Perhaps since before recorded history began, we've been fascinated by people who tell us we're all doomed - the end of the world is nigh. Especially, perhaps, those who appear to have special insights the rest of us aren't blessed with, such as visions, abilities to supposedly see into the future.
Now, in an age that's dominated by technologies many of us can use but few of us understand (operating VCRs can seem complex to many people, let alone understanding what makes a computer work), it seems the time has come for a new Prophet of Doom, one for the Internet Era. And that Prophet is one
Armed with a Harvard Medical School (where he was an assistant surgery instructor, not a professor as he perhaps likes people to believe) background, and a vocabulary rich in jargon that clearly sets him apart from the rest of us ordinary mortals - "cleavage sites", "sequences deposited in GenBank", "a simple BLAST search" - Niman pours forth a veritable stream-of-consciousness series of commentaries, taking news tidbits from here and there and concocting some truths, and a generous helping of pure baloney, many dollops of which concern his belief that wild birds are spreading h5n1.
Not for Niman the caution of scientists who publish in learned, peer-reviewed journals, and take care with their conclusions, couching them in dull terms that might often make even fellow scientists yawn; no, instead Niman loves to speculate, to leap and jump to conclusions, and to pepper them with both jargon, and colourful terms of phrase that make them irresistible to bloggers, and a goodly number of journalists. - "viruses don't read press releases" being among Niman's ready made soundbites.
Nor is Niman prone to understatement on his company website. A former surgery instructor at Harvard Medical School (or associated place called Shriners?), he founded Recombinomics, which espouses an exciting new theory of evolution, based on an astonishing set of rules:
These rules allow vaccines to be prepared before viruses emerge. These observations will produce a paradigm shift in the study of molecular evolution via recombination, which will provide solutions for unmet health needs
Fine goals indeed. Yet a review of his recombinomics (!) website suggests that, alas, Niman has too little time for actual research or publication in scientific journals, as he pours out his commentaries, and manages a host of interviews with the media.
And not content with commentaries on his own site, Niman also visits forums and weblogs, posting prodigiously, including on the supposedly "thoughtful" The Agonist - where once thoughtful info on diseases was all but suffocated by Niman and a small band who might be nimanists (but don't worry, he and his band have found other places for their nonsense).
Nor is this the first time Niman has prodigiously posted; a search for Niman on Google Groups reveals he was also hyperactive in touting biotech stocks in the late 1990s. Here, too, it seems he ruffled a good few feathers.
Henry Niman peddling biotech all the time? began one thread.
Another thread was headed Science: an open letter to Henry N, with a poster remarking,
In my opinion, a good scientist does not have that much time on promoting stocks in the internet and other on-line services.
. - hmm, maybe parallels to the time our dear scientist and doyenne of the web has to spend posting on the net re H5N1 (and SARS before this), when he could be creating vaccines.
(LGND) - ONTAK Approval Rec started with a post by Niman on this approval for Ligand, a company he was involved with and was very actively promoting - but, alas, he was unable to answer follow-up queries on why the stocks "really fell off a cliff ... after the approval."
[See attached image for performance of Ligand stocks; yet more failed predictions by Niman.]
Scan through these and other posts, and you find that when questioned, Niman answers questions with questions, or with dense verbiage. A habit he retains today. He may write of shock and awe, but Niman instead just manages Bluff and Bluster, Bluff and Bluster, ad infinitum.
But while Niman may not be a regular scientist, noone can really accuse him of not being entertaining. From his Recombinomics computer, Niman has spread far and wide across the Internet a veritable pandemic of commentaries and forum posts with conclusions and predictions that make even the script writers for The X-Files seem unimaginative. (Indeed, if you pine for the days when we could look forward to fresh X-Files series, Recombinomics is a fine place to look.)
Here are some examples:
Bioweapons, and the pigs sent to bioterrorise America :ohmy: In pure, free flowing Nimanism, the doc wrote a commentary titled WSN/33 Human Bird Flu Squences in Swine in Korea, speculating that the sequences originated from a bioweapons programme.
Laurie Garrett - a US journalist specialising in diseases, whose web site entry page notes has won three major prizes including Pullitzer - was so impressed by this that she wrote in Near-Miss Shows Bioterrorism Vulnerabilities:
Since neither the particular bird flu strain nor the WSN/33 flu were known to exist outside of laboratories, one Internet journal concluded that “these sequences could represent a military experiment that resulted in an unplanned release. Moreover, at this point, bioterrorism cannot be ruled out.”
Ah, the perils of citing from an "internet journal" for such a major matter; could no expert virologists have mentioned to Ms Garrett that WSN33 is nasty for mice, not people. Or are the Koreans really about to wage war on the world's mice?
At least Ms Garrett was not drawn by another Niman commentary, WSN/33 Bioterror Attack on United States Sw - in which our Dear Speculator even suggested pigs imported to the US in 2001 were a bioterror attack.
