Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Co-Opted Science?

The Identification and Destruction of False Ideas is a pillar of the subrealist ouevre.

The H5N1 virus may have dropped out of the news headlines just now, but it hasn't gone away. Over the past couple weeks, I've come across a veritable tidal wave of pandemic planning and preparedness documentation and emergency management and crisis communications literature addressing this topic.

While it's not as sexy as the UFO preparedness literature, the sheer volume of the stuff makes me wonder to myself, "self, what the hell is going on here? what do these people know that we don't?" Then this morning, I find this article
The ultimate weapon of mass destruction, and a moment of abject lucidity begins to set in;
In Britain and the US, public health studies suggest that a full-blown pandemic of bird flu or something like the respiratory disease SARS could knock out a critical mass of the working population. Some sixty per cent of the nursing and medical services could be out of action within 10 days, according to a study at the Defence Academy of the UK Staff College. This would mean the armed services would have to be called in to help.

The threat to public order - a scenario out of the Day of the Triffids or the Quatermass Experiment - is what really alarms Downing Street. An American study has suggested that in a worst case, half the population would go down with bird flu – roughly the scale of Europe's Black Death of 1348. Half of those would have to go to hospital and millions would die in the first wave.

The government has laid in stocks of 14.6m courses of Tamiflu, one of two known medicines capable of combating H5N1. However, pharmaceutical competitors have claimed that Tamiflu would only be effective for a very short time, and the WHO says the virus appeared to be resistant to Tamiflu in at least two known cases.
It appears that the UK National Security Strategy has pegged pandemics as one of the major threats menacing the civilized world.
The threat to this country from a pandemic caused by bird flu or some such virus is greater than the threat from international terrorism in the view of Gordon Brown and his Downing Street advisors. This is why pandemics are ranked alongside terrorism and other major global ills in the National Security Strategy unveiled last month.
Now where is Gordon Brown getting his information from?
The argument is based on a hypothesis, a short-odds scientific bet. Sir David King, who's just stepped down as the UK's Chief Scientific Adviser, puts it like this: "It is more a question of when rather than if the H5N1 virus mutates into a virulent human form. So far we have noted more than 20 mutations of the virus in only a few years."
His view is supported by every public health official or doctor I have met in recent months. Only last week, three former heads of the Defence Ministry and the Joint Intelligence Committee told me without hesitation that they thought the PM was right to flag the potential menace.
Oh Lawd!!!! The sky must indeed be falling, or maybe not. Evidently Sir David King has established track record second only to our own legendary Brownie. According to the warmwell blog, hailed thus; "This website has served as a rapier, puncturing the bladder of Government obfuscation, by publishing a highly informed, topical digest of news..." Sir David King has established a track record of highly dubious provenance and has served as a pseudo-scientific authority co-opted to justify a series of disastrous political agendas, most notably the mass slaughter of British livestock to control an alleged pandemic..

Which brings me back full circle. What's up with the human pandemic preparedness push?