Via EpiMonday comes an interview with epidemiologist and physican Larry Brilliant, who was tapped to be the head of (“the philanthropic arm of Google”) earlier this year:

If Larry Brilliant’s life were a film, critics would pan the plot as implausible. Trained as a physician, he was studying in an Indian monastery in 1973 when a guru told him to join the UN smallpox vaccination effort. Brilliant helped eradicate the disease from India and eventually the planet. He returned to the US and founded a charity organization, Seva, that has saved millions of people in developing countries from blindness; cofounded the online community the Well; and served as CEO for four tech companies. Oh, and he also found time to march with Martin Luther King Jr. and moonlight as a physician for Jerry Garcia. Last October, Brilliant received a $100,000 TED Prize to further his idea for building a global early-warning system for disease and disaster. Four months later Google hired him to head its charitable arm,, with an initial bankroll of 3 million shares – worth about $1.15 billion – and 1 percent of annual profits. Brilliant recently suspended a self-imposed “quiet period” to talk about his plans for


What’s your mandate?
We’ll have three big areas: climate crisis, global public heath, and global poverty, not necessarily in that order. I’m going to approach this the way a venture capitalist would – map out the industry to see what the gaps are. You fund an initiative, learn what works, and ask, “Will it scale?”

More big plans for global health funding…wonder how Focus on the Family will spin that one.

2 Replies to “Brilliant!”

  1. Once again, one finds that it’s not journalists who are guilty of making hyper-stimulations about microbial threats or potential hazards but the doctors and epidemiologists who tell them those things.

    Case in point – here is Larry Brilliant, a physician and epidemiologist, who is quoted in this piece as answering the question, “Do you consider avian flu an information problem?” as follows:

    “Absolutely. There’s a 10 to 15 percent chance that H5N1 will achieve escape velocity and mutate to be transmitted from human to human. If it does, between 100 million and 300 million people will die. The world will incur costs of $1 trillion to $3 trillion. But there’s an 85 to 90 percent chance of it not happening. How do you think this through with a government that is anti-science? How does one decide when experts don’t agree? Information is the key. Google can help make good information ubiquitous.”


    These are absolutely random guesses and wild predictions that eerily resemble what was fretted about over SARS a few years ago.

    They make for scary headlines and provide justifications for allocating funds and energy, but distract us from the real causes of human despair in the world – malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies, lack of clean drinking water, inadequate disposal of waste materials, personal insecurity, and random acts of violence.

    A sad commentary but one, I’m sorry to say again, that physician Marc Siegel ably dissects and explains in his 2005 book, “False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear.”

  2. Those statistics do indeed seem to be made up by himself (prolly during the formulation of the answer) but nonetheless i think that`s what this is about: achieving the goal, something he obviously knows how to do.

    As for those issues you mentioned: just because they exists doesn`t mean you should put others to rest or on pause, especially not when there is a social fabric and inidividuals with individual interests, meaning each and everyone tackles whatever interests him – and believe me the spectrum is broad.

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