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Birdseye View

Honeymoon Suite
On the Rocky Mountain Labs

I was delighted to see you feature the Rocky Mountain Laboratories in the September-October Catalyst. But let me take this opportunity to correct some mistaken history that found its way into the article.

First, the captions for the two historical photos on p. 6 are wrong. The group in the left photo were entomologists and wildlife surveyers (including a young Clarence Birdseye, later of frozen food fame) funded by the State of Montana, the U.S. Bureau of Entomology, and the U.S. Biological Survey. They called their research station, established in 1910, "Camp Venustus" (see below). They were at odds with the physicians of the U.S. Public Health Service over which professional group should control spotted fever work. For five years, the groups divided the Bitterroot Valley in half and even called the same tick by two names, Dermacentor venustus (entomologists) and Dermacentor ander-soni (physicians). (Does this remind you of the HTLV-III/LAV controversy?)

The photo on the right is not vaccine development, ca. 1925 in the old Schoolhouse lab. Instead, it is a picture of Dr. Ralph R. Parker and his bride, Adah Nicolet Parker, studying ticks on their honeymoon in Powderville, Montana, in 1916. Spotted fever had just been reported from Eastern Montana, and Parkera—young entomologist then employed by the Montana State Board of Entomology—had been sent there to to set up a field station to study it.

A couple of other corrections: (1) There were other Rocky Mountain spotted fever researchers before Ricketts, and their differences of opinion about the cause of the disease reflected their incorrect assumptions about how diseases were spread by insects—a fascinating episode in the intellectual history of science. (2) The RML (today's Building 1 at RML) was built in 1927 by the State of Montana to support vaccine production (the vaccine had been introduced in 1925 and proved effective in keeping people alive if they'd been infected, not in preventing infection). By 1930, the state was feeling put-upon as demand for the vaccine increased throughout the Western states. In 1931, as the Montana congressional delegation was trying hard to get the U.S. Public Health Service to take over the laboratory, spotted fever was found by other NIH researchers on the East Coast—the first definitive case identified in Virginia. That provided the additional justification needed for a federal takeover of the laboratory, and the bill rapidly went through Congress.

You might be interested to know that during World War II, another PHS investigator, Mason Hargett, set up a vaccine production unit for a new type of yellow fever vaccine at RML. It was made without the human serum used by the Rockefeller Foundation vaccine laboratories—the same human serum that had caused an outbreak of hepatitis B (then called serum jaundice) among U.S. troops in 1943. Dr. Hargett's new type of vaccine literally saved many soldiers who might not have been vaccinated once the Rockefeller's vaccine was pulled because of the contamination. But that is another story.

Vicky Harden

Editor's Note:Victoria Harden, NIH historian and director of the DeWitt Stetten, Jr., Museum of Medical Research at NIH, is the author of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever: History of a Twentieth-Century Disease (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990). The book won the 1991 Henry Adams Prize, awarded by the Society for History in the Federal Government. For info about these awards, see < http://www.shfg.org/tawards.html>.

Congratulations on your Catalyst RML article and the great photographs. I hereby volunteer for any future venture you sponsor there!

Paul Torrence, FAES

On Slide Presentation

I would add that it is wise to prepare one slide in html, and make it available to appropriate services and/or requests and via a personal web page. Before doing so, I suggest looking at some web pages to get ideas of style, color, etc. I think that aesthetics do matter.

Ray Mejia, NHLBI and NIDDK

Those Who Can, Teach!

Did you know that NIH has a graduate school on campus (it's part of the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences, FAES) and that NIH fellows are encouraged to teach courses at FAES?

Here's the perfect opportunity to share your knowledge with the NIH community. FAES offers a broad range of courses that you can teach—from basic and clinical sciences to languages and photography. For a complete list of FAES courses of study, visit <http://faes.org/academic.htm>.

The FELCOM Subcommittee on Teaching can assist anyone interested in teaching, whether you'd like to teach an entire course yourself or be a guest lecturer. We want to hear from you!

We're compiling a list of possible instructors to organize ideas for teaching opportunities for Fall 1999 and Spring 2000 semesters at FAES. We will be making suggestions to groups of fellows with similar interests and supplying possible guest lecturers.

To add your name to the list, simply e-mail < kerrk@nih.gov> with your areas of interest.

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