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April 28, 2009

Swine flu and information hygiene
Posted by Teresa at 01:45 PM * 163 comments

Kragen Javier Sitaker has written a lucid and pertinent essay, How False Rumors Can Cost Lives, about the current flood of rumor, misinformation, and speculation about swine flu:

We are facing a flu outbreak. It seems most likely that it started at an overcrowded pig farm in Veracruz. I estimate it has about a 40% chance of going pandemic, a 59% chance of fizzling like SARS, and a 1% chance of something else entirely. It’s in a critical stage right now; in the next month or so, it could go either way.

… If the pandemic is possible but not inevitable, it won’t be stopped by individual action. It can only be done by entire countries, united, acting rapidly to take preventive measures: wearing facemasks, washing hands, not shaking hands, using alcohol hand sanitizer gel, social distancing, soldiers going on leave instead of living in barracks, administration of antiviral drugs like Tamiflu to those in affected areas, quarantining travelers and the sick, and so on. Maybe it will turn out that experimental use of OX40-Ig or something stops the damn thing from drowning you in your own plasma.

In the US, there is a system in place for taking such decisive united action on issues of public health. It depends on the government: the CDC, the PHS, FEMA, the TSA, and so on. They have to decide what to do; there’s no system in place for democratic deliberation about these issues. But once they make their choice, they can’t implement it without the trust of the population.

Of course, if it happens that the government agencies are corrupt and unconcerned with public welfare—especially if they were actually complicit in creating the problem, as they were in New Orleans after Katrina—there is no hope for such decisive action.

Suppose, though, that the agencies actually do try to take effective action. Suppose that, unlike in 1976, their action is necessary and sufficient to keep this damn thing from taking off. But suppose there are a bunch of hoaxes floating around. Hoaxes that claim, say, that the virus was created in government laboratories and then released—on no factual basis, with no plausible theory of motivation, and no plausible explanation of how such a thing was possible.

If people believe such hoaxes, the agencies will find themselves unable to act—paralyzed by the distrust of the public.

And the hoax will kill millions, or tens of millions, of people.

The author then does a very creditable job of explaining how to judge the reliability of an online source. He begins:
So when you’re sending around something you read about the flu, please, stop and think. Don’t forward wildly speculative ideas about government conspiracies to your friends or to the world. When someone proposes an idea, think about whether it makes sense.
He gives a list of suggested questions to ask about a source, using as his example a wildly irresponsible article by Paul Joseph Watson: Medical Director: Swine Flu Was “Cultured In A Laboratory”. It appeared at—a site which, as Jim would put it, frequently wanders into the Tinfoil Hat Mountains, gets trapped by snow, and eats its own dead.

As usual, I recommend you read “False Rumors” in its entirety.

I’ve been seeing some strange reactions—elsewhere not on Making Light—from people who apparently want to deny that it’s possible to have general, reasoned, public discussions of emotionally charged current events. I don’t know what their problem is, but they are wrong, and I defy them.

We are reasonable human beings. We can seek out reliable information, and have useful, reasonable conversations about issues that matter to us. So what if we’re not all experts on every possible subject? We can help each other understand. If it’s not our turn to be the expert this time, it may be our turn next week; and a good discussion makes everyone smarter.

Finally, a quote from my own Tips for an apocalypse, published July 07, 2005:

2. Beware of rumors. People will be desperately trying to pull together a picture of the situation. They’ll grasp at scraps of information, theorize light-years beyond the data, inflate the importance of trifles, and find connections where none exist. By all means, keep your head up and your ear to the ground. Good information is priceless. But if there’s ever a moment to look skeptically at unsourced information, this is it. … 3. Brace yourself: the idiots are coming. Over the next few weeks, you’re going to get hit with a spate of false alarms. It’s because everyone’s on edge, which means false alarms will produce exaggerated responses. Some sh*t-for-brains types find that amusing. If you stay calm, they’ll die down faster. … 4. Hang in there. Take care of yourselves.
Comments on Swine flu and information hygiene:
#1 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 02:06 PM:

Of course swine flu was cultured in a laboratory. Why do you think that hospitals take swabs from people who come in with various infections? Why does anyone think hospitals have labs to start with?

If the stuff wasn't cultured in a laboratory how would anyone know what it is?

#2 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 02:13 PM:

Someone on BB has named the (maybe) coming swine flu pandemic "the Aporkalypse."

#3 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 02:37 PM:

SARS didn't "fizzle". It was successfully contained by the swift and unpopular actions of governments.

#4 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 02:44 PM:

The sentence in "False Rumors" that most makes me want to hug it and kiss it and call it George is this one: Some material is just inherently highly emotionally charged, but a responsible writer will do their best to treat it dispassionately so that you can use your own judgment about its merit.

#5 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 02:47 PM:

Teresa, MSNBC has breaking news saying NYC's health chief stated "hundreds of school children ill" and that there are now 2 people hospitalized with it.

State of California, the governor has declared a state of emergency, and they've got two men who died of "swine flu-like" symptoms over the weekend. Ages of deceased, 33 and 45 years.

This is beginning to look nasty, and the flu season is just starting in the southern hemisphere.

#6 ::: Farah ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 02:49 PM:

soldiers going on leave


I've been told by Australians that the 1918 epidemic was spread *precisely* by the decision to demobilise. Surely the last thing you want to do is scatter all those potential vectors?

#7 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 03:08 PM:

I've commented on this before (recently), but the way we as a society tolerate lies and deceit from trusted people and organizations definitely contributes to this ugly dynamic in which nobody trusts the high-profile organizations (government agencies, top-tier news sources, universities) to tell the truth when their interests might be better served by lies.

Even now, I do wonder how the various recommendations of the CDC and WHO are tempered by economic and political considerations. Would we have closed the border with Mexico[1] if not for the massive economic consequences of possibly triggering a massive run of border-closings across the globe? Or the ugly politics that could come out of that, with nativists pushing to keep that border closed for the duration of the economic crisis, and Mexicans blaming the US for kicking them when they were down with both the flu *and* the drug lords[2]? Will the people who ignored global warming and the massively inflating housing bubble because taking any action would have been *really painful* do better with the aporkalypse[3]?

For myself, I have *way* more trust in what I read on the net, from trusted sources, than anything I see on TV or hear on the radio[4], or most anything I see from official government sources. At least, I'll want to see the reactions of people I trust to official statements....

[1] There probably wouldn't have been much point, since there are already cases in the US by the time anyone gave this any thought at all.

[2] Jon Stewart's routine about this was hilarious. "Bullet flu" is indeed an airborne illness....

[3] The four hogs of the aporkalypse are saddled and ready to ride....

[4] Okay, so I'll default to believing what Elmer Huerta says about it, but probably not any other media personalities.

#8 ::: Johan Larson ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 03:22 PM:

"State of California, the governor has declared a state of emergency..."

Don't read too much into that. He also declared a state of emergency some years back when a highway overpass in the SF Bay area burned down. The declaration allowed the gov't to bypass a lot of the usual procedural checks in getting the replacement built. The present act may be similarly tactical.

#9 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 03:23 PM:

If it weren't for the fact that universal immunization is a good thing and helps protect us all, I'd say to the wonderful folks posting in the comment threads a about how they'll never, ever get an immunization, "Go, you! It'll help cull the morons."

#10 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 03:26 PM:

I think the WHO's latest conference decided against calling for any border closings, since the virus has already left the barn for the pastures. There's no point in trying to stop it, as too many people have been exposed and already returned to their homes. At this point, containment has failed, and treatment/spot quarantine is going to be more effective. WHO update 3

#11 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 03:30 PM:

Johan Larson @8: Thanks -- I figured that was a matter of form, as declaring a state of emergency usually gives the area in question access to additional federal funds and/or assistance.

#12 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 03:45 PM:

This is just to say that I really like the phrase "information hygiene". It would make a good book title.

#13 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 03:47 PM:

Are reptoids immune to the flu?

#14 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 03:50 PM:

Earl #12:

It's either a really cool phrase, or a sort-of Orwellian/sinister sounding one, depending on its application. ("Use good information hygene--only listen to official state news sources.")

#15 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 03:57 PM:

@5: While it is true that "hundreds" of students and teachers are reporting flu-like symptoms, there are only 28 confirmed cases so far. Two schools have closed, St. Francis Prep in Queens and PS 177, a school for autistic students.

82 students are sick at PS 177 but swine flu has not been confirmed there. More are sick at St. Francis, and 26 of the 28 confirmed cases are St. Francis students or the families of St. Francis students. One of the PS 177 students is the sibling of a student at St. Francis Prep.

The other confirmed cases are on a separate transmission line, via relatives who were in Mexico recently.

