Martin W

Just come across blog post by John Hawks, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin—Madison; on the arguments between Ewald and Revere.

He notes:

1. Almost no mainstream press accounts of the bird flu threat discuss anything about the evolution of influenza. This is probably the most important public impact of evolutionary theory today, but we hear almost nothing of the evolutionary modeling of how the virus may change.

2. Ewald is very well known for studying the evolutionary dynamics of disease. He is making an argument that is sound, as far as the dynamics of selection are concerned. Thus, there are good reasons to think that the worst will not happen, and this is a perspective that has been underplayed.

3. So far, the theory has only been tested by a relatively small number of instances — there just haven’t been so many pandemics that we can infer accurately from past events what the future will be like. It could certainly happen that some new influenza strain could violate the model in some unexpected way, and for this reason governments should play it safe rather than assume that no high-virulence pandemic will emerge.

4. A lot of public health scientists are going to be well-employed for as long as the bird flu remains in the public perception. This doesn’t mean that they are wrong to convey alarm, but it does mean that they don’t benefit by playing down the threat. It’s sort of like NASA and the asteroid impact threat — partly they are more concerned because they know more about the threat and its terrible effects, partly because it’s their job to be concerned.

5. There are a lot of biologists who don’t use or understand selection.

Ewald bird flu spat