Swallowing a spoon-fed lie

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.

[my emphasis]

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.

[my emphasis]

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.


This entry was posted in General H5N1 or Pandemic Issues, Poverty of Aspect, Vaccines and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Swallowing a spoon-fed lie

  1. Jackie says:

    My dear woman, you have done so much in service to flublogia and the greater world community beyond. Taking this stand, vetting this information, and posting it for us all….well, a simple thank you just does not fully express my gratitude but it will have to do today.

    Thank you SophiaZoe for digging for the truth.

    All the best,

  2. SophiaZoe says:

    Thanks Jackie, though you give me too much credit.

    We all do our bit. The Cyber Flu Community is a shining example of “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts“.

  3. Edmund says:

    The patent in question is a vaccine which includes genes from Indonesian virus samples. Indonesia provided the samples freely through the WHO. The WHO then provided the samples freely to the CDC. It doesn’t appear Indonesia stands to benefit from this exchange.

    It appears the CDC is contesting Hammond’s characterization that the patented vaccine–because it contains genes from an Indonesian virus–is a patent on an Indonesian virus. That’s all. The CDC is not contesting that genes from Indonesian virus samples (provided freely to the WHO) are being included in the vaccine.

    Is Hammond correct to characterize things this way? Is it fair for the CDC, through its special access to WHO materials, to patent things which have components that were provided freely by the WHO? Should Indonesia stand to benefit monetarily, or otherwise? These are the questions we need to be asking. I don’t think your simple query to the CDC does digs deep enough.

  4. SophiaZoe says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments Edmund.

    However, I disagree to one degree or another with some of what you state.

    The two issues that bear the highest degree of needing answers are two that you bring up above: The inclusion of “genes” and the “ownership” of a virus.

    As to the first: The vaccine does not contain “genes” from the Indonesian strain of H5N1 (or any other strain for that matter). What it does contain, or potentially so, are *snippets* from either the HA or NP genes, two of the eight genes that make up the influenza A virus. Specific, and one would hope highly conserved, nucleotides do not a “gene” make unless you include each and every one of the more than ~1778 nucleotides for the HA gene or ~1566 for the NP gene.

    My simple query to the CDC addressed the question of the “patenting of genes from the Indonesian strain of H5N1″. And, I admit, had I slowed down long enough to think my actions through I would have formulated my question differently and asked several more for good measure. But then I already knew the answer so at the time I had no ulterior motives in mind, but simply wanted a “for the record rebuttal” of what I already knew to be the false claims of Mr. Hammond.

    The other issue I would like to comment on:

    Can anyone claim ownership of a virus that has the potential to threaten the entirety of the world’s population, a threat that is logically assumed to be “life threatening” at least for some of that population?

    Can one claim ownership of something that is not even classed as a living organism, nor a mineral, you know that old triplet from our school days, “Animal, vegetable, mineral”.

    Can one claim ownership of something when all efforts are directed at its extinction within sovereign borders? Actions that at least offer presumptive evidence that no intrinsic value is placed on said “commodity”.

    I have my own opinions [of course] and these questions do deserve to be honestly asked… and answered. However, what we express in regards to these questions bears no relevance to the issues, but merely affords us the opportunity to engage in a bit of “mental masturbation”. A practice that can be personally rewarding and often pleasurable, it is still a practice of personal self-gratification.

    By publishing a “scoop” stating that the CDC had “claimed ownership” of the genes of H5N1 I believe genuine damage was done to the ongoing efforts to find a workable solution to these questions by those who are attempting to reach those solutions. Further, I believe the damage will long reverberate and *could* in the end cost the lives of human beings.

    Words, like actions, have consequences. Mental Masturbation is one thing, but when your words or actions [or both] affect those of others, and their actions affect yet others a higher level of standard is applied. We who engage these issues are not innocent bystanders or passive observers. My position is that Mr. Hammond lied with deliberate malice and with a predetermined outcome in mind.

    Unfortunately, at least in my opinion, he accomplished his aims and goals.

  5. gsgs says:

    as I understand it A/IDN/5/05(H5N1)
    just serves as an example, they could
    do the same with other strains,
    (and maybe should, considering the bruhaha)
    the principle would be same.

  6. Perezoso says:

    From the international patent application:

    Applicants: THE GOVERMENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, AS REPRESENTED BY THE SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES [US/US]; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4770 Biford Hwy (K79), Atlanta, Georgia 30333 (US) (All Except US).

    (NIH too… besides, they are both HHS.)

    Need I say more. Sorry, SZ, you might know about flu; but you don’t know about patents.

  7. Perezoso says:

    Also, SZ, you need to study up on the distinctions between sovereignty and ownership.

    I suggest that you study this issue more carefully before you continue to post. You seem to misunderstand a number of basic concepts about patents, international law, and US government organization (or lack thereof).