Henry Niman: prophet of doom for the Internet

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

Henry Niman

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? Blush

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: LolLol

It's 1918 flu all over again Much is being made over whether a flu pandemic like the "Spanish Flu" of 1918-1919 is possible. Niman is in no doubt.

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.) 

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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">http://www.recombinomics.com/News/05090502/Geese_Quinhai.html]Bird Flu Killing Geese in Qinghai Province in China?. By 21 May, when H5N1 was confirmed in dead birds at Qinghai, Niman speculated H5N1">http://www.recombinomics.com/News/05210501/H5N1_China_India.html]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">http://www.recombinomics.com/News/05240502/H5N1_Qinghai_Overlap_Flyways.... 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">http://www.recombinomics.com/News/07170502/H5N1_Catastrophic_Pandemic.ht... Top that, Nostradamus!! :evil: 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">http://www.recombinomics.com/News/07280502/H5N1_Qinghai_Evolution.html]R... 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:

If it is snowing at Qinghai Lake, migration south may begin early (like now)

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">http://www.recombinomics.com/News/07240501/H5N1_Sichuan_Spread.html]Fata... in Sichuan Linked to H5N1 Bird Flu Migration? Niman pontificated:

As birds at Qingahi Lake and nature reserves in Russia begin to migrate to the south, west, and east, there is concern that such a migration might lead to a catastrophic spread of H5N1. Human deaths in the adjacent province of Sichuan may indicate that such spread has already begun.

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">http://www.recombinomics.com/News/07210501/H5_Russia_Outbreak.html]Confi... 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">http://www.recombinomics.com/News/08110501/H5N1_Meningitis_Tomsk.html]ht..., 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 http://www.recombinomics.com/News/08190503/H5N1_Erkhel_Mongolia_Confirme... " title="http://www.recombinomics.com/News/08190503/H5N1_Erkhel_Mongolia_Confirme... ">H5N1 Wild Bird Flu Confirmed in Erkhel Lake Mongolia, Niman for some reason announced:

The ability to cause fatal infections is dependent on several conditions, including the level of H5N1 in feces and dilution factors. In nature reserves with large lakes, the feces are diluted by the volume of water. However, in smaller lakes and ponds near farms, the concentration of virus is higher.

- which seems utterly at variance with the massive die-off reported at (huge) Qinghai Lake.

Migratory birds are clearly spreading the H5N1 wild bird flu.

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">http://www.recombinomics.com/H5N1_Map_2005_QinghaiLAni.html]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">http://www.recombinomics.com/News/09090501/H5N1_Tomsk_Confirmed_Again.ht... H5N1 Wild Bird Flu Confirmation in Tomsk Region In Russia:

Northern Siberia birds migrate to North America from the east and the west. Birds in the west migrate across Greenland into northeast Canada, while those in the east migrate across the Bering Straight into Alaska. Birds from both areas then migrate south into Canada, the United States, and points south, including South America.

(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). 

Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

Forwarned is forarmed.

Yes indeed, for America should be prepared for the day the nation's mice come under serious attack by diseases carried in bioterrorists' pigs.

What is your evidence that Niman is "Armed with a Harvard Medical School background". What was the nature of his appointment, what did he teach, what grants did he earn there, what did he do at Harvard and for how long?

Hi Anon:

I've been told Niman was a surgery instructor (close to being a lab technician?) at Harvard Medical School.
Google reveals a few results saying he was this; inc one from Science Mag (for which I'm now just seeing abstract).
Whether he was there a couple of minutes only, or a bit more, I dunno, nor do I know re other points you raised. Niman does not make this clear on his Recombinomics site.

If you'd like to come forward with more detailed info, I'm sure people with some interest in Niman (and his theories re bioterrorist pigs, H5N1 and Ebola in Sichuan etc) would appreciate this.

Indeed, further info on Henry Niman could be of interest; picture I've discovered is somewhat confused.

(I've also seen him described as professor Niman from Harvard; quite wrong, as I understand it.)

