Scientists or Celebrities?

Washington, DC

Question: have you ever heard of Maurice Hilleman? If your answer is No or Who?, join about 99 percent of the American people. He passed away this month in Philadelphia at the age of 85. Here is what the front page New York Times article said about his medical career:

Dr. Maurice R. Hilleman developed vaccines for mumps, measles, chickenpox, pneumonia, meningitis and other diseases, saving tens of millions of lives. Much of modern preventive medicine is based on Dr. Hilleman’s work, though he never received the public recognition of Salk, Sabin or Pasteur. He is credited with having developed more human and animal vaccines than any other scientist, helping to extend human life expectancy and improving the economies of many countries.

The Times quotes Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health as saying: “The scientific quality and quantity of what he did was amazing. One can say without hyperbole that Maurice changed the world with his extraordinary contributions in so many disciplines: virology, epidemiology, immunology, cancer research and vaccinology.”

His associates, whom he regularly credited for their contributions, marveled at his artistry in safely producing large quantities of weakened live or dead micro-organisms. Dr. Hilleman credited his skills wryly to growing up on a farm in Montana where he worked as a boy with chickens. Chicken eggs are the fertilizing sites for many vaccines.

There are many fascinating stories about this scientist. Yet almost no one knew about him, saw him on television, or read about him in newspapers or magazines. His anonymity, in comparison with Madonna, Michael Jackson, Jose Canseco, or an assortment of grade B actors, tells something about our society’s and media’s concepts of celebrity; much less of the heroic. This is not a frivolous observation.

Bringing the work of individuals who matter to so many people on the important issues of lives and livelihoods is a prime way of educating the citizenry about important matters. Media trumpeting of Madonna’s latest escapades alerts and motivates the public quite differently than highlighting the frequent breakthroughs of a scientist like Dr. Hilleman. The former sells records and pulp magazines, the latter keeps the American people more knowledgeable about the critical perils that confront them if recognition and resources are not dedicated to their prevention.

Today, in America, there are tens of billions of dollars being spent and misspent on the struggle against stateless terrorists. Despite being warned repeatedly by the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, the Bush Administration is reacting feebly to the avian flu risks coming from the Far East. Already having taken nearly one hundred lives, should this avian flu mutate with a human virus, a deadly pandemic could sweep the world with tens of millions of fatalities.

I have written thrice to President Bush about the need to launch a war against this kind of microscopic terrorism by diversifying his speeches and making room for a major national address on this subject. He could put forth a program of greater support for training more infectious diseases specialists and working with other countries for an early alert system so that the requisite quarantines and vaccine development can get underway in time. There have been no responses from the White House.

Such an initiative would cost a fraction of the annual $9 to $10 billion dollars that Bush is spending on the boondoggle missile defense business. (A technology so easily decoyable and dubious that it has been deemed unworkable by the American Physical Society). But missile defense and other massive military weapons programs, conceived for a Soviet Union era of hostility, make big profits for corporations. Vaccines do not make big profits for drug companies the way lifestyle drugs do.

The daily headlines are sounding grave alarms. Rob Stein and Shankar Vedantam of The Washington Post report that a strain of the flu virus H2N2 that caused a worldwide pandemic and killed more than one million people worldwide in 1957 and 1958 was mistakenly sent to thousands of laboratories in the United States and around the world. Keith Bradsher’s reports from China for the Times have been getting ever more somber. The latest dispatch headlines “Some Asian Bankers worry about the Economic Toll from Bird Flu.”

Maybe if business profits are jeopardized by what a pandemic can do to an economy, officialdom will reorder its twisted priorities. The deadly Marburg virus (nine of ten people afflicted die) now spreading slowly in Angola is another wake up call for our country to change its priorities from continually adding to the largest major weapons arsenal in world history (nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers, missiles, planes, etc.) and moving to life-saving and health-preserving investments for prevention before vaccines are needed.

It is time to know the names of the scientists already working on this great venture for health and hear them out.

Hear ye, media!











More articles by:

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
What to Do at the End of the World? Interview with Climate Crisis Activist, Kevin Hester
Kevin Proescholdt
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke Attacks America’s Wilderness
Franklin Lamb
Syrian War Crimes Tribunals Around the Corner
Beth Porter
Clean Energy is Calling. Will Your Phone Company Answer?
George Ochenski
Zinke on the Hot Seat Again and Again
Lance Olsen
Somebody’s Going to Extremes
Robert Koehler
Breaking the Ice
Pepe Escobar
The Myth of a Neo-Imperial China
Graham Peebles
Time for Political Change and Unity in Ethiopia
Terry Simons
10 American Myths “Refutiated”*
Thomas Knapp
Some Questions from the Edge of Immortality
Louis Proyect
The 2018 Socially Relevant Film Festival
David Yearsley
Keaton’s “The General” and the Pernicious Myths of the Heroic South