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About Julie Wolf


Tuesday, 06 March 2018 14:50

Influenza, politics, and scientific credibility with Ilaria Capua - MTM 77

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Ilaria Capua talks about running an internationally renowned animal influenza lab, and her time spent in the Italian Parliament. Accused of virus trafficking as part of a national scandal, she has since cleared her name and speaks here about the importance of scientific credibility and reputation.

Host: Julie Wolf Ilaria Capua

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Julie's biggest takeaways:

  • In 1999-2000, Italy experienced the biggest bird H7N1 influenza epidemic that ever occurred. Capua and her bird virus diagnostic lab helped with disease management. The group grew and developed international collaborations.

  • Particularly in birds, the hemaglutinin is cross-protective. Using a H7N3 vaccine strain to protect against the epidemic H7N1 strain allowed the differentiation of vaccinated from infected animals.

  • During the mid-2000s, H5N1 continued to spread, for the first time it reached Africa. Capua’s lab sequenced the first Nigerian isolate and was invited to enter it into a password-protected database, but Capua chose to submit it to GenBank. She believed (and believes) that these research using these sequences should be more transparent.

  • Accused of being a corrupt scientist and international virus trafficker in a national magazine article, Capua experienced great despair. Capua refuted the claims with science - for example, one claim that she had deliberately spread an influenza epidemic claimed it was a virus that had never circulated in Italy or Europe. This illustrates the difficulty in translating the technical language of science for a lay audience.

  • Capua was told the investigation would take up to ten years to clear her name. Rather than wait out this duration as a lame duck in Parliament, she moved to the University of Florida as Director of the One Health Center of Excellence. Two and a half years after the initial accusations, Capua was cleared of all accusations.


Featured Quotes (in order of appearance):

“I knew from the moment I could walk that I wanted to be a scientist. I remember talking with my friends in elementary school - it didn’t really matter what science, but whether it was in pathogens or cancer or health care, it didn’t really matter. I just wanted to be a scientist.”

“Scientists working in labs need to get a grasp of where the discussion is and where it lies with regard to policy because ultimately it’s the policymakers that fund your work.”

On first being elected: “I thought maybe this time I can bring a voice of science to the Italian Parliament. . . I wanted to bring my experience - and especially my experience at the international level.”

“Our credibility is the most precious thing we have as scientists and we have to do whatever we can do defend it, but we have to work together to defend it.”

“I can’t say I enjoy talking about this, because this is not fun, to live through those moments again. I do it because I have a sense of responsibility and duty to show ppl what can happen if you are visible, if you are exposed in a political environment, if you are in a difficult or populist or post-truth environment.”

“If sharing my story will prevent even one scientist from being attached or being mistreated or being accused of crimes which are false, of misconduct when none of this has happened, I will have reached my objective.”

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Last modified on Tuesday, 06 March 2018 15:18
Julie Wolf

Julie Wolf is the ASM Science Communications Specialist. She contributes to the ASM social media and blog network and hosts the Meet the Microbiologist podcast. She also runs workshops at ASM conferences to help scientists improve their own communication skills. Follow Julie on Twitter for more ASM and microbiology highlights at @JulieMarieWolf.

Julie earned her Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, focusing on medical mycology and infectious disease. Outside of her work at ASM, she maintains a strong commitment to scientific education and teaches molecular biology at the community biolab, Genspace. She lives in beautiful New York City.