Not only does Niman like to cry "Pandemic!" every few weeks – stirring those delicious rushes of anticipations among his followers [a worldwide disaster is about to happen, and we are the first to know, all Hail to the Niman] – but lately he has become oddly obsessed with propounding his notion wild birds are now spreading H5N1.
And this despite him knowing far, far, far, far less about wild birds than I know about viruses. (Great Shearwater could carry h5n1 worldwide; birds breeding in west Siberia migrate to North America, then down to South America, for goodness sake!!) And despite wild birds being blamed but shown innocent for spreading H5N1 in east/southeast Asia during 2003/04 (see my Dead Ducks Don't Fly article – link on left); also despite scientists who look closely at the issue, even after the Russia outbreaks, and concluding there is no solid evidence wild birds are the vectors. Instead, it again appears that legal and illegal trade within the poultry industry (and fighting cocks – Kazakhstan reportedly has cock-fighting – fighting cocks have been blamed for some h5n1 poultry flu spread in Thailand) are the real vectors, with wild birds again becoming victims.
Niman's view is not merely some quirky curiosity, like some chap roaming the streets wearing a sandwich board proclaiming "The End of the World is Nigh". But, if widely and wrongly accepted, it can be dangerous. Dangerous to wild birds – for culls just might be possible (Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin threatened a cull when openbill storks caught H5N1 and died [he didn't cull, only a handful of storks were infected, and died]; the Philippines has a plan for culling all wild birds across a fairly large area should a proportion be found to have bird flu). Further, making governments edgy about and people scared of wild birds can have economic consequences, such as for bird reserves. Hong Kong's Mai Po Marshes reserve was closed by the Hong Kong government for a month during a bird flu scare in spring 2004; no bird flu was found there, nor were any wild birds found sick, but WWF Hong Kong suffered a severe economic loss. Suppose the Niman-inspired scare continues into late autumn, winter in Europe – even if reserves aren't closed, a major drop in visitors and revenue seems possible. Already, we have Dutch farmers in surely expensive measures to guard against h5n1 infections by wild birds. Not only may this be unnecessary; might also deflect attention from the real vector – trade (including illegal; and from areas hit by poultry, surely can buy at real low prices; chickens, going cheep).
As news of bird deaths at Qinghai Lake, northwest China, first emerged in early May, Niman was quick to figure H5N1 was to blame (he was right this time; but if you figure Everything is Bird Flu for mysterious deaths, ou might be right sometimes). Yet for some quirky reason, Niman wrote, with no apparent support, "Migrating birds transport new H5N1 sequences each season." He waffled about geese in southeast China that may have died of H5N1. Bird Flu Killing Geese in Qinghai Province in China?. By 21 May, when H5N1 was confirmed in dead birds at Qinghai, Niman speculated H5N1 in Qinghai China Imported from India? – based on Bar-headed Geese, the species reported dead, migrating to Qinghai from northern India, and arriving May and June (almost correct, tho seems a bit late). Though H5N1 had not been reported in India, nor had there been unusual deaths of poultry or wild birds there, Niman figured India was the source of the H5N1 (based on three poultry flu workers reportedly testing positive for H5N1 in 2002). [A paper in Nature later appeared, revealing that the H5N1 at Qinghai was like a strain actually found in southeast China this spring.)
This commentary closed with pure Nimanism: "Clearly the WHO is not taking the 2005 H5N1 pandemic seriously. They are simply putting out fires in the most obvious areas and making plans to bury the bodies.":woohoo: Three days later, as news of more bird deaths at Qinghai emerged, Niman wrote "Frequently, H5N1 infections in ducks and geese are asymtomatic, so infected birds can transmit H5N1 throughout the two flyways, which cover virtually all of Asia." Here, he seemed oblivious to the massive contradiction: if there are so many asymptomatic infections, how is it that so many birds were dying at Qinghai? [The asymptomatic cases were farm ducks in Vietnam]. this allowed a Nimanistic leap to comment on Qinghai Nature Reserve – Overlapping Bird Flu Flyways – and even to intimate some human deaths in Sri Lanka were due to H5N1. 17 July saw Niman again peering into his crystal ball, where H5N1 genes were a-swirling, and he foresaw "a catastrophic pandemic will expand, as birds migrate away from Qinghi Lake and summer nesting sites and return to Europe, India, and southeast Asia to spread a variety of new and old H5N1 strains capable of causing lethal infections in humans and a variety of other species."