The NYC school system is _huge_--one grade is larger than most places' entire school systems. Hundreds of kids are sick every day. When an intestinal upset went through my daughter's middle school last month, I'm willing to bet than on any individual day, 100 or more of the school's 1,000 students were out sick.

I'm paying attention because children in my daughter's grade (not class) went to Mexico over spring break. So far, no one is sick.

#16 ::: Syndaryl ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 03:58 PM:

#12 Earl, #14 albatross:

I have to say, my primary associations with the term "information hygiene" are all negative (re: willfully ignoring anything that conflicts with your worldview)...

But to be strictly honest, that's basically what I do, very aggressively. We don't have cable, satellite, or even an antenna for our TV. No newspaper or magazine subscriptions (although I do flip through Readers Digest when trapped in a waiting room from time to time). Heavily filtered internet browsing for self-defense has the side effect of blocking most advertising, and internet browsing in general tends to lead you from like-minded site to like-minded site, leaving you cocooned in a protective bubble of similar people.

Often you bump into the same people at many of the places you go on the 'net - it's at times downright incestuous.

I do read the BBC newsfeed, though. Does that count?

#17 ::: Wyman Cooke ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 04:10 PM:

I'm glad to say I've never heard of before. I love the Donner Party allusion.

I would put the fizzle chance at 69%. I would go higher but Murphy's Law is still in effect.

#18 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 04:19 PM:

Syn #16:

I really try to diversify the set of views I read, for this reason. I won't watch or read dumb things or transparent propoganda, but I will read intelligent stuff that p--sses me off, as well as occasional intelligent stuff that just seems almost alien in the weirdness of its underlying assumptions.

This has a bunch of advantages:

a. Sometimes, I'll get an insight from some completely weird perspective that I'd never have had on my own.

b. Even if I can't get any great insights from some oddball POV, I can learn how a lot of other people think, which helps me understand the world better.

c. Propoganda and spin are almost always targeted at specific audiences. Propoganda targeted at people like me (more-or-less libertarian, educated, Catholic, male, straight, technophile) is a lot more likely to hook me than propoganda targeted at someone else (socialist, uneducated, Evangelical Protestant, etc.). And seeing the propoganda come out in parallel in different places, slightly altered to better target different audiences, makes it easier to resist even the stuff that *is* targeted at me.

All IMO and kind-of off topic, but there it is.

#19 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 04:27 PM:

I suspect that the odds of dying of a garden variety case of the flu are still higher in Westchester County, NY than of dying of Swine Flu. (It may be more virulent but the odds of catching it are so much lower.)

#20 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 04:40 PM:

But I wanna hysterically spread wild, unfounded rumors!


You never let me have any fun.


#21 ::: Keith K ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 04:51 PM:

Earl @ 12:

Information Hygine is what Librarians do.

"Don't touch that website! it's full of noxious intel! Here, use this one, it's up to date on all of its vaccines."

"Itching for the latest research? I think I have a database for that."

Ever wonder why the ALA and AMA are only one letter apart? Now you know.

#22 ::: Keith K ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 04:54 PM:

By the way, I'm collecting useful links on Swine flu for the Health Professions programs at the university I work at. drop them here or email me if you got 'em.

#23 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 05:01 PM:

For sound, reliable sources on flu pandemics, the National Academies Press is now advertising a 10-book package on flu pandemics, from various Institute of Medicine committees and workshops. You can buy the package in physical or electronic form, or read any of the individual titles online for free. Here's their catalog page for the package.

I've got all 10 titles, plus some other books on the flu and viral infections, indexed on The Online Books Page. A good place to start browsing is the Influenza subject cluster (where you'll also find free online books on some other viral disease outbreaks).

#24 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 05:05 PM:

I'm with Beth - SARS was some incredibly scary shit, and we were damn lucky it was contained.

#25 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 05:15 PM:

recombined conspiracies
bind to wing-nut receptors
now I'm a meme factory!

#26 ::: cgeye ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 05:21 PM:

I'm perfectly comfortable with both the conspiracy theory that the lack of management/oversight over industries that spawned a fearsome viral remix was deliberately done by people who want to drown government in its own pool of hog waste, *and* the fact that those still wanting to support a capable and responsive government need all necessary aid to implement a public health solution that saves lives.

If I didn't, then I wouldn't see clearly the damage the Bush Administration deliberately caused and what massive tasks lie ahead for the Obama Administration. I thought we understood this. The damage is not rumor, and those who want to hinder a government response are the same crooks who had crowbars in their hands last year.

#27 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 05:30 PM:

Keith K @22: Have you already collected the CDC and WHO websites?

#28 ::: Keith K ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 05:39 PM:

Ginger @27:

Yes, I've got the CDC and WHO. I'm also looking for common sense info like the fantastic posts here and on the sidebar (the google maps is very helpful). Any other links that might give some commons sense approaches, something we cna pass on to concerned students, and our faculty can pass on to their classes would be helpful.

#29 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 06:05 PM:

Keith K, I posted the URL for Effect Measure in the Flu Redux thread, but it can't hurt to have it again. It's part of the Science Blogs network, authored by public health professionals.

#30 ::: Leva Cygnet ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 06:42 PM:


Sheriff Arpaio here in Phoenix is managing to spin this into an anti-illegal-alien thing. As one would expect. Equipping all his sheriff deputies with masks and gloves (good) because they might encounter infected illegal aliens (err ...)

(I am honestly wondering what publicity stunts Arpaio might try to pull once this thing hits Maricopa County. See forced quarantine, tuberculosis patient, Maricopa County jail, no charges ever filed. He does love the publicity and he's got his tent cities all ready to go ... thank goodness I do not live in Maricopa County, though I work there. The thought of Arpaio having say over who gets quarantined is ... unsettling.)

#31 ::: Leva Cygnet ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 06:45 PM:


It strikes me that arresting illegal aliens, who have likely been here for far longer than the incubation period, is not something that should be the sheriff's priority during a pandemic. Srsly.

#32 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 06:58 PM:

Leva Cygnet @ 31, my favorite, in a laughing-and-crying kind of way, is the line about how the masks are in case they come into contact with someone before they know their legal status.

Because viruses look at paperwork before deciding who to infect. Only illegal immigrants could possibly be carrying a flu virus.


#33 ::: Torrilin ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 07:00 PM:

This is beginning to look nasty, and the flu season is just starting in the southern hemisphere.

It does seem to respond to spot quarantine. It may take shutting down *all* the schools in Queens and Manhattan (and won't that be fun...), but the NYC outbreak does not look too dire at this point. Quarantine, hand washing and IV fluids are really wonderful technology. They're not much fun, but they do save lives.

My main worry is that internal quarantine will break down in the hospitals. But we'll have clear warning of that, and hospital closures can be very effective. SARS in Toronto would have been *much* worse without the hospital closures. It helps that most doctors and nurses know that the last thing anyone needs is for *them* to get sick.

#34 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 07:22 PM:

If it weren't for the fact that universal immunization is a good thing and helps protect us all, I'd say to the wonderful folks posting in the comment threads a about how they'll never, ever get an immunization, "Go, you! It'll help cull the morons."

That, and the fact that some of those people probably have children who will also never, ever get an immunization (at least until they're 18, and given parental indoctrination, possibly not even then).

"Evolution in action" sounds neat, until you remember what the methods of evolution are.

Damn higher reasoning, always raining on my Schadenfreude.

#35 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 07:49 PM:

'Taint just Sheriff Arpaio. The usual suspects (Beck, Boortz, Malkin) have been blaming illegal aliens. I haven't seen anything as idiotic or as evil since I ran across a person who insisted that gays "spawned" HIV.

#36 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 08:54 PM:

But .. but ... but....

It IS caused by illegal aliens!!!*

* Very very small ones, with no DNA of their own, who sneak around by hiding inside of people...

#37 ::: oldfeminist ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 09:17 PM:

Nothing will make you an unbeliever in rumor faster than hearing your own speculation repeated back to you as fact the next day.

#38 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 09:25 PM:

The descriptive timeline for this reads like a frightening Steven King novel.

one of the understated, quiet ones....

#39 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 09:55 PM:

I see I'm joining the crowd here, but "hundreds of schoolchildren ill" with flu or flu-like symptoms sounds like a typical day in spring to me.

#40 ::: Micah ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 10:50 PM:

This brings to the front of my mind once more how incredibly inappropriate policies where I work are, where on a regular basis people who call in sick are told they may be in some vague sort of trouble if they can't produce a doctor's note to prove that they actually are sick, not just hung-over. Of course, there's nothing you could have that would be enough to not want to be working in the food service industry that doesn't require a doctor's attention.


#41 ::: Brenda Kalt ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 10:59 PM:

169(?) fatalities in Mexico City vs. few elsewhere--I started to wonder why. Then I thought of Mexico City's dreadful air pollution. It could stress people's lungs long-term and make them more vulnerable to the virus.

