Category Archives: Interview

Episode 52: Kate O’Brien On Vaccines & Social Justice

This week, Nina is joined by International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health) Advocacy and Communications Specialist Swati Sudarsan as they interview Kate O’Brien, Executive Director of the International Vaccine Access Center. Did you know vaccines can address social justice? In this episode, Kate explains that the children around the world who have the least access to vaccines suffer the most from vaccine preventable diseases – but she aims to change that. First on her list is an evaluation of the full benefits of vaccines, in an analysis she calls the “full public health value of vaccines.” She explains that vaccines not only prevent disease in an immunized child, but it can protect the people around them, can help families avert the costs of hospitalization from disease, and can even reduce an emerging crisis – antibiotic resistance.

Kate is a sitting member of the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE), which advises the World Health Organization on global vaccine policy, and serves on the Gavi Board representing the Technical and Research constituency. She is a senior advisor at the Center for American Indian Health, and of course, a beloved professor in the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

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A special thank you to Swati Sudarsan and Rose Weeks from IVAC for production help.

Episode 51: Peter Hotez on Vaccine Hesitancy


Last time on PHU Podcast, we spoke about vaccine confidence with Heidi Larson and Pauline Paterson. On our latest podcast, Nina speaks with Dr. Peter Hotez on a related topic: vaccine hesitancy. Vaccine confidence and hesitancy are related but different issues. Think: opposite sides of the same coin. Vaccine hesitancy describes the idea that people are unsure about whether to get vaccinated (and they may be pro- or anti-vaccine). According to the WHO, vaccine hesitancy is caused by any of the 3 C’s: complacency, convenience and confidence. Note that this only refers to scenarios in which vaccines are readily available to the person.

Peter Hotez is well known for his science communication and advocacy efforts on vaccines–which have been motivated and inspired both by his daughter, who has autism, and his long research career in vaccine development for neglected tropical diseases.  Peter is has a long list of jobs including:

  • Founding dean  at the National School of Tropical Medicine
  • Professor of Pediatrics and Molecular Virology & Microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine
  • Texas Children’s Hospital Endowed Chair of Tropical Pediatrics
  • Director of Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development
  • Baker Institute Fellow in Disease and Poverty at Rice University.
  • Co-founder, Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases in 2006 as part of the Clinton Global Initiative.
  • Founding Editor-in-Chief of PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases
  • 2014-2016 United States Science Envoy

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New podcast! Episode 48: Laurie Garrett On Outbreaks and Science Journalism

Laurie Garrett

Our latest podcast guest, Laurie Garrett, is an award winning science journalist (she has won all three major journalism awards: the Peabody, the Pulitzer, and the Polk) and  a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.  I first heard about Laurie back in 2000 when I read her book, “The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance.” Among many accomplishments, she’s well known for chronicling the Ebola outbreak both in the 90’s and more recently.  In this episode, Laurie tells us some of her stories from the frontline of outbreak science journalism and some challenges she sees for the global community in preparing for the next pandemic.

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New Podcast: Vincent Munster, Frontline Global Health Scientist

Me Steve Vincent Munster
Me, Steve, & Vincent at the American Society for Virology 2016 Annual Conference, Virginia Tech

Learn what it’s like to be a scientist on the frontlines of viral outbreaks like MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome) and Ebola with our guest Dr. Vincent Munster, Chief, Virus Ecology Unit at Rocky Mountain Labs at the National Institutes of Health. The Virus Ecology Unit combines traditional bench work at their state of the art facilities in Montana with work right where the outbreaks are happening, like Africa, the Middle East, and the Caribbean.  Vincent was on the frontlines of the Ebola outbreak in Africa & was part of the unit to test patients for the virus. His lab also does research into MERS, including a transmission blocking vaccine for camels, and development of mouse & monkey models. We also feature friend & colleague Stephen Goldstein, PhD candidate working on MERS in the lab of Susan Weiss at the University of Pennsylvania. This was recorded at the American Society for Virology annual meeting at Virginia Tech.

Tune in to hear Vincent’s story on what it was like to be a scientist in Africa at the height of the Ebola outbreak and his cutting edge work on MERS. Truly an inspirational scientist who’s focusing on improving global health!

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Check us out on iTunes here.
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1) Viral Ecology Unit NIH profile (includes more info on Vincent)
2) NIH Laboratory of Virology, Heinz Feldmann, Profile
3) Centers for Disease Control info page on MERS
4) World Health Organization info page on MERS
5) MERS & Camels summary by Vincent Racaniello
6) Susan Weiss Faculty Page, Penn
7) CDC “About Ebola”
8) Ebola Outbreak Map 2014

Me Steve Vincent Munster night



New podcast! “The Man. The Myth. The Legend. Ron Fouchier on Science Communication”

Recorded June 23, 2014 at the American Society For Virology annual meeting in Fort Collins, Colorado.

 Please click here to access the podcast or subscribe on iTunes here.

Episode Description:
Talking about viruses, and in particular influenza virus (or flu), to the lay public remains an extremely difficult area of science reporting. Bad science communication regarding flu can be devastating–if we can’t get the right information to the public and get their support, then public health progress could be set back decades, risking the lives of many people. It’s really important to keep flu research going as so much about the disease and the underlying cause (= the virus) remains a mystery. Moreover, an effective vaccine or antiviral treatment remain elusive.

