Pondering pestilence: Free Citizen Science lecture series at Bard


On New Year’s Eve, a bus driver in the Chinese city of Shenzhen, located just across a river from Hong Kong, died from the virus H5N1, commonly known as bird flu. The news must have unnerved a lot of people who saw the 2011 hit movie Contagion, in which a fast-mutating type of bird flu first surfaces near Hong Kong and ends up wiping out about a quarter of the world’s population within a matter of months.

The fear of pestilence is a valid one, with deep roots in human history; but it’s a fear frequently exaggerated and exploited by the media. One rather fanciful sci-fi theme – of extraterrestrial microbes arriving via meteorite to wreak havoc upon Earthlings utterly lacking any resistance to them – launched an extremely lucrative writing career for the late Michael Crichton with his first best-seller, The Andromeda Strain. But if some modern scientists are positing that nucleic acids from other worlds may have laid the foundation for life on Earth, then isn’t it also possible for a virus to hitch a ride on a bit of space debris?

If questions like these keep you up at night, you’ll definitely want to check out the lecture being presented on Wednesday, January 11 from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Sosnoff Theater of the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College. Dr. Arturo Casadevall, chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Division of Infectious Diseases, at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine will discuss “Mammals, Martians and Dinosaurs: Thoughts on the Origin of Microbial Virulence.”

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Dr. Casadevall’s talk is but one in the “Citizen Science” series being offered to the general public this month, free of charge. This innovative program for all Bard freshmen, involving three weeks of intensive study during January intersession, is intended to help students develop a core understanding of both the conduct and the content of science, preparing them as citizens to grapple with the ever-increasing number of national and global issues influenced by science. This year, Citizen Science will focus on infectious diseases: what they are; how they are transmitted; where they are most prevalent and why; and what we can do to reduce the global burden of disease.

On Thursday, January 12, Dr. Rebecca Goldin will present “Should You Believe It? A Mathematical Perspective on the Science of News,” also from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Sosnoff Theater. Goldin is director of research for Statistical Assessment Service (STATS). This lecture is sponsored by Citizen Science, the Women and Science Project, the Distinguished Scientist Lecture Series and the Mathematics Program at Bard College.

On Friday, January 13, Dr. Michael Kalos will present “The Translational Research Program at U Penn: An Academic Paradigm for Integrated Translational Research” from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Sosnoff Theater. Kalos is adjunct associate professor in Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, founding director of the Translational and Correlative Studies laboratory and a member of the Translational Research Program of the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

On Tuesday, January 17, Dr. Ronald Taylor will present “One Health: The Interplay of Human, Agriculture and Environmental Health” from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Sosnoff Theater. Taylor is professor of Microbiology and Immunology and director of the Microbiology and Molecular Pathogenesis Program (M2P2) at Dartmouth College.

Lastly, on Friday, January 20, Edna Bonhomme will present “Constructions of Race in North Africa 1820 and 1850: French Portrayals of the Indigenous in Popular and Scientific Texts” from 5 to 6 p.m. at the Lásló Z. Bitó ’60 Auditorium in the Gabrielle H. Reem and Herbert J. Kayden Center for Science and Computation. This lecture is co-sponsored by the Difference and Media Project at Bard College.

All of the guest lectures in the Bard College Citizen Science Program are free and open to the public; no reservations are necessary. For more information, contact Julie Cerulli at jcerulli@bard.edu or visit citizenscience.bard.edu/events.

 

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