Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Dangers of a Company Town

News yet to be covered by the Madison media.

I have yet to see any news anywhere in Madison about UW researcher Yoshihiro Kawaoka's role in the creation of the new potentially human race-eliminating air-borne species-jumping super strain of the bird flu. I wonder why. Maybe it has something to do with his lab's history of biosafety problems or that his lab is in the middle of town. Or maybe it's just that he brings in lots of tax dollars for his town boss employer. ($17,106,532 since 2008.)

The people living in and around Madison, ought to be told that the NIH National Security Advisory Board on Biosecurity is worried about research being conducted by UW-Madison scientist Yoshihiro Kawaoka and that the Advisory Board's chair, Paul Keim, says that he "can't think of another pathogenic organism that is as scary as this one. ... I don't think anthrax is scary at all compared to this."

A Company Town


That's where I live.

Local media self-censors coverage of events and situations that might embarrass the town bosses.

Here in Madison, some of the town bosses are deeply invested in cruel animal exploitation.

For instance, Madison.com (a website owned and operated by the company town newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal) has a list it calls the Star(s) of Madison (chosen by its readers of course.) The third largest employer in the city is Covance. Here's their entry:
Employer: Covance Inc.
Number of employees: 1,575 employees
Address 3301 Kinsman Blvd.
City: Madison
Zip code: 53704
Phone number: 241-4471
Web site: www.covance.com
Details Pharmaceutical, nutritional, agricultural, chemical and scientific testing
There's no mention of the 7,000 monkeys and 6,000 dogs they use every year in their "scientific testing," but it makes sense that a business dependent on advertising from local businesses doesn't want to offend them.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is the largest employer and the most powerful player in city and county politics.

Even media outlets like WXXM, the Mic 92.1 FM, "Madison's Progressive Talk" radio station is nervous about angering some of these bosses. I know this because a friend used to have a program on the Mic, and was always willing to host a discussion about UW-Madison's use of animals, but always warned that I couldn't mention Covance.

Likewise, the Wisconsin State Journal appears loath to cover stories that might embarrass the University of Wisconsin but is quick to sing their praises, in spite of the paper's claim of being "Wisconsin's Independent Voice."

In many cases, these potential embarrassments involve animals, and because the university and Covance are financially dependent on the consumption of so many animals every year, any potential threats to their unbridled access to them -- like public discussion about what they do to the animals they consume -- are probably not favorably looked upon by these very powerful town bosses.

Media's self-censorship in this arena is noticed by only a few people, and since media controls almost exclusively what people know about current events, they are able to keep their self-censorship a secret, if they even recognize that they do it.

When this censorship involves blacking out news of a serious threat to the public's health, or even to its survival, there can't be much doubt about whose interests are put first. The public's come second or maybe even last.

This apparent self-censorship of coverage reminds me of the similar absence of news about the very serious problems at the USDA Plum Island infectious disease lab when the university pushed hard, but unsuccessfully, to have its replacement built in the Town of Dunn, just outside Madison.

Media, the Fourth Estate, has an unequivocal first obligation to the public. This obligation ought to precede its self-imposed arbitrary obligations to its advertisers and friends.

The people living nearby ought to know that the NIH National Security Advisory Board on Biosecurity is worried about this line of Kawaoka's research and that the Advisory Board's chair, Paul Keim, says that he "can't think of another pathogenic organism that is as scary as this one... I don't think anthrax is scary at all compared to this" when asked about this newly invented disease.

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