Newsletter- February 2022

Welcome to the February 2022 chapter newsletter.

February is the coldest, and most treacherous, month of the year. It strikes without warning—icy venom paralyzing creatures large and small—and vanishes quickly as it came, leaving a pounding silence in its wake. Indeed, like no other month, February seems to expand and contract at will; prey frozen, it unhinges its jaw and swallows the world whole. 

Let us know what you think, and remember, you can also read it on the chapter website. You can find previous newsletters on the website as well.

In this issue:





Seeking Candidates for President-Elect, Chapter Advisory Council Reprentative, Co-Treasurer and Programming Chair

The AMWA North Central chapter is looking for volunteers!AMWA North Central is a volunteer-based organization. If members don’t take an active role, the chapter will cease to function, and members will lose access to programming, news, and networking opportunities. Consider taking your turn to lead (or join) a committee or serve as a chapter officer.

Please submit your interest or nominations for any of the positions to bod (at) list.amwanorthcentral (dot) org

  • President-Elect: The president-elect position is critical to our status as a chapter!  Without a volunteer to fill this vital position, we will not be able to continue as a chapter. Please volunteer! The new president-elect role will serve a one-year term beginning in February 2021 and ideally will transition into the role of president in 2022. As president-elect, you will attend the monthly AMWA NC chapter board meetings, take minutes, and chair the meeting if the president is unable to attend. Other duties may be assigned by the president or board on an ad hoc basis.
  • CAC Representative: The Chapter Advisory Council Representative attends all meetings of the Chapter Advisory Council, either held in person at the annual AMWA National meeting, or by conference call. The CAC Representative then communicate all concerns and questions from chapter leaders and chapter members to the Chapter Advisory Council. 
  • Programming Committee Chair: The Program Committee Chair is responsible for organizing in-person and virtual AMWA events throughout the year, including identifying topics of interest and recruiting speakers. This is an important role in the chapter and is valuable for both member engagement and education.
  • Co-Treasurer: Manages finances, files U.S. taxes, drafts the annual budget, prepares a financial summary for the bi-annual reports, and works with the Finance committee chair during the annual audit.

In addition to keeping our group viable, volunteering with AMWA is a great way to network with your fellow members. It’s also a good way to fortify your C.V. with an extra line showing how you give back to your profession! If you can volunteer a few hours a month, contact bod (at) list.amwanorthcentral (dot) org.


Virtual Event with Tom Lang, March 23rd at 7 PM via Zoom 

In this remote event, Tom Lang will speak on aspects of scientific, medical, and journalistic writing based on a 2015 article published in the AMWA Journal (2015, 30 (1): 10-16. Tom Lang will address differences between medical, scientific, journalistic writing, based on his long experience with writers and editors. Mr. Lang has taught workshops at AMWA conferences on many topics, including medical writing, randomized controlled trials, statistical analysis, and critical communication. He is also the coauthor (with Michelle Secic) of How to Report Statistics in Medicine.

Please join us for his presentation. 

Zoom meeting

Meeting ID: 832 6192 6068
Passcode: 412134



Book Club Notes: The End of October 

By Paul W. Mamula, PhD 

Our virtual book club met on January 24, 2022, to discuss The End of October by Lawrence Wright. We thought reading about a fictional pandemic would offer a break from our actual pandemic; however, little did we realize we would still be dealing with a pandemic almost 2 years later.  Wright is a staff writer at The New Yorker and Pulitzer Prize winner. His novel’s debut in March 2020 was eerily coincident with our burgeoning Covid-19 cases and multiple business closures. The End of October engendered a lively discussion about the book and aspects of science fiction works. 

The Book 

The End of October consists of 3 parts that span 380 pages, combining elements of epidemiology, biotech thrillers, and apocalyptic fiction. The book follows Henry Parsons, a CDC researcher investigating a respiratory disease outbreak (dubbed the Kongoli virus) in a refugee camp in Indonesia. The outbreak in the camp spreads, and when an infected cab driver escapes a quarantine to go on Hajj, a pandemic begins. When a quarantine in Mecca fails, and pilgrims return home, pandemic and tensions spark a worldwide crisis, triggering a war in the Middle East and provoking worldwide societal disorder. Parsons struggles to return home, and his family faces troubles as societies in the United States and elsewhere fragment. The book has a few surprises along the way: I liked Parsons’ return trip home on a US Navy submarine. In the final section, pandemic chaos serves as a backdrop as Parsons and other scientists search for the virus’s origin. 

Likes and Quibbles 

We all liked the book. Mary Knatterud conceded, “I don’t typically read mysteries or science fiction, but I DID enjoy this fast-paced, eerily prescient thriller from an admired New Yorker writer.” Lawrence Wright acknowledges the many experts he interviewed in researching the book, notably Barney S. Graham, MD, who developed the RNA platform for Pfizer and Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine, as well as officers and crew of the US Navy who gave Wright a tour of the USS Tennessee (SSBN-734). Such input helped Wright create a novel with an elevated gravitas, more Michael Crichton-like fiction than Dean Koontz-like potboiler. I didn’t read the acknowledgments in my first reading of the book. I usually skim them in fiction; however, when rereading the novel and an article about our current pandemic in The New Yorker,1 I realized how much these interviews contributed to the tale. 

Several half-page explanatory sections (also known as “information dumps” among fiction writers) are sprinkled throughout The End of October. While these passages help push the story along, some reviewers found them tedious. We didn’t find them annoying, because the epidemiological and infectious disease information—describing the H1N1 influenza virus (the cause of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1920), origins of biological weapons, and the science behind viruses—served a useful purpose without being a distraction. Knatterud said, “I appreciated the historical facts about various flu strains and bioweapons (pp. 89-91 in particular).” We also thought that such information would help nonscience readers and imparted a realistic tone to what might have otherwise been a less compelling thriller. 