#42 ::: Kragen Javier Sitaker ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 11:00 PM:

Thank you very much for the kind words, Teresa!

#43 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 11:18 PM:

The latest WHO update:
"28 April 2009
Swine influenza - update 4

28 April 2009--The situation continues to evolve rapidly. As of 19:15 GMT, 28 April 2009, seven countries have officially reported cases of swine influenza A/H1N1 infection. The United States Government has reported 64 laboratory confirmed human cases, with no deaths. Mexico has reported 26 confirmed human cases of infection including seven deaths."

That looks like a CFR of about 26%. In contrast, H5N1 (Avian or bird flu) has a CFR around 60-70%, depending on location. Note that Mexico is reporting only 26 confirmed cases of H1N1 (type A/Mexico/2009), although suspected cases run well over 1500 by now.

#44 ::: Leva Cygnet ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2009, 11:47 PM:

Ginger, I don't think we can extrapolate a CFR from those numbers because we don't know how many undiagnosed or unreported cases there are.

Though you can make some interesting extrapolations in the other direction. Mexico's reporting approximately 150 suspected deaths. A CFR of 2.5 gives you 6000 cases, a CFR of .5 gives you 30,000 cases, a CFR of .1 gives you 150,000 cases.

Given they seem to think the index case was sometime in March, I'm not sure which is worse -- 1 case to 150,000 cases with a very low CFR (but wildly contagious and resulting in lots of fatalities because EVERYONE gets sick) or a higher CFR, slightly less contagious, but a lot more lethal and already spread all over the world.

Note: Mexico's numbers are probably off the mark. I have no idea if they're too high (some of those 150 aren't flu victims) or too low (unreported deaths) but they're probably not right.

Re: H5N1 and a 70% CFR -- let's cross our fingers and hope that swine flu doesn't meet up in a pig with H5N1 somewhere and make a lovechild. There will be lots of virus particles floating around if this thing takes off in, say, Indonesia ...

#45 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 12:06 AM:

H5N1 reminds us that the WHO has only confirmed seven deaths from H1N1 in Mexico. It is likely there have been more, but Mexico runs on rumors; it's hard to say how many more. Effect Measure agrees with Leva in #44.

#46 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 12:49 AM:

#26 cygeye

They STILL have "crowbars in their hands" and if anything are being even more deceitful, despicable, and destructive.... They bleat about "deficits" and the horrible high government spending--using some of the most effrontery-laden Big Lie tactics and Big Lies ever. Last year they created the biggest deficit in US history and presided over the biggest financial meltdown in more than two generations, this year they're claiming to be the voice of fiscal responsibility and sanity? Liar liar pants full of fusion bombs going off! ("Fire" is much too understated!)

It occurred to me that the Republicraps are the party of ghouls, camarilla (or whatever the collective term is) of blood-sucking social predator weasel vampires, and their shambling followers and associated zombies--repulsive, morally rotten, stinking, etc. etc. etc.

Regarding the pandemic nearly a century ago--there was an NPR interview with a chronicler of it, and some of the things he said included:
o The influenza strain was originally a mild one that originated in the vicinity of Fort Riley, Kansas (or other midwestern Army post) and went over to Europe with GIs.
o In mutated into virulence over in the trenches in the horrible conditions present in the trench warfare trenches.
o It showed up in the USA in its virulent form first at Ft Devens, which was closest in distance Army post to Europe, and thus the travel time to it was shorter, and soldiers infected with the deadly flu got there before anywhere else in the USA as destination. The barracks at Ft Devens at the time had lots of people in close quarters, and the flue spread fast--and then the MDs showed up from the Boston hospitals, and they rapidly sickened and died, too.... the base ran out of sickbeds, ran out of holding facilities for the dead....

#47 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 12:50 AM:

I'm with Beth and Josh. SARS really was the Cuban Missile Crisis of pandemics.

(And I know in my generation a lot of people would go, "What's a Cuban Missile Crisis?" Bless.)

#48 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 01:39 AM:

Oh, good lord. I just made the mistake of looking at the comment section on our local newspaper, the Advertiser. To the crazed rants about illegal immigrants and "swine spreaders" [sic], you can add crazed rants about the evils of mass transit - surely we should never build or ride any trains or buses, because they will only become VESSELS FOR SPREADING THE PANDEMIC. You think I'm kidding? I quote:

We are building a $6 BILLION MASS PANDEMIC spreading Rail Transit System!
Does the Rail EIS Include Ramifications of Pandemic Diseases?

(Robert McElwaine, is that you?)

#49 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 02:15 AM:

Clifton Royston @ 48: You must never, ever read the comment thread on a newspaper. I forget occasionally, and reel away in horror.

As to the crazed concern about picking up germs on mass transit that you saw — isn't it interesting how Americans feel perfectly safe rocketing about in their cars? About 45000 Americans die in car accidents every year. But don't take the bus! You might get coughed on, or pan-handled!

#50 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 02:17 AM:

Janet, you haven't dealt with Seattle buses. I call my morning commute "Tooth-Rattler." City has needed a decent rail system for decades. Naturally, the lege has decided on an expensive auto tunnel instead.

#51 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 02:24 AM:

Randolph @ 50: But is the tooth-rattling actually dangerous? I ride the bus in Portland, and need to hang on occasionally. I do wash my hands immediately when I arrive at my destination. I still shudder at the memory of the photo of the bus hanging over the freeway in Seattle during snowmaggedon, but that was a privately operated bus with a driver unfamiliar with the street.

#52 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 02:46 AM:

oh, the SARS threat. It led a good friend to concoct one of the grossest convention beverages I've ever tasted, key lime juice and Goldwasser liqueur. It had that unholy uranium glass look to it and tasted worse.

The scariest thing is that a couple of the skinny girls at that convention liked it, swallowed a lot of it, and didn't appear the worse for it in the morning.

Me, I took a very small sip, then expelled it in the sink. EEUW.

#53 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 02:56 AM:

Janet, it's just miserable. (Well, I suppose the insufficiency of police is dangerous--city hasn't hired any in years.) Portland has a well-run, comfortable bus system, mostly pleasant drivers, and streets in reasonable repair. Much richer Seattle has an underfunded, uncomfortable, overloaded system, a noticeable fraction of drivers with a 'tude, and streets full of potholes. (To be fair, if I were driving buses on those streets, I think I'd have a 'tude, too.)

#54 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 03:29 AM:

"We are reasonable human beings. We can seek out reliable information, and have useful, reasonable conversations about issues that matter to us. So what if we’re not all experts on every possible subject? We can help each other understand."

Hear, hear. This is what I got most from Obama's speech on Rev. Wright and race in America, and I keep getting it from our top officials. Not exclusively, but certainly preponderantly.

#55 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 03:38 AM:

Also, "Sentimental Hygiene" could be re-written to fit the title of this post...

#56 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 06:19 AM:

Syndaryl @ 16: "I have to say, my primary associations with the term "information hygiene" are all negative (re: willfully ignoring anything that conflicts with your worldview)... But to be strictly honest, that's basically what I do, very aggressively."

'S truth. Information hygiene falls into that large category of things where simple good/bad distinctions are pretty useless. Used certain ways, it's good; used others, it's bad. More fundamentally, everyone does it whether or not they want to or recognize that they're doing it--it's what our brains are designed for. This is important, that is not. This is trustworthy, that is not. It goes with being human. The important thing, I feel, is to be aware that you're doing it and to do it mindfully.

albatross @ 18: "This has a bunch of advantages:"

Also, it occasionally inspires excellent SF short story ideas. "What!? The world couldn't possibly work that way! If it did then--...hmm..."

@ 25: Nicely done.

#57 ::: John Dallman ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 07:30 AM:

Farah@6: the situation with soldiers now is rather different. There aren't very many of them at all in comparision to 1918. But they still live fairly crammed together in barracks, where 'flu could spread fast once it gets in.

So if the barracks aren't infected yet, sending the soldiers on leave to less crowded places probably reduces the average number of them who will catch the 'flu. If the barracks are infected, then yes, it spreads vectors all over the place. But we seem to be still quite early in the spread of this swine flu; the barracks probably aren't infected.

The alternative is to isolate barracks, which is much more possible than it is for many places where lots of people live. You can do that for a while, but they'll start running out of supplies at some point.

The annoying thing is that the decision needs to be made quite soon, because waiting increases the chances that the barracks get infected. Epidemic management is probably full of difficult decisions that have to be made on incomplete information.

