Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Catherine Drea

As I See It: Catherine Drea’s fortnightly column as published in the Waterford News & Star


I WAS WhatsApping with a group of women. As you do, especially in these grey lockdown days.

I shared a podcast with the group. You might enjoy it too. It’s called the Laughs of your Life and the episode I shared was the one with Professor Luke O’ Neill.

Think I’m a little in love with Luke O’ Neill,” one of the women replied. “Me too,” said another. “I like Sam McConkey,” said another. And the last member of this group, who admits she lives on another planet, said, “Who the **** is Luke O’Neill?”

Perhaps that gave us all the biggest giggle as you can’t turn on the TV or the radio at the moment without hearing his voice or seeing his big happy head trying to make science palatable to the masses. Over the last year scientists have come into our lives in a big way. I surprise myself by being able to name and identify far too many of them

Covid 19 doesn’t care about nationality or religion. It doesn’t care who gets us out of this mess. Scientists working together all around the world is one result of this awful virus that we can be pleased about. It has never really happened before and we will all benefit enormously.


‘The latest scientist superstar is Professor Tess Lamb from Kildare who co-designed the Oxford vaccine. Think about her when you queue up for your shot next year’

Maybe you are like me and avoided the old science books at school. As a young child I loved nature and animals but when I got my first black and white biology book it didn’t seem to connect with anything I was interested in. The ancient nun who was teaching the class made the whole subject seem as irrelevant and as dull as ditch water. Even ditch water I would have preferred.

After one year with Biology and that awful book, the only science subject on offer, we were given a choice of Biology, Art or German. Obviously I was going to choose Art but if I had known about the exciting field of science and all the potential for understanding and exploring the future of the planet, maybe I could have stuck with it.

The other problem with young girls and science in those days, was that it was traditionally sold as a branch of maths. Maths teaching in a convent school in those days was dire. I grew up with a mantra which said, you are no good at maths. Turns out I couldn’t have been too bad when I got a first class honours MA in Business. Yes indeed it included Accountancy and Economics. Not bad for a girl who failed Inter Cert Maths.

But getting back to the scientists, my own particular favourites at the moment are Dr. Ozlem Tureci and Professor Ugur Sahin, a Turkish couple, living in Germany, who are bringing us the Pfizer vaccine. As far as I understand it they were working on a vaccine for cancer when they got sidetracked (like every other scientist in their field) into searching for a vaccine for Covid 19.

Thrilled as they were to be the first to announce their success, I enjoyed, even more, the BBC presenter who asked them how they celebrated. “We had tea,” Ugur said with a huge smile. “How very British,” remarked the BBC man. “Well actually it’s a Turkish custom,” says Ugur.

Back of the net!

On the downside Dr. Tony Holohan gets a very mixed reaction. It was all lovie-dovie during the first lockdown. There was a huge outpouring of appreciation when he took time off to be with his ill wife. Nowadays people are divided and some are not so enamoured with him.

But the point is everyone knows who the Chief Medical Officer is! Who knew that before? And now we all have an opinion. We listen to immunologists and infectious disease experts every day. We know about R numbers and exponential growth. Instead of Instagram influencers we are engaging for the first time with real science. It is kind of exciting. But we shouldn’t lose the run of ourselves. It doesn’t make us experts, even though some of us think so.

Meanwhile, the latest scientist superstar is Professor Tess Lamb from Kildare who co-designed the Oxford vaccine. Think about her when you queue up for your shot next year. She has had her head down day in day for most of 2020. Now they are creating 3 billion doses to literally save the planet.

The brilliance and dedication of people like Tess blows me away, never mind the thousands who were the human guinea pigs in all the vaccine and corona virus cure trials taking place around the globe.

My hope now is that we will listen just as well when it comes to environmental scientists and ecologists. Because the next major global issue will be climate change. I wonder who the celebrity scientists will be then?


Catherine Drea blogs at Foxglovelane.com

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By Catherine Drea
Contact Newsdesk: 051 874951

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