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TBR News April 25, 2020

Apr 25 2020

The Voice of the White House Washington, D.C. April 25, 2020: Working in the White House as a junior staffer is an interesting experience.
When I was younger, I worked as a summer-time job in a clinic for people who had moderate to severe mental problems and the current work closely, at times, echos the earlier one.
I am not an intimate of the President but I have encountered him from time to time and I daily see manifestations of his growing psychological problems.
He insults people, uses foul language, is frantic to see his name mentioned on main-line television and pays absolutely no attention to any advice from his staff that runs counter to his strange ideas.
He lies like a rug to everyone, eats like a hog, makes lewd remarks to female staffers and flies into rages if anyone dares to contradict him.
It is becoming more and more evident to even the least intelligent American voter that Trump is vicious, corrupt and amoral. He has stated often that even if he loses the
election in 2020, he will not leave the White House. I have news for Donald but this is not the place to discuss it. “
Comment for April 25, 2020: “In 1944, it came to the attention of Heinrich Mueller, head of the German Gestapo, that one Generalarzt Schreiber, a German Army officer who was an expert in plagues, was planning to release bubonic plague germs in German Army prison camps.
There were over three million Russian soldiers in these camps and Schreiber felt that by killing all of them off, there would be more food for his fellow countrymen.
Mueller told Schireiber that if he did not stop his efforts at once, he would have him shot.
Mueller said that there were no customs guards on duty that would prevent this plague from spreading into Germany.
Schreiber stopped his work, was later chief medical officer in Berlin, captured by the Russians, and later defected back to the Americans in Berlin.
When they found out about the camp exterminations, they hired Schreiber, sent him to a secret laboratory at San Antonio, Texas where he was to plan a similar adventure of dumping the bubonic plague on the Russians.
Fortunately for everyone, a reporter exposed the plot in print, the project was shut down and Schreiber returned to Germany.
The Russians at once began to develop smallpox to use against the US if they tried to loose bubonic plague in Russia and this was the actual beginning of the current development of BW.”

Trump aches from his head to his toes
His sphincters have gone where who knows
And his love life has ended
By a paunch so distended
That all he can use is his nose.

The Table of Contents

Did This Virus Come From a Lab? Maybe Not – But It Exposes the Threat of a Biowarfare Arms Race
• Smallpox: the next coronavirus?
• ‘We did it to ourselves’: scientist says intrusion into nature led to pandemic
• Donald Trump reportedly owes tens of millions to the Bank of China
• World leaders launch plan to speed COVID-19 drugs, vaccine; U.S. stays away
• Trump’s COVID-19 disinfectant ideas horrify health experts
• Malicious forces creating ‘perfect storm’ of coronavirus disinformation
• Encyclopedia of American Loons

Did This Virus Come From a Lab? Maybe Not – But It Exposes the Threat of a Biowarfare Arms Race
Dangerous pathogens are captured in the wild and made deadlier in government biowarfare labs. Did that happen here?
April 25, 2020
by Sam Husseini
AntiWar
There has been no scientific finding that the novel coronavirus was bioengineered, but its origins are not entirely clear. Deadly pathogens discovered in the wild are sometimes studied in labs – and sometimes mademore dangerous. That possibility, and other plausible scenarios, have been incorrectly dismissed in remarks by some scientists and government officials, and in the coverage of most major media outlets.
Regardless of the source of this pandemic, there is considerable documentation that a global biological arms race going on outside of public view could produce even more deadly pandemics in the future.
While much of the media and political establishment have minimized the threatf rom such lab work, some hawks on the American right likeSen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., have singled out Chinese biodefense researchers as uniquely dangerous.
But there is every indication that U.S. lab work is every bit as threatening as that in Chinese labs. American labs also operate in secret, and are also known to be accident-prone.
The current dynamics of the biological arms race have been driven by US government decisions that extend back decades. In December 2009, Reuters reported that the Obama administration was refusing even to negotiate the possible monitoring of biological weapons.
Much of the left in the US now appears unwilling to scrutinize the origin ofthe pandemic – or the wider issue of biowarfare – perhaps because portions of the anti-Chinese right have been so vocal in making unfounded allegations.
Governments that participate in such biological weapon research generally distinguishb etween “biowarfare” and “biodefense,” as if to paint such “defense” programsa s necessary. But this is rhetorical sleight-of-hand; the two concepts are largely indistinguishable.
