I recently had an op-ed published in a local weekly paper warning people about dangerous research being conducted at UW-Madison and urging them to contact their elected representatives and urge them to intervene.
The university's response was a gem. Read it here.
I love the way it starts out. "If Rick Bogle’s credibility wasn’t already on life support, it should be now."
I have to smile at that, but who's their audience? They seem to believe that readers already have an opinion of my credibility. I am a force. I've written about this phenomena before. And here.
They go on. "Bogle’s alarmist and irresponsible opinion piece: 'Flu lab accident could leave millions dead within weeks,' is rife with errors, too many to list in a short response,..."
Not even room to point out one error? The biggest error? Darned too many to mention it seems.
And, true to form, they make misleading assertions. "The work he criticizes as a public health threat is in reality an identified priority of the world’s major health organizations...". Except it isn't.
It's true that the U.S. government and the World Health Organization have official statements on the need to monitor, research, and prepare for seasonal and pandemic influenza outbreaks, but neither the U.S. government nor the WHO has recommended efforts to make flu strains more deadly and unaffected by our immune system.
They note that influenza research at the university has been conducted without incident "for years." That's sort of true. Kawaoka's current BSL-3 lab has been in operation since late 2007, maybe 2008, and there hasn't been a reported accident that I have heard of. But a string of unreported violations and close calls at the CDC and associated labs makes it clear that accidents are essentially inevitable.
In the case of pandemic extremely virulent influenza viruses, the simple fact that there is even the slightest chance of a public infection makes the risks too great. The extremely low probability that the research will yield significant clinical benefit is paltry reason to risk the lives of many millions.
The university says that I have "demonstrated an amazing lack of responsibility."
Wow. Just wow. I criticize research at the university that senior infectious disease experts and the editors of Nature express public concern over, and I'm not being responsible. Newspapers and on-line sources from around the world are talking about Kawaoka and the 1918 Spanish flu, and quoting senior scientists and doing their best to alert the public to the risks inherent in Kawaoka's work. Wild. The university argues that pie-in-the-sky outweighs unlikely cataclysm.
The authors must not know about Kawaoka's Ebola problems, the Vilas Monkeys, Gary Splitter, Ei Terasawa, Michelle Basso, the illegal sheep decompression deaths, the illegal mouse fights, the shredded video tapes, Jennifer Hess, the repeated animal welfare violations, or any of the myriad other examples of the university's irresponsible and reprehensible history concerning its publicly funded bio-research program. They must think it sounds better to just make wild and vague insinuations. They were probably tutored by staff of the university's School of Mass Communications.
They write: Reasoned public conversation about important research is a good thing. Unfortunately the op-ed written by Bogle does nothing to further that objective."
What crap. Total crap. They don't want discussion. People who want discussion, like me, start discussing; the university only obfuscates, resists, lies, reacts, calculates, and whines that it wishes there was more discussion (about how great it is.)
This silly response to my letter was attributed to Timothy Yoshino, responsible official, UW-Madison Select Agent Program, and Susan West, chair, UW-Madison Institutional Biosafety Committee, which has done nothing to assuage my concerns.
I wonder what Timothy Yoshino's title means? Responsible official.
I wasn't a Spock baby. I was spanked when I was young, and later my father beat me with his belt. I have a sense of responsibility that doesn't seem to fit with whatever consequence Timothy Yoshino would have to bear if there is an accident in the Kawaoka lab. I suspect the consequences for Yoshino would be nil, assuming he lives.