Author: Jeffrey S. Flier

It’s Still Early Days. But Pfizer’s Stunning Vaccine Results Could Be a Real Game-Changer

With COVID-19 cases surging in the United States and many other countries, Monday’s announcement that ongoing vaccine tests had produced positive results comes as much-needed good news. In a placebo-controlled trial of 43,538 subjects, a vaccine developed by Pfizer, working with the German company BioNTech, was found to be “more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 in participants without evidence of prior SARS-CoV-2 infection.” (Although the early work was done in Germany, by Dr. Ugur Sahin and Dr. Özlem Türeci, the BioNTech co-founders, subsequent development work has been performed collaboratively with Pfizer, which is why it is commonly referred to in the media simply as the Pfizer vaccine.) Half the subjects received the placebo and half the vaccine (dubbed “BNT162b2”); and an independent monitoring committee unlocked the data when 94 COVID-19 cases had been recorded among all subjects (a predetermined point of interim analysis). Pfizer reports that “the case split between vaccinated individuals and those who received the placebo indicates a vaccine efficacy rate above 90 percent, at seven days after the second dose.” In …

In Defense of New York City’s Elite Public High Schools

The New York City Department of Education operates eight extremely selective public high schools that have long served as pathways to achievement-for the children of upwardly mobile families. Admission to these schools is determined solely on the basis of performance in a special entrance examination—so these schools have avoided the problems associated with legacy admissions, athletics-based preferences and donor pressures, all of which serve to undermine the merit principle at many elite universities. But there is a problem. Compared to their share of New York City population-at-large, black and Hispanic students are dramatically underrepresented in these schools. A recent New York Times article cast the issue in stark terms with its headline: Only 7 Black Students Got Into Stuyvesant, N.Y.’s Most Selective High School, Out of 895 Spots. As the article noted, Asian-American students make up only about 15% of New York’s total public-school population—yet accounted for 66% of admitted Stuyvesant High School applicants in 2019. These numbers are stoking outrage in some quarters. And New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has called for overhauling …

Harvard’s Flawed Response to Ronald Sullivan Joining Weinstein’s Defense Team

The criticism of Harvard Law Professor Ronald Sullivan by some student activists for his decision to join the defense team of Harvey Weinstein, and the ongoing response of Harvard University to that criticism, raise important concerns about the ability of Harvard to maintain an intellectual environment of high integrity. This still evolving story weaves together four themes that are hardly unique to Harvard: the #MeToo movement and how universities should respond to it; the conflict between that movement and some fundamental principles of American jurisprudence; the approach of universities to the education and emotional comfort of their students; and how university leaders should respond when threats are made to their core institutional values. The concatenation of these issues in the Sullivan affair threatens to create a toxic brew. The story begins with Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., a man of remarkable accomplishment. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School (HLS) where he served as President of the Harvard Black Law Students Association. Following graduation, he directed the Public Defender Service of the District of Columbia, …

As a Former Dean of Harvard Medical School, I Question Brown’s Failure to Defend Lisa Littman

This week’s controversy surrounding an academic paper on gender dysphoria published by Brown University assistant professor Lisa Littman—brought on by the post-publication questioning of Dr Littman’s scholarship by both the journal that published it, PLOS One, and Brown’s own School of Public Health—raises serious concerns about the ability of all academics to conduct research on controversial topics. Gender dysphoria—the clinical term used to describe a condition in which one’s sense of gender identity diverges from one’s biological sex—is an important issue that cries out for more research. In the case of children who assert a transgender identity, clinicians, researchers, school officials and other interested parties face profound, life-altering decisions regarding treatment. As a physician, endocrinologist and medical researcher, I have a professional interest in the topic. But the biology, psychology and treatment of gender dysphoria is not the focus of this article. Rather, I herein consider the reaction to Dr Littman’s survey research, which explored the reportedly growing phenomenon by which clusters of socially connected teenage girls, some beset by autism spectrum disorder and other …