Damned Heretics

Condemned by the established, but very often right

I am Nicolaus Copernicus, and I approve of this blog

I am Richard Feynman and I approve of this blog

Qualified outsiders and maverick insiders are often right about the need to replace received wisdom in science and society, as the history of the Nobel prize shows. This blog exists to back the best of them in their uphill assault on the massively entrenched edifice of resistance to and prejudice against reviewing, let alone revising, ruling ideas. In support of such qualified dissenters and courageous heretics we search for scientific paradigms and other established beliefs which may be maintained only by the power and politics of the status quo, comparing them with academic research and the published experimental and investigative record.

We especially defend and support the funding of honest, accomplished, independent minded and often heroic scientists, inventors and other original thinkers and their right to free speech and publication against the censorship, mudslinging, false arguments, ad hominem propaganda, overwhelming crowd prejudice and internal science politics of the paradigm wars of cancer, AIDS, evolution, global warming, cosmology, particle physics, macroeconomics, health and medicine, diet and nutrition.

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Henry Bauer, Peter Breggin , Harvey Bialy, Giordano Bruno, Erwin Chargaff, Nicolaus Copernicus, Francis Crick, Paul Crutzen, Marie Curie, Rebecca Culshaw, Freeman Dyson, Peter Duesberg, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, John Fewster, Galileo Galilei, Alec Gordon, James Hansen, Edward Jenner, Benjamin Jesty, Michio Kaku, Adrian Kent, Ernst Krebs, Thomas Kuhn, Serge Lang, John Lauritsen, Mark Leggett, Richard Lindzen, Lynn Margulis, Barbara McClintock, George Miklos, Marco Mamone Capria, Peter Medawar, Kary Mullis, Linus Pauling, Eric Penrose, Max Planck, Rainer Plaga, David Rasnick, Sherwood Rowland, Carl Sagan, Otto Rossler, Fred Singer, Thomas Szasz, Alfred Wegener, Edward O. Wilson, James Watson.
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Many people would die rather than think – in fact, they do so. – Bertrand Russell.

Skepticism is dangerous. That’s exactly its function, in my view. It is the business of skepticism to be dangerous. And that’s why there is a great reluctance to teach it in schools. That’s why you don’t find a general fluency in skepticism in the media. On the other hand, how will we negotiate a very perilous future if we don’t have the elementary intellectual tools to ask searching questions of those nominally in charge, especially in a democracy? – Carl Sagan (The Burden of Skepticism, keynote address to CSICOP Annual Conference, Pasadena, April 3/4, 1982).

It is really important to underscore that everything we’re talking about tonight could be utter nonsense. – Brian Greene (NYU panel on Hidden Dimensions June 5 2010, World Science Festival)

I am Albert Einstein, and I heartily approve of this blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.   As I once remarked, the further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.   Certainly the application of the impulse toward blind faith in science whereby authority is treated as some kind of church is to be deplored.  As I have also said, the only thing ever interfered with my learning was my education. My name as you already perceive without a doubt is George Bernard Shaw, and I certainly approve of this blog, in that its guiding spirit appears to be blasphemous in regard to the High Church doctrines of science, and it flouts the censorship of the powers that be, and as I have famously remarked, all great truths begin as blasphemy, and the first duty of the truthteller is to fight censorship, and while I notice that its seriousness of purpose is often alleviated by a satirical irony which sometimes borders on the facetious, this is all to the good, for as I have also famously remarked, if you wish to be a dissenter, make certain that you frame your ideas in jest, otherwise they will seek to kill you.  My own method was always to take the utmost trouble to find the right thing to say, and then to say it with the utmost levity. (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life magazine) One should as a rule respect public opinion in so far as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny, and is likely to interfere with happiness in all kinds of ways. – Bertrand Russell, Conquest of Happiness (1930) ch. 9

(Click for more Unusual Quotations on Science and Belief)

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H5N1 threatens to paralyze America in a new pandemic, Laurie Garrett confirms

In the aftermath of Bush’s mea culpa speech tonight (Thu Sep 15), ABC is sounding the alarm about Avian flu tonight just to rub it in how badly W has prepared for it – apparently even less effectively than for Katrina.

They draw heavily on two talking heads, Columbia professor and professional disaster preparedness analyst Irwin Redlener and our familiar friend, the leading infectious disease Cassandra in the world, chubby cheeked Lauri Garrett, currently happily ensconced as a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, where she is active as the chief adviser and report preparer on global health threats.

