Madeline Drexler

Madeline Drexler is the author of Secret Agents: The Menace of Emerging Infections.

Recent Articles

Health in Black and White

On Sunday, April 22, The New York Times led its front page with a story revealing that infant death rates were rising in the South, particularly among African Americans. To sociologist David Williams, that was hardly news. Williams is one of the world's leading scholars on racial disparities in health. Now the Norman Professor of Public Health at the Harvard School of Public Health, he has wrestled intellectually and morally with such dismal statistics for more than a quarter century. Yet having authored scores of journal articles and book chapters, he's still left with more questions than answers. Williams was a community health educator at the Battle Creek Adventist Hospital in the early 1980s. Since those days as a front-line advocate, his research has demonstrated the persistent ill health suffered by those who face daily poverty, violence, neighborhood segregation, joblessness, and substandard schools. In the United States, the new policy thrust toward eliminating racial and...

Iceberg, Plague, Flood

Asked on September 1 about the high death toll from Hurricane Katrina, Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), said, “Unfortunately, that's going to be attributable to a lot of people who did not heed the advance warnings.” He added: “I don't make judgments about why people chose not to leave.” His remarks echo the reasons offered in 1912 for why steerage passengers on the doomed Titanic were more likely to perish than first-class travelers. In that disaster, 53 percent of first- and second-class passengers were saved -- because they had first dibs on the lifeboats -- compared to only 25 percent of those traveling third-class. “It has been suggested before the Enquiry that the third-class passengers had been unfairly treated,” wrote Lord Mersey, in his official investigation for the British Parliament. Outraged at the accusation, Mersey's remarks eerily prefigure those of the FEMA director: “It is no doubt true that the proportion of third-class...

The Germ Front:

See Sidebar: " Undermining International Bioweapons Controls " W ith one Florida man dead of anthrax and another exposed, frightened Americans want to know if something even worse than the horrific events of September 11 now lies ahead of us. Could terrorists loose bioweapons of mass destruction upon us: anthrax and smallpox, botulism and plague, invisibly airborne? The answer -- which is perhaps more frightening still -- is that the experts can't say. This past spring, researching bioterrorism for a book about emerging infections, I spoke to Jonathan Tucker, director of the Chemical and Biological Weapons Nonproliferation Program at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in Washington, D.C. Tucker, a thoughtful man who has written recent books about toxic weapons and about the resurging threat of smallpox, told me then that while low-tech terrorist strikes such as food poisonings were always possible, a major bioattack wasn't plausible. In order to inflict large numbers of...

Undermining International Bioweapons Controls

Sidebar to " The Invisible Enemy " Just a week before the September 11 terrorist attacks, American news media reported that the U.S. government had conducted clandestine research on biowarfare preparedness. The Pentagon had secretly drawn up plans to reproduce a Russian genetically-engineered strain of the anthrax bacterium in order to test the U.S. military's anthrax vaccine. It had also built a germ factory in Nevada out of commercially available materials, in which the government apparently planned to manufacture not actual bioweapons agents but germ simulants, to gauge how easily others could do the real thing. Meanwhile, the Central Intelligence Agency had constructed a copy of a Soviet germ bomblet that the agency feared was being sold on the international market. Many experts believe these sub rosa experiments violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). The treaty, ratified by 144 countries, states that signatory nations would "never...