#58 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 09:18 AM:

Leva @ 44: True, there's not enough information for a true CFR or a mortality rate either. My point was only that Mexico has reported a confirmed 26 cases with a confirmed 7 deaths -- given that information alone, we get an initial CFR of roughly 26%, which is not anywhere near the levels of H5N1. The numbers of affected and dead, at least as reported from Mexico, are not all confirmed, so they can't be included in the calculation.

#59 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 10:12 AM:

One other marker that I find useful in assessing comments, especially conspiratorial sorts of comments, that Kragen Javier Sitaker's very nice article missed: Does the speaker weave this alleged bit of news/conspiracy/whatever into some complicated narrative to attack their favorite bugbear? I mean, it's possible that the swine flu is really all the fault of illegal immigrants / bankers / globalization / the Jews / the UN / the drug lords / space aliens. But when someone claims that, it's often useful to look at their other writings, so you can discover how they attribute every evil of the past decade to the same source.

#60 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 10:27 AM:

Albatross, #59: on the other hand, someone who attributed a great many of the world's current woes (though not H1N1) to a corrupt banking system would be correct. Sometimes there are real conspiracies. And, hmmm, it's possible that this particular woe (and many others as well) can be partly attributed to factory farming.

Now where did I put my tinfoil hat?

#61 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 10:55 AM:


Yeah, as with most other cases of evaluating information, the things needed are judgment and background knowledge. But when I see someone who blames everything on the international banking system start blaming the latest crisis (swine flu, mysterious lack of sunspots, drug lords warring with the Mexican government) on the international banking system, I start out quite a bit more skeptical. In a complex, interconnected world, it's not too hard to spin a story that connects almost any bad thing to your favorite bugbear, as with the folks who are currently blaming illegal immigrants for Swine Flu.

#62 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 10:56 AM:

Randolph @ 60:

But is their reason for reaching that conclusion valid?

Goings on in the world are messy. Stories that are too pat are seductive because they offer an easy-to-grasp explanation for things. On the other hand, things aren't that messy. Explanations that twist through Gordian contortions to explain something are just as suspect. You have to find that happy middle ground.

I suppose this is just a long-winded restatement of Occam's Razor, but people often forget that it's about finding the simplest explanation that fits the facts, not the absolute simplest explanation. The simplest explanation that fits the facts as we know them might still not be the right one, because we don't know all the details. However, that's not an invitation to make things up. It's a very tricky balancing act.

Also, don't forget that research at MIT shows that aluminum foil hats may not be effective. No news on tin.

#63 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 10:57 AM:

albatross, 61: Clearly, capital gains taxes cause swine flu.

#64 ::: Leva Cygnet ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 11:05 AM:

My ... favorite? ... conspiracy theory re: flu is that the swine flu was created by BigPharma because BigPharma stands to make lots and lots of money from the flu outbreak. Follow the money and all that.

Mind, I don't believe that theory is at all likely, but it's more plausible than terrorists.

#65 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 11:06 AM:

Another thing about the conspiracy theories is that they tend to be irrelevant. Are the defense measures that countries and people should take against the current flu any different depending on whether it was manufactured deliberately in a lab and released to the wild or manufactured negligently in one of the world's many purpose-built viral-evolution facilities masquerading as food production?

The flip side of evidence-based medicine is to only work at acquiring information that will actually affect treatment. The other stuff is nice to have, but not if it costs you a penny or a millisecond.

#66 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 11:10 AM:

Randolph @ 60 (again):

I think my actual reply to you got lost when I was editing my comment; my comment could be seen to be picking on you when I had no intention of doing that. albatross said pretty much what I wanted to say in response at 61. The rest of my post is springboarding from that.

I think it's better to be wrong for the right reasons than right for the wrong ones. Of course, it's better to be right for the right reasons, and if you're already following the right reasons it's easier to correct your mistake. Faulty reasoning is a warning flag, even when the conclusion is, in one case, correct.

#67 ::: Strata Chalup ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 01:15 PM:

"...—a site which, as Jim would put it, frequently wanders into the Tinfoil Hat Mountains, gets trapped by snow, and eats its own dead. "

Still literally laughing out loud at this description. I remember meeting the author of the InfoWars book at Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference many years ago, and that makes it all the funnier.

We SO need Jonathan Coulton to do a song called Tinfoil Hat Mountain, possibly set to the classic Candy Mountain.

#68 ::: novalis ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 01:26 PM:

I estimate it has about a 40% chance of going pandemic, a 59% chance of fizzling like SARS, and a 1% chance of something else entirely.

What information is that estimate based on?

#69 ::: Leva Cygnet ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 01:56 PM:

I'm not sure what to think of this -- I have a couple of swine flu articles up at my site, and most of the articles are showing Adsense ads for grocery store mail order deliveries from major chain grocers. Safeway among them.

Would delivering groceries by mail/UPS/Fedex help or hinder quarantine? *scratches head* It'd keep people home, but the postman could be a disease vector and he'd be visiting every home and handling every package.

#70 ::: Strata Chalup ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 02:11 PM:

Leva @30, I thought that name, Arpaio, sounded familiar, wrt to extremism and illegal aliens...!

Arpaio denounced for forced march of illegal immigrants, Feb 2009, to his infamous Tent City jail area.

#71 ::: Torrilin ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 02:35 PM:

What information is that estimate based on?

Since it's a quote from a post elsewhere... you'd probably get better results by asking the author :) Best the rest of us can do is "beats me, we're not the author".

#72 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 02:46 PM:

@novalis #68 -

It's a SWAG at best.

Nobody is sure where this is all headed yet. It'll take a couple of weeks for more of the numbers to be compiled and possibly for extended effects of the flu to hit.

It may even fizzle out now and then hit us in August with more deadly vigor (and that does have a precedent).

We just dunno yet.

#73 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 02:48 PM:

albatross, #61; KeithS, #62, #66: sure. Though when it is life or death, I don't care why I'm right, as long as I am. That was a reminder that sometimes "cranks" turn out to be right, not a claim that all of them are. A point, it now occurs to me, that Paul Krugman made in his Nobel speech, though he didn't use the word "crank."

#74 ::: Leva Cygnet ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 03:51 PM:

# 70 New Times is our resident leftwingnut paper, but they do have a few fairly good investigative journalists and they've written about Arpaio quite a few times. I think they also have an article worth reading about his treatment of the TB patient.

My read of Arpaio is that he's power mad, he isn't afraid of politicizing a public health issue, and he has little to no compassion. He's not afraid to play dirty. And he loves to go after groups and individuals who can't fight back, like illegals.

His department is the sole law enforcement for a couple of cities, and all unincorporated areas, in Maricopa county. It'll be ... interesting ... to see what he does if/when panflu hits here.

#75 ::: cgeye ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 03:57 PM:
Would delivering groceries by mail/UPS/Fedex help or hinder quarantine? *scratches head* It'd keep people home, but the postman could be a disease vector and he'd be visiting every home and handling every package.

Those ads are awfully presumptive that a just-in-time supply chain dependent on hourly employees with little sick leave would remain intact during an epidemic.

If there were generous sick leave, then employees wouldn't infect the chain, and if they actually staffed well instead of lean, warehouses and delivery companies would still be able to function. With our present economy, everyone up and down the chain who'd get fired if they did not show up would be part of the infection -- and I include the army of janitors and cleaners every office in the world depends on.

We are so much more vulnerable to an epidemic than we think, because along with the investment hooey we absorbed from the financial industry, we took their advice about HR management, lean operations, and callous behavior generally. If the meltdown doesn't level us, a serious airborne epidemic will.

Now do you see why the GOP deleted public health preparedness from the stimulus package? They believe their enclaves are surrounded by HEPA filters and armed guards, when they're too cheap even to buy alcohol gel.

#76 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 04:36 PM:

cgeye @75, Now do you see why the GOP deleted public health preparedness from the stimulus package? They believe their enclaves are surrounded by HEPA filters and armed guards, when they're too cheap even to buy alcohol gel.

I think it's more likely that they simply didn't, and don't want to, think things through there. Anything out of the handful of things they like to rant and rave about simply doesn't seem relevant or worth bothering to them, except when they think they can use it as part of one of their rants and raves about the handful of things they like to rant and rave about.

#77 ::: JHomes ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 04:41 PM:

And to take a slightly different aspect of Information Hygiene:

I've been warned here at work of spam purporting to assist you in finding information or taking precautions for swine flu, that will in fact take you to malware and phishing sites. Same old same old.


#78 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 09:51 PM:

There is something elegant in using news about a nasty biological virus to get your computer virus to spread more effectively.

#79 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 10:05 PM:

KeithS @62: Also, don't forget that research at MIT shows that aluminum foil hats may not be effective.

Not effective against a range of radio frequencies. Has nothing to say about demons.

#80 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 10:14 PM:

Rob Rusick #79: Has nothing to say about demons.

