Malaria, Zika and the Washington Monument

In 1882, in an address to the American Philosophical Society, the superbly named Albert Freeman Africanus King proposed that Congress encircle Washington DC with a wire mesh to the height of the Washington Monument to test his theory that mosquitoes were the cause of the malaria fevers then endemic to the post-antebellum city. Though born…

A “bug hunter’s” opinion

Archival research can be tedious at the best of times but every now and again Panacea smiles on our labours and presents us with a gift from the medical gods. How else to explain this wonderfully acerbic 1926 letter from Hans Zinsser that I found recently at the Countway Library in Boston. Addressed to the…

Republic of Empathy

When Mitt Romney was caught on camera writing-off 47 per cent of Americans as tax avoiders, Democrats were quick to jump on his remarks as an example of the Republicans’ ‘empathy deficit’. Since Barack Obama identified a lack of empathy as the cause of America’s bitter partisan divides, a series of studies have purported to…

Apocalypse When?

To the BBC for a discussion on the coming Apocalypse (nothing like a cheery start to the New Year). In case you hadn’t heard, the world is due to end on 21 December 2012, at least if you subscribe to the Mayan long-count calendar. What, wondered a bright young BBC Wales producer pondering the vacuum…

The Contagious Moment

As the credits roll at the end of Rise of the Planet of the Apes a jet carrying a pilot infected with a deadly brain virus traverses the screen. The pilot has already coughed up blood in the departure terminal at San Francisco International airport so we know that the prognosis for mankind is not…