Mike the Mad Biologist

In Defense of Revere

Revere, over at Effect Measure, has a solid critique of Michael Fumento’s opinion piece about avian flu. What the piece shows is just how ignorant of public health Fumento really is:

1) Many of the necessary steps involved in preparing for a flu pandemic, such as surge production capacity, can be used to produce ‘ordinary’ flu vaccines.

2) Once a surveillance system is developed, it can be ‘repurposed’ for other threats as needed. This has happened several times, in different countries.

3) As Revere notes, Fumento’s real target is government spending. When will we see Fumento’s column about the foolish biodefense priorities, which have been a catastrophe for public health? Not only has biodefenese removed funding and personnel from routine, but vital, public health functions, but it has also seriously warped biomedical and public health research priorities. For example, five people have been killed in bioterrorism attacks. Every half-hour, five people die from hospital-acquired bacteria infections. Will Fumento attack the bioterrorism chicken little?

[Crickets. Sun rises, sun sets]

Didn’t think so.

4) Related to #3, Fumento isn’t interested in public health. If he were, he would be concerned about the influenza epidemic that happens every year, and the unwillingness to stop most of the deaths (70% vaccination of 5-18 year olds would reduce the mortality by 80%, and save roughly 30,000 lives per year). But that would require government intervention, and The Gummint Is Evil.

We can argue about public health priorities (avian flu isn’t my top priority personally). But that argument also requires intellectual honesty by the participants. When your goal is not improving public health, but, instead, pushing a radical anti-government ideology (except when sending our fellow citizens off to die in a travesty of an occupation), you are not being an honest player. If Fumento thinks $3.6 billion is being wasted on avian influenza, he should state where that money could be better used (I did above). Otherwise, he just should not be taken seriously.

an aside: If Fumento argues that there aren’t any unmet public health needs, then he is truly hacktacular.


  1. #1 Michael Schmidt
    December 21, 2006

    Clearly, big government projects like this are unnecessary because the INDIVIDUAL, empowered by the FREEDOM he enjoys under the US CONSTITUTION, can solve these massive public health problems with the FIREARMS he enjoys under the protection of the SECOND AMENDMENT.

    (Disclaimer for the humor impaired: I’m being sarcastic.)

  2. #2 Michael Fumento
    December 22, 2006

    “Related to #3, Fumento isn’t interested in public health. If he were, he would be concerned about the influenza epidemic that happens every year . . .”

    Concerned? As in writing several pieces about it such as:



    “Every half-hour, five people die from hospital-acquired bacteria infections.”

    Yes, I’ve written on that, too.


    My article also specifically said that $1 billion of those government expenditures seemed wise, that for cell culture-based vaccines, unless the drug companies were going to spend their own money on it anyway. Part of this was right in front of your eyes, part easily findable on my website. You ignored it all, just as you ignore the realities of the possibility of an avian flu pandemic. You also ignore that I was first criticizing panic mongers like you and Revere on avian flu H5N1 back in the Wall Street Journal early 1998. Yup, 1998.


    At what point do you finally admit you’re wrong? Yes, a rhetorical question. The answer is that as with the panic mongers on middle class hetero AIDS, pandemic Ebola, SARS, etc. you’ll just slink away and find something else to scare people about and waste precious resources.

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