“Biodefense” implies tacit biowarfare, breeding more dangerous pathogens for the alleged purpose of finding a way to fight them. While this work appears to have succeeded in creating deadly and infectious agents, including deadlier flu strains, such “defense” research is impotent in its ability to defend us from this pandemic.
The legal scholar who drafted the main US law on the subject, Francis Boyle, warned in his 2005 book “Biowarfareand Terrorism” that an “illegal biological arms race with potentially catastrophic consequences” was underway, largely driven by the US government.
For years, manys scientists have raised concerns regarding bioweapons/biodefense lab work, and specifically about the fact that huge increases in funding have taken place since 9/11. This was especially true after the anthrax-by-mail attacks that killed five people in the weeks after 9/11, which the FBI ultimately blamed on a US government biodefense scientist. A 2013 study found that biodefense funding since 2001 had totaled at least $78 billion, and more has surely been spent since then. This hasl ed to a proliferation of laboratories, scientists and new organisms, effectively setting off a biological arms race.
Following the Ebola outbreak in west Africa in 2014, the US government paused funding for what are known as “gain-of-function” research on certain organisms.This work actually seeks to make deadly pathogens deadlier, in some cases making pathogens airborne that previously were not. With little notice outside the ield, the pause on such research was lifted in late 2017.
During this pause, exceptions for funding were made for dangerous gain-of-function lab work. This included work jointly done by US scientists from the University of North Carolina, Harvard and the Wuhan Institute of Virology. This work – which had funding from USAID and EcoHealth Alliance not originally acknowledged – was published in 2015 in Nature Medicine.
A different Nature Medicine article about the origin of the current pandemic, authored by five scientists and published on March 17, has been touted by major media outlet and some officials – including current National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins – as definitively disproving a lab origin for the novel coronavirus.That journal article, titled “The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2,” stated unequivocally: “Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus.” This is a subtly misleading sentence. While the scientists state that there is no known laboratory “signature” in the SARS-Cov-2RNA, their argument fails to take account of other lab methods that could have created coronavirus mutations without leaving such a signature.
Indeed, there is also the question of conflict of interest in the Nature Medicine article. Some of the authors of that article, as well as a February 2020 Lancet letter condemning “conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin” – which seemed calculated to minimize outside scrutiny of biodefense lab work – have troubling ties to the biodefense complex,as well as to the US government. Notably, neither of these articles makes clear that a virus can have a natural origin and then be captured and studied in a controlled laboratory setting before being let loose, either intentionally or accidentally – which is clearly a possibility in the case of the coronavirus.
Facts as “rumors”
This reporter raised questions about the subject at a news conference with a Center for Disease Control (CDC) representative at the now-shuttered NationalPress Club on Feb. 11. I asked if it was a “complete coincidence” that the pandemic had started in Wuhan, the only place in China with a declared biosafety level 4 (BSL4) laboratory. BSL4 laboratories have the most stringent safety mechanisms,but handle the most deadly pathogens. As I mentioned, it was odd that the ostensible origin of the novel coronavirus was bat caves in Yunnan province – more than 1,000 miles from Wuhan. I noted that “gain-of-function” lab work can result in more deadly pathogens, and that major labs, including some in the US, have had accidental releases.
CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat said that based on the information she had seen, the virus was of “zoonotic origin.” She also stated, regarding gain-of-function lab work, that it is important to “protect researchers and their laboratory workers as well as the community around them and that we use science for the benefit of people.”
I followed up by asking whether an alleged natural origin did not preclude the possibility that this virus came through a lab, since a lab could have acquired a bat virus and been working on it. Schuchat replied to the assembledj ournalists that “it is very common for rumors to emerge that can take on life of their own,” but did not directly answer the question. She noted that in the2 014 Ebola outbreak some observers had pointed to nearby labs as the possible cause, claiming this “was a key rumor that had to be overcome in order to help control the outbreak.” She reiterated: “So based on everything that I know right ow, I can tell you the circumstances of the origin really look like animals-to-human. But your question, I heard.”
This is no rumor. It’s a fact: Labs work with dangerous pathogens. The US and China each have dual-use biowarfare/biodefense programs. China has major facilitiesa t Wuhan – a biosafety level 4 lab and a biosafety level 2 lab. There are leaks from labs. (See “Preventinga Biological Arms Race,” MIT Press, 1990, edited by Susan Wright; also, a partial review in Journal of International Law from October 1992.)