Cheers,
Martin

Post edited by: martin, at: 2005/09/10 16:16

Niman has moved, at least temporarily, over to the Current Events Flu Clinic Forum: [since closed]

Here are some interesting historical links from Free Republic regarding Niman. The information appears in numerous posts so you can search for the word "Niman" on the page to find them:

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/823470/posts?page=351#351

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/931520/posts?page=198#198

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/823470/posts?page=296

Niman today switched the site where he posts full text articles (which he calls "Media Resources" at the end of his Recombinomics commentaries). Instead of posting the full text article he wants to comment on, at his site ... he posts it at another site, then posts a link back to his commentary (to generate more web hits and Google counts). He used to use Agonist bulletin board for this, then went to Current Events, ... now he is doing it at Silicon Investors (their SARS and Avian Flu message board) They know him from before, at Silicon Investors, and his recent burst of activity there has generated some interesting conversations, for example: http://siliconinvestor.advfn.com/readmsg.aspx?msgid=21704097

[quote]You remain a moron posting nonsense. The posts on the H5N1 threat were not directed to you and your comment on fear mongering remains among the dumbest I have seen by scientists or pseudo-scientists.[/quote]
http://siliconinvestor.advfn.com/readmsg.aspx?msgid=21714239

[quote]Nobody's got their head in the sand. There's a difference between responsible reporting and being an alarmist with profit motive.

A flu pandemic is an easy call. However, there is the matter of the Niman "broken clock", which you fail to acknowledge. You're a frigging joke, Henry. I do appreciate being kept abreast of flu news, however.

A flu pandemic is coming, just as they've come in the past. Sit here and fear-monger, year after year, until it happens.

You've made many silly calls in this thread, while making demeaning comments about good CDC (and other) scientists who are in positions of responsibility. If there is a single scientist on Earth who would be glad to count you among their colleagues, I'd be amazed.[/quote]
http://siliconinvestor.advfn.com/readmsg.aspx?msgid=21713563

[quote]There is a difference between pointing out that you're a fear mongering jerk and saying that bird flu is not a threat. I've never come remotely close to saying the latter. Shucks, there goes that "agenda".

The entire world looks at an outbreak of a mild, limited infectious disease in Vancouver and holds breath. You're out there yelling River City. CDC experts and others say that there's nothing to worry about, and you label them morons. And it has gone on and on.

YOU ARE A FRIGGING JERK, NIMAN, AND THE WIDELY ACKNOWLEDGED BIGGEST TOUT THAT BIOTECH HAS EVER SEEN.[/quote]
http://siliconinvestor.advfn.com/readmsg.aspx?msgid=21714216

Well, no one can accuse Niman of being unimaginative, or being unable to see the potential for a story that might garner publicity.

Despite Niman's sterling attempts to tout stocks in Ligand Pharmaceuticals (after all - though he did not note in all his enthusiastic posts - he was involved in starting it, evidently had/has shares), it's performance when he was a promoter was hardly stellar.

Niman and his gang have basically now taken over the CurEvents board flu cllinic: [since closed]

details at: [forum shut down]

Interesting to see Niman say:

[quote]He is using ProMed as a forum to publish his positions which have no scientific basis. He should have been removed some time ago. He is an embarassment to ProMed and the scientific community.[/quote]

To some folk, could be that if repeat this statement but with "Recombinomics" instead of "ProMed", could apply even better to another cyber scribe. :cheer:

Wonder if there's any link between the fact that ProMED doesn't air Niman's ... theories ... and his efforts to oust Dr. Pringle as the avian flu moderator there.

Perhaps he doesn't pass peer review -- which might explain his publication record (non) on influenza.

Is Recombinomics just a website, the name of a consulting firm of which Niman is self-employed, a limited partnership that collects royalties on the patents, or something else? I couldn't find it as a listed corporate business name in Pennsylvania

Whether or not Niman is correct about the spread of avian flu, avian flu is a huge concern and at the least, he is a gadfly that helps keep the internet blog community informed. For one who does not work in the field, it is difficult to dissect out what is merely hypothesis and what is fact, in his internet missives. I tend to believe that he is incorrect re migratory birds, but to me the basic concern is that the disease is spreading and we don't know how. In regards to his other information, he posts so much that I can't determine which are facts and which are not. The things that are facts seem relatively easy to validate from other websites that I trust, but the interpretation and meaning of the facts is a different story. It is easy for me to see how less informed folks assume everything he writes is true. And, I give him some credit for linking to this website (Henry Niman wild goose chase in russia)

Hence, I was curious about what I assumed was a company (Recombinomics), but is not registered in Pennsylvania. The Recombinomics website doesn't really say what recombinomics does. As a physician, I'm not looking forward to the demands of patients this winter to be seen for a disease that virtually none, I hope, will have (avian flu). So, to some degree I kind of need to know where information comes from so that I can respond to worried patients with colds.