For that kind of research, try Yale instead of MIT.

#81 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2009, 10:25 PM:

It'd keep people home, but the postman could be a disease vector

Assuming the delivery system doesn't just break down, it'd still narrow things to one vector - if the postie gets sick, you've got a list of pretty much everyone s/he's been in contact with (or if everyone on one route gets sick, you might want to check on the postie who handles the route).

#82 ::: A.J. ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 01:42 AM:

At #49, janetl wrote:

Clifton Royston @ 48: You must never, ever read the comment thread on a newspaper. I forget occasionally, and reel away in horror.

Yeah, really. The comments in the editorial section of most US newspapers make Youtube's commenters look reasonable.

#83 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 03:45 AM:

Shills for The Other White Meat want us to use the term North American Flu to make sure we don't cut back on eating pork, as if OM NOM NOM....

#84 ::: Wirelizard ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 03:46 AM:

Not just US newspapers, I'm afraid.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp (CBC's) comments are just as much of a hideous cesspit.

Some of the comments to the few Guardian articles that allow comments are just as dumb.

Be not ashamed, Yanks, it ain't just you this time.


#85 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 03:47 AM:

Drat, that link should go to here.

#86 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 06:13 AM:

Well, I'm behind the wingnut curve again: people are already calling it the NAFTA Flu. (sigh)

#87 ::: Daniel Klein ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 06:36 AM:

So the WHO (who? ;P) has upgraded their panic-level to five, "pandemic imminent". Does this actually really mean anything? I mean so far it still seems that if you do get the disease outside of Mexico you're just going to have a mild flu, right? I mean the one fatality in America was a very young infant and I understand that at this age you'd be at higher risk to die from a normal flu as well.

#88 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 07:17 AM:

The toddler who died in the US was a Mexican national on a visit; it's not clear from the news reports on which side of the border he actually caught the disease. I don't think there's enough data to nail down what the "mild" flu trend really is; I certainly wouldn't use it to rationalize avoiding reasonable precautions.

#89 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 08:57 AM:

Daniel, given that the 1918-19 flu pandemic went through stages where it increased in severity, we're all probably best looking at this as a warm-up period to get our public health ducks in a row, and that's probably the reasoning behind the WHO's (I am resisting the Abbott and Costello routine myself, but it's hard) ratchetting of the alert levels. The sooner they can get national health organizations and so on to take this seriously, the more likely they are to be able to mitigate the damage if this leaps from "pandemic" to "pandemic with apocalyptic complications and really high death rate". It's possible that we'll just get a pandemic with a death rate that's about the usual--and it's also possible that the Mexican death rate will turn out not to be a statistical anomaly caused by underreporting because the H1N1 was confused with the predominant seasonal flu type.

I'd really like to believe that there were a lot of milder, unreported cases out there, and that some of Mexico's more "typical" flu deaths (the very old, the very young, and the immunocompromised) were the result of this H1N1, instead of this year's Usual Suspects, which would reduce the skew in the death statistics somewhat. As Jim Macdonald is wont to say WRT various safety precautions, "The race is not always to the swift, but that's where the smart money bets", and for the WHO, smart money = getting us all ready for a bad 'un.

However, please take US cable TV news and shove it out the airlock, along with the chyrons.

#90 ::: Sarah W. ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 09:54 AM:

I thought this article at Junkfood Science shed some comforting logic.

Except that I hadn't thought much about the 'normal average' (if that's the phrase I want) number of annual deaths from the usual strains of 'flu . . .and now I am . . .

#91 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 10:13 AM:

So does WHO call a level 5 outbreak every flu season? ISTM that since the usual strains of flu are widespread, infect millions every year and are known to have killed over 30,000 in the US alone last year, shouldn't that have warranted the same treatment as this current outbreak?

#92 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 10:27 AM:

Do outbreaks usually kill that many people that quickly after they first get noticed? It's about speed, too, not just about numbers. (And the WHO, as an international organisation, is not obliged to care much about how many of the people who die of something do so in the USA.)

#93 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 10:29 AM:

Earl Cooley @88, I was kind of filled with dread when I read your post. Have the usual suspects called for a toddler hunt yet?

#94 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 10:39 AM:

The thing that seems very odd to me about this swine flu epidemic is how much people seem to be focusing on it, often in an almost gloating way, as if they're delighted to have something like that to worry about. I suppose it's a pleasant distraction from the economy? Or maybe they have learned lessons of cosy catastrophes rather too well.

#95 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 10:45 AM:

As far as I know, the Madagascar Meme crowd hasn't linked up with the Google Maps Street View bounty hunters yet. In any case, I would presume that the street price for healthy toddlers is still greater than that for sick ones, unless they're being recruited as daycare bioweapon vectors by the bad guys.

#96 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 10:50 AM:

JohnL, I think what got the WHO going was Mexico's internal reaction, along with an unusual pattern of deaths and what seems to be a higher-than-normal death rate.

Someone whose work is more closely involved with public health issues can probably give us some idea of the WHO's usual influenza procedures frm year to year.

While we can hope that the death rates are skewed because of underreporting of milder cases, and because some cases of H1N1 were confused with the usual seasonal flu cases, it's not the smart bet to make for public health officials who want to do their jobs well. Given the good results in containing SARS through proactive measures, I think the WHO and various national health organizations are operating on the theory that it's wiser to try and stay ahead of events instead of catching up. I can't blame them for this, any more than I can blame them for the fact that trying to research an event as it's happening means that a lot of confusing things get reported because the picture isn't complete. I'm not thrilled with the press scare-mongering, but they are a separate issue from what the WHO is doing. The fact that we mostly don't pay a whole lot of attention to what the WHO does, until it impacts us immediately, doesn't mean they're screwing up. It's more likely to mean they are operating on a well-understood (by them) set of guidelines, which we (for values of "we" that include the US national and some of the international press) aren't familiar with and are overreacting to.

I try to keep in mind that the WHO's levels do not mean "OMG I am going to Die!!!!!!! We're all going to die!!!111!!eleventy". They are aimed at national health and public health systems, warning them that a potentially severe problem is present, and suggesting what level of reaction in terms of planning and preparedness is appropriate.
My great fear is not that the WHO and our various national health systems are not up to the challenge, but that the press is going to wear us out so thoroughly with scare tactics in the meantime that we'll all forget to keep washing out hands and put off getting our new, reformulated flu shots when they are available.

The WHO website has an archive of their various alerts and warnings, by year, disease, and country. They also have a .pdf explaining their thoughts on communicating with the public. They feel it's better to be open than otherwise.

Here's an explanation of the various alert levels. They don't seem unreasonable or irrational. The problem is not the WHO, I think. It's the news cycle and the shallowness of the TV talking heads.

#97 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 10:53 AM:

Pandemic Dread gives talking heads something to drone on about until Shark Attack Season gets into full swing. Who knows what abomination Nancy Grace might spawn if she accidentally crossbreeds the Tot Mom and Pandemic memes in her dark, noisome media lab....

#98 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 10:54 AM:

Jo Walton @ 94: It's unquestionably a serious problem, but it's one where people know what to do, more or less: we know how to avoid exposure, we know how to treat people who are ill. People are, more or less, pulling together. (Yes, there are people who will use the problem to advance their own agendas against scapegoats/Others.) This contrasts with some other big problems (global economic slump, what to do about abuses committed by previous administrations) where there aren't good solutions and/or there's a lot of opposition to proposed measures.

It's not even quite cat-vacuuming -- it's being able to avoid dealing with a couple of big messes by focusing on a simpler, more-familiar mess.

#99 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 11:01 AM:

Jo Walton @ 94:

Earl Cooley III at 97 and Joel Polowin at 98 both have what seem to me to be reasonable explanations, but I want to focus on a couple other aspects.

My guess would be that disease is something that's rather captivating in ways that other things aren't. It doesn't matter how wealthy you are or what your social status is, you can become sick. People know about germ theory, but viruses are still invisible to the naked eye. It seems random and unpredictable, which translates to fear and discontent.

The wealthy still have money, but they can't buy their way out of disease. Middle-class people who have some money still have to worry about hospital costs, fighting with insurance companies, and sick leave; unless they're laid off in which case they only have savings and credit to fall back on. The poor don't have the hospital access that they should, or the sick leave.

Disease is a bit of an equalizer, even though wealth determines quality of care and therefore survivability. Death, however, is the great equalizer, and is still a worry in this case.

There might also be a bit of an undercurrent of worries about living in the "last days" for some people, but that's pure speculation on my part.

#100 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 11:07 AM:

Who knows what abomination Nancy Grace might spawn if she accidentally crossbreeds the Tot Mom and Pandemic memes in her dark, noisome media lab....

