., which last week received a $34 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to fight NTDs.

    Q: Do conflicts and instability occur as a result of a high rate of disease, or is it the other way around?

    Studies have found that the higher the morbidity and mortality from infectious diseases, the greater the likelihood that the country is engaged in a conflict. NTDs play a role in conflicts because they have an adverse impact on agricultural productivity, education, future wage earnings, and other factors in destabilization.

    Q: Isn't it more important to tackle high-profile diseases such as HIV/AIDS?

    NTDs are the most common afflictions in the world's conflict areas as well as the most widespread infections among the world's poorest people. Control or elimination of several NTDs can be achieved for a fraction of the costs of treating HIV/AIDS or TB.

    Q: [Former HHS Secretary] Thompson contends that fighting disease can help fight terrorism. Isn't that a stretch?

    Any impact would be indirect. NTDs are destabilizing, and controlling outbreaks can help make countries stable and prosperous. Such “medical diplomacy” can improve our country's image abroad.

  2. AT THE MOVIES

    GETTING THE GOLD. The 1969 heist movie, The Italian Job, ends with the back end of the getaway vehicle dangling off a cliff. With a stack of gold bars in the rear of the bus and nine of the crew in the front, it looks like there's no way the thieves will be able to grab their loot and make it to safety before the bus plunges over the cliff. “Hang on, lads, I've got an idea,” says the gang's leader, played by Michael Caine, just before the credits roll.

    CREDIT: THE KOBAL COLLECTION/PARAMOUNT

    Last October, Britain's Royal Society of Chemistry launched a competition to find the best solution. The winner, from some 2000 entries, was John Godwin, an information specialist from Godalming, U.K. Godwin says he'd seen the film many times and had long ago worked out the solution. But to make sure, he did some calculations before submitting his entry. His answer: a combination of draining the rear gas tank, breaking selected windows, having one person climb out to deflate the front tires to decrease the chance of the bus rolling off the cliff, and then filling the front of the bus with stones to allow the thieves to remove the gold without sending the bus over the edge.

    “I'm very pleased the math worked,” says Godwin, whose prize is a trip for two to Turin, Italy, the site of the heist in the film.

  3. POLITICS

    PARDON MY FRENCH. French President Nicolas Sarkozy isn't known for playing nice. But a 22 January speech that savaged the nation's research effort marked a new low, according to French scientists already unhappy over a raft of ongoing reforms.

    CREDIT: UPI/LANDOV

    Sarkozy called the structure of France's research enterprise “disastrous” and said that its “weak universities, led by a finicky central government,” are “infantilizing and paralyzing creativity and innovation.” He also blasted French scientists for being far less productive than their British counterparts.

    “Sarkozy is a liar,” responded biologist Alain Trautmann of the researchers' movement Sauvons la Recherche, who noted that the speech had caused “shame and anger” among scientists. French unions had called to go on strike this week to halt the changes—including more autonomy for universities and a stronger role for university presidents—which have come fast and furious since 2007.

    Sarkozy is unlikely to be impressed. “Tired already?” he asked in his speech. “Really, 2 years of reforms, that should be bearable!”

  4. IN BRIEF

    Conrad Prebys, a San Diego, California, developer, has given $10 million to the Burnham Institute for Medical Research, a nonprofit with campuses in San Diego and Santa Barbara, California, and Orlando, Florida. The money will go to the institute's Center for Chemical Genomics, which was started last year with a grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The center, which now bears Prebys's name, aims to accelerate drug discovery by screening compounds to find pharmaceutical candidates.

  5. IN BRIEF

    NAS AWARDS. Eighteen scholars from across the sciences will receive prizes at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences in April for accomplishments such as figuring out the neural behavior of Caenorhabditis elegans, determining the age of the universe, and shaping the United States's science policy during the Clinton Administration. A full list of the winners is at http://www.nas.edu/.

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