Hope you've read at least the first post here, re Niman; if you want to trust him after this, well....
[Yes, he's prolific with posts and boasts. Empty vessels make the most noise?]

For facts and interpretations, you're best using sources such as WHO and CDC websites, also ProMed mailings etc, and papers/communications in real publications.

Wendy Orent's recent article in New Republic (needs subscription) maybe worth a read; stems partly from work by Ewald, the subject of another thread here on disease evolution. (Says the 1918 flu was product of First World War conditions; don't have right conditions for such a dangerous flu today.) Others may argue, but food for thought, and maybe reason to be less fearful.

I have read the posts here, and they are very helpful. I actually don't mind gadfly's, as they keep the rest of us honest and force us to answer sometimes hard questions. Poking holes, no matter how irritating, is a useful exercise. The Moderators "letter to Niman" as a counterpoint makes a lot of sense to me. What is annoying is that Niman proceeds in a fashion that is going to lead to the same unnecessary health concerns that we initially saw with the outbreak of SARS. Niman's postulates are gradually getting into the newspaper and mass media market, and that is a problem as they are presented as fact. If Recombinomics isn't really a company, but rather an unscientific website with no quality control, created to push the theories of 1 person, then I will weigh that evidence appropriately. What I'm trying to figure out is whether the Emperor has absouletly no clothes on, or just a few rags.

There was no possibility of SARS without the appropriate exposure, but the fear it caused in patients and unnecessary physician visits were incredible. The similar situation holds for those who fear smallpox--without an index case, there is no smallpox on the planet. If everyone with a fear of avian influenza rushes to the doctor this fall, each examination room becomes an incumbator for the spread of the common cold and influenza A and B. That, actually, is the real concern in the US.

"The recombination brouhaha" Revere, from Effect Measure

comments on Niman, at CurEvents Flu Clinic: [shut down]

Maybe also relevant from article on Intelligent Design "debate":

But Miller said his key concern is that "non-scientific ideas are finding a voice from political and cultural leaders who are unable to support them on scientific terms." The problem goes beyond the evolution versus intelligent design debate, he said. "Many public policy decisions rely on sound science. The more we allow pseudo-scientific ideas a hearing, the more we place ourselves in peril when it comes to decisions about global warming and a host of other environmental and biomedical matters," Miller said. "There is the increasing danger of 'faith-based politics' that fails to heed scientific evidence in the public square."

Dr. Martin,

Thnak you for quoting me on the "knee deep in bodies by mid october" remark.

I appreciate your viewpoint and find it valuable in working through the issues associated with avian influenza vector research.

However, I feel that you have spent a lot of emotion and time attacking Dr. Niman. GET A LIFE. Niman is Niman. I realize that. He simply is who he is. Attacking him is a waste of your time. The truth of this research is the goal - not personal issues and egos - yours or his.

Hi Andy:

If wild birds could speak for themselves, I'd be happy to leave Niman as Niman, whatever that means. As they can't, there's a gross lack of balance here - and no scientist/purported scientist other than Niman is pushing the wild birds as vectors notion. (Robert Webster to tiny extent; I've emailed Stu Jude's querying a silly quote by him, but no reply re this quote [was it wrong, or just silliness direct from him?])

I've spent but a tiny fraction of the energy Niman has expended attacking wild birds - for no apparent reason other than it makes a good story that helps raise his profile.

If just a few people think twice or more before looking at Niman's notions, maybe some broader help too (cf anon physician above - might tell less scary info to patients).

Trust you're glad you're not about to be among knee deep piles of bodies within a couple of weeks, tho it's kind of you to be not aggrieved at being had by one of Niman's other fanciful tales of doom.

Martin

Post edited by: martin, at: 2005/10/01 02:50

Unfortunately Niman is correct.

Not sure what he's correct about. Wild birds spread notion still looks highly tenuous (Philippines dot on his map proven premature - now said to be bad antibiotics for a non-viral disease; leaves rest of map looking v bare re recent outbreaks. Maybe Danube Delta from migr birds; maybe. But migr birds have been through many more places than this. For Indonese, Thailand, local origin most likely).