Earl, just where would you like that internet shipped? Also, do you think there is any possibility of a shark eating Nancy Grace, or will she eat the shark? Or do they just grant her professional courtesy and swim in the other direction when they see her coming?

#101 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 11:40 AM:

An epidemic is the appearance of a disease in a population in a time period at a higher rate than expected.

A pandemic is an epidemic that's geographically diverse.

What we have here is:

A novel disease, with

Person-to-person transmission, in

Two or more widely separated places.

What we don't yet know is a) how infectious this disease is, and b) how virulent it is.

#102 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 12:02 PM:

I think we should PORK use the word 'pork' when describing this PORK flu whenever possible, to let the PORK pork producers know that they PORK don't control the public PORK discourse!

The aPORKalypse is on its way.

Also, PORK.

#103 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 12:18 PM:

Xopher@ 102: In honor of your statement, I'm having pork for lunch.

It's quite yummy.

#104 ::: janra ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 12:31 PM:

I saw this article in the Globe and Mail and the last question had a pull-quote that was made into a headline: "Quarantines have historically not prevented spread"

Now that seems wrong to me but apparently the guy who said that is "a member of Ontario's Provincial Infectious Diseases Advisory Committee" according to the article introduction.

Of course that right there makes me wonder, because after SARS I read about the difference in response in Ontario versus BC and how BC didn't have more than a few cases because they were quarantined more quickly and more strictly.

Any thoughts from people with more medical knowledge than I?

#105 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 12:44 PM:

fidelio @ 100: I already owe him an internet for his comment at 80.

Xopher @ 102: I can see the pnords!

#106 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 12:52 PM:

Since this flu mixes avian and swine flu strains, I propose the name "flying pig flu."

#107 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 12:54 PM:


Check out this post on effect measure where Revere (a public health doctor) discusses the same issue.

#108 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 12:56 PM:

janra: Not medically knowledgeable, but I'd imagine they're talking about the "OMG! CLOSE THE BORDERS!" quarantines, not the sensible "put those patients in their own ward" type of quarantines. The former is what a lot of the nutcases seem to want.

#109 ::: Sarah W. ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 01:00 PM:

The four hogs of the aporkalypse are saddled and ready to ride....

The four Hogs I could come up with were, (ala Pratchett):

Panic, Dirty Hands, Pollution (or Poverty), and Careless Expellations.

#110 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 01:09 PM:

#94 ::: Jo Walton:

I think bad news can be fun in a way-- I suspect people enjoy having their attention grabbed and being able to grab other people's attention.


As for renaming the disease, I like "triple flu". This hits the only thing I know of that's distinctive about it-- that it combines human, bird, and pig genes.

#111 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 01:16 PM:

Human flu genes, bird flu genes, and pig flu genes, to be pedantic. Allthough if people all over the world would be worried about these dangerous new creatures that combine human, pig, and bird genes, that would be interesting, too.

#112 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 01:18 PM:

SARS is different because you develop symptoms at or before the time you become severely contagious. Quarantining everyone with a fever is a pretty effective control for SARS.

Influenza is contagious for two or three days before you get sick, and some people become infected without noticeable symptoms. Quarantining just the obviously sick people won't do much good in terms of the epidemic.

According to simulation models (I can't find any papers that aren't paywalled) giving antivirals (ie Tamiflu) to sick people and their close contacts does have the potential to work, since you don't necessarily have to get to people before they are infected. Just quarantining them is not enough.

#113 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 01:22 PM:

albatross (106): OMG, I made a flying pig last month! Does that mean this whole thing is my fault?

#114 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 02:35 PM:

Keith S #105:

Yes, but are you pnining for the pnords[1]?

[1] Or is this only a risk for those sick with a strain of pandemic parrot/python flu?

#115 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 02:45 PM:

Truly tasteless (but funny) joke:

For many years, people have said that pigs would fly before we had a black President. 100 days into the Obama administration... swine flu!

#116 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 02:46 PM:

What, no one here has heard it called Manbirdpig Flu yet?


#117 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 02:46 PM:

albatross @ 114:

Surely if I were struck down by flying pig flu I would be pining for the pjords. Beautiful pig, the Norwegian Landrace. Lovely plumage.

#118 ::: Wyman Cooke ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 03:01 PM:

Well Albatross, Monty Python had a routine that fits this thread: Bring Out Your Dead.

#119 ::: Wyman Cooke ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 03:10 PM:


#120 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 03:21 PM:

Keith S @ 117: The Norwegian Landrace? Or the Norwegian Landrace?

#121 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 03:26 PM:

Ginger @ 120:

Shearly it must be obvious which one.

#122 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 07:10 PM:

Irony: suffering from the mild miseries of an ambulatory cold virus (since I am ambulatory and non-feverish, I assume it's a cold), afraid to cough or sneeze, even into a kleenex, in public.

Having scoffed (what am I supposed to do, panic? at my last health "emergency" my primary care physician said Get Out Of My Office), I realize that according to the iconography of badfic* (think Crichton novels and Connie Willis' Doomsday Book, modern plot line), I will be the first to die of viral pneumonia in a few days.

*Badfic loosely defined; the late Crichton qualifies, I suppose, and Willis is an exception, not "bad" as such. Traits: Excessive Suspense. Edificatory Deaths of Minor Characters.

#123 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 07:21 PM:

A co-worker just told me that our mutual former-manager fell ill after returning from a vacation in Mexico. Pneumonia! Results of tests for Aporkalypse Fever are pending.

The number of tourists who've gotten this thing is pretty astonishing. Although . . . just how many people went to Mexico on spring break? Where did they go? I'm sure CDC is asking lots of questions.

#124 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 07:31 PM:

The way it pogoed to New York City was a bit startling.

#125 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2009, 08:44 PM:

Earl Cooley III (124): A group of students from Queens had just been to Mexico on vacation.

sara (122): At the Toronto Worldcon--shortly after the SARS epidemic had subsided--I was recovering from bronchitis. Every time I coughed, I felt as if I should be wearing a sign that said, "It's bronchitis! Really!"

#126 ::: Chris J ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2009, 12:29 AM:

Ahem. I'm an intensive care physician with a sideline in infectious diseases. I have to say most everything on this thread is reasonable (and reasoned) and pretty much correct -- in refreshing contrast to much of the weirdness I've read elsewhere.

I've also just seen my first case of H1N1 fluA. It was quite mild. It's only because the state lab is requesting we send all fluA isolates to them for subtyping that we knew what it was. (There is a quick and easy test for influenza that most hospitals do routinely -- subtyping is only done by reference labs.)

As others have said, the main reason for all the concern is that nobody has any immunity to this new strain and, although it appears quite ordinary now for influenza A, nobody knows if it will morph into a more severe illness.

#127 ::: cgeye ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2009, 01:55 AM:
Who knows what abomination Nancy Grace might spawn if she accidentally crossbreeds the Tot Mom and Pandemic memes in her dark, noisome media lab....

Well, I heard on the CBS Morning Show that the Octomom was considering getting a pet pig for her kids.... No, I'm not kidding.

Irony: suffering from the mild miseries of an ambulatory cold virus (since I am ambulatory and non-feverish, I assume it's a cold), afraid to cough or sneeze, even into a kleenex, in public.

Megadittoes, Sara. Had fever, stayed home, but even with leftover coughing I feel unclean if I just cover my mouth with my sleeve or if I wear a mask (which would alarm everyone around). I stopped being contagious last week, I bet, but I'm still wearing sleeveless tops because it's too hot for a hoodie outside. And, yeah, I got sick leave, but not a week's worth I can just spend like mad money. *sigh*

#128 ::: janra ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2009, 02:01 AM:

to albatross & Clifton @ 107 & 108:

Thank you for the clarification. The doctor's statement does make more sense now.

#129 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2009, 06:32 AM:

Just happened across a site with the strange headline: "Important for Swine Flu Epidemic: Homeopathy Successfully Treated Flu Epidemic of 1918"

Yeah, right. It goes on to say:

How do they know that a virus caused the flu epidemic of 1918, when the first virus was not isolated until 1933?
They don`t. In fact, many believe that the epidemic was actually a vaccine reaction.
When Army vaccinations became compulsory in 1911, the death rate from typhoid vaccination rose to the highest point in the history of the US Army. US Secretary of War Henry L Stimson reported that seven men dropped dead after being vaccinated. He also reported 63 deaths and 28,585 cases of hepatitis as a direct result of yellow fever vaccination during only six months of WW1. According to a report in the Irish Examiner, "The report of the Surgeon-General of the US Army shows that during 1917 there were admitted into the army hospitals 19,608 men suffering from anti-typhoid inoculation and vaccinia. When army doctors tried to suppress the symptoms of typhoid with a stronger vaccine, it caused a worse form of typhoid paratyphoid. But when they concocted an even stronger vaccine to suppress that one, they created an even worse disease Spanish flu.
Here's the author bio on the article:
Melanie Grimes is a writer, screenwriter, journal editor, and adjunct faculty member at Bastyr University.
A trained homeopath, she also raises alpacas and is an avid spinner, having won nine ribbons for her handspun yarns in recent years.
She is the editor of the homeopathic journal, Simillimum, and runs an eBay store selling alpaca fiber.
She has been a medical editor for 15 years, won awards as a screenwriter, taught creative writing, founded the first Birkenstock store in the USA ( and authored medical textbooks.
I've probably bought shoes from the author, since I used to shop at that store.

