Friday, March 11, 2005

A Slap On the Wrist

Effect Measure alerts me to the imperial arrogance of the Washington Post, which has seen fit to slap the wrists of the nearly 800 microbiologists who argued that BushCo's fixation on biodefense is wrecking the public health system:

Where we lose sympathy for the authors is when they state that funds have been diverted from "projects of high public-health importance" to "projects of high biodefense but low public-health importance." This country has already experienced one anthrax attack. Security officials have stated repeatedly their belief that al Qaeda and others continue to search for more lethal bioweapons. Surely that makes biodefense projects of "high public-health importance."
Of course, "security officials" have repeatedly stated a lot of beliefs that turned out to be lies or errors, but I can't say I'm surprised that the WaPo is pretending not to recall this, despite (as Revere notes) having issued a public apology for believing the Administration in the past.

But what really strikes me about this editorial is its author's belief that this sort of languidly pompous dismissal constitutes a valid rebuttal to the combined authority of 758 microbiologists, and offers legitimate grounds for questioning their competence as health professionals. Apparently, the media now function as a sort of drive-through peer review board; whatever hurdles these microbiologists might have overcome in their professional careers, whatever laurels they may have earned, they've failed the all-important test of impressing an editorialist, and have thus forfeited their right to his or her "sympathy." And needless to say, if some anonymous trained monkey at the WaPo fails to understand risk, then it's incumbent on all of us to do likewise, like those loyal subjects who used to throw themselves into the dirt when the king stumbled.

Here's a brainteaser for the folks at the WaPo: Suppose you could either double your risk of dying from anthrax, or double your risk of dying from ordinary influenza. Which would you prefer?

This editorial also demonstrates the odd logic of media. Anthrax attacks are rare and frightening, which makes them big news, which makes them a grave concern to all informed people, which makes them the rightful focus of healthcare professionals.

What evidence do we have that anthrax attacks are "of high public-health importance"? The fact that the 2001 attacks were obsessively covered by the media, who devised ominous graphics and sinister music for the occasion, making the five victims seem more vibrantly, excitingly dead than the hundreds of people who die monthly from all-too-common diseases like AIDS, hepatitis, and pneumonia. And in addition, the fact that BushCo - the most dishonest administration in modern memory - says we're in serious danger. Meanwhile, everyday sickness and death isn't newsworthy, so it's not a threat. And thus the WaPo can wag its finger at these out-of-touch microbiologists, who obviously haven't been reading the papers.

For those who missed it the first time, you can click here to see the expenditures that the microbiologists are complaining about. You'll note that anthrax spending is up 2388 percent, while hepatitis is down 58 percent, and tuberculosis and AIDS are down 20 percent.

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