The Wisdom of Whores

Carlin Romano in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

20080629_inq_carl29aA hearty welcome, then, to Elizabeth Pisani, holder of a Ph.D. in epidemiology, who perfectly incarnates the link that should exist between writers and the world. The Wisdom of Whores, her rollicking, eye-opening, hilarious account of the underbelly of international AIDS research, awaits the Hollywood producer smart enough to make it into a Brangelina vehicle.

Pisani began with a leg up. She’s a former Reuters reporter in Asia who retooled herself into an infectious-diseases specialist. Having grown “tired of trying to reduce human experience to 600 words on a two-hour deadline,” she decided to leave the gung-ho foreign correspondence to her future husband, also a Reuters reporter.

But Pisani still exhibits the chops of a wire-service veteran, topped by a wry voice and the irreverent style of a ’60s New Journalist. Forget everything you’ve ever gleaned from boilerplate stories about AIDS research: The Wisdom of Whores vibrates with “I’ve been there” authenticity.

Epidemiology, Pisani explains at the outset, is “the study of how diseases spread in a population,” but, like all science, it’s much, much more: “a world of money and votes, a world of medical enquiry and lobbyists, of pharmaceutical manufacturing and environmental activism and religions and political ideologies. … ”

As she “lounged in the library’s leather armchairs” during her graduate-school makeover, an idea kept gnawing at her: that “we could save more lives with good science if we spent less time worrying about publishing the perfect paper and more time lobbying, more time schmoozing the press, more time speaking in the language that voters and politicians understand.”

“If we behaved more,” she quips, “like Big Tobacco.”

More here.