TWiV 258 letters

Joe writes:

Dear TWIV-cats,

I enjoyed your lively discussion on the veracity (or not) of scientific research and wanted to chip in.

I think it’s important to recognise the limitations placed on Science by technology. Our observations are only as good as the instruments we use to make them.

For example to our distant forebears it made intuitive sense that the sun revolves around the earth, it seems “true”; we can, after all, see it with our own eyes. It wasn’t until Galileo used his telescope to track the moons of Jupiter that the true nature of the solar system was accepted.

I use advanced microscopy to study viruses and this is another good example. Using standard fluorescence microscopy a virus could be seen to co-localise with a cellular protein, and you may interpret that they are in the same place or even interacting. However, in this case the resolution of the instrument is limited by the diffraction of light.

Advanced techniques such as super-resolution fluorescence microscopy or electron microscopy can see beyond this limit and may reveal that although the virus and protein are in the same cellular compartment they are very much distinct.

It is not so much that the original observation is “false”, more that the high resolution observation is more “true”. In this way, advances in technology may allow us to incrementally refine our “truths”, although it is arguable whether this process could ever be brought to conclusion, allowing us to reach a solid gold TRUTH.

As an aside I’d like to throw in this quote from scientific deity Richard Feynman;

“I have found out how hard it is to get to really know something, how careful you have to be about checking the experiments, how easy it is to make mistakes and fool yourself. I know what it means to know something….”

I suggest we all think “what would Feynman do” and Science will be just fine.


Joe, London

Mark writes:

Hi TWiVers,

I enjoyed your email episode #252. Regarding DJ’s letter on anti-vaccination sentiment, and your panel’s discussion, here is a video supporting vaccination: It is a slight mildly satiric parody of the anti-vaccs movement. Be sure to read to subtitles in the last few scenes.

All the best.

Cassie writes:

Hello Professors TWiV!

I know you all are always on the hunt for science related geekery, and I didn’t know if anyone had run across this!

I just bought the ‘pandemic risk’ shirt for myself and it’s super soft and comfy.

It’s 88F/32C, 60% humidity here in Austin, TX. The end of a beautiful clear sunny day :)

Thanks for all you do!

Peter writes:

Hi twivvers!

I would like to commend to you episode 101 of the Brain Science Podcast, by Dr Virginia Campbell, Synapse Evolution with Seth Grant,

I don’t know where to submit this, as a listener pick, as the connection is at the ribosome level. It could be any TWIx. But, like weather sites, it is just cool. (BTW, beautiful spring night here in Sydney, Australia, 19 Celsius at 10pm and calm).

This BSP episode is the best single podcast episode I have ever experienced. And I am a podcast listener.

So, what’s so special about this podcast?

1. A full and satisfying explanation of where our brains came from, in evolution, starting with the first multi-celled organisms. To the ribosome level.

2. It turns out, maybe/probably, mental illness is the price we pay to have evolution.

3. A lot more.

Vincent, when I first saw you on video I was shocked: you look nothing like you sound. But, I like your stick (sp?). I watched quite a bit of the live episode 250 with Robert Garcea, and I was very impressed. You are so natural.

Back to the point, I think this is one podcast episode every citizen of planet earth should listen to. It is about more than the subject matter: it is about what is possible.

I will try to record this as an mp3 tomorrow, and send it in as well. It’s just that the link would need to be in the show notes. As it would regardless, i suppose.



Robin writes:

Homo calidus paucisapiens?

Dumbest people mess up the world the most?

Actually, the ones who mess up the world the most are the ones who are smart, but not wise enough on how to use those smarts: Homo calidus paucisapiens.

Humanity has successively defeated each limit to increasing human biomass, through technological innovations, cumulated through cultural transmission, from the first modification of “sticks & stones” to the Principles of Virology, allowing an overshoot of the population well beyond the carrying capacity absent fossil fuels:

Thermodynamic Footprints

This has also been discussed in

“Too Smart for our Own Good: The Ecological Predicament of Humankind” by Craig Dilworth, who also has a free online synopsis

“Overpopulation and the Vicious Circle Principle”:

Podcasts for Christopher the physical therapist in Idaho?

Sam writes:

Hi TWIVers, I’m an interested layman who’s recently picked up your podcast. I’ve been fascinated by science all my life so I am familiar with most of the subjects you talk about, but as a non-virologist I do find the discussion going over my head on a regular basis – and that’s great! I learn new things about the astounding world of life every time I listen to TWIV/P/M.

I write to you from Tucson AZ where it is now 89 degrees with 11% humidity – a lovely fall day with a touch of chill in the air by desert standards :D.

My email is prompted by an article I’m reading (, which discusses the relevance of “domesticated” viral genomes, which must have invaded a germ cell line in the ancient past, to cancer. Some podcasts ago you talked about the association between bacteriophage viruses and mucus, with the paper under discussion finding that mucus was well adapted to host phage virus as an effective defense against infection bacteria. I wondered at the time, could it be that these phage viruses aren’t environmental in origin, but are expressed by animal cells? It seemed implausible that a virus which infects bacteria would end up as part of an animal germ cell line, but in the fullness of time I suppose it might happen, and if it did it would give its descendants a decisive advantage vs bacterial infections. What are your thoughts?

Thanks again for the awesome podcast, Sam

David writes:

Dear Vincent, Kathy, Dickson, Alan, and Rich,

I started listening to TWIV about 3 months ago in anticipation of my retirement next July (finally driven by the lack of funding from the bench where I have continued to work ) and my initial sense that TWIV is even better than the journal clubs we have around here. I have not been disappointed. The science is great, whether virology or other. Just as important, the interplay among you models the kinds of relationships that should serve to help recruit young listeners who may mistakenly think that there is not enough “social” in a scientific career.

On TWIV 253, Vincent said that the oral polio vaccine is delivered in three doses because only one serotype will establish infection and confer protection at a time. I learned that multiple doses are given in case the recipient has an active heterologous viral infection of the gut, as that too could prevent a “take.” Clearly both these things cannot be true, because if they were the frequency of vaccine failure against at least one type would be significant. Or maybe this kind of failure is common, and we don’t notice because the vaccine strains circulate in a vaccinated population and so one might just acquire the missing immunity a little bit later upon environmental exposure.

Please comment.

It’s 14° C (57° F) with overcast skies and light rain here in Chocolatetown.

Special shout outs to Kathy, who I’ve known for more years than she may want to acknowledge, and to Vincent who visited us not so long ago.

Keep up the good work.


David J. Spector, Ph. D

Professor of Microbiology and Immunology

Department of Microbiology H107

College of Medicine

Penn State Hershey

Mark Pallansch replies:

The rationale for OPV is as you stated (the more doses the better). For IPV it is actually the absence of enough convincing data that 2 doses are adequate for protection in a high enough percentage of the population (clearly is 90+%), whereas 3 doses is 99+% in the US and Europe. The second IPV issue is the need for a booster, i.e., a third (or fourth dose) separated from the primary doses by a period of at least 6 months. All of these uncertainties of number of doses and timing has led to a plethora of schedules for routine IPV use globally. See Figure 4 and Table IV in attached. No optimal approach in sight.

Stephen writes:

This Nature News piece includes a nice explanation of “natural” RNAi.

Nature News, Published online: 10 October 2013; | doi: 10.1038/nature.2013.13600

Todd writes:

Hi gang!

After the high praise given to this book by many of the Twivvers. I downloaded the audiobook and listened to it over a lengthy daily commute I had to endure last fall.

I loved it! Now its soon to be a 6 part mini series by Ken Burns on PBS.

Cheers, Todd in Northern Colorado.