As to rest of the stuff that formed basis of start of this thread. If Niman correct in one of his main items of baloney, we'd now be well into major human to human h5n1 pandemic, that started by beginning of April - and no longer looking at wild birds spread, but instead worrying re human to human spread, and maybe doing our best to save ourselves (with streets around us knee-deep in bodies).
Instead, still wondering how to save us from Nimanism. :silly:

New Thread about Niman: [forum shut]

:sick:

So much for Henry Niman being a prophet of doom. Check out Dr. William Osterholm from CIDREP giving a lecture at the Wilson Center. I think his creditials are a bit more impressive yet he seems to be a prophet of doom also!! Check out the video!

http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=news.item&news_id=145329

Wonder re Osterholm, too, for all his credentials; here he is quoted in December 2001:

Saddam Hussein has vast quantities of anthrax and it's known Iraq also has smallpox virus warehoused, said Osterholm.

Bioterrorism expert Osterholm warns against national complacency

New thread at CE: [shut down]

[b]Watcher wrote:[/b] [quote]Niman and his gang have basically now taken over the CurEvents board flu cllinic: [since closed[[/quote]

Not quite a complete takeover yet. There is a small band of guerillas engaged in hit and run tactics in an attempt to restore some sanity to the board.

H5N1 is the jackpot for any doom prophet. I sort of like the "H5N1 doesn't read press releases" comment. Would we expect less from the land of fuzzy science. Unfortunately, all this will be trivial post pandemic. l

Well, December 24 is coming up, Henry Niman's date for "shock and awe" -- explained here: [defunct link]

I saw something re this "Shock and Awe" (to be in a patent application it seems). Seem to remember Niman promising a different arrival of Shock and Awe a while back, with nothing much happening.
Given date, are we to expect the Shock and Awe to arrive in a big sack carried by a chap in a red suit with a big white beard?

Though Planet Niman is well into the human H5N1 pandemic that began by 6 April 2005 , I doubt most of us will be shocked or awed on or after 24 Dec.
But, can forecast Niman will produce loads more Bluff and Bluster.

schlock and awful comes to mind :P Hope you have a Merry Xmas or whatever politically correct season you follow. :laugh:

never mind political correctness - Merry Xmas! :laugh:

So whats your solution. I suppose its all Bush's fault. typical liberal rag.

George W Bush, u mean - that patsy now getting touchy feely about poor kids, and even a little worried about overusing oil? Brits like me may not so much blame, as feel just a little pity.

Post edited by: martin, at: 2006/02/07 12:16

This is the new site for Niman's commentary links: flutrackers.

We DARE any of you to show your conservationist faces there and debate us. We will own you. Death to all birds! [post by Lisa, soon in thread, says this isn't Disaster Boy]

Hooray - a home for Nimanists!

Here's hoping there's no sunshine there, so trolls will continue having fun.

Good luck chaps! B)

[b]DB (Disaster Boy) wrote:[/b] [quote]This is the new site for Niman's commentary links: flutrackers

We DARE any of you to show your conservationist faces there and debate us. We will own you. Death to all birds![/quote]

I think this post is either a joke or an imposter. It doesn't reflect any of the educational postings I saw on on that site, nor the tone of the discussions. I think the post can be ignored.

[b]DB (Disaster Boy) wrote:[/b] [quote]This is the new site for Niman's commentary links: flutrackers

We DARE any of you to show your conservationist faces there and debate us. We will own you. Death to all birds![/quote]

Disaster Boy is actually very nice and did not say that comment. Someone is trying to sabotage the new CNN of bird flu site.

AVIAN FLU: PREVENTING A PANDEMIC A Bird Flu Watcher Develops A Following Through the Internet

By NICHOLAS ZAMISKA

March 23, 2006 11:07 p.m.; Page B1 Henry L. Niman is a sort of macabre bird watcher, trailing the deaths of chickens, ducks and pigeons late at night by the glow of a computer monitor in the office of his suburban Pittsburgh home. There, the 57-year-old biochemist keeps vigil over a blog and an explosion of offshoot Internet discussion groups tracking the avian flu virus across the world. Dr. Niman sleeps "a few hours here and there," living partly on dwindling savings from previous research jobs. He recently shifted his schedule toward the Asian time zones to keep up with the fast-moving bird flu developments in the region.

While he hasn't published a peer-reviewed paper since the mid-1990s, Dr. Niman says that he hopes his time trolling the Web "will pave the way for rapid acceptance" by the scientific community of his theories about how the virus is evolving. On Web message boards he has been called everything from "a Churchill of our times" to a "gonzo scientist."

