stop me if you’ve heard this one

So an epidemiologist and a dendrochronologist walked into a bar…

OK, no they didn’t. There’s no punchline here. But Discover Magazine’s Megadeath in Mexico is a fascinating article about the great stuff that happens when different fields of science collide.

To be successful in science, you must focus in your field, to the exclusion of almost everything else. That’s a tragedy, since most of the biggest discoveries have been and will be made by the rare people who are able to cut across multiple disciplines.

This article details a researcher whose discoveries challenge the popular historical assumption that smallpox introduced by exploring Europeans was to blame for the devastation of indigenous American colonies during the 14th century. Instead, it looks a lot more like a hemorrhagic fever, and the dates of incidence line up exactly with years during which flooding was prevalent. Just about every 30 years or so, it’d get bad again.

Every 30 years. That’s pretty much the same timeline for the major influenza pandemics. Is it because of generational exposure and immunity as some have hypothesized? Or could it be just another totally normal part of the planet’s cyclical ecology? Don’t worry, I’ll save the climate change rant for another day.

But do read the article.

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