#130 ::: Juliet E McKenna ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2009, 07:16 AM:

I was told today that the first thing a medic should do with a suspected case of swine flu is listen very carefully to the patient's lungs...

... for crackling...

(yes, this is a joke, no I'm not making fun of the sick, just the wingnuts)

#131 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2009, 08:34 AM:

Given the medical knowledge of 1917-18, blaming Spanish flu on vaccines wasn't so crazy. I gather that there were serious doubts at the time that it was influenza. What the Doctors saw didn't quite look like influenza.

Now we know the genes. We can compare it to other viruses. We know so much more, and the respectable medical opinions of ninety years ago can look like quackery.

Yes, there is sometimes something we've forgotten in old-fashioned medicine. But saying we depend too much on antibiotics doesn't mean we have to go back to hundred-year-old medicine, and everything else we've learned since then is wrong.

#132 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2009, 11:13 AM:

Juliet, I'm afraid I don't get it. A crackling sound in breathing would indicate fluid in the lungs, right?

#133 ::: Chris J ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2009, 11:19 AM:

Xopher at #132

Yes. "Crackles" (once called "rales") indicate fluid in the air sacs (alveoli). They sound like what you hear when you crunch up plastic wrap and then release it. Crackles are characteristic of pneumonia, heart failure, and several other things.

#134 ::: Juliet E McKenna ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2009, 11:25 AM:

Crackling? As in the crunchy outer layer of roast pork?

Presumably not in the US of A?

A joke lost in the mid-Atlantic, it would seem. Ah well, one lives and learns.

#135 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2009, 11:26 AM:

So the joke would be, call it swine flu if the person is seriously ill, to panic everyone about the seriousness of swine flu?

#136 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2009, 11:27 AM:

No, in the southern US, 'crackling' has all sorts of wonderful implications for corn bread and other dishes, which are distinctly pork-related. I think the problem is that Xopher is not likely to be cooking pork (or any other meat) in any form, with ot without cracklings.

#137 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2009, 11:28 AM:

Ah, I see now. No, I've never heard the crunchy outer layer called the crackling, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear the term used here; I just didn't know it.

#138 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2009, 11:30 AM:

fidelio is quite right. And pork in particular, because it...emits airborne molecules to which my vegetarian metabolism reacts unpleasantly. Can't put it any more delicately than that.

#139 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2009, 11:46 AM:

I didn't think of "crackling" as the crunchy outer layer of roast pork, but as the solids left over when straining rendered lard -- the treyf equivalent of gribbenes, as it were.

But, pretty much the same idea. Pun on flu symptom and pork product.

#140 ::: Daniel Klein ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2009, 12:21 PM:

To me, crackling is the name of the Zergling unit from Starcraft after all its speed upgrades. But hey.

#141 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2009, 12:22 PM:

Juliet E McKenna @ 130, 134

Well, this vegetarian veterinary surgeon chuckled when she read it, anyway!

#142 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2009, 02:13 PM:


Bad Astronomy links to a poster which gets right to the point:

Swine Flu Scam Alert

#143 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2009, 04:25 PM:

Bryan Alexander has an interesting post over at the NITLE blog on information sources -- I've just sent him over here to look at this one, so I'm returning the favor.

#144 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2009, 07:57 PM:

And then there's "chitterlings."

#145 ::: Renatus ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2009, 06:12 PM:

After being linked to by a relative and reading this bit of hot air and conspiracy-spinning, I'm finding myself in need of some mental hygeine. Unfortunately, she spammed it on using BCC so I couldn't reply with my (rather frothy, I'm afraid) debunking to everyone she pushed that on, but I hope my e-mail makes her think. Like how possible epidemics that *mysteriously never materialize!* don't materialize because the anti-epidemic measures worked.

Gaaah. I'm still hopping up and down like some villain out of a fairy tale. This kind of nonsense makes me so mad.

#146 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2009, 07:23 PM:

Renatus, #145: Like how possible epidemics that *mysteriously never materialize!* don't materialize because the anti-epidemic measures worked.

Yes, exactly. I've been making just that point over and over again to people I know who are pooh-poohing the current concern on the basis of "past epidemic scares that all fizzled out". And these are people who are supposedly smart enough to reason from B to C!

#147 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2009, 07:45 PM:

Lee @ 146:

Negative proofs are always hard to nail down. We're often exposed to the hype and worry, but the behind-the-scenes actions are fairly invisible. Did Y2K turn out to be a big problem? No, but lots of people worked very hard to make sure it wasn't a problem. Did SARS turn out to be a big problem? No, but lots of people worked very hard to make sure it wasn't a problem.

People are often capable of reasoning, but without the correct knowledge in you usually can't get the right result out.

I had to give a brief lesson the other day to someone who didn't understand how a disease for pigs could become a disease for humans. Scaremongerers prey on lack of education.

#148 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2009, 09:13 PM:

A fellow commuter was telling me about the bus driver who put everyone off the bus, without warning, because s/he believes that coughing and headaches are symptoms of the flu.

#149 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 03:46 PM:

A huge amount of the popular response to the swine flu follows Bruce Cohen's wonderful twist on the famous saying by Clarke:

Any sufficiently unreliable technology is indistinguishable from superstition.

In this case, the "technology" is microbiology, infection control, virology, etc. To someone with little understanding of what's known, it seems only prudent to avoid pork when the Swine Flu is in the news. To me, that sounds silly, but I'm probably inclined to precautions that would make Ginger roll her eyes[1].

As more and more of deciding how to live day to day requires understanding of science and technology, fewer and fewer people are able to make sensible decisions. The internet helps (you can learn a great deal about the underlying science, given the time, inclination, brains, and background knowledge), but in some sense, that makes the world more unequal. How many people responded to the news about the Swine Flu, or the previous bird flu scares, by reading up on what's known about the flu virus, how it's transmitted, etc? (Cytokine storms? Reassortment and recombination and mutation? Receptor-mediated endocytosis?) How many people responded to the economic meltdown by reading up on CDOs and CDS and Gaussian copulas?

To jump onto my favorite hobby-horse for a moment, it would be really nice if the official sources of news and information were reliably telling the truth and giving good advice on these matters. In the absence of trustworthy advice by people who take care to know what the hell they're talking about, we're all left with some combination of looking out for ourselves and coming up with plausible-seeming rabbits' feet to keep us safe.

One amazingly cool thing about the net in general, and Making Light in particular, is that it gives us a community in which there are experts we have some reason to actually trust. I'm reasonably sure Jim's posts aren't really trying to sell me something, or stampede me into some kind of politically desirable panic reaction, or convince me to ignore some inconvenient onrushing disaster until the authorities have figured out how to blame it on someone else. They're entertaining, but he doesn't have to produce such a post once a day on stuff he mostly doesn't understand, unlike most newspaper reporters. Similar comments apply to Terry's comments on torture and interrogation, among a great many others.

[1] I'm still trying to resolve Hanalore's paradox.

#150 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 04:49 PM:

albatross: I don't know that Jim and I aren't, "selling" something, but neither of us has any interest in personal gain, as a result of the sale (unless you think Jim's interest in keeping his acquaintances among the quick counts).

Which makes us more reliable, I suppose. We don't have as much incentive to skew things (Jim can't really be argued to have any... I have been accused of various nefarious motives; because my arguments can be seen as political, and so "pushing an agenda... usually left-wing, and anti-american, but I digress, with a touch of bitterness. None of that bitterness is directed at any of the Flourosphere, though there have been the occaisional drive-bys).

The other thing which is different here, to the newpapers; and even more to broadcast, is the back-and-forth nature of things. Jim here, and me in lots of places, have to defend the things we say.

Someone who disagrees with us (be it on vaccines, interrogation, or the value of a gun in a shopping mall) has a reasonable expectation of being heard, and the arguments they make addressed.

Place like ML, Slacktivist, Boing Boing, and the other communities I think of as healthy (Hullabaloo would be much better with moderated comments, they are often a toxic swamp, so much so that I no longer read them), don't present wisdom from on high, so much as they do expertise from long experience.

