ISCID News Editor
Member # 1417
posted 02. March 2006 21:00
ISCID Editor: Mini Editorial
Few westerners will have failed to notice the increasing popular media coverage of the progress of Avian Flu. There has been some marked disagreement amongst health professionals and disease specialists around the world about the potential for the disease to develop the ability to pass between human hosts, thus becoming a devastating worldwide pandemic. Some scientists, especially those representing the World Health Organisation are gravely concerned, whilst others think the likelihood that the organism will achieve human to human transmission capabilities is very limited, and have accused the media and the WHO of scare-mongering and irresponsible sensationalism. Other professionals have highlighted the confusing use of terminology involved in discussions of the Avian flu and pandemic flu, but Government efforts to clarify the situation do not seem to have been overly effective.
Right on cue, conspiracy theorists are making their own contribution to the debate. Avian Flu, they say, is of course a bio-weapon engineered and developed by white-collar war criminals belonging to a sinister ruling elite, for the purposes of world-wide population culling and control. In fairness to these much maligned speculators, "Even a paranoid has some real enemies" (Henry Kissinger). Moreover, who am I to criticise their concerns? After all - how can I possibly know one way or the other? There is so much information 'out there', and if even the experts can't agree, one wonders what hope the man on the street, or even the average science editor, has, of ever really discerning or knowing what is going on?
However - with all of the recent accelerated progress in genetic research, catalysed by the increasing availability of cost effective software for computational biology, and the mapping of more and more genomes for more and more organisms, all coupled with the proliferation of cheap powerful computers - how far away can we be from informational complexity based tools of a forensic variety that can help us, or at least help the experts, to know 'with confidence' which fears to entertain - if any?
Can natural selection and chance mutations in the viral genome really bring about a deadly plague in keeping with the WHO's fears and predictions? History can be a strong witness. When the black plague that wiped out most of Europe in the middle ages struck, humanity was hundreds of years away from understanding the basics of the cell. But then, perhaps the conspiracy theorists are right and it is highly intelligent and thoroughly depraved human beings, guiding the mutation mechanism, that are the true would be progenitors of the killer flu? After all, biowarfare has been a reality since the same scientifically ignorant denizens of the middle ages, that died in their droves from the plague, catapulted corpses over the battlements to end sieges by pestilence.
ISCID News Editor.
PLoS on Pandemic Influenza
[ 02. March 2006, 22:07: Message edited by: ISCID News Editor ]