We split on some of the plot lines, however. Wright provides interesting “red herrings” that make the novel partly a biotech thriller and echo current unfounded speculation about the origin of Covid-19 (a laboratory viral isolate or a manufactured bioweapon). The discovery of the true origin of the Kongoli virus ends the novel. Concerns about reservoirs of viruses, including previous influenza strains (H1N1) and smallpox among victims frozen in permafrost, are well-founded.2 

A few of the plot lines seemed far-fetched. Knatterud said, “I was disappointed by some of the unrealistic plot twists and melodramatic violence, especially concerning the protagonist’s young children.”  One newspaper review disparaged the book as more like a screenplay, although I thought it was reasonably fleshed out compared with other fictional works I have read. 

Editors among us always notice errors, and The End of October had more than a few. Knatterud noted, “My editing background made usage errors jump out at me, such as ‘loathe to’ instead of ‘loath to’ (p. 52), ‘nervous tick’ instead of ‘tic’ (p. 133), ‘here’ instead of ‘hear’ (p. 216).” 

In sum, we found The End of October a fast-paced, good read. 

Next Up 

At our next book club meeting on April 25, 2022, we will discuss The Great Influenza by John M. Barry. It is a thorough analysis of the pandemic that began near the end of World War I. The book was much in the news before the last influenza pandemic in 2009 but hasn’t been mentioned or discussed very often in our current pandemic, despite its historical insights and other possible relevance for the current pandemic. Please join us—everyone is welcome, even if you haven’t read the book. 


  1. Wright L. The Plague Year. The New Yorker Jan 4 &11, 2021:20-59
  2. Smith AW, Skilling DE, Castello JD, Rogers SO. Ice as a reservoir for pathogenic human viruses: specifically, caliciviruses, influenza viruses, and enteroviruses. Med Hypotheses 2004;63(4):560-6 Doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2004.05.011 [Accessed January 26, 2022]

New Member Profile: David Puthoff, PhD 

By Kendra Hyland, PhD 

David Puthoff recently joined the Marshfield Clinic Research Institute (MCRI) as a scientific writer. Researchers come to him for help with grants, proposals, and research papers, and he edits their manuscripts for clarity, persuasiveness, coherence, and consistency. While he generates little content currently, he plans put together more presentations and templates that will be useful for research scientists. He works alone, in tandem with researchers, and interfacing with librarians, statisticians, researchers, and other teams, as necessary. The writing that he edits targets grant readers and journal readers. David enjoys working with researchers from all over the world and helping writers for whom English is a second language. Several challenges arise because the technical procedures and concepts the authors describe are not in their own “native language”! In a few short months, David has learned so much even in just a few months about medical and biological terms. Furthermore, MCRI includes the prestigious National Farm Medicine Center, which undertakes influential work regarding our nation’s farmers. Every time he opens his email, he finds something new and reads cutting-edge research, and does his small part for clear scientific communication. 

David moved into scientific writing from a different approach than most of his colleagues. He was educated in English, starting with a BA in creative writing and ending with a Ph.D. in American Literature. Along the way he picked up a technical writing background, first in the physical security industry, followed by teaching technical and professional writing to STEM majors. In teaching STEM majors, David emphasized not only technical formatting skills that many students were lacking, but also an ethical education that typically comes from a Humanities education. When David graduated amid the pandemic, he was able to turn the crisis into a personal opportunity by gaining employment at Marshfield. Researchers who work with David find both a proofreader and a collaborator invested in the clarity of their written communication. David’s teaching experiences also gave him range of experience with English language learners as well. 

David appreciates working from home, providing the ability to work at his own pace. He frequently works asynchronously; for example, gardening, or cooking while the draft of the latest paper percolates in his head. David is also invested in questions of social justice – of race and labor equity – and medical and sociological research complements this activity well. Having to work within someone else’s deadlines also keeps him accountable in the way that works best for him personally – as service to others. 

Like many people, the pandemic has been a huge event shaping David’s career path – not exactly unusual in this age. Where the real turn for him came was when his partner’s grandfather fell ill. They lived in New Mexico where David was finishing his PhD and then moved to Wisconsin to house-sit for grandfather as he received end-of-life care. He was an amazing man, a painter, and a golfer, well-loved in his rural community – a real inspiration. David’s partner got a job with Marshfield at the local hospital at that time, and she encouraged him to apply when the science writer position opened. It was a completely unexpected pivot during a global pandemic- one that David is grateful for every day. 

Membership in AMWA has improved David’s editing skills and inspired him to take more ownership of his position. It provides useful educational resources. David attended the recent National AMWA conference, and listened to sessions on time management, work-from-home best practices, and medical writing formats. From there he continues to keep an eye on the forums, which provide interesting questions and answers and a broader view of the profession. Lately he has come across the AMWA Online Learning library and registered for courses there. One presentation regarding the use of templates in MS Word made clear that there are always more tricks to learn with that versatile program; this presentation specifically inspired David to create templates for MCRI researchers to use when writing proposals, grants, and abstracts, giving the research manuscripts a more coherent, branded look. Next up on his viewing agenda is “Writing for Equity and Inclusion,” so that my social justice interests can expand into his work and vice versa. David expects that Online Learning will remain a crucial foundation of his career in the years to come! 

In David’s off time, he enjoys reading fiction, drinking coffee, and playing Dungeons and Dragons. Weather permitting, he also enjoys gardening and hiking, and when the weather is cold, he loves to sit and watch the snow!