Thursday, February 24, 2005

Influenza and Bioterror Revisited

I'd intended to append this to my earlier post on the subject, but as usual, Blogger won't let me open my archives.

Anyway, Effect Measure has a very important post on this subject, which really must be read in full:

Before this topic goes much further, let me sound a note of caution. Bioterrorism is an issue in this instance only because it shows that the huge amount of time, effort and money fed willy-nilly into the bioterrorism maw has bought us little of real substance. But it is not the main issue or even close to it, as I shall argue below. I have real discomfort raising the flag of bioterrorism whenever it suits us to raise the visibility of a problem. If we are going to beat up on public health officials and their political bosses (and we should when we see the need) it should be for the right reasons. This was an alarming episode, not because it revealed a chink in our bioterrorism armor (armor which doesn't exist and probably cannot exist), but because it raises the alarm about surveillance and our preparedness for influenza and other emerging infectious diseases.
I couldn't agree more, and I hope my post didn't give anyone any other impression. The best defense against bioterrorism is an efficient, fully staffed, well-funded public-health system, preferably with a high degree of international cooperation. Just to make it perfectly clear where I stand on this issue, here's something I said back in October of last year:
The classic libertarian line is that the only business of government is to protect the public from attack. If that applies to bioterrorism, it applies to epidemic disease generally; no one dying of smallpox or cholera is going to be comforted by the fact that it occurred naturally, especially in this day and age....An H5N1 epidemic could kill 25 million Americans in a matter of months; it worries me more than terrorism does, and I'd rather have more money going to prevent that (not that Bush is actually doing anything to prevent terrorism).
My nightmare scenario is one in which "bioterrorism defense" becomes something along the lines of "missile defense": a bottomless hole for public money, which gives the false impression that serious people are addressing a problem in a serious way, and siphons money and attention away from more important security threats, and - as a punchline - never delivers a working product.

A million thanks to Revere for reminding me of the need for cautious, effective framing of this (and every other) issue.

4 comments:

Cervantes said...

"Bioterrorism" in general is both overrated and misunderstood. It is definitely true that we need to pay much more attention as a society and culture to the ecological relationship between humans and microorganisms, about which there is a dark abysm of public ignorance and misapprehension. I will be interested to see what you have to say on the subject. And you're invited to give my site a visit, I will be addressing these issues frequently.

Wayne said...

...a bottomless hole for public money, which gives the false impression that serious people are addressing a problem in a serious way, and siphons money and attention away from more important security threats, and - as a punchline - never delivers a working product.So well spoken. It boggles the imagination how this has become standard policy.

Revere said...

Thanks for the added and well spoken thoughts. I'd like to do a longer post on BT if I ever get the chance to sit down and write it. It is a really, really lousy idea that is destroying public health before our eyes.

revere

Anonymous said...

Don't ASSuME that a massive innoculation is the work of an altruistic elite. It is remotely possible that a massive program of sqwirting liquids into the blood of the population is the work of an evil cabal.
I for one have no intention of allowing myself to be shot in the arm by "the authorities".
If a massive program is undertaken, I will take precautions to be the last in line. If months go by and I reassess my views, I MIGHT allow my self to be shot, but from what I think I know now, I am not about to be the first in line to get a sqwirt in the arm from, "the authorities" or their slaves.