Why Dr. Offit is the Coolest Scientist I Know
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Dr. Paul A. Offit, MD on many occasions. In getting to know him over the past four years I’ve come to the conclusion that he is, hands down, one of the coolest scientist I know. So last night, after hearing his latest interview excerpt on Comedy Central, I made a short countdown of the top five reasons why I admire Dr. Offit.
Reason #5: He gets it. And better yet, he can explain it.
When I first met Dr. Offit he was speaking at the official launch of his book, Deadly Choices, in Washington, DC. He stood at the podium and casually answered a variety of questions from a curious audience. In addition to being a world-renowned expert in the field of vaccines and epidemiology, I immediately recognized that he is also adept at communicating complex scientific information in a way that any lay person can comprehend. As the Chief of Infectious Diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, he continues to work directly with patients and their families, some of whom are hesitant or even fearful of vaccines, which is what makes him so effective at addressing their concerns. This is perhaps one of the leading reasons he is featured in countless interviews and videos that address everything from the most common questions people ask about vaccines, to details about current immunization related research, recommendations, and disease outbreaks.
Helping people to understand the importance of vaccines is very cool, but doing it so effortlessly is even cooler.
Reason #4: He just keeps going and going and he doesn’t back down.
I once wrote a blog post in which I referred to Dr. Offit as an Energizer bunny because of his extensive career accomplishments and his continuing commitment to educate people about the risks and benefits of vaccines and the diseases they prevent. One of his most notable achievements has been as co-inventor of a rotavirus vaccine which is recommended for universal use in infants to prevent the leading cause of severe and fatal diarrhea in infants and young children. Each year, rotavirus causes more than 450,000 deaths in children under five and is responsible for millions of hospitalizations and clinic visits. Despite all his contributions to save the lives of children worldwide, there are some people who continue to spread lies and perpetuate myths about Dr. Offit, likely because they are threatened by his expertise. Years of repeated threats, nasty comments and relentless criticism never stops Dr. Offit from speaking out in every forum possible in an effort to save lives, and that is something we all should admire.
Denying scientific evidence and putting children at risk of suffering or death is not cool, but being the co-inventor of a vaccine that has been attributed to saving the lives of millions of children is way cool.
Reason #3: He is generous with his time and money.
Dr. Offit is very committed to helping people understand the value of vaccines. He not only serves on various scientific advisory boards where he volunteers his time to ensure that accurate information is being disseminated about vaccines, he also offers special webinars to ensure other medical professionals understand the impact of current immunization research, the decisions of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and more. He gives generously to various immunization related organizations and has even donated the proceeds of his books to organizations like the Autism Science Foundation.
Some people think it’s cool to have an abundance of time and money. What is truly cool is giving freely of both your time and money, regardless of how much you have of each.
Reason #2: He has a genuine desire to teach others in order to save lives.
Dr. Offit is an educator in the true sense of the word. One would expect as much from a “Maurice R. Hilleman Professor of Vaccinology” and a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. As Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, his teaching goes beyond the typical classroom. Additionally, he has offered free vaccine courses as a professor with Coursera, which has enabled thousands of people to gain insight into the science behind vaccines. Recently he offered to serve as both an interviewee and an expert reviewer for a group of high school students who produced an independent vaccine documentary entitled Invisible Threat.
While I could list countless examples of ways Dr. Offit is devoted to educating others about vaccines, one personal example I can share really highlights his genuine nature. A group of parents I came to know through a small closed Facebook group would frequently discuss questions and concerns they had about vaccines and Dr. Offit’s work was often mentioned. When it was decided to approach Dr. Offit about the possibly of taking part in a conference call with this group of passionate parents, he enthusiastically accepted the invitation. I can honestly say that he was genuinely as excited about speaking to the parents as they were to be speaking to someone with such tremendous expertise.
While it’s cool to be a subject matter expert, graciously giving of your personal time to talk freely about vaccines with a small group of concerned parents is the ultimate definition of cool.
And the number one reason Dr. Offit is the coolest scientist I know is because he’s got a great sense of humor.
In February, 2011 Dr. Offit first appeared on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report. While discussing vaccine preventable diseases can be extremely serious, Dr. Offit responded to Colbert’s unique comic style with poise, clarity and a bit of lighthearted fun. When he appeared on the Colbert Report again, back in April, 2014, it was clear that Dr. Offit enjoyed Colbert’s efforts to use humor to communicate serious concerns and risks that exists when people choose not to vaccinate. And just yesterday, when Dr. Offit was featured in a special segment by Samantha Bee on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, he was able to reach a new audience in a unique and clever way, something that is critically needed in a time when vaccine refusal is threatening the health of our communities.
I think you’ll agree that this clip exemplifies Dr. Offit as someone who appreciates infectious humor. Now that’s pretty cool!