A scientist and a good sport
Ciaran Fairman does some really serious research—he studies how exercise can help people with cancer withstand grueling treatments mentally and physically.
But this soccer player also sees the humor in being a modern scientist, and he’s not above making sport of it. On Twitter and YouTube, Fairman recreates sports-like press conferences, sideline interviews, and “live” news cuts. But instead of answering questions about shots on goal, bad referee calls, and nagging injuries, the exercise oncologist talks about things like reviewing manuscripts and grant proposal rejections in that sometimes vague, sometimes confrontational way professional athletes often talk to reporters.
The videos are his way of poking a little fun at the daily, often negative, grind of academic science, and they’ve earned him quite the fan club.
“Those press conferences in sports are ridiculous, the way they are so generic,” he tells Newscripts, relating them to giving an academic talk. “The conference stuff that we do and the way we interact is so formulaic. I was kind of reflecting on that.”
So, in a corner of his house, papered over to look like the backdrop of a postgame interview, he does his Sci Sports parodies (a play on the British Sky Sports broadcasting company), collecting hundreds of thousands of views and who knows how many laughs, while giving both the general public and empathetic scientists a satirical peek into the mental and bureaucratic work that makes science possible.
In the roughly 2 months since he posted the first video, he’s gone from wondering if he’s going to get dinged by the academy (he is applying for NIH grants and the like) to finding some of the same very serious people sending him notes of appreciation.
“I’m very conscious of how much personality I show as a scientist, for fear of the stiffs or whatever. And this has given me so much liberation,” he says, adding that he’ll tackle dull keynote speeches and perhaps even all-male panel discussions in future episodes. In the meantime, he’ll be setting up shop as an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina. Newscripts can’t wait to see what he parodies next.
A vodka-funded vaccine for COVID-19
In some ways, creating a vaccine is like making a cocktail: take key ingredients in just the right amount, and mix them to make a potent solution. Peter Hotez and Maria Elena Bottazzi of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine have been vaccine mixologists for years, and to bring their latest concoction, a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, to clinical trials, they’ve needed to finalize their recipe. Tito’s Handmade Vodka has put $1 million to work to help them.
Back in 2011, the researchers developed a vaccine candidate for SARS, the cousin of SARS-CoV-2. For years, they searched for partners to get it into testing, but were unsuccessful. As SARS-CoV-2 began to take hold earlier this year, they tested their SARS vaccine, made from a portion of the viral protein that initiates infection, and found it works against SARS-CoV-2 in cells and in animals. The vaccine should be in Phase I safety trials in humans by September, Bottazzi says, and the infusion of cash from the Austin-based vodka company will help.
While distilleries have turned toward hand sanitizer production in the wake of COVID-19, Tito’s has taken a different path. In addition to the $1 million grant to Baylor College of Medicine, the company’s charitable arm has also given $2.5 million to pandemic modeling scientists at the University of Texas at Austin, and $400,000 to develop ventilators.
“Everything we do at Tito’s is rooted in giving back to the communities we serve, and this pandemic is no exception,” says the company, and here at Newscripts, we say cheers to that.
Megha Satyanarayana wrote this week’s column. Please send comments and suggestions to email@example.com.