Summary of Did Science Miss Its Best Shot at an AIDS Vaccine?

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Did Science Miss Its Best Shot at an AIDS Vaccine? summary

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In classical vaccinology, researchers don’t need to know how a vaccine works, just that it works. Burt Dorman had made a dozen effective vaccines. When the AIDS crisis hit, he wanted to get to work on an HIV vaccine. But science had moved to a more rational, hypothesis driven paradigm, and HIV is fundamentally different from other pathogens. So funders never gave him a chance. Thirty-five years and 35 million deaths into the epidemic they still haven’t. The article will fascinate those interested in the behind-the-scenes story of how, and why, science gets done the way it does – and how much that matters. 

About the Author

Adam Rogers is the Deputy Editor at Wired magazine, where he’s covered natural disasters, biotechnology, physics, and science fiction. He also wrote Proof: The Science of Booze.


Burt Dorman was a classical vaccinologist, relying on trial and error to optimize what works.

Burt Dorman knew how to make vaccines. His company had made a bunch that worked, like one to prevent feline leukemia. The process he used looks a lot like iterative product development. Dorman uses an old-fashioned, empirical methodology that relies on tinkering rather than a deep, scientific knowledge of the nature of the disease. He figures out by trial and error how to grow the pathogen in the lab and the best way to attenuate or kill it. Then he figures out which dosages and schedules best confer immunity. When AIDS became an epidemic in the 1980s, Dorman wrote grant after grant to try to fund his time-tested approach to finding a vaccine for a virus. 

Science as practiced in late twentieth century America – when the AIDS epidemic hit – prefers...

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