Dying to Preserve Life: the Risks of Fighting Ebola

The Ebola outbreak in Africa is an unprecedented epidemic of one of the world’s deadliest viruses. Doctors and scientists are working furiously to try to stem the tide of the epidemic, by putting measures in place to prevent infection, isolating and treating those who have been infected and attempting to develop more effective treatments.

A paper published in Science two days ago analyzed the genetic data of the 2014 Ebola patients and concluded that the 2014 outbreak can be traced back to one individual who was infected from the “natural reservoir” of the Ebola virus, which is to say, the natural host of the Ebola virus. The paper ends with this:

In memoriam: Tragically, five co-authors, who contributed greatly to public health and research efforts in Sierra Leone, contracted EVD in the course of their work and lost their battle with the disease before this manuscript could be published. We wish to honor their memory.

Science, sometimes, is dangerous.

Kardashian Index, Revisited

A couple weeks ago, I posted a quick blurb about the Kardashian Index, a tongue-in-cheek attempt to measure whether a scientist is more of a celebrity than a scientist. My friend Emily pointed out to me the vast array of reactions to the Kardashian Index in the scientific community, ranging from harsh criticism to arguing that the Index is sexist by nature to outright dismissal to lighthearted (or more heavy handed) ribbing. One scientist blogger took a different angle: the Kardashian Index ignores how Twitter and other social media platforms are tools for scientists to connect, collaborate, or just have lives outside of science. You know, like outside of a lab.

The whole idea of the Kardashian Index does raise a better question: how does one measure the effectiveness and impact of a scientist? Emily is “solidly on the side of” Tommaso Dorigo at Science 2.0, who espouses the Hirsch Index. In the Hirsch Index, the h-number is the number of papers a scientist has published that have received the same number of citations. For example, if your h-number is 2, you have published 2 papers, each of which has been cited at least 2 times in other scientific papers. The higher your number, the higher your impact as a scientist. There are drawbacks to the Hirsch Index, much as there are with any metrics (think batting average versus on-base percentage if you’re into baseball, or interceptions that aren’t the quarterback’s fault if you’re into football). And there are other ways to measure the impact of a scientist. Even Google made one.

Even if it didn’t solve anything, the Kardashian Index sure did create a lot of discussion.