Much of the discussion of this deadly serious subject is marred with snark that avoids or dodges the “gain-of-function” question. ABC ran a story on March 27 titled “Sorry, Conspiracy Theorists. Study Concludes COVID-19 ‘Is Not a Laboratory Construct.’” That story did not address the possibility that the virus could have been found in the wild, studied in a lab and then released.
On March 21, USA Today published a piece headlined “Fact Check: Did the Coronavirus Originate In a Chinese Laboratory?” – and rated it “FALSE.”
That USA Today story relied on the Washington Post, which published a widely cited article on Feb. 17 headlined, “TomCotton keeps repeating a coronavirus conspiracy theory that was already debunked.” That article quoted public comments from Rutgers University professor ofchemical biology Richard Ebright, but out of context and only in part. Specifically, the story quoted from Ebright’s tweet that the coronav irus was not an “engineered bioweapon.” In fact, his full quote included the clarification that the virus could have “entered human population through lab accident.” (An email requesting clarification sent to Post reporter Paulina Firozi was met with silence.)
Bioengineered ≠ From a lab
Other pieces in the Post since then (some heavily sourced to US government officials) have conveyed Ebright’s thinking, but it gets worse.In a private exchange, Ebright – who, again, has said clearly that the novel coronavirus was not technically bioengineered using known coronavirus sequences – stated that other forms of lab manipulation could have been responsible for the current pandemic. This runs counter to much reporting, which is perhaps too scientifically illiterate to perceive the difference.
In response to the suggestion that the novel coronavirus could have come about through various methods besides bioengineering – made by Dr.Meryl Nass, who has done groundbreaking work on biowarfare – Ebright responded in an email:
The genome sequence of SARS-CoV-2 has no signatures of human manipulation.
This rules out the kinds of gain-of-function (GoF) research that leave signatures of human manipulation in genome sequences (e.g., use of recombinant DNA methodsto construct chimeric viruses), but does not rule out kinds of GoF research that do not leave signatures (e.g., serial passage in animals). [emphasisadded]
Very easy to imagine the equivalent of the Fouchier’s “10 passages in ferrets” with H5N1 influenza virus, but, in this case, with 10 passages in non-human primates with bat coronavirus RaTG13 or bat coronavirus KP876546.
That last paragraph is very important. It refers to virologist Ron Fouchierof the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, who performed research on intentionallyincreasing rates of viral mutation rate by spreading a virus from one animalto another in a sequence. The New York Times wrote about this inan editorialin January 2012, warning of “An Engineered Doomsday.”
“Now scientists financed by the National Institutes of Health” have created a “virus that could kill tens or hundreds of millions of people” if it escaped confinement, the Times wrote. The story continued:
Working with ferrets, the animal that is most like humans in responding to influenza, the researchers found that a mere five genetic mutations allowed the virus to spread through the air from one ferret to another while maintainingi ts lethality. A separate study at the University of Wisconsin, about whichl ittle is known publicly, produced a virus that is thought to be less virulent.
The word “engineering” in the New York Times headline is technically incorrect, since passing a virus through animals is not “genetic engineering.” This same distinction has hindered some from understanding the possible origins of the current pandemic.
Fouchier’s flu work, in which an H5N1 virus was made more virulent by transmittingit repeatedly between individual ferrets, briefly sent shockwaves through themedia. “Locked up in the bowels of the medical faculty building here and accessibleto only a handful of scientists lies a man-made flu virus that could changeworld history if it were ever set free,” wrote Science magazine in 2011in a storytitled “Scientists Brace for Media Storm Around Controversial Flu Studies.” It continues:
The virus is an H5N1 avian influenza strain that has been genetically altered and is now easily transmissible between ferrets, the animals that most closely mimic the human response to flu. Scientists believe it’s likely that the pathogen, if it emerged in nature or were released, would trigger an influenza pandemic, quite possibly with many millions of deaths.
In a 17th floor office in the same building, virologist Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Center calmly explains why his team created what he says is “probably one of the most dangerous viruses you can make” – and why he wants to publish a paper describing how they did it. Fouchier is also bracing for a media storm. After he talked to Science Insider yesterday, he had an appointment with an institutional press officer to chart a communication strategy.
Fouchier’s paper is one of two studies that have triggered an intense debate about the limits of scientific freedom and that could portend changes in the way U.S. researchers handle so-called dual-use research: studies that have a potential public health benefit but could also be useful for nefarious purposes like biowarfare or bioterrorism.
