Hey, it turns out those New York Times articles I posted about yesterday are available online via my local library, so I looked up the stories with the most interesting headlines.
The story behind "Consider the armadillo" turned out to be not particularly interesting once you got past the headline. It's an op-ed by Barry R. Bloom, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, arguing the importance of supporting clinical research on life-threatening diseases, such as leprosy, which is where the armadillos enter into the picture.
... It is common sport both in and out of Congress to be skeptical of research programs that appear to have no "relevance" to targeted goals or American problems. But the essence of fundamental research is that no one can predict what area of knowledge may contribute crucially to long-range progress in another.
A case in point is the armadillo. Absurd as it may seem to believe that study of the armadillo could have any practical relevance, it has become clear that the lowly armadillo holds the key to the possible eradication of leprosy.
Probably because of its low body temperature, the armadillo is the only animal in which the human lepra bacillus grows in sufficient quantities to be potentially useful for the production of a vaccine against leprosy.
For those who demand relelvance closer to home, it may be added that leprosy patients will provide insight into the failure of cancer patients to reject their tumors.
I was going to post the whole article here, but then I decided it was too boring. If you want to read it, click here (PDF, requires Adobe Acrobat Reader).
Something that Dr. Bloom failed to consider about the armadillo was its suitability as a lab animal. An article published less than a year later explains that it's very difficult to breed armadillos in captivity, complicating the efforts of World Heath Organization to conduct their research into the lepra bacillus. This article is, in my opinion, much more interesting that the op-ed, so I'll post the whole thing behind the cut:
Sadly, the Times failed to follow up on this story, but a bit of Googling suggests that this particular hurdle has yet to be overcome. Alas. Google also informs me that Dr. Bloom has since left the Albert Einstein School of Medicine -- a oddly named school, insofar as Albert Einstein was not a medical doctor -- and is now Dean of the Harvard School of Public Health. Good on him.
The Kipling story is fun, though the headline ("KIPLING SHUNS ARMADILLO.; He Returns Brazilian 'Pet' to Donor Rather Than Live With It.") is sort of misleading. Here it is in its entirety:
RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb. 18 (AP).--Rudyard Kipling likes to write about fantastic tropical beasts, but he does not enjoy living with them. That is the discovery just made by a Brazilian admirer, who sent an armadillo to the hotel where the British author is stopping. Mr. Kipling kept the animal for one day and then returned it with a letter explaining that hotel life "is too terrible a fate for an armadillo."
Mr. Kipling arrived in Rio de Janeiro several days ago as a guest of the Brazilian Government. He is accompanied by his wife and expects to spen about a month in South America.
You'll note that the article never says that Kipling doesn't want to live with the armadillo; he says that he doesn't want to have it live in a hotel room for a month, and then presumably on an ocean liner back to England for another couple weeks. He wasn't shunning it, he was looking out for its welfare! Sloppy reporting, New York Times! And don't try to blame the Associated Press. I have no doubt that had Kipling been presented with an armadillo at Bateman's, he would have kept it.
The last story I looked up was the best one, and by best I mean weirdest. I've posted the whole thing behind the cut:
Now, I really like armadillos, but even I will admit that story has no news value whatsoever. It's cute, and the author paints a vivid picture, but isn't it the sort of thing that The New Yorker's Talk of the Town feature is for?