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Linkage 4/23: Bill Gates & Swine Flu’s Birthday

Bill Gates walks across the University of Chicago campus April 20, 2010. (Photo by Jason Smith)

Bill Gates walks across the University of Chicago campus April 20, 2010. (Photo by Jason Smith)

A College Dropout Returns to Campus

The per capita income of Hyde Park experienced a brief spike on Tuesday as Microsoft founder/billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates paid a campus visit as part of his three-day college tour. After meeting with students and professors – including a walk-and-chat with Kevin White, pictured at left – Gates spoke and answered questions in a building named for another ultra-wealthy benefactor, the Rockefeller Chapel.

As Gates’ first college tour since resigning from Microsoft to focus full-time on his Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the focus was less on technology and more on the humble task of solving the world’s problems. With only a limited amount of time to speak, Gates focused on two priority areas for his foundation: child mortality and education. On the former point, Gates highlighted the vast differences between the wealthy world and the poor world in childhood death rates, with less than one percent of children dying before the age of 5 in rich countries while the death rate for young children remains around 20 percent in the third world. Vaccines are a big part of that change, Gates argued, which is why his foundation recently sunk another $10 billion into vaccination efforts around the world.

Interestingly, Gates said he once worried whether reducing infant mortality in developing countries could lead to more problems in terms of overpopulation and resource scarcity. But in fact, Gates said, studies have found that better health leads to smaller families, as parents choose to have fewer children when the chances of them living to adulthood increases.

You can find more coverage of Gates’ visit at the University of Chicago News Office.

A Year of Swine Flu

Hard to believe it was only one year ago that the world first learned to be afraid of the collection of letters and numbers known as H1N1. As a newspaper reporter at the time, I recall being impressed by the speed of the outbreak – not the virus outbreak, mind you, but the outbreak of media hysteria over the virus. For sure, there was reason to be alarmed about the novel H1N1 influenza, especially in the early days when the epidemiology was sketchy at best and seemed full of dire warning signs. But the leap from “new mysterious flu strain” to “1918 Pandemic Redux!!!” happened almost overnight, and spread far more quickly than the actual virus. I found myself writing “calm down, everybody” articles almost from the time I was put on the story, as the flu experts I interviewed balanced their concerns with a healthy dose of scientific skepticism.

Of course, as H1N1 ended up being far less deadly than the more pessimistic forecasts originally predicted, the media questions began to wonder whether the scientific and public health communities had overreacted. That could be debated, but it’s more interesting to look at the H1N1 response by cities, countries, and global health organizations as a sort of pandemic fire drill, an opportunity to find places that sorely need improvement. That’s the most disturbing takeaway from this Nature News roundup of what we know about H1N1 one year later. In particular, see the last figure showing that vaccines arrived precisely too late to make a difference in Southern Hemisphere countries experiencing heavy transmission, despite a vaccine production and distribution process that appeared to be working at maximum speed.

There’s also interesting information about the future of H1N1: far from running its course, the virus has become the dominant influenza strain in the world, and scientists say there’s a chance of further mutation that could make it more dangerous. There’s also a nice perspective-changing point about how severe the first year of H1N1 was – in terms of total deaths, it was mild, but if you calculate by “years of life lost,” the virus’ stronger effects in young adults made quite a difference relative to seasonal flu.

There’s more on swine flu’s birthday from Steve Sternberg at USA Today, and a ton of data and material looking back at the virus and global response at the World Health Organization.

Elsewhere…

Do highly-trained Navy SEALS use more or less of their brain in responding to threats? A study that tested the question using fMRI brain imaging found an interesting answer, nicely reviewed by the Neuroskeptic blog. It’s an important reminder for all fMRI studies that “increased brain activity” ≠ “good.”

Vaughan Bell at MindHacks talks about a study that used YouTube videos of people experimenting with the hallucinogenic plant salvia divinorum as a survey of the drug’s effects.

The New York Times Magazine profiles Psycho-Babble, a message board started by University of Chicago clinical associate of psychiatry Robert Hsiung for patients to discuss their experiences with different drugs prescribed for mental illness.

About Rob Mitchum (514 Articles)
Rob Mitchum is communications manager at the Computation Institute, a joint initiative between The University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory.
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