As I was diligently working at my “day job” today I had a google alert come into my email notifying me another piece on H5N1 had “hit the net”. Being somewhat a strange mix of ADD/OCD of course I opened it up even while assuming it was just another “re-publish” of some minor news item. Imagine my surprise when the blurb indicated it could be found at Salon.com.
Needless to say I had to follow the link, eye-bleeding spreadsheet begging to be completed be damned. To my great displeasure I encountered a serious piece sympathetically addressing Hammond’s [sensationalist and inaccurate] essay on the supposed uncovering of the CDC patenting Indonesian H5N1 genes, or to use Mr. Hammond’s own words, “the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) and US National Institutes of Health claim ownership of Indonesian influenza genes.”
Before I quite knew what I was doing I had looked up the phone number for the US CDC and was ringing up Media Relations.
My simple, even if somewhat inarticulate question: Are the claims of Mr. Hammond correct? Of course I knew they were not but I wanted to hear it out right and “from the source”. Before an hour had elapsed I received an email response…
Response to Query on the recent Edward Hammond Blog, “WHO-linked centre lays patent claim on bird flu virus”
Unfortunately, this blog is not correct and offers misinformation.
The National Institutes of Health has filed for a patent; a CDC scientist is listed on this patent application.
The patent is for a prime boost vaccine strategy where you receive two vaccines; the first is a prime which contains a DNA vaccine for the HA sequence of the influenza virus only, the second is a boost vaccine with a protein. The two together are intended to offer amplified and focused protection against the influenza virus.
So the patent is, in principle, for a method of vaccination and is definitely not specific to H5.
It is definitely not a patent on a virus from Indonesia.
As Jay S. commented on the previous post:
As much as I bristle at Mr. Hammond’s misleading statements and the potential to do harm to the integrity of Flublogia and especially these fine agencies maligned in his report, I am more angered at these news media that lend platforms for these types of “drive by” reporting without due diligence on their part for accuracy thereof.
On my drive home this evening I thought about a little quip Craig Ferguson often says on The Late Late Show on CBS. ”If it’s on the internet it must be true“, said with exaggerated emphasis on the “true“. How the World Works seems to think so in this case. The truly stunning and sad thing is the essay even links the actual patent filing that Mr. Hammond is on about in his inaccurate and sensationalist essay, or “scoop”, as it is called on How the World Works, and yet the essay belies any apparent “fact checking” having been done.
Winston Churchill, paraphrasing an old adage, once said: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on” and that was even before the internet. Be that as it may, the age of the internet allows each of us to vet information we are served up, Craig Ferguson notwithstanding, and we who comment, even if only in our “private citizen platforms” have a certain responsibility to make sure we are not spreading falsehoods that have the potential to do real harm to real people.
Is it really so simple a thing as to self-label as an “expert” and no matter the drivel you espouse your information is not vetted? Or is it that many of us want to believe the US government, and those employed by it, are blatantly stupid, ignorant, and ignoble?
Sometimes people, even government employees, make bad decisions, after all, no one is perfect, no matter how hard we might try. When people who are in positions of authority or responsibility make a mistake, bad decision, or act in ways that are decidedly not in our best interest it’s important and a good thing that we have those who are ever watchful for them and who will alert the wider world to a “bad thing”. However, when one spreads lies about an organization and the important work they are doing for nothing more than the furtherance of a personal agenda [anti-genetic engineering] then everyone is ill-served.
To be well served:
- We need open and honest debate.
- We need insightful and inspired research.
- We need dedicated and ethical scientists.
- We need adequate funding for basic public health.
- We need technology and knowledge transfer to developing countries.
- We need open access biological samples and research findings.
- We need answers to our antiquated vaccine manufacturing process.
- We don’t need someone spoon feeding us lies.
Lies such as those spread by Mr. Hammond directly undermine all of what we do need.