Despite objections, Fouchier’s article was published by Science in June 2012. Titled “Airborne Transmission of Influenza A/H5N1 Virus Between Ferrets,” it summarized how Fouchier’s research team made the pathogen more virulent:
Highly pathogenic avian influenza A/H5N1 virus can cause morbidity and mortality in humans but thus far has not acquired the ability to be transmitted by aerosol or respiratory droplet (“airborne transmission”) between humans. To address the concern that the virus could acquire this ability under natural conditions, we genetically modified A/H5N1 virus by site-directed mutagenesis and subsequentserial passage in ferrets. The genetically modified A/H5N1 virus acquired mutations during passage in ferrets, ultimately becoming airborne transmissible in ferrets.
In other words, Fouchier’s research took a flu virus that did not exhibit airborne transmission, then infected a number of ferrets until it mutated to the point that it was transmissible by air.
In that same year, 2012, a similar study by Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin was publishedin Nature:
Highly pathogenic avian H5N1 influenza A viruses occasionally infect humans, but currently do not transmit efficiently among humans. … Here we assess the molecular changes … that would allow a virus … to be transmissible among mammals. We identified a … virus … with four mutations and the remaining seven gene segments from a 2009 pandemic H1N1 virus – that was capable of droplet transmission in a ferret model.
In 2014, Marc Lipsitch of Harvard and Alison P. Galvani of Yale wrote regarding Fouchier and Kawaoka’s work:
Recent experiments that create novel, highly virulent and transmissible pathogens against which there is no human immunity are unethical … they imposea risk of accidental and deliberate release that, if it led to extensive spreadof the new agent, could cost many lives. While such a release is unlikely in a specific laboratory conducting research under strict biosafety procedures, even a low likelihood should be taken seriously, given the scale of destruction if such an unlikely event were to occur. Furthermore, the likelihood of risk is multiplied as the number of laboratories conducting such research increases around the globe.
Given this risk, ethical principles, such as those embodied in the Nuremberg\Code, dictate that such experiments would be permissible only if they provide humanitarian benefits commensurate with the risk, and if these benefits cannot be achieved by less risky means.
We argue that the two main benefits claimed for these experiments – improved vaccine design and improved interpretation of surveillance – areu nlikely to be achieved by the creation of potential pandemic pathogens (PPP), often termed “gain-of-function” (GOF) experiments.
There may be a widespread notion that there is scientific consensus that the pandemic did not come out of a lab. But in fact many of the most knowledgeabl escientists in the field are notably silent. This includes Lipsitch at Harvard, Jonathan A. King at MIT and many others.
Just last year, Lynn Klotz of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation wrote a paper int he Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists entitled “Human Error in High-biocontainment Labs: A Likely Pandemic Threat.” Wrote Klotz:
Incidents causing potential exposures to pathogens occur frequently in the high security laboratories often known by their acronyms, BSL3 (Biosafety Level3) and BSL4. Lab incidents that lead to undetected or unreported laboratory-acquired infections can lead to the release of a disease into the community outside thel ab; lab workers with such infections will leave work carrying the pathogen with them. If the agent involved were a potential pandemic pathogen, such a community release could lead to a worldwide pandemic with many fatalities. Of greatest concern is a release of a lab-created, mammalian-airborne-transmissible, highly pathogenic avian influenza virus, such as the airborne-transmissible H5N1 viruses created in the laboratories of Ron Fouchier in the Netherlandsand Yoshihiro Kawaoka in Madison, Wisconsin.
“Crazy, dangerous”
Boyle, a professor of international law at the University of Illinois, has condemned Fouchier, Kawaoka and others – including at least one of the authors of the recent Nature Medicine article in the strongest terms, calling such work a “criminal enterprise.” While Boyle has been embroiled in numerous controversies, he’s been especially dismissed by many on this issue. The “fact-checking” website Snopes has described him as “a lawyer with no formal training in virology” – without noting that he wrote the relevant U.S. law.
As Boyle said in 2015:
Since September 11, 2001, we have spent around $100 billion on biological warfare. Effectively we now have an Offensive Biological Warfare Industry in this country that violates the Biological Weapons Convention and my Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989.
The law Boyle drafted states: “Whoever knowingly develops, produces, stockpiles,transfers, acquires, retains, or possesses any biological agent, toxin, or