Johns Hopkins Magazine -- June 2000
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JUNE 2000

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Up in arms over gun safety story
Engaged in meddling?
Credit where it is due
Racetrack ties

Up in arms over gun safety story

The article concerning the efforts of Stephen Teret to "kill" the firearms industry ("Building the Case for Better Gun Safety," April) requires comment, if only to ease my blood pressure. If Mr. Teret's motive were to save lives, surely he would be attacking the cigarette lighter manufacturers. Their product claims far more young lives than guns, and that's just from the fires they cause. When you add the deaths from the actual smoking (the only use for lighters) the numbers are much higher. My gun has the very good use of being my protection. The only motive I can think of for the attacks on businesses is that tax paying enterprises seem to be resented by many who earn their livings in the "tax absorbing" field of academe and other "non-profit" organizations. We've gone through the asbestos industry, the silicone implant business, the tobacco industry and now, the gun industry. Soon, the only entity that can afford to be in business will be the Government. Maybe that's it. The end goal is Socialism!
Stephen H. Bartlett (BEEE '49)

"Building the Case for Better Gun Safety" was as disingenuous as the subject of the article, former personal injury lawyer and current left-wing gun grabber Stephen Teret.

Not once does Teret discuss the benefits of gun ownership: 2 million violent crimes prevented every year because the intended victim was armed, the decrease in violent crime that results from a citizen's right to carry concealed handguns, and the fact that women benefit four times as much as men against being a crime victim when they arm themselves with a gun. In order to further reduce gun violence, we don't need more phony gun laws or unreliable trigger locks and smart guns. All we need is to enforce the gun laws currently on the books, and to appoint judges who have the backbone to put violent criminals away for a long time.
Ray Gordon '66
Baltimore, MD

Teret's demand that anyone convicted of a misdemeanor be forbidden to have a handgun is simply bizarre. Are we to take pistols from those urinating in public, speeding, disturbing the peace with a loud party, jaywalking, driving with an expired tag, littering, failing to return books to a library, etc.? How many of our own police officers would qualify to be armed under such a standard?
John Gorman (PhD '67)

Engaged in meddling?

"A Legacy of Engagement," about Madeleine Albright [April], should be titled "A Legacy of Meddling." For Albright has continued the long tradition in the U.S. State Department of selective international bullying. We've had the anti-Serbian crusade. The war against Iraq. The very interesting orchestrated campaign against Myanmar. We are hated abroad because of policies not representing American interests.

[Writer] Lew Diuguid sounds like a World War II comic book. "As Europe fell prey to Adolf Hitler..." Europe in the late '30s, as now, was complex. Hitler had anti-communist allies...Italians, French, Dutch, Rumanians, Finns, Belgians, Spanish, and others. We need a healthy foreign policy, not one promoting frictions between nations. Arrogant bullying is not only wrong; it's not practical.
Robert Jones '56
Washington, DC

Credit where it is due

In "Henrietta's Dance" [April], you quote Roland Patillo as saying, "She [Henrietta Lacks] made it possible to grow the [polio] virus so the vaccine could be developed." Excuse me, but was not the Nobel Prize [in physiology or medicine] for this achievement awarded in 1954 to John Enders and his colleagues F. C. Robbins and Th. H. Weller? Secondly, in the same paragraph [author Rebecca] Skloot says, "Gey and his colleagues went on to develop a test, using HeLa cells, to distinguish between the many polio strains, some of which had no effect on the human body....Through Henrietta's cells, they found their culprit. With this information, Jonas Salk and his colleagues in Pittsburgh created a vaccine, and the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis established facilities for mass-producing the HeLa cells. They would use them to test the polio vaccine before its use in humans."

First of all, there are only three strains of poliovirus that infect humans, types I, II, and III. The work that distinguished them by immunologic means was performed by Bernard Roizman (then a Hopkins ScD candidate and subsequently a faculty member in the School of Medicine).

Secondly, the ability to determine the neurovirulence (i.e., paralyzing effects) of these strains was due to the earlier work by Albert Sabin in monkeys. David Bodian and the others later established the criteria for testing the types of poliovirus and both the so-called "killed" and "attenuated live" polio vaccines in monkeys. The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis provided the monkeys to the Division of Biologic Standards, then part of the National Institutes of Health, where these tests were conducted.

In addition, all licensed manufacturers of the polio vaccine had to perform such neurovirulence tests in monkeys and other extensive clinical studies in humans before the Division of Biologic Standards could license their vaccine strains.
Gerald S. Borman, VMD
(postdoctoral fellow 1962-64)
Norfolk, VA

Skloot replies: The history of the polio vaccine is long and complex, involving many researchers and tools. Enders and his colleagues did win the Nobel Prize for growing the polio virus in tissues cultured utilizing the roller tube technique (which Hopkins's George Gey developed).

And a group of Pittsburgh researchers produced and tested the so-called Salk vaccine using cultured monkey kidney cells. Of course, the HeLa cells were not the sole tool for understanding the polio virus, nor was Gey the only researcher working to advance the cause. But they both played a role in polio research. Gey developed a test (though not the only test) to distinguish between the three polio strains. And he, with William Scherer and Jerome Syverton, showed that polio could infect HeLa cells, which were more sensitive to polio's effects than some primate cells (see"Studies on the Propagation In Vitro of Poliomyelitis Viruses," J. Exp. Med., 97: 695-715, 1953). In 1953, the Tuskegee Institute established facilities for mass production and distribution of HeLa cells, which they shipped (to the tune of 600,000 cultures) around the country. These cells were not used to produce the vaccine, but they did replace primate cells in some labs, providing a simpler and cheaper tool for continued testing. Pattillo's comment should not be interpreted as saying the polio vaccine would not have come to fruition without the HeLa cells. What is relevant to the story of Henrietta Lacks and her family is that HeLa cells were, indeed, part of the widespread efforts to end polio.

Racetrack ties

An interesting addendum to the article on John Mauchly (PhD '32) ["The Story That Doesn't Compute," November] is the contribution to Mauchly's early work on computer development by another Hopkins alumnus, Harry Straus (Eng '17).

By the early 1930s, Straus had become a prominent Maryland entrepreneur, horse and cattle breeder, and sportsman. He made a fortune through the company he founded, the American Totalisator Co., which built and supplied electro-mechanical systems for calculating odds, dispensing tickets, and displaying payouts on horse races. The system quickly replaced slow and often inaccurate hand-calculating methods and within a few years, "Tote Boards" were a fixture at nearly every thoroughbred race track in the country.

Straus was a forward-thinking man who experimented with an all-electronic calculating system for the totalisator in 1946.

He learned of the work that Mauchly and Presper Eckert were doing with the ENIAC and became convinced that electronic computers had enormous potential for a range of applications. In 1948, Straus convinced the American Totalisator Co. directors to invest $500,000 to shore up the financially troubled Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corp., which was then developing UNIVAC, the first electronic digital computer designed for commercial use. Straus became chairman of the E-M board and was active in the business side of operations. Within a year, Eckert-Mauchly was a healthy corporation with contracts for UNIVACs worth $1.2 million.

In October 1949, just as the totalisator company's help was reviving the Eckert-Mauchly operation, Straus was killed in a plane crash. Soon after, the company's directors withdrew their support from Eckert-Mauchly. The two men were forced to look for a buyer, and sold their company to Remington Rand in 1950. It is intriguing to speculate on how the subsequent development of computers might have been different if Harry Straus had lived.
John C. Schmidt '50 (MLA '74)