Science Magazine, however, published an article titled "Experts dismiss pig flu scare as nonsense". This noted that Niman's idea garnered much attention on the Internet and in media, irking Klaus Stöhr, WHO's global influenza coordinator, "who points out that Niman has not published in the scientific literature since 1996 and is not a flu expert."
Ebola and H5N1 infecting Chinese pig farmers :sick: For Niman, there was no time to linger on the bioweapons story, and discovering it was untrue. Instead, he was compelled to go on in his quest for spectacular conclusions, and soon turned up trumps, thanks to a "machine translation" of a news item on a Chinese language site that not everyone considers sound.
This concerned deaths of farm workers (working with pigs) in Sichuan, and suggested Ebola was involved. To Niman, this looked real dangerous:
Dual infectiosn are a major concern and having Ebola and H5N1 in te same area and possibly the same hosts is cause for concern.
But the Chinese authorities were saying the deaths and illnesses were due to a bacteria, not a virus. Some were taken in, but not Niman:
China is running the ABBT diagnosis [re bacteria] to try to get reporters to bite. Some. like the NY Times, appear to have swallowed the bait, hook, line, and sinker.
Sichuan Pig = Biochemical Test?
Others have since swallowed the bait, so much so that the bacteria story looks widely accepted, and there's no reported evidence I know of that h5n1 has hit Sichuan this summer, let alone that Ebola has been anywhere near China. Singapore's Straits Times ran a large feature on the Ebola/H5N1 shenanigans.
Though it's not freely available on the paper's website, at least one blogger has kindly reproduced the article, titled China Bug – Is It Ebola-like Bird Flu?, so we can all read and tremble. Curiously, though, I'm not aware of a recent follow up by this enterprising paper. :S
Phase 6 of the Bird Flu Pandemic is Underway (The Niman who cried Wolf) In the About Influenza Pandemics page by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6 stages (or phases) of a pandemic are listed. Phase 6 is the last of these: "Pandemic: increased and sustained transmission in general population."
Even as acknowledged flu experts monitor the situation, including by actually visiting countries affected by H5N1, Niman has charted the progress to Stage 6 from his base in the US. And, again apparently without leaving his office, taking any samples, he has been ever alert for the start of Phase 6 - and quick to bring us notice, this spring, that it has already begun.
As early as January this year, Niman was close to announcing Phase 6 had started: Human to Human Transmission of Bird Flu in The Philippines? (not so; even by 6 months later, H5N1 had not been found in the Philippines: CIDRAP).
Then, in early February, Niman wrote of Human to Human Transmission of H5N1 in SE Asia. In this commentary, he said a comment in the New England Journal of Medicine that the authors had identified the first case of human to human transmission of H5N1 was not true: the mighty Niman, former surgical instructor and non flu expert who has not published since 1996 [tho his commentary did not note this] had correctly analysed the data, and identified 11 such cases.
And the peer-reviewed medical literature surely still awaits the benefit of his correct analyses, even though they have spread far and wide across the Internet.
On 6 April, writing of Binh Haiphong and Quang Ninh H5N1 Clusters, Niman concluded "The flu pandemic of 2005 has clearly begun." - This helped prompt a thread on the Agonist (the Nimanist?), starting in July with posters wondering when the world's media would take notice of H5N1 in humans; the concensus was during August; one forecast the US would be knee-deep in bodies by mid-October. (See separate thread in this forum, on Chicken Little Flu)
This was, however, no instant pandemic; Niman had to wait a little before spotting more evidence it was underway. By 26 May, Niman suggested there was the Phase 6 Bird Flu Pandemic in Qinghai China? A month later, results from Vietnam set Niman's alarm bells ringing once again: Blot Signals Phase 6 Bird Flu Pandemic in Vietnam ("So now there are hundreds of H5N1 positives in patients in Vietnam, but more tests are required, but Vietnam lacks the testing facilities. There is so much H5N1 outside the lab that H5N1 cannot be grown inside the lab.") [Note that WHO teams that, unlike Niman, actually went to Vietnam to investigate found there was no pandemic underway.]
Worse was to come. On 22 July, Niman cited a translation of an apparent online exchange between two students in Qinghai, and suggested Stage 6 Bird Flu Pandemic in China? :ohmy: :ohmy:
Bird flu, bird flu everywhere Niman is ever on the lookout for potential bird flu cases around the world. As noted above, he figured H5N1 was behind illnesses in the Philippines (not so). When pig farmers fell ill, several dying, in Sichuan, he was concerned Ebola and H5N1 were mixing (it was a bacteria causing the disease). Even when far-off Angola had an Ebola like illness, Niman was ready to ask Is Ebola-like Illness in Angola Really Bird Flu? - suggesing testing for H5N1 is necessary. - on Agonist forums,
Niman is prone to write, when experts say bird flu likely is not present, ABBF - Anything But Bird Flu. But of course he is, since for Niman, EIBF - Everything is Bird Flu. (Lately, Agonist disease forums having problems; maybe overwhelmed by posts from Niman and followers.)