One of the best parts about putting out a publication is hearing from readers. We value every piece of feedback we get —even letters that take us to task for an oversight or error. Sad to say, since we value accuracy as well, there are two such letters in this issue. But, looking on the bright side, we know that what we put out is read closely, that our readers are well-informed, and that they care enough to take the time to correct us when we make a (thankfully occasional) mistake. That means a lot to us. We have no plans to insert strategically placed errors to generate future letters, however!
In the Winter 2004 issue, on page 11, there are some seriously erroneous figures in the box titled "Vaccine victories." I feel compelled to correct them, since you mentioned my name, along with John Modlin's, at the foot of the box.
First of all, you list "Year the measles vaccine was developed" as 1964. Actually, the vaccine was developed between 1956 and 1961 and gained licensure in this country in 1963.
Secondly, you list the "Number of people worldwide who died of measles in 1962" as 503,282. Actually, according to the World Health Organization, there were more than 8 million children alone who died of measles in 1962! Then you list the "Number of people worldwide who died of measles in 1998" as 89. Again according to the World Health Organization, over 800,000 children died of measles in 1998. Although this was a remarkable improvement, we still have a long way to go to reduce measles morbidity and mortality throughout resourcepoor nations. There are collaborative projects under way, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, to reduce these numbers, but it will be many years, if ever, before we are fortunate enough to reach a figure lower than 100 annual deaths.
Forgive me for intruding on your usually highly reliable and excellent publication which, as an alumnus, I read regularly. However, as one who was involved in the research and development of the measles vaccine, I regret that we have yet to achieve the global success that you have portrayed.
Samuel L. Katz, M.D.
DC '48, DMS '50
Chapel Hill, N.C.
We are most chagrined by these errors, especially given Dr. Katz's notable role in developing the measles vaccine. Now an emeritus professor of pediatrics at Duke, he began his career in the lab of Nobel Laureate John Enders, performing the crucial attenuation of the measles virus.
Our error in the year of the vaccine's development came about because the date was wrong in the source we checked, and we didn't double-check it. The errors regarding the number of deaths were, we regret to say, ours alone; the mistake was not in the numbers, however, but in the descriptive text—503,282 and 89 were American rather than worldwide deaths for those years (a footnote to that effect in the source we used got overlooked in the press of deadlines).
Despite the apparent evidence to the contrary (note the following letter as well), we fact-check our contents as thoroughly as our small staff allows. And we appreciate our readers' understanding when we make an occasional slip.
Crow pie, part II
The "Editor's Note" in the Winter issue of Dartmouth Medicine quotes Isaac Asimov and describes him as "not a scientist." The lack of Asimov's scientific credentials would have been a surprise to Boston University Medical School, which hired him to teach biochemistry from 1949 to 1958, and also to Columbia University, which had granted him a Ph.D. in chemistry the year before he joined the BU faculty. See this website.
The "Editor's Note" also describes Asimov as "Russianborn." While it is true that he was born in Russia, he left there when he was four years old, so his formative years were spent in the United States. So why the mention of his Russian birth?
Otherwise I enjoy reading Dartmouth Medicine. I am not a part of the medical community but am of the Upper Valley community.
Editor Dana Cook Grossman responds: My description of Asimov as only a writer was based on his biographical entry in Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. He's described there as an "American (Russianborn) writer." I clearly should have looked further than that capsule description before assuming he was only a writer. And I actually had "Russian-born American" in my original draft, but in the process of copy-fitting condensed it to just "Russian-born"—which, although not wrong, I admit is not the "whole truth." But interestingly, speaking of whole truths, the Web site that Buell mentions notes that "on July 1, 1958, [Asimov] became a fulltime writer. (He was fired, he said, for choosing to be an excellent lecturer and science writer, rather than be a merely mediocre researcher.)"
See this issue's "Editor's Note" (on page 2) for further thoughts on facts, errors, and eating crow.
Slow but sure
I read with interest the article on page 4 of the Winter issue ["Researcher calls vaccine results 'stunning'"], since I was unaware of the connection between viruses and cancer. I am shocked, however, that these "stunning results"—from a clinical trial of a vaccine against a virus that causes 70% of cervical cancer—won't be available until, at the earliest, 2010.
In the meantime, using the statistics in the article, it looks as if during that time period that about 1,150,000 women worldwide will die; 25,000 women in