Tuesday, November 14, 2006

GET SARIN CHEAP IN THIRD WORLD: Not really, just another big daily terror beat journalist in need of a leash

"Arizona's three state universities are quietly becoming more involved in bioterrorism research, securing tens of millions of dollars in grants," wrote reporter Anne Ryman of the Arizona Republic on November 10.

With GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow T-shirt on, patient reading reveals classic terror beat clowning from the mainstream newsmedia.

This involves a story which cites what various local universities are doing, immediately following with declarations from scientists in receipt of monies that their work will benefit the entire health community, not just bioterror defense. Their credentials as advisors and consultants on bioterror are always prominently on display.

Counter-arguments from scientists working in public health research and not in recipient of bioterror dollars are generally left out. They create trouble and doubt.

"If [bioterror] researchers develop a vaccine against the Ebola virus, for example, it could be used to save lives in Africa, where Ebola has wiped out entire villages, continues the reporter. "The case is similar for sarin, which is used as a pesticide in developing countries."

Holy Hannah! If only Aum Shinrikyo had known, the Japanese terror group could have saved on all the investment in diluted sarin production infrastructure. And if al Qaeda "biochemists" -- chemical weaponeers who have so far come up blank, get wind of it, cities will become concrete ghost towns.

Buy sarin cheap in developing countries!

The purpose of the reporter and the newspaper is to show that Arizona state universities are wisely spending bioterror and chemical terror panic funding. In the zeal to show the business and medical worth to the community, they stumble into an error which a minimal amount of fact-checking could have remedied.


Organophosphate pesticides
are in common use in the developing countries as well as the United States.

And sarin is an organophosphate compound.

Organophosphates inhibit the action of the critical enzyme, acetylcholinesterase. But organphosphates vary greatly in their toxicity. While many have uses as pesticides, sarin is way too toxic to use in such a way.

For example, an illegal alien in the fruit industry in California can potentially have his lunch contaminated, or be sprayed with an organophosphate while in the fields or orchards, a pesticide like methidathion. But although methidathion is very toxic, it is orders of magnitude less toxic than sarin.

Acute organophosphate pesticide poisoning is treated with administration of atropine and an oxime. If the latter is administered within 24-72 hours of exposure, according to the literature, the binding of the organophosphate to the poisoned enzyme before it has irreversibly set can be reversed. Intubation of poisoned workers or people who have tried to commit suicide by drinking insecticide, as well as supportive care, is also administered.

However, willy-nilly research on sarin is not so simply justified by the logical but incomplete assertion that it will aid in finding cures for organophosphate poisoning.

For one, treatments already exist. And if a new treatment were devised, a novel therapeutic compound devised that works as well as what is already in place, what is the chance that it would be used to help people exposed to organophosphate pesticides in developing countries, or in the illegal immigrant worker population in California, where medical care is cheap and hard to come by?

To look at this in a more nuanced way, consider the reporter's claim concering the rationale for vaccine work on Ebola virus.

Finding a cure for Ebola virus is a noble goal.

And prior to the war on terror, there was a cadre of dedicated scientists very interested in curing disease caused by Ebola virus and its brethren. But creating labs and granting inexperienced personnel access to Ebola virus in an expanded defense effort justified only by the war on terror can also be seen as having serious downsides: the suspicions, even if unwarranted, in other countries that work on biological agents is thin cover for bioweapons development, greater chances of fumbling fingers and losses of dangerous organisms, etc.

"In Arizona, bioterrorism research makes up a fraction of research dollars at universities but is growing in importance," writes journalist Ryman. "None of the schools is conducting classified research."

"The technologies we develop will have lots of other applications," ASU President Michael Crow said to the newspaper.

And this is what every academic scientist has said down through the ages in American research. Indeed, DD -- in his academic research career -- never met one advisor or colleague without this statement tucked in their backpocket, no matter what the subject or interest.

"At ASU's Biodesign Institute, national security is one of its research missions along with health care and sustaining the environment," writes the newspaper. "The institute is led by scientist George Poste, who has served as an adviser to the U.S. Department of Defense on bioterrorism . . . Poste preaches the value of cross-disciplinary work. In bioterrorism, insights can flow not only from that area to health care but also the other direction."

The original.


Weekly, even daily, deadeningly repetive riffs appear on the biochem terror beat. It is a type of hack business beat, one which should be cynically retitled, "Lashing your research to the terror-funding gravy train."

"Algae Could Help Terrorism Victims," according to Associated Press.

Ohio State University scientists think they've found a new way to protect people from terrorists - algae. Researchers plan to create a human protein that attacks nerve-gas agents in the bloodstream.

Algae will be used to reproduce the protein.

The National Institutes of Health has awarded $4.5 million dollars to OSU for the project.

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