But in the World Wide Web of bird flu addicts, Dr. Niman is famous. PREVENTING A PANDEMIC 1 • See an FAQ on avian flu2, an interactive global map3 and track the latest developments in the Avian Flu News Tracker4. • Plus, see complete coverage5. As a global team of top scientists stalks the avian influenza virus in hopes of staving off a human pandemic, a parallel universe of nonprofessional laptop sleuths -- fostered in part by Dr. Niman's many Web postings -- is racing to beat them at their own game.

These amateur detectives are supercharged by a mix of conviction, fear, distrust of authority, and old-fashioned competitive spirit. They believe mainstream scientists are missing important clues about the virus's evolution -- and that's why ordinary citizens have to take the lead. So they are scanning news reports from various countries trying to figure out how the virus is mutating and whether there have been clusters of bird flu cases in humans.

Such a grouping could indicate the beginning of a pandemic since the virus would be spreading from person to person. "I'm just a housewife, but I've been obsessed with this," says a 49-year-old mother of two daughters from outside Hershey, Pa. She asked not to be identified by name so her neighbors wouldn't think she was "goofy." She started following bird flu on the Internet a little over a year ago, when she was researching the proper dosage of a flu medication for her daughters. She has spent hours each day tracking the latest developments on the Web. She has theorized that India will spark the pandemic. "I know it's strange, and I know it's not normal, but I just can't seem to break away from it," this woman says.

Dr. Niman hasn't formally recruited any of his followers; he doesn't direct their research and he certainly doesn't issue orders. His relationship with his acolytes is informal and even a bit distant. He posts commentary about bird flu on his company's Web site, and frequently contributes to various bird flu discussion groups. The amateurs take it from there. "It has brought together a fairly diverse group," Dr. Niman says of his Web postings. "These are people who just became more concerned about what is going on."

The Internet is infamous for fostering obsessions and pseudo-science of all kinds. But the prospect of a bird flu pandemic has an apocalyptic quality that can quickly breed fear and distrust. H5N1, the strain of avian influenza that worries health experts the most, has killed millions of birds across Asia and has now spread into Europe and Africa. The virus can pass from birds to humans through close contact, but some scientists warn that a single mutation could make it readily transmissible among people as well, killing millions around the world in a matter of months.

That even the professional bird flu experts are sometimes reduced to conjecture spurs still more second-guessing among Dr. Niman's troops. It also highlights what some see as the import of Dr. Niman's mission. Dr. Niman is "a natural-born celebrity, brilliant but weird," someone going by the name Montanan writes of Dr. Niman on a bird flu blog. "And he is emerging as a 'blog star.' Whether you love him, hate him or are neutral, you can't ignore him." Dr. Niman first turned his attention to bird flu in 2003, and has since joined curevents.com, one of several sites with bird flu discussion groups. The activity on such sites has surged in recent months. The forum had 8,361 discussion "threads" and 116,014 posts as of yesterday. "Go after them NIMAN! damn I am sick and tired of the run around about H2H!" a bird flu blogger with the screen name monkeyeyes2 wrote on a similar site, referring to the World Health Organization's attention to the possibility of broad human-to-human infection. Since graduating from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles with a doctorate in biochemistry, Dr. Niman has had several jobs in the sciences, the last of which was a research job at Shriners Burn Center in Boston, where he was also affiliated with Harvard Medical School. He says he left to found his own business, Recombinomics Inc., in the hope of eventually developing vaccines.

He has raised around $75,000 from a couple of investors so far, he says. "Right now it's mostly me and the patent attorneys," he says of his company, adding that he is trying to secure some laboratory space in Baltimore. So far Dr. Niman's company hasn't made any bird flu vaccines, but it has filed for patents on a method he thinks could work. The idea is to try to predict the ways in which a virus will mutate. Since part of the problem with seasonal influenza is that the virus changes every year, scientists have to wait until a strain emerges before they can make a vaccine. Dr. Niman thinks flu viruses are swapping chunks of genetic material with one another when they infect the same host, spawning mutant strains of the virus. He thinks he can forecast what a new strain will look like because different viral strains, he says, exchange genetic information in predictable ways. Theoretically, this method could be used to develop a vaccine for a rapidly evolving virus, he says.

