Quick Roundup 537

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Swine Flu, Reconsidered

One of my least favorite abuses of science is when its findings are used to lend credibility to the precautionary principle, of which the most potentially destructive example is the political agenda associated with global warming.

Writing about a recent example of the precautionary principle being applied to aviation, I cited a couple of articles at Spiked that likened the aircraft groundings associated with the Icelandic volcano eruptions to the governmental response to the H1N1 "pandemic" (i.e., as an example of the precautionary principle). (Regarding that last link, I still disagree with redefining the term "pandemic" and would still be unsurprised to learn that there was some kind of malfeasance going on on the part of government officials.)

Via Instapundit, I have learned of an article that makes such a case seem less clear to me, but which, at the same time, reminds me of how government interference with the medical sector practically necessitated the hue and cry.

Writing for NewScientist, Deborah MacKenzie argues that the slow speed of the vaccine production chain, the fact that the emergent virus did not react with human antibodies to any recent flu, the unknown lethality of the virus, and the potential for the flu to quickly mutate into a deadlier form all made it necessary to prepare for a potential repeat of the 1918 pandemic.

The real scandal is the antiquated and slow vaccine-making technology used by all the major vaccine companies. In the US, that delayed deliveries until cases were already subsiding and some 12,000 Americans had died. Meanwhile, poor countries got no vaccine at all. Just as well the virus was a wimp. [link dropped]
This may not be the scandal, but it is definitely one of the biggies. As an old Weekly Standard article shows in lurid detail, tort abuse has crippled this industry. And, as Thomas Bowden wrote some time ago, lengthy FDA approval procedures for new therapies are undoubtedly doing their part to stifle the innovation here that we so desperately need to respond effectively to a real flu pandemic.


This was one of those films I avoided like the plague when it was out. Still, I wanted to watch it sooner or later out of intellectual curiosity, when I didn't actually need (search term: fuel) a good movie. I found myself disliking it far less than I expected. In part, this was because the movie seemed like a less effective anti-war/environmentalist propaganda vehicle than it could have been. Furthermore, it had elements of a good science fiction story. Overall -- setting aside the obscenity of the deaths of American military veterans being depicted as a good thing -- the movie struck me as mediocre sci-fi with stunning special effects, to which leftist agitprop was grafted.

On those lines, I appreciated this review of the movie by Michael Bahr, which goes far in explaining why this movie was so ineffective. Here is his concluding paragraph, with which I generally agree:
Avatar is planted thick with tropes, and an attentive viewer will notice many more than this essay addressed. Cameron evokes viewer familiarity and emotion through effective direction, but more often his literary tropes weigh down the story enough to leave a savvy viewer disappointed. If Cameron had simply directed the film and a competent screenwriter had provided the nuts and bolts, Avatar might have been the defining movie of a generation. Instead, it is merely a new high-water mark for special effects and concepting, forever limited in its reach by a mediocre narrative.
The review is long, but interesting, and well worth reading.

Krauthammer on the Gulf Oil Spill

Via HBL comes a pretty much spot-on indictment of the government for its role in precipitating the Deepwater Horizon disaster:
Here's my question: Why are we drilling in 5,000 feet of water in the first place?

Many reasons, but this one goes unmentioned: Environmental chic has driven us out there. As production from the shallower Gulf of Mexico wells declines, we go deep (1,000 feet and more) and ultra deep (5,000 feet and more), in part because environmentalists have succeeded in rendering the Pacific and nearly all the Atlantic coast off-limits to oil production. (President Obama's tentative, selective opening of some Atlantic and offshore Alaska sites is now dead.) And of course, in the safest of all places, on land, we've had a 30-year ban on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. [links dropped]
Notably, Krauthammer dates regulatory approval for BP's activity to this administration. This is something I had noticed one could infer from news reports, but which wasn't exactly being shouted from the rooftops.

Unwritten Rules in Sports

I found this RealClear Sports sequence on sports etiquette interesting. I have always admired the spirit of this one, for soccer.
If a player gets injured and the whistle is not blown for a stoppage, it is the duty of the player with the ball to kick it out of bounds so the injured player can be attended to, especially if they are on the other team.

Once the injured player is removed and play resumes, it is equally universally accepted that the team throwing the ball in will give it right back to the team who stopped play by kicking it out of bounds. This practice of fair play ensures that injured players can be out of harm's way and that neither team will suffer as a result; and it's the accepted norm across the globe at every level of play.
For your enjoyment, hit the small, center button at the top left and manually navigate the (mostly text) "slide show" if you want to peruse the entire list.

-- CAV


: (1) Replaced "tort reform" with "tort abuse" in section on swine flu. (2) Added clarification to first sentence of post.


Mike said...


Glad you enjoyed my "Avatar" review! I appreciate the hat-tip and link.

I am in the process of making "Bahr's House of Exuberance" a literary blog written from a distinctly Objectivist perspective. For any readers here who might be interested in that, I humbly invite you to take a look and see if you enjoy it. I am currently engaged in an exhaustive multi-part deconstruction of "The Empire Strikes Back," and will move on from there to other works.

The Swine Flu situation hit close to home on two levels: first, my employer was among the governmental entities tasked with the epidemiological response to H1N1, and second, because my oldest daughter, only 18 months old at the time, caught H1N1 from the human petri dish that is Day Care. It was fortunate that I spent every day immersed in "good information" about H1N1 and was therefore able to make care decisions for my little one without falling under panic or hysteria, but it was off-putting to see the incredible amount of public resources (read: taxpayer dollars) being applied to a situation that was as overhyped as the Avian Flu was back in aught-three. What is your take on epidemiology as a legitimate (or not) function of objective government? I can see an argument that it represents a subcomponent of the police or military functions, but I can also see an argument that it redirects resources from some citizens to others, a mechanism that is by definition dubious at best.

Epilogue: She recovered normally after about a week of symptoms not terribly different from "ordinary" flu.

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks for writing that. I believe you mentioned it at some point, and I remembered it when I finally saw the movie Tuesday night. The new focus for your blog sounds interesting, especially after that review.

Regarding your question, that happens to be one of the issues I am allowing to percolate on the backburner until I have a chance to think about it some more. Certainly, I see epidemiology as a legitimate science, and, since it is a legitimate function of the state is to protect its citizens from harm by others by such means as forcibly quarantining people with certain types of infectious diseases, I can see a case for the government, say, contracting with epidemiologists to determine what response might be appropriate to a pandemic. But I haven't given it enough thought to feel comfortable staking a position one way or the other.

Regarding your daughter, I'm glad to hear she recovered fully.