Saturday, May 06, 2006

The Unbearable Lightness of Conspiracy Theories

So this shows up in my inbox tonight, sent by my dad, who has the worst scientistic bent I've ever seen:

"Bird Flu"
> Do you know that 'bird flu' was discovered in Vietnam 9 years ago?
> Do you know that barely 100 people have died in the whole world in all
> that time?
> Do you know that it was the Americans who alerted us to the efficacy of
> the human antiviral TAMIFLU as a preventative.
> Do you know that TAMIFLU barely alleviates some symptoms of the common flu?
> Do you know that its efficacy against the common flu is questioned by a
> great part of the scientific community?
> Do you know that against a SUPPOSED mutant virus such as H5N1, TAMIFLU
> barely alleviates the illness?
> Do you know that to date Avian Flu affects birds only?
> Do you know who markets TAMIFLU?
> Do you know who bought the patent for TAMIFLU from ROCHE LABORATORIES in
> 1996?
> Do you know who was the then president of GILEAD SCIENCES INC. and
> remains a major shareholder?
> DONALD RUMSFELD, the present Secretary of Defence of the USA.
> Do you know that the base of TAMIFLU is crushed aniseed?
> Do you know who controls 90% of the world's production of this tree?
> Do you know that sales of TAMIFLU were over $254 million in 2004 and
> more than $1000 million in 2005?
> Do you know how many more millions ROCHE can earn in the coming months
> if the business of fear continues?
> So the summary of the story is as follows:
> Bush's friends decide that the medicine TAMIFLU is the solution for a
> pandemic that has not yet occurred and that has caused a hundred deaths
> worldwide in 9 years.
> This medicine doesn't so much as cure the common flu.
> In normal conditions the virus does not affect humans.
> Rumsfeld sells the patent for TAMIFLU to ROCHE for which they pay him a
> fortune.
> Roche acquires 90% of the global production of crushed aniseed, the
> base for the antivirus.
> The governments of the entire world threaten a pandemic and then buy
> industrial quantities of the product from Roche.
> So we end up paying for medicine while Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush do the
> business.

Sounds kind of good, right? Unfortunately, it's complete bullshit. Here's what I sent back:

Where to start on this...

The first place to start is Effect Measure, a public health blog written by a team of health professionals from the US. Probably the second place to go is the Flu Wiki at Those of us who've been paying attention to H5N1 (NOT "bird flu" -- *all* influenza comes to humans through birds, so calling it that is kind of like calling the usual winter sniffles "people cold" or something) know that it really is something else. Me, I've been watching it since 1999...

First of all, the scary part about H5N1 is not how many people it has killed, it's how many people it has killed relative to the number of people it has infected. If in fact it has only killed just over 100 people, based on the actual case literature, it has *only infected* just over 200 people. (see

For comparison, a "normal" influenza that only infected 200 people *might* kill 3 people, maybe, in a bad year... See also this article in the Mercury News:

"Bird flu expert says H5N1 worst he's seen"

The problem with H5N1 isn't that it hasn't spread very far (yet!) or that people are worried about it spreading to's that it *isn't* yet very good at infecting humans -- but it's really, really good at killing them. (See also Flu Pandemic Morbidity / Mortality at There *is* no other influenza or influenza-like virus in the world that has a mortality rate of ~50%. There is no guarantee that if it does go pandemic, the mortality rate would decline significantly, although conventional models assume so.

Again, for comparison, the 1918 "Spanish Flu" killed millions of people worldwide and caused massive social and economic disruption, with an approximately 3% mortality rate. I am going to assume that even if you're passing around things without checking them against reputable sources like Effect Measure, Helen Branswell's articles, the journal publications, or even Snopes and a quick Google search, you can do the math and figure out the difference between a 3% and a 50% mortality rate. According to new studies, H5N1 shows up in the deep lung tissue, the airways and nasal tissue, and even the intestines and the brains of its victims, which is not at all typical of influenza. (see

Secondly, studies done have shown that Tamiflu has limited effectiveness against H5N1, if any at all, so if anyone gets rich off of selling Tamiflu to fear-panicked people, they're most likely selling snake oil.

Thirdly, H5N1 isn't a "supposed mutant virus," it's an emerging disease.

Fourthly, no, "avian flu" doesn't only affect birds. As I mentioned above, all influenza comes through birds, often by way of pigs, to humans, so that's a meaningless statement. High-pathenogenic H5N1 also doesn't only affect birds -- it kills approximately 50% of the humans it manages to infect. Some birds carry it asymptomatically. Other birds get sick from it but don't die. Still other birds die from it. It's really good at killing felines (as evidenced by the tigers in Asia who have died from it, and experiments done on domestic cats -- see, and note the abstract -- "Influenza virus is not known to affect wild felids. We demonstrate that avian influenza A (H5N1) virus caused severe pneumonia in tigers and leopards that fed on infected poultry carcasses. This finding extends the host range of influenza virus and has implications for influenza virus epidemiology and wildlife conservation."). It also apparently is fairly dangerous to ferrets.

Fifthly, Tamiflu, the trade name for oseltamivir, is (3R,4R,5S)-4-acetylamino-5-amino-3- (1-ethylpropoxy)-1-cyclohexene-1-carboxylic acid ethyl ester, not "crushed aniseeds." It's a synthetic, orally active neuraminidase inhibitor -- an antiviral drug similar to treatments for shingles and herpes. Wikipedia entry on oseltamivir

In future, a little more skepticism before hitting that "Forward" button, please?

Jesus Christ, how many of these things do I have to write. I am not your fucking fact-checking staff, folks! I do have better things to do with my time than spend hours refuting all your bullshit because you'd rather read someone's shitty conspiracy theories than peek in on two blogs and a handful of newspaper and journal articles!! On the other hand, apparently you need some damn help...


Blogger Anne Johnson said...

Birds have a normal body temperature in the low 100s. If something that can make them run a fever gets loose in the air, we're toast. (Pardon that last part, a faerie always helps me with my posts. And now he's even rhyming.)

If we dare think geologically/biologically, pandemic influenzas are nature's way of curbing overpopulation. But that sounds so harsh, eh? Chalk it up to that Intelligent Designer who's still scratching his noggin.

Re: Faerie Festival. I was at a very large annual event in Glen Rock, PA (approx. 40 miles north of Baltimore). A group of white males were shouting insults at everyone and anyone who passed them to buy tickets to the event. I will be covering that on "The Gods Are Bored."

I understand there's also a faerie festival nearer to Baltimore, in Maryland. It happens I know more of the faerie people who go to Glen Rock.

There's also going to be a wonderful new faerie event in Berkeley Springs, WV on June 9.

4:54 PM  
Blogger Interrobang said...

I'm not sure that a pandemic influenza is a curb on overpopulation or just a periodic cause of a population crash, which can happen in a population that is at carrying capacity as well. Of course, not much of that is readily applicable to humans, because we've basically re-written the algorithm largely in our favour (and amen to that, or Your Humble Narrator wouldn't be here at all to Humbly Narrate).

I'm not near any of those places, but it turns out that my friend was at the same event as you were.

12:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The nephew of Michael Chertoff was the source of debunking of the "9-11 lies" (conspiracy theories) for the public.

Evil racist fascist cabalistic zionist protocol Jews setting us up on 9-11, is just so much more deep, then the offical story of one dimentional angry arabs. The conspriacy theories offer much more human motive besides "anger", or the laughable "hatred of our freedom".

12:23 AM  

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