Seems that Laurie has at least temporarily exhausted her stock of excitement over AIDS as a security threat, the topic of her last report for the Council (could it be that two years work on this topic resulted in a dim awareness of how specious it is? Surely not) and has now moved on to something which has the potential to be a little more immediately dramatic in its consequences. So successful has she been in raising the alarm on this new global threat that the entire current issue of Foreign Affairs seems to be devoted to the topic.

From Ms Garrett and Dr. RedIener, who is director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, we learn the terrifying possibilities inherent in bird flu if it somehow manages to jump from birds to humans in sufficient numbers finally to get going apace in human society and arrive by international flights into the US.


It could kill a billion people worldwide, make ghost towns out of parts of major cities, and there is not enough medicine to fight it. It is called the avian flu.

This week, at the United Nations Summit in New York, both the head of the U.N. World Health Organization and President Bush warned of the virus’ deadly potential.

“We must also remain on the offensive against new threats to public health, such as the Avian influenza,” Bush said in his speech to world leaders. “If left unchallenged, the virus could become the first pandemic of the 21st century.”

According to Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Bush’s call to remain on the offensive has come too late.

“If we had a significant worldwide epidemic of this particular avian flu, the H5N1 virus, and it hit the United States and the world, because it would be everywhere at once, I think we would see outcomes that would be virtually impossible to imagine,” he warns.

Already, officials in London are quietly looking for extra morgue space to house the victims of the H5N1 virus, a never-before-seen strain of flu. Scientists say this virus could pose a far greater threat than smallpox, AIDS, or anthrax.

“Right now in human beings, it kills 55 percent of the people it infects,” says Laurie Garrett, a senior fellow on global health policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. “That makes it the most lethal flu we know of that has ever been on planet Earth affecting human beings.”

Since this flu has never been seen among humans before, there is no natural immunity, according to Garrett. With the US way behind other countries in building stocks of vaccine, as things stand now it will be six months after the outbreak here before any vaccine becomes available. With no immunity in humans built up in the past, as many as 200,000 will die according to Federal forecasts.

Actually, it might be a good idea to call 1 800 I GOTFLU for your vaccine right now because Roche has made it – in the form of ‘Tamiflu’, a vaccine intended for ordinary flu which has turned out to be the only one which works against H5N1, the strain of flu involved. The US lack of planning amazes the Europeans – they have all been stockpiling vaccine for some time. The British have enough to protect a quarter of the population. The US is way down in the line for boosting its stocks which now amount to enough for merely two million people.

Given that the lack of readiness in the US is even less than that for a New Orleans flooding, it seems that all signs are that we are in for a repeat of 1918, they say – a lot of people will die.

Watching this out of the corner of one eye as we eat dinner, by the end of the two segments by this unified, choral narrative we find ourselves thoroughly convinced , and freely grateful to Laurie and Irwin for keeping on top of the situation and helping to prod the bureaucratic sluggery into tardy action on this vital front. In their short face-time on screen, the two have established emotional authority and leadership in our mind and heart.

Admittedly, the fact that Avian flu at present has been blamed for only 57 human deaths so far would normally give us pause, but we are too far gone in being mentally bathed by the warm electrons streaming from the TV, and the frequent comparisons to the great flu of 1918, which killed a massive number of people.


To date, there have been 57 confirmed human deaths, and another suspected one last week in Indonesia. Scientists say the humans have only been infected by birds. However, they add every infected person represents one step closer to the tipping point.

By tipping point, they mean the point where the virus mutates into something that can jump from human to human, not just from goose, duck. swan or chicken to human.


That is exactly what happened in 1918 when the global epidemic called the Spanish flu struck.

“The Spanish flu was killing people in two or three days once they got sick,” Bill Karesh of the Wildlife Conservation Society says.

“In 1918, my now-quite elderly uncle was a young boy, living in Baltimore, Maryland,” says Garrett of the Council on Foreign Relations. “And the flu came through, and his family insisted that he could not go outside for any reason until the whole epidemic was over. He spent afternoons looking out the window and counting the hearses going up and down the neighborhood and trying to guess which of his schoolmates had died.”

Today, when H5N1 arrives, it may be necessary for cop cars to block off whole sections of the city in quarantine, not letting anyone in or out. Hospitals would also be quarantined. Grand Central and the subways would be deserted for fear of contamination.

