Super-spreading, mobility and crowding

I still see quite a few journalists in India refer to “super-spreaders” vis-à-vis the novel coronavirus – implying that some individuals might be to blame for ‘seeding’ lots of new infections in the community – instead of accommodating the fact that simply breathing out a lot of viruses doesn’t suffice to infect tens or hundredsContinue reading “Super-spreading, mobility and crowding”

Powerful microscopy technique brings proteins into focus

Cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) as a technology has become more important because the field that it revolutionised – structural biology – has become more important. The international scientific community had this rise in fortunes, so to speak, acknowledged when the Nobel Prize for chemistry was awarded to three people in 2017 for perfecting its use toContinue reading “Powerful microscopy technique brings proteins into focus”

Spray and pray – the COVID-19 version

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is the head of Biocon, a company headquartered in Bengaluru and which has repurposed a drug called itolizumab – already approved to help manage severe chronic psoriasis in different markets – to manage cytokine release syndrome (CRS) in COVID-19 patients. Setting aside CRS’s relevance in the COVID-19 pathology (considering it is currently inContinue reading “Spray and pray – the COVID-19 version”

India’s missing research papers

If you’re looking for a quantification (although you shouldn’t) of the extent to which science is being conducted by press releases in India at the moment, consider the following list of studies. The papers for none of them have been published – as preprints or ‘post-prints’ – even as the people behind them, including manyContinue reading “India’s missing research papers”

Super-spreads exist, but do super-spreaders?

What does the term ‘super-spreader’ mean? According to an article in the MIT Tech Review on June 15, “The word is a generic term for an unusually contagious individual who’s been infected with disease. In the context of the coronavirus, scientists haven’t narrowed down how many infections someone needs to cause to qualify as a superspreader, butContinue reading “Super-spreads exist, but do super-spreaders?”

Questions we should be asking more often

1. Okay, but where’s the money coming from? In a lecture at the Asian College of Journalism, where I was in the audience as a student, P. Sainath told us that if we needed one rule following which we’d be able to produce good stories, it’s “follow the money”. It’s remarkable how often this suggestionContinue reading “Questions we should be asking more often”

The number of deaths averted

What are epidemiological models for? You can use models to inform policy and other decision-making. But you can’t use them to manufacture a number that you can advertise in order to draw praise. That’s what the government’s excuse appears to be vis-à-vis the number of deaths averted by India’s nationwide lockdown. When the government saysContinue reading “The number of deaths averted”

The WHA coronavirus resolution is not great for science

On May 19, member states of the WHO moved a vote in the World Health Assembly (WHA), asking for an independent investigation into the sources of the novel coronavirus. Their exact demands were spelled out in a draft resolution that asked the WHO to, among other things, “identify the zoonotic source of the virus andContinue reading “The WHA coronavirus resolution is not great for science”

Nitin Gadkari, tomato chutney and blood

There is a famous comedy scene in Tamil cinema, starring the actors Vadivelu and ‘Bonda’ Mani. Those who understand Tamil should skip this awkward retelling – intended for non-Tamil speakers, to the video below and the post after. Vadivelu has blood all over his face due to an injury when ‘Bonda’ Mani walks up toContinue reading “Nitin Gadkari, tomato chutney and blood”

In conversation with Sree Srinivasan

On May 1, I was hosted on a webinar by the American journalist Sree Srinivasan, along with Anna Isaac of The News Minute and Arunabh Saikia of Scroll.in. As part of his daily show on the COVID-19 crisis, hosted by Scroll.in, Srinivasan hosts a few people working in different areas, and they all chat about what they’re doing andContinue reading “In conversation with Sree Srinivasan”

Avoiding ‘muddled science’ in the newsroom

On April 23, I was part of a webinar called ProtoCall, organised by Pro.to with the support of International Centre for Journalists and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. It happens once a week and is hosted by Ameya Nagarajan and Nayantara Narayanan. Every week there’s a theme which, together with the discussion around it, isContinue reading “Avoiding ‘muddled science’ in the newsroom”

Time and the pandemic

There is this idea in physics that the fundamental laws of nature apply the same way for processes moving both forwards and backwards in time. So you can’t actually measure the passage of time by studying these processes. Where does our sense of time, rather the passage of time, come from then? How do weContinue reading “Time and the pandemic”