Rodney King was the African American made famous when his violent arrest by the Los Angeles Police Department was videotaped by a bystander. The acquittal of the arresting officers in 1991 set off three days of civil disorder. In a bid to stop the rioting, King appeared in front of television cameras and asked, “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?” Maybe we should send Mr. King to China to ask the same question of scientists squabbling about whether there was an unreported new strain of bird flu (H5N1) widely circulating there:
“Instead of having a battle in the media … we encourage the scientists from the Chinese government and from Hong Kong and elsewhere to sit round a table and go over all these details,” said Henk Bekedam, WHO’s China representative.
Chinese officials and scientists rejected a paper published last week by Hong Kong and U.S. scientists who said a new vaccine-resistant “Fujian-like” H5N1 strain had emerged in poultry in China and may spread across Asia and Europe. (Reuters)
In particular, Chinese scientists vigorously denied that the “new strain” was not prevented by the currently used poultry vaccine, and might even have promoted the emergence of a vaccine resistant strain. In rebutting the charge, however, they haven’t provided any counter data or evidence. In science it isn’t enough to assert something. You are expected to support it with evidence and the accepted place to do that is in the scientific literature.
At the same time there is some feeling the differences are less scientific than terminological:
A dispute between China and the authors of a paper on bird flu centers on the name of the strain identified, not its existence, scientists said on Friday, adding China’s vaccination programs were not to blame for the strain’s emergence.
China had rejected findings in a paper published in the U.S. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that a vaccine-resistant strain of H5N1 bird flu the paper’s authors called the “Fujian-like virus” was circulating in the country.
But officials from the World Health Organization indicated that China does accept its existence, but takes issue with its being named after its southern province as well as other details in the paper on the circumstances of its evolution. (Reuters)
WHO is making nice about all this.
Scientists agreed during the meetings that the strain, which has been called the Fujian virus or the Clade III virus, among other names, is not new, Dr. David Heymann, the World Health Organization’s acting assistant general for communicable diseases, told a news conference Friday.
Heymann said that to avoid confusion there should be an international working group established to find a standardized name for it.
“It is very important that the naming of viruses doesn’t stigmatize countries, regions or peoples,” he said.
The paper also said China’s current poultry vaccines appeared to be ineffective against the so-called Fujian strain. It suggested that China’s aggressive vaccination program caused the virus to mutate into a more virulent form – a theory which Heymann disputed.
He said there was “no evidence that links the emergence of the strain with the vaccination of poultry in China.” (AP)
It isn’t reported Heymann gave any evidence to support that view, either. Maybe he doesn’t have to prove something didn’t happen, but in this case it seems to be a rather important question, either way, and we would hope there would be more evidence than dueling statements– either way.
So WHO now wants to take another look at the international conventions for naming influenza viruses (for an explanation of the current system, see your entry for at The Flu Wiki), prompted by this episode.
Somehow, though, I don’t think it means “we will all get along” from now on.