In the early 1990s, just after Operation Desert Storm, scientists from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research traveled to the lower Amazon basin to conduct trials with a new antimalarial medication. They found an epidemic in full swing among a camp of gold miners. The scientists labored in the humidity of the tropical rain forest to set up a clinic. But rumors slowed their progress: People said the researchers planned to develop medications, not for Brazilians, but rather for U.S. forces who planned to invade the country to prevent the destruction of the rain forest. The war with Iraq had helped heighten fears of U.S. aggression.

While miners twitched with malarial fever and chills, the rumor diverted the U.S. scientists from their urgent mission: to heal the immediate suffering and develop a drug to help prevent malaria from disabling people in the future. Instead of working, the researchers spent...

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