As you say, would that more of that mindset were evident in the more traditional press.

#151 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 05:23 PM:

Gah. Speaking of places to avoid reading comments - I followed the link to Effect Measure, and scrolled around trying to find precisely which article was being referenced. Tripped over the "Freethinker Sermonette," with its caveat of "If you have problems with atheism, just skip it"[1] and its subheader/description of its video clip, "Bill Maher: Swine Flu is Evolution in Action".[2]

Really. I should have known not to click. It is taking all my willpower not to snap back at the first commenter, "No, cancer survivors aren't slapping their doctor in the face when they thank God. In many cases of cancer treatment - the really scary ones, not the ones we actually have beat, what few there are - the doctor isn't the only factor. If he/she were, all cancer deaths would be due to medical malpractice or late diagnosis and not 'Given chemo schedule 1, patient A and B entered remission, but patient B relapsed six months later, now what?' I don't care how good your oncologist is, AML still has only about a 33% survival rate, not noticeably increased since I was in treatment for it 20 years ago, and both my parents and the oncologists are religious people who thank God for my survival and the survival of all those in that lucky third. You don't have to attribute the difference between survival and dying to God - heck, I'm religious, but I'm not comfortable with the idea of God intervening for me and not for the little girl down the hall. But at least recognize the part played by random chance, or the uniqueness of the survivor's body chemistry and particular iteration of the cancer. Don't pretend that cancer survival is nothing more than a matter of a good doctor doing a good job. This isn't the emergency landing on the Hudson River - and hell, I doubt the pilot was insulted hearing the passengers thanking God, either. And what? you think gratefulness can only be directed at one recipient? thank God or the doctor but not both? You moron."

Gahhhh. So, my willpower is not so good. But at least I have refrained from leaving a comment over there. Thank you for letting me blow off steam in a safe place.

[1] for accuracy, s/atheism/smug atheists pleased to insult all religious people indiscriminately.

[2] I haven't the heart to watch the video, because if the description is accurate, it'll make me fruitlessly angry. Is it? WTF?

#152 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 05:29 PM:


Yeah, there's always political and social agenda. But at some level, that's always there for any speaker or writer--if I'm going to bother writing something, I'm trying to convey my beliefs, which will be influenced by, and maybe include, a bunch of my background assumptions about the world. That's what I'm really hoping to get at by reading commentary by an informed person--I want to know what Jim or Ginger or Ian York or revere or some similarly knowledgeable person is thinking about the Swine Flu. I recognize that they may be wrong for a variety of reasons. But what I don't want is to have their advice/comments spun to protect their important advertisers, or to sell their magic crystal woo, or to help along some political goal. I don't want them having some editorial guidance by someone who says "hey, go easy on the use of the word 'Swine,' because the pork industry lobbyists are leaning on us about it. Oh, and don't tell people to stay home from work, because God knows what that will do to the economy. And can you work in some more recommendations for vitamin C tablets? That stuff definitely sells ads...."

I think you're onto something with the whole back-and-forth thing. There's a huge difference between the traditional media model (I will speak and you all will listen, perhaps a few of you will write letters to the editor, and we may decide to publish one or two) and the blog model where there's a well-run comment section (I will speak as an informed member of this community, and others may argue, correct me or try to, point out reference materials that agree or disagree, etc.).

Part of this is knowing you'll be questioned, that other people will expect you to defend what you've said, and that some of them may have the knowledge to call your opinions into question. Another part, though, is that as a speaker, you're a member of a community. You probably care about retaining the respect of your community, which gives you an incentive to be able to back up your opinions and ideas.

#153 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 05:30 PM:

@#147: On the other hand, the fact that Boston was not destroyed by the Mooninite invasion didn't really have much to do with the swiftness of the emergency response. Some things really were never a threat in the first place.

This is particularly troublesome because people who overreact to non-threats are likely to raise the "of course nothing happened, because we stopped it!" argument to justify their actions.

If you're a citizen of a democracy and have the duty to help guide your government between the Scylla of overreaction combined with ass-covering hyping of the "threat" and the Charybdis of apathy toward real threats... you need some method of threat assessment that doesn't rely on the people trying to sell you solutions.

I think that swine flu is on the "genuinely dangerous" side. But it's not a silly question to ask - I wish more people had asked it about some of the "terrorist plots" "thwarted" by the Bush Administration, for example.

#154 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 05:31 PM:

Nicole: I don't mind if you vent. I've certainly taken advantage of the luxury a few times.

As to Bill Maher, yes, it probably is an accurate title. I've largely given up on him because while he is often funny, he is often also an insensitive ass. That and he went out with Ann Coulter for more than week.

#155 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 05:38 PM:

Albatross@152: My only issue with "swine flu" is that specifically refers to influenza in pigs. What came out of Mexico is a human influenza with avian and swine influenza genes mixed in.

#156 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 05:40 PM:

albatross: I'm sorry, I committed some fail. I didn't mean to say you didn't know there were personal issues/agendas in such posts. I think (looking back on what I wanted to convey) I was addressing the outside reader, the person who has someone else link to a post by Jim, or Brad DeLong, or me.

The people who come in here with the sort of ideas which lead them to be sure there isn't anyway Jim can be talking positively about vaccines without some ulterior motive, because everyone with brains knows that vaccines are bad. Jim appears to have brains, so he must be in the pocket of someone.

Which is why they are so confused when they come here and get serious questions about their declarations; whatever the topic happens to be.

I think it hangs on the back-and-forth aspect. A lot of places have no stomach for disssent, and so they aren't sure of the actual motives of those who respond to them. It's not paradigm they are used to.

#157 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 06:42 PM:

One difference between flu and Mooninites is that normal every-day flu kills around 36,000 Americans every year, while Mooninites ... don't really exist.

A pandemic with something really virulent could be devastating (and flu has the proven capability to be really virulent). On the other hand, even if every Mooninite blinkie sign in Boston had been a genuine bomb, the total damage to the city would have been insignificant.

Maybe this is the big pandemic we've been talking about for years. Maybe it isn't. If it isn't, that's just because the big one hasn't hit yet. Maybe not this year, maybe not next year, but one of these years the bugs are going to break through the dike. Biologicals are clever that way.

(Yes, it is "evolution in action." Finding solutions that allow an organism to reproduce is what evolution's all about. If "modern medicine" is a problem for the bugs and germs, trust me, they're working on the solution. Or several solutions.)

Let's wait for a year before declaring this one a "fizzle," too. It's early days yet. (And that "fizzle" thing is bugging me--if there're no injuries in an automobile collision I don't go running around calling the crash "a fizzle.")

#158 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 06:42 PM:

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little @151: I haven't seen the Bill Maher clip in question (Swine Flu is Evolution in Action), but having heard his views on the food we eat, I would expect that what he is on about is the assertion that the current outbreak started in a factory farm.

#159 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 07:30 PM:

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little @151: I haven't even looked at the link, but I suspect Rob Rusick's got the title right. Our problem is precisely that the the flu strains evolve faster than we can manufacture our vaccines!

#160 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2009, 09:22 AM:

Nicole #151:

Yep, many blogs with very good scientific content (Effect Measure, Respectful Insolence, Gene Expression, Overcoming Bias) run from uninterested in religion to overtly dismissive to ridiculing. It's a bit off-putting to me, too, and it's not like I'm especially daunted by people disagreeing with me.

At some level, I take this as being a part of what makes the blogosphere so good, though. They're saying stuff that really deeply offends a lot of people, based on their beliefs and thoughts. And nobody is stopping them, telling them to tone it down to keep from annoying the advertisers, warning them that they're making powerful enemies who will take away their blogging license if they don't cool it, etc. That's why they're able to talk about all the stuff they believe and think, including the stuff that makes their comments interesting in other areas. (How do you tell Orac to stop snarking on religion, while allowing him to keep snarking on pseudoscience and woo? How do you tell revere to stop Hawkeye Pierce-esque preaching against religion without also making him stop the preaching against politicized regulatory agency decisions?)

This is why I'm always creeped out when people start talking about how upsetting, offensive, or even abusive discussions on the internet somehow need to be curbed. All the ways I can imagine doing that would end up curbing a great deal of interesting conversation.

#161 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2009, 12:28 PM:

albatross, #160: I can understand why you'd find overt dismissiveness or contempt for religion off-putting, but I don't see where disinterest falls into the same category. If I'm talking about science, religion isn't really part of the picture and isn't going to get much of a mention.

#162 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2009, 01:06 PM:

albatross, #160: it even gets to me, sometimes. Sometimes it seems to me the atheist version of convert's fervor, which I think is really weird. On the other hand, it's striking to me how much public religious sentiment is wrong-headed, even from the viewpoint of educated theologians.

Soul wars.

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#163 is spam.

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