News from academe

News from academe.

Typhoid Alexander

After more than 2,000 years of speculation, the mystery of Alexander the Great’s death may have been solved by two American scholars. The legendary Macedonian conqueror died in Babylon in 323 B.C. at the age of 32. Poisoning, malaria, and heavy drinking have all been cited to explain the peculiar physical symptoms that accompanied his death. The strangest of these is the claim by his contemporaries that Alexander’s corpse did not decay for several days–an assertion usually written off as myth. But according to the October issue of Discover, David Oldach, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Maryland, and Eugene Borza, a retired historian at Penn State, have a diagnosis that accounts for all the odd phenomena: typhoid fever. Not only would that explain Alexander’s fever, chills, and severe bowel distress, the scholars say, but the disease can induce a rare complication called “ascending paralysis,” which looks like rigor mortis even though the afflicted person may not yet be dead.

Transatlantic Crossed

A much-anticipated CD-ROM from Harvard University’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research reflecting 30 years of scholarship on the transatlantic slave trade was attacked at its unveiling last month at William and Mary College. According to the Washington Post, critics faulted the CD-ROM for failing 1) to address the cultural impact of the African diaspora; 2) to provide a definitive list of the voyages; and 3) to mention the names of any of the millions of Africans transported to America on slave ships. Other scholars disagree, saying that the CD-ROM brings together information on 27,000 voyages undertaken by more than a dozen countries and that it revolutionizes our understanding of the slave trade. For example, the CD-ROM makes clear that half of the Africans died not during the middle passage, as has been commonly assumed, but at African ports before embarking. The CD-ROM will be available from Cambridge University Press for $195 beginning next month. For more on the Du Bois Institute, read Franklin Foer’s “Assessment” of Henry Louis Gates Jr. in Slate.

Who Loves Cheerleading? We Love Cheerleading!

Cheerleading, it turns out, is one of the most dangerous college sports for women. Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have found that cheerleading was responsible for nearly half of the injuries suffered by female high-school and college students leading to paralysis or death. The good news for cheerleading is that 27 states now recognize cheerleading as a sport (as opposed to an activity); there are an estimated 7 million cheerleaders around the world; and advocates are pushing for Olympic status.

The Secret of Life

Are American scientists trying to steal a natural resource from the Chinese? In March, American researchers from Bethesda’s Institute of Aging, Duke University, and the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research joined Chinese counterparts for a massive study of the DNA of 10,000 Chinese age 80 and older. No sooner had work begun than the Chinese began to cry foul. The Chinese press accused the Americans of trying to mine the secret of the Chinese population’s famed longevity in order to exploit it for Western commercial ends. “These long-life genes are the most valuable in the world,” one Chinese researcher told the Washington Post in early October. “It should be us who markets them, not the Americans.” As a result of growing protests, research was suspended for three months in the spring.

Another Reason To Get That MBA

The country’s top business schools are discovering new targets for their venture capital funds: their own alumni. According to Fortune, MBA graduates of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School, the University of Michigan, and Columbia University can apply to their institution for support of up to $250,000 to get their business projects off the ground. The schools aren’t giving away the money; they expect to turn a profit on their investments within several years. Projects these schools have backed so far: a candle and toiletries business, a company that makes backpacks for in-line skates, and a firm exploring laser technology for eye surgery.

Egghead Exam

A tenured professor of English at Rutgers has refused the university’s request that she take a neurological exam. After four students complained to the administration about her behavior in the classroom last spring, Sandra Flitterman-Lewis was asked to sign a release form requiring her to be medically examined before teaching again this fall. According to a recent article in the Daily Targum, the Rutgers newspaper, complaints about Flitterman-Lewis included “bringing too many personal issues to class,” failing to adhere to her announced syllabus, and singling out students “for ridicule and contempt.” Flitterman-Lewis told the DailyTargum that she was not given an opportunity to defend or explain her behavior and that “There’s no evidence beyond hearsay that I’m incompetent.” She will not be teaching at Rutgers this fall.