Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Bill and TED's malarial adventure

It's rather old news by now, but I wanted to bring your attention to the events at last week's TED conference. Bill Gates gave a talk that centered largely on education and socioeconomic patterns in the United States. He said plenty about teaching excellence and the impact of talented teachers on their students. He drew a number of conclusions, some I agree with, and some I would argue about. It's a rich subject, with a great deal of controversy, and high very high stakes. However, the headline-stealing event happened early in the talk when he was discussing malaria. As he opened a jar of mosquitoes in the auditorium, he said "there's no reason only poor people should have the experience." In the very next moment he assured the audience that those mosquitoes were not infected with malaria, and no one seemed panicked about contracting a dreaded disease. The only discomfort in the room seemed to stem from the knowledge that the attendees of the conference were part of a privileged society that spent more money on research and medicine for baldness than for malaria. It often seems to me that people who are out "raising awareness" might spend their time more productively "raising money." But Bill Gates has done that and through the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation continues to support work on a range of neglected diseases, including malaria. So I applaud the mosquito stunt. I wish there were an analogous act that could drive home that shameful fact mentioned by Gates in his talk that a poor person in the U.S. is more likely to go to prison than to earn a college degree.