- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2003

Noble: Steve Rucker, for volunteering to test a vaccine for the virulent Ebola virus.

The Ebola virus is rightly feared as one of nature’s most potent agents of infection. Highlighted by Richard Preston’s “The Hot Zone,” the virus is extraordinarily lethal, killing up to 90 percent of those it infects. It slays in horrific fashion (those who wish the gory details should check out Mr. Preston’s book).

Nightmare scenarios of a terrorist attack with the virus led policy-makers to set up a fast-track program to discover potential treatments. Through that program, scientists produced a synthetic vaccine ready for human testing in just three years.

However, researchers still needed a human willing to take the test. The vaccine is probably one of the safest available, since none of its components actually come from the virus. But the name was sufficient to scare off most.

Fortunately, it was not sufficient to scare off Mr. Rucker, a nurse at the National Institutes of Health. This week, he stepped into an NIH clinic and offered his shoulder (and the rest of his body) for the first-ever shot of the experimental vaccine.

Why did Mr. Rucker do so? He said he learned about the importance of such inoculations while living in areas of South America without access to medicine. “It’s so rare in research that you get to help with something that’s so promising,” he said.

Mr. Rucker’s courage could do a great deal to help the nation be better prepared against a terrorist attack. However, Mr. Rucker might also be instrumental in saving the lives of other individuals infected by the virus. Currently, those treating Ebola patients can offer little but hope.

Patriots and humanitarians could both take a lesson from Mr. Rucker. The Ebola vaccine study desperately needs more noble volunteers. For more information, visit www.clinicaltrials.gov.

Knaves: Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon for a shockingly unserious press conference announcing the prosecution of Michael Jackson.

Neither the notoriety of the accused nor the carnival of coverage should have blinded Mr. Sneddon to the serious nature of the event. However, Mr. Sneddon made a joke of the situation. He started the conference by thanking the press for coming to Santa Barbara, adding, “I hope you … all stay long and spend lots of money because we need your sales tax to support our offices.” He continued to make jokes throughout the press conference, at different points being sarcastic and dismissive.

Yet there are few higher complaints that the state can make against an individual. Mr. Jackson stands accused of taking terrible advantage of nearly helpless children, and violating them in a most personal way. Conviction of only one of the charges will be sufficient to send Mr. Jackson to prison for between three and eight years. Mr. Jackson’s bail was set at $3 million.

For buffoonish behavior when great gravity was called for, Mr. Sneddon is the Knave of the week.

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