He is pushing his theory relentlessly on the Web, and is trying to win followers who support so-called recombination, and thus generate business for his start-up vaccine company. Meanwhile, Dr. Niman has forced at least some mainstream scientists to take a look at his ideas. He has suggested a theory about pig influenza viruses in South Korea that the World Health Organization felt compelled to look into, at Dr. Niman's constant urging, lest it miss an important clue. But Klaus Stöhr, a bird flu expert at the WHO, calls the Niman leads "far-fetched," saying this was putting it "diplomatically." And last March, the prominent journal Science wrote an article about the claims, titled "Experts Dismiss Pig Flu Scare as Nonsense." A map on Dr. Niman's Web site tracks bird flu's spread across the world. At numerous points in the complex evolution of the bird flu virus, Dr. Niman has said that human-to-human transmission has occurred, suggesting that a pandemic was around the corner. In February of last year, Dr. Niman wrote: "The flu pandemic of 2005 has clearly begun." He said in a recent telephone interview that "'begun' didn't mean that people were going to be dropping dead, but that we had moved to another phase, that it was more efficiently transmitted." "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," wrote Martin Williams, of Hong Kong, on his blog that covers H5N1.

"He's just prolific," Dr. Williams said later in a phone conversation. "It's just scaremongering. People like to read it and get excited."

"That's utter nonsense," Dr. Niman says in response, adding that the criticism stems from a disagreement the two had over whether migratory birds are responsible for the spread of the virus around the world. Dr. Niman says he's not bothered by his critics. "They don't really argue the science," he says. "They basically do personal attacks." Dr. Niman's Internet shock troops have adopted a division of labor, organizing themselves into groups dedicated to translating Chinese news reports and responsible for illustrating the spread of the disease across Asia with sophisticated maps.

For example, Gaudia Ray Sarna, of Ojai, Calif., a Stanford law school graduate, claims to have done "the first academic analysis of the Old Testament's Tenth Plague," describing the plague "and the facts of pandemic flu as we know them now, from 1918 and from London 1665." The study is titled "Why smear blood on the doorposts?"

And a British flu watcher emailed Dr. Niman to alert him to several species of dead birds piling up outside the Briton's house, as well as a dead fox in a pile of magpies. "I find the reactions he gets and the intensity of scrutiny we give him most entertaining," writes the blogger Montanan. "He is both a scientist and a dramatist. And we definitely are a willing audience." 

[quote]They don't really argue the science[/quote] - maybe because there is little or no science to argue

as to Gaudia-Ray's bizarre notions, this from a correspondent:
Oh - I didn't know the Great Plague of London (typical rat, rat-flea, and human flea-borne plague) was REALLY flu! Or the tenth plague in the Bible - a flu which killed only first-born sons. Oh. Those were the ones sent out to kill the chickens?

Still, claptrap clearly has much appeal, to certain people.
cf, say, [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erich_von_Däniken]Erich von Daniken[/url]'s popularity with some regular folk, but not scientists. (Wikipedia entry for von D includes "Most historians regard von Däniken's archaeological claims as pseudoscience, and are of the opinion that he is drawing far-reaching conclusions from little evidence and is disregarding more likely alternative hypotheses, but a large group of followers, some of whom have written books of their own, are of the opinion that his theories are likely to be true.")

Post edited by: martin, at: 2006/03/25 03:22

Hilarious to see that Niman readily commented on news report suggesting H5N1 found in two penguins in Antarctic:

The above comments suggest penguins in Antarctica are fatally infected with H5N1. Confirmation of these results would be cause for concern. Antarctica is relatively close to South America, Africa, and Australia, offering easy access for worldwide spread of H5N1 as the host range and geographical reach continue to expand.

More details on the initial results would be useful. If H5N1 is isolated, sequence data would be revealing.

typical pretentious pap from the blogger, without any concept of how H5N1 might have actually got there (cf blithely accepting Ebola might be in Sichuan last year).

edited version of the page now includes, at top:

WARNING: Some reports indicate that the report below was an April1 hoax published by a Reunion newspaper.

[whole Recombinomics site should have a WARNING: This website contains lots of ludicrous notions. Read at your own risk.]

maybe fitting this should be in April, since on 6 April last year Niman announced, "the flu pandemic of 2005 has clearly begun". (So, on Planet Niman, should have been knee-deep in bodies by Oct last year. Meanwhile, in the real world...)

