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New Yorker

The Fear Factor

October 5th, 2009 | Posted in The New Yorker, Articles | No Comments
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View the PDF On April 21st, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that two children in Southern California had developed a “febrile respiratory illness” caused by a flu virus that had never before been recognized in humans. The C.D.C. referred to the infection, in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report , as a swine-flu virus, because some of its genes matched genes found in pigs. It was a deeply unfortunate—and largely misleading—choice of words.

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A Life of Its Own

September 28th, 2009 | Posted in The New Yorker, Articles | No Comments
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Download a PDF Where will synthetic biology lead us?
by Michael Specter

The first time Jay Keasling remembers hearing the word “artemisinin, ” about a decade ago, he had no idea what it meant. “Not a clue, ” Keasling, a professor of biochemical engineering at the University of California at Berkeley, recalled. Although artemisinin has become the world’s most important malaria medicine, Keasling wasn’t an expert on infectious diseases. But he happened to be in the process of creating a new discipline, synthetic biology, which—by combining elements of engineering, chemistry, computer science, and molecular biology—seeks to assemble the biological tools necessary to redesign the living world. Read more »

Damn Spam

August 6th, 2007 | Posted in The New Yorker, Articles | No Comments
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Download the PDF The losing war on junk e-mail.
by Michael Specter

In the spring of 1978, an energetic marketing man named Gary Thuerk wanted to let people in the technology world know that his company, the Digital Equipment Corporation, was about to introduce a powerful new computer system. DEC operated out of an old wool mill in Maynard, Massachusetts, and was well known on the East Coast, but Thuerk hoped to reach the technological community in California as well. Read more »

Branson’s Luck

May 14th, 2007 | Posted in The New Yorker, Articles | No Comments
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Download the PDF The business world’s high roller is betting everything on biofuels.
by Michael Specter

Richard Branson likes to pretend that business is his hobby; he sees himself as a modern version of a nineteenth-century British adventurer—Phileas T. Fogg, unbound. Rather than travelling around the world in eighty days, however, he appears to be trying to find eighty ways to do it. In 1986, Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group of companies, crossed the Atlantic in the fastest time ever recorded, on his boat the Virgin Atlantic Challenger II. Read more »

A Reporter at Large – Political Science

March 13th, 2006 | Posted in The New Yorker, Articles | No Comments
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Download the PDFThe Bush Administration's war on the laboratory.
by Michael Specter

On December 1st, Merck & Company applied to the Food and Drug Administration for a license to sell a vaccine that it has developed to protect women against the human papillomavirus. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States; more than half of all Americans become infected at some point in their lives. The virus is also the primary cause of cervical cancer, which kills nearly five thousand American women every year and hundreds of thousands more in the developing world. Read more »

What Money Can Buy

October 24th, 2005 | Posted in The New Yorker, Articles | No Comments
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Download the PDF Millions of Africans die needlessly of disease each year. Can Bill Gates change that?
by Michael Specter

Each May, representatives from the hundred and ninety-two member nations of the World Health Organization travel to Geneva to set policies for the coming year. The assembly lasts a week, and the delegates often find themselves devoting as much of that time to politics as they do to matters of life or death. Read more »

The Kingdom

September 26th, 2005 | Posted in The New Yorker, Articles | No Comments
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Download the PDF In the court of Valentino.
by Michael Specter

June has never been an easy month for Valentino, the seventy-three-year-old Roman designer. But this spring was more frantic than usual. He introduced a new fragrance—V—and celebrated in New York at the end of May with a party that began at Bergdorf Goodman, continued at the Four Seasons, and ended, close to dawn, at Bungalow 8. Read more »

Higher Risk

May 23rd, 2005 | Posted in The New Yorker, Articles | No Comments
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Download the PDF Crystal meth, the Internet, and dangerous choices about AIDS.
by Michael Specter

San Francisco's Magnet center is hard to miss. It occupies a storefront directly across the street from Badlands, a city landmark of its kind, at Eighteenth and Castro Streets, perhaps the gayest address in the world. Magnet is a drop-in clinic for a community that has been besieged by health problems for nearly a quarter of a century—since the men of the Castro began to die of the plague. Read more »

A Reporter at Large – Nature’s Bioterrorist

February 28th, 2005 | Posted in The New Yorker, Articles | No Comments
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Download the PDF Is there any way to prevent a deadly avian-flu pandemic?
by Michael Specter

Early last September, an eleven-year-old girl from Kamphaeng Phet, a remote village in Thailand, developed a high fever, a severe cough, and a sore throat. She lived with her aunt and uncle in a one-room wooden house—not much more than a hut on stilts. The family had fifteen chickens, which wandered freely beneath the plank floor, where the young girl often played and slept. Then, at the end of August, the chickens died. Read more »

The Devastation

October 11th, 2004 | Posted in The New Yorker, Articles | No Comments
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Download the PDF Since 1965, life expectancy for Russian men has decreased by nearly six years. And now there is AIDS.
by Michael Specter

The first days of spring are electrifying in St. Petersburg. The winters are hard and dark and long, and when the light finally returns each year thousands of people pour onto Nevsky Prospekt and into the squares in front of the Winter Palace and St. Isaac's Cathedral. Read more »