By this time we have completely forgotten the multi-prize winning Laurie’s record of misreporting and neglect of scientific literature in AIDS, and the only salt we sprinkle is on our dish, not hers. This is no time for skepticism. Preparedness is all.

In fact, we pay close attention to the advice at the end of the program (which goes on to consider the effects of a nuclear strike in Manhattan and some other major disturbance that slips our mind) about how to prepare for such emergencies.

Here is the ABC list of pre-disaster to-dos:


1. Unless you are prepared you will be too scared to think straight. Redlener advises a “family plan” to think out beforehand what you will do.

2. Identify the risks in your area, and plan whether you will stay at home or agree on a location to meet up with other family members. Losing your family members undermines everything – the will to act and the ability to think.

3. Plan escape routes. Gather supplies to put in the car, and to stockpile in the house. The experts suggest food, water and medication for seven to ten days – one gallon of water per person per day (given the experience of New Orleans, shouldn’t this be three months?). Use canned food (can opener!) and dried food. Put some into a backpack to grab and be ready to go in a minute if the danger is approaching rapidly.

4. First aid kit, cash, coins, radio and duct tape to seal up the shelter windows and cracks against radiation. (Presumably this means you should add a few canisters of oxygen to supply the ability to breathe which otherwise would be curtailed). Don’t forget birth certificates, deeds , licenses and tax returns to enable resumption of normal life after the danger passes. There should be medical prescriptions for a few weeks. Extra clothes.

5. Remember that in most natural disasters the chances of dying are rather small. You will live, though your “level of comfort” will go down.

Makng a mental note to prepare our emergency kit and place it by the door ASAP, we switch off the television, have a cup of coffee, and regaining our mental alertness, promise ourselves to check into the science of avian flu. Tomorrow we will see what Pub Med has by Dr Malik Peiris, the most hands-on scientist quoted, who happens also to be the discoverer of SARS, held to account for 700 human deaths, but now apparently no longer a worry.


“Unlike the normal human flu, where the virus is predominantly in the upper respiratory tract so you get a runny nose, sore throat, the H5N1 virus seems to go directly deep into the lungs so it goes down into the lung tissue and causes severe pneumonia,” says Dr. Malik Peiris, the scientist who first discovered the so-called SARS virus, which killed 700 people and drew worldwide attention.

While we wait for the upcoming Frontline report on H5N1 on PBS (next Tuesday on NYC Channel 13 at 9pm, if we are not mistaken), here is the transcript of the ABC Primetime double segment, Avian Flu: Is the Government Ready for an Epidemic? Virus Poses Risk of Massive Casualties Around the World:

(show)

ABC News

Avian Flu: Is the Government Ready for an Epidemic?

Virus Poses Risk of Massive Casualties Around the World

Sep. 15, 2005 – It could kill a billion people worldwide, make ghost towns out of parts of major cities, and there is not enough medicine to fight it. It is called the avian flu.

This week, at the United Nations Summit in New York, both the head of the U.N. World Health Organization and President Bush warned of the virus’ deadly potential.

“We must also remain on the offensive against new threats to public health, such as the Avian influenza,” Bush said in his speech to world leaders. “If left unchallenged, the virus could become the first pandemic of the 21st century.”

According to Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Bush’s call to remain on the offensive has come too late.

“If we had a significant worldwide epidemic of this particular avian flu, the H5N1 virus, and it hit the United States and the world, because it would be everywhere at once, I think we would see outcomes that would be virtually impossible to imagine,” he warns.

Already, officials in London are quietly looking for extra morgue space to house the victims of the H5N1 virus, a never-before-seen strain of flu. Scientists say this virus could pose a far greater threat than smallpox, AIDS, or anthrax.

“Right now in human beings, it kills 55 percent of the people it infects,” says Laurie Garrett, a senior fellow on global health policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. “That makes it the most lethal flu we know of that has ever been on planet Earth affecting human beings.”

No Natural Immunity

The Council on Foreign Relations devoted its most recent issue of the prestigious journal, “Foreign Affairs,” to what it called the coming global epidemic, a pandemic.

“Each year different flus come, but your immune system says, ‘Ah, I’ve seen that guy before. No problem. Crank out some antibodies, and I might not feel great for a couple of days, but I’ll recover,'” Garrett says. “Now what’s scaring us is that this constellation of H number 5 and N number 1, to our knowledge, has never in history been in our species. So absolutely nobody watching this has any natural immunity to this form of flu.”