Recombinomics reminds me of review [by Barry Norman, first I think] of a film called The Idiots - "by idiots, about idiots, for idiots". [not that H5N1 is an idiot]

Post edited by: martin, at: 2006/04/05 08:17

Thank goodness I have found you guys! I thought I was the only one saying "hey wait a minute?!" :huh:

Just got to wondering about Niman and his promised "shock and awe" - which, like so many of Niman's predictions, failed to materialise. Googled, and came across a post by joker called Nimon, from 31 March 2007: Shock and Awe has been postponed to April 23, 2007. Discussion at: www dot recombimaniacs dot com/ShockAndAweRescheduled/IMeanItThisTime.html [sadly, defunct]

Belatedly come across CurEvents.com thread - June last year - on Niman being banned for a week from Fluwiki; notes he had also been banned for a week from CurEvents. [forum closed]

Niman banned again

some entertaining posts; some batty stuff - as you'd expect - from Niman supporters, or "Nimatoads" as one person calls them. Best post, to me, is by supermoderator Clawdia, who replies to:

How many of the niman acolytes do you think are actually Niman himself? Some of them have been active over at fluwiki blasting the moderators for their action and predicting the end of fluwiki. Yawn.

- with post including:

Enough of 'em have been at it so hard and heavy that the same thing occurred to me, Mo'! It seems that some would be unable to fail to notice the pattern that recurs - Niman comes in like god reincarnate Niman gets a bunch of people on the bandwagon Everyone who isn't on the bandwagon becomes a troll Niman repeats himself ad nauseum, with no hard data People question Niman, only to be told they are trolls When enough of the smart folk get sick and tired of the nonsense and his attitude, finally he gets either banned or temporarily suspended. Like a dog with its tail 'twixt its legs, he slinks off into the dark.

Niman still spouting nuttiness; email just in from David:

Hello.  I've spoken to you a few times in the past, by email, about Henry Niman.  I REFUSE to put the word "Doctor" before his name.  I just found it amusing last week, to watch him and his "Nimanites", as you say (lol)...  GUESS at what an undiagnosed illness on the Prince of Wales island of Alaska, was.  Of course, we all know what Niman thought it was.  BIRD FLU!   Then comes ALL the speculation.  One member of the board will try to give a RATIONAL explanation of what it could be... and this person gets verbally assaulted by Niman.  So... apparently...  HIS word... is LAW.  He says its bird flu, and you DONT argue with him.  Right?  Well... what did it turn out to be?  Adenovirus 14.  A very NASTY... COLD!  That killed one person that already had an existing lung condition.  And was also elderly.  After this came out...  i actually saw a member on the board... THANKING Niman for all the "research" he did on this.  I'm like... THANK HIM FOR WHAT???  All he did was GUESS the same thing he ALWAYS guesses.  Bird flu.  Hes even got something about this Adenovirus 14 on his website, and STILL didnt even MENTION that as a possibility.  So, what do they THANK him for??  He belittles everyone that does NOT have the same opinion as him, and they THANK him.  I dont get it. I told him hes lucky i'm not a member of that board.  Cause if he smarted off to me the way he has some people.... hed be grabbing a dictionary looking  to see what all those words meant, that i called him!  Then i'd call him up and tell him off personally!   I wish i knew what this mans motive was...  what his PURPOSE is.  I emailed him once and told him if he knows so much and is so brilliant... then, come up with a VACCINE for bird flu, so we wont have to worry about it anymore.  Stop wasting your time sittin behind a computer typing bullshit commentaries and posting bullshit on message boards... and try to HELP the situation.  Apparently thats not what hes interested in.  Hes got another motive.... just not sure what, yet.    Anyway, i knew he wasnt one of your favorite people either, so i just wanted to verbally bash him, to someone that might appreciate it.  lol  Thanks for reading!

There's a new map making the rounds, http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&t=p&msa=0&msid=106484775090...
now on Swine flu. Lots of unconfirmed cases and "sightings". Some of these will obviously turn out to be real, but I can't think that panic helps us more than intelligent preparation.

I'd thought this situation seemed custom made for Niman: fears re a pandemic; some info, but much unknown, many people wanting to find more - a ripe situation for fear-mongering.
Seen that Niman has already announced a pandemic; not sure how many pandemics he has announced so far... Bet those acolytes who kept the flu faith are well excited.