http://www.recombinomics.com/News/07170502/H5N1_Catastrophic_Pandemic.html Top that, Nostradamus!! 👿 No matter, apparently, that birds nesting at Qinghai Lake don't winter in Europe; nor [that I know of] in Southeast Asia – South Asia is their key winter site, plus sw China. Nor did Niman really seem troubled by the fact there has been no known case of wild bird to human transmission of H5N1. Add to which, the fact the birds known to have H5N1 at Qinghai were, err, dead. On 28 July, as he pontificated about Rapid Evolution in Qinghai Lake Migratory Bird Flu H5N1, Niman forecast that the "recombinants" [new virus variants] "will soon arrive in areas to the east, south, and west, of the summer location." This fit a 22 July post Niman made to the Agonist.org disease forum, after he saw post noting re snow in Qinghai area:
A couple of days later, as there were reports of illnesses and deaths in pig farmers in Sichuan, China, Niman was quick to figure H5N1 could be responsible (he later was concerned Ebola was mixing with H5N1 – but to most other people, the problem was actually bacteria). In Fatalities in Sichuan Linked to H5N1 Bird Flu Migration? Niman pontificated:
So, what happened after Niman's predictions? What happened was: there were outbreaks to the north of Qinghai, ie not to the south, nor (strictly) to any of the directions Niman forecast. And, to the world's satisfaction, the Sichuan disease was shown to be not bird flu, but a bacterium, Streptococcus sui. Anyway, Niman isn't one to worry about his predictions turning out completely wrong. He noticed there was Confirmed H5 Bird Flu in Novosibirsk Russia, Here, he made Nimanist leaps of logic, via H5N1 outbreaks in northern Xinjiang, to say "Most of the reported migratory bird deaths at Qinghai lake were also geese, so the deaths of 200 geese in Russia strongly suggest a relationship and further spread of H5N1 by migratory birds." Without explanation, this is a very curious statement – and Niman did not later note that (as was the case) most birds reportedly dying from H5N1 in Russia were chickens, which by Nimanist logic should sugget the virus was spread by, err, chickens.
On 11 August, as outbreaks spread in Russia, in http://www.recombinomics.com/News/08110501/H5N1_Meningitis_Tomsk.html, Niman cited the very hazy notion that "The sequence of H5N1 in the Novosibirsk is said to be similar to H5N1 in Vietnam, but somewhat different. That description matches the sequences fro H5N1 isolated at Qinghai Lake." This, of course, is for real scientists a long way from confirming the Nobosibirsk virus came from Qinghai; but in Nimanism, it's sufficient. Also very bizarre here: "Since many birds that nest or rest at Qinghai Lake go on to summer at Chany Lake." Err, no – no birds at all that nest at Qinghai will go on to summer at Chany Lake. They breed during summer; and after that, in autumn, they fly south. Simple really.
On 18 August, commenting re H5N1 Wild Bird Flu Confirmed in Erkhel Lake Mongolia, Niman for some reason announced:
– which seems utterly at variance with the massive die-off reported at (huge) Qinghai Lake.
announced Niman, without – as ever – giving any info on just which migratory birds he meant, or why he arrived at such a conclusion. (What species' migration route and timing fits the reported outbreaks? Niman leaves us guessing, as he hasn't a clue himself.) Niman has developed great fondness for what he calls his H5N1 wild bird flu map.
Quite why he calls it "wild bird flu" is unclear, since it covers outbreaks of H5N1 variant that originated from poultry farms – so is very obviously H5N1 Poultry Farm Flu. Looking at it, we are supposed to se e the map shows that H5N1 spread from Qinghai to Russia and nearby is by wild birds – yet Niman makes a glaring omission: no wild bird migration routes and timings appear. But of course they don't; for no wild bird migration routes and migration timings fit Niman's map. Niman's map is, instead, like an ink blot test, or one of those pieces of toast with the Virgin Mary's face on that are auctioned on eBay: without being told what it means in advance, you really wouldn't know. (Try looking at the map, with me telling you it means an outbreak following introcuction from poultry farms in Qinghai, then transport to areas north of China, and further transport. Any problems fitting such a story to the map? No, of course not, for the map proves nothing, except showing H5N1 has been spreading.)
Although Niman has long propounded his story of wild birds spreading H5N1, despite evidence to the contrary, his massive ignorance of wild birds seems to have only increased – so much so that on 9 September he wrote in More H5N1 Wild Bird Flu Confirmation in Tomsk Region In Russia:
(Come, come Henry – calm down after all these commentaries, and tell us just which species has individuals that migrate from west Siberia to north America and then to South America? Come on, some specifics for a change please. Further,tell us about some species that migrate from east Siberia to the Americas – which are they? Rather more likely; but few n far between that I know of).