If you’ve followed science news in the last 3 years, you’ve most likely heard of Dr. Ron Fouchier and his research on understanding how bird flu spreads and if it’s possible for it to change into a form that can be passed between people. Voted one of Time Magazine’s “World’s 100 Most Influential People of 2012”, Fouchier shares with us his side of the avian H5N1 flu research controversy that catalyzed a frenzy of (bad) science reporting in 2011-2013. What made this research so controversial? Did the press misrepresent Fouchier? What has he learned about science communication during this process? For these answers and more insights into how the American press failed us, check out this podcast.

Show links:
Youtube video by Ron explaining the importance of his work and why it’s safe
Origin of H5N1 Storm by Vincent Racaniello
Dr. Ron Fouchier’s profile at Erasmus Medical Center
Second Flu Paper Published” by Ed Yong in Nature (great summary of the “conclusions” to this leg of the story as of 2012)
Scientists Brace For Media Storm Around Controversial Flu Studies” by Martin Enserink
WARNING: WORST KIND OF SCIENCE WRITING: “An engineered doomsday” editorial in the New York Times
Thanks for your continued support! Nina

New podcast! “Reducing Gun Violence In America with Dr. Daniel Webster”

I have often debated about whether guns should be banned or not…but I never considered the possibility that these conversations are actually impeding the progress of policies that help reduce gun violence.  And yes, it’s gun violence that we are all really concerned about–not whether or not guns should be allowed in society.

Our latest episode features Dr. Daniel Webster, Director of the Center For Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. Dr. Webster discusses how these conversations on whether guns should be banned or not (which are usually based on morals, anecdotes, and passions–not actual facts) are harming good gun policy progress and points out the kinds of research and policies that have been most helpful in reducing gun violence. It’s important to realize that focusing discussions on banning guns isn’t actually helping to reduce gun violence in America.  Yet another example of how bad communication can harm public health progress!

Please click here to access the podcast or subscribe via iTunes here.

Show links:

Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health

JHSPH profile for Dr. Daniel Webster

“Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy With Evidence and Analysis” free eBook edited by Daniel Webster and Jon Vernick; Forward by Michael Bloomberg

New podcast is up! “Importance of Basic Science & Its Communication With Kyle McLean”

Our latest guest, Kyle McLean, is a wealth of science knowledge and lore. In this episode, Kyle discusses the pitfalls of putting the majority of public funding into translational or applications-based research instead of basic science. Kyle also tells Nina’s favorite story of science communication gone awry when poor communication of data led to the destruction of the space shuttle Challenger and all of its occupants. Kyle ends with explaining how we scientists need to put more thought into how we present our data and to better adapt our presentations to fit the audience.

Click here to listen to the podcast or left click to download. We are also available on iTunes.

Show Links (thanks to Kyle McLean):

Check out Kyle’s blog: The Hundredth Monkey

Edward Tufte’s homepage — lots of stuff here including deals on his books and details of his (exceptional!) seminars

An essay by Tufte about the Powerpoint slide that blew up Columbia

A summary of Tufte’s thoughts on Challenger on somebodies blog– it has some of Tufte’s original images

The Thiokol engineer’s chart sent to NASA to try to convince them to stop the launch

A scan (not by us!) of the Tufte book chapter detailing the challenger issue complete with (hard to see) figures

Fire and Mello paper that was cited as being the basis of the nobel prize but yet was not picked up as being important by the media:

Breakthrough Prize home page:

An example of the media coverage of the breakthrough prize, this one from Vanity Fair. Not one scientist or his/her discovery is mentioned.

The two papers identifying HIV as the agent associated with GRID/AIDS came out in May 1983, not 1982 as I said for all the world to hear.

Follow Your Nose: Interview With Diane Griffin

If you are looking for a female role model, look no further than our latest interview with Diane Griffin, MD/PhD.  Griffin is Chair of the Department of Molecular Microbiology & Immunology at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health (yep, Nick & Nina’s home) and Vice President of the National Academy of Sciences. If you want to be impressed (and shocked), listen to her talk about how she decided one day to apply to medical school and three days later took the MCATs without studying (and got into Stanford University’s medical school). Truly an inspiration and leader of science. Check out her laboratory research into measles and Sindbis virus here.

For your convenience, we have broken up the interview into two 30 min blocks.

In Part 1, Griffin explains how lucky opportunities brought her from a small liberal arts college in the rural Midwest to being an honored head of a very unique and interdisciplinary research department.
In Part 2, Nina and Griffin have a great discussion on who should be responsible for science communication, including how parents and educators should keep science exciting and focused on questions, rather than pure memorization. Griffin also explores her role as Chair of MMI and the goals of the department –including what she hopes students learn from the program.
Diane Griffin and Me


Nobels, Impersonations, & Talking Science on the Colbert Report: Interview 2 with Peter Agre

“Nobels, Impersonations, & Talking Science on the Colbert Report.” Interview 2 with Dr. Peter Agre, 2003 winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Dr. Agre is the head of the Malaria Research Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and you can check out a short biography here. Check out Peter on the Colbert Report here. I think he held his own really well against Colbert!

In this episode, Peter relives the day he won the Nobel followed by a discussion on mentors, the Colbert Report and talking religion/science with the public, and why more scientists should be involved in politics. Peter also gives Nina some valuable life advice at the end.

Access the podcast here. Click to listen, right click to download.

peter agre and me