Like most flu viruses, this form started in wild birds — such as geese, ducks, and swans — in Asia.

“They die of a pneumonia, just like people,” says William Karesh, the lead veterinarian for the Wildlife Conservation Society. “When you open them up, you do a post-mortem exam. Their lungs are just full of fluid and full of blood.”

Karesh has been tracking this flu strain for the last several years as it has gained strength spreading from wild birds to chickens to humans.

“We start at a market somewhere in Guangdong Province in China,” explains Karesh. “And it’s packed with cages, and you’ll have chickens, and you’ll have ducks. You might have some other animals — cats, dogs, turtles, snakes — and they’re all stacked in cages, and they’re all spreading their germs to each other.”

In response, Asian governments have killed millions of chickens in futile attempts to stop the flu’s spread to humans.

“The tipping point, the place where it becomes something of an immediate concern, is where that virus changes, we call it mutates, to something that is able to go from human to human,” says Redlener, the National Center for Disaster Preparedness director.

Echoes of the ‘Spanish Flu’ Epidemic

Scientists in Asia and around the world are now working around the clock as they wait for that tipping point.

“Unlike the normal human flu, where the virus is predominantly in the upper respiratory tract so you get a runny nose, sore throat, the H5N1 virus seems to go directly deep into the lungs so it goes down into the lung tissue and causes severe pneumonia,” says Dr. Malik Peiris, the scientist who first discovered the so-called SARS virus, which killed 700 people and drew worldwide attention.

To date, there have been 57 confirmed human deaths, and another suspected one last week in Indonesia. Scientists say the humans have only been infected by birds. However, they add every infected person represents one step closer to the tipping point.

“Once that virus is capable of not needing the birds to infect humans, then we have the beginnings of what can turn out to be this worldwide epidemic problem that the experts call ‘pandemics,'” Redlener says.

That is exactly what happened in 1918 when the global epidemic called the Spanish flu struck.

“The Spanish flu was killing people in two or three days once they got sick,” Bill Karesh of the Wildlife Conservation Society says.

“In 1918, my now-quite elderly uncle was a young boy, living in Baltimore, Maryland,” says Garrett of the Council on Foreign Relations. “And the flu came through, and his family insisted that he could not go outside for any reason until the whole epidemic was over. He spent afternoons looking out the window and counting the hearses going up and down the neighborhood and trying to guess which of his schoolmates had died.”

Disaster Would Require Massive Quarantines

Unlike the avian flu, the Spanish flu spread long before the international air travel routes of today. At that time, there were no non-stop flights from flu ground zero to the United States. But not anymore.

Karesh believes the avian flu could travel from China to Japan to New York to San Fransisco within the first week.

“It’s on people’s hands. You shake hands. You touch a doorknob that somebody recently touched,” Garrett says, referring to how the flu is spread.

Redlener, who is stationed at Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, has been working with New York City officials to get ready for the deadly epidemic.

“The city would look like a science fiction movie,” according to him. “It’s extremely possible we’d have to quarantine hospitals. We’d have to quarantine sections of the city.”

“I could imagine that you could look at Grand Central Station and not see much of anybody wandering around at all,” Garrett agrees. “People would be afraid to take the subways, because who wants to be in an enclosed air space with a whole lot of strangers, never knowing which ones are carrying the flu?”

As for the hospitals, there would be scenes like the ones this past month in the stadiums of New Orleans and Houston after Hurricane Katrina.

“There wouldn’t be equipment and personnel to staff them adequately that you could really call them a hospital,” Garrett predicts. “You might more or less call them warehouses for the ailing.”

And, as happened in New Orleans, there would be no place for the dead.

“If you look at the expected number of deaths that could occur in cities across the United States, we are wholly unprepared to process those bodies in a dignified and respectful way,” asserts Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. “We will run out of caskets literally within days.”

The prospects have become so bleak that in planning meetings held in New York City, veteran emergency responders have walked away.

“They just don’t know how we’re going to get through,” says Osterholm of those responders. “If we have a repeat of the 1918 life experience, I can’t imagine anything to be closer to a living hell that that experience of 12 to 24 months of pandemic influenza.”

If the flu does strike, victims at first would not know if it is the kind of easily treated flu that comes every year or the killer flu, known as H5N1.

The man in charge of making sure Americans are prepared in the event of a killer flu epidemic is the secretary of Health and Human Services.

“We would do all we could to quarantine,” says Secretary Michael Leavitt. “It’s not a happy thought. It’s something that keeps the president of the United States awake. It keeps me awake.”

The preparedness plan calls for Leavitt to run operations out of a crisis room in Washington.

When pressed as to how ready the country actually is, Leavitt replied, “Not as prepared as we need to be. We’re better prepared than we were yesterday; we’ll be better prepared tomorrow than we are today.”

The draft report of the federal government’s emergency plan, obtained and examined by ABC News’ “Primetime,” predicts as many as 200,000 Americans will die within a few months. This is considered a conservative estimate.

“The first thing is everybody in America’s going to say, ‘Where’s the vaccine?’ And they’re going to find out that it’s really darned hard to make a vaccine. It takes a really long time,” said Garrett of the Council on Foreign Relations.

In fact, the draft report says it will not be until six months after the first outbreak that any vaccine will be available, and then only in a limited supply.

“I imagine that not a lot of poor people will get vaccinated,” Garrett says. “If you think about New Orleans, this is a similar situation.”

‘Inadequate’ Stockpile of Medicine

While there is no vaccine to stop the flu, there is one medicine to treat it. Called Tamiflu, it is made by the Roche pharmaceutical company in Switzerland. Roche has been selling Tamiflu for years.

Only recently, however, did scientists learn of its potential to work against the killer flu, H5N1. That has since created a huge demand and a critical shortage.

“All of the wealthiest countries in the world are trying to purchase stockpiles of Tamiflu,” says Garrett. “Our current stockpile is around 2.5 million courses of treatment.”

According to Leavitt, that is a long way from the country’s ideal stockpile. “Our objective is to have 20 million doses of Tamiflu or enough for 20 million people,” he says.

He later admitted that only 2 million are currently on hand, but asserted that no other country is in a better position.

Officials in Australia, however, have 3.5 million courses of treatment, and in Great Britain, officials say they have ordered enough to cover a quarter of their population.

“I think at the moment, with 2.5 million doses, you are pretty vulnerable,” warns Professor John Oxford of the Royal London Hospital.

“The lack of advanced planning up until the moment in the United States, in the sense of not having a huge stockpile I think your citizens deserve, has surprised me and has dismayed me,” he admits.

Faced with worldwide demand, the Roche company, which produces Tamiflu, has organized a first-come, first-serve waiting list. The United States is nowhere near the top.

“The way we are approaching the discussions with governments is that we are operating on a first-come, first-serve basis,” says Dr. David Reddy, head of the pandemic task force at Roche.

“Do we wish we had ordered it sooner and more of it? I suspect one could say yes,” admits Leavitt. “Are we moving rapidly to assure that we have it? The answer is also yes.”

When asked why the United States did not place their orders for Tamiflu sooner, Leavitt replied, “I can’t answer that. I don’t know the answer to that.”

Even leading Republicans in Congress say the Bush Administration has not handled the planning for a possible flu epidemic well.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., says the current Tamiflu stockpile of 2 million could spell disaster.

“That’s totally inadequate. Totally inadequate today,” says Frist, who is a physician by training. “The Tamiflu is what people would go after. It’s what you’re going to ask for, I’m going to ask for, immediately.”

Leavitt says deciding who gets the 2.5 million doses of Tamiflu currently on hand in the United States is part of the federal government’s response plan. However, he also admits that thought has motivated the government to move rapidly in securing more doses of the medicine.

“It isn’t going to happen tomorrow, but if it happened the day after that, we would not be in as good as a position as we will be in six months,” he says.

However, in the end, even the country’s top health officials concede that a killer flu epidemic this winter would make the scenes of Katrina pale in comparison.

“You know, I was down in New Orleans in that crowded airport now a couple weeks ago,” Frist says. “And this could be not just equal to that, but many multiple times that. Hundreds of people laid out, all dying, because there was no therapy. And a lot of people don’t realize for this avian flu virus, there will be very little effective therapy available early on.”

ABC News’ Rhonda Schwartz, Michael Bicks, Samantha Chapman, Maddy Sauer, Simon Surowicz, Jill Rackmill, Steve Baker, Monica DelaRosa, and Jennifer Needleman contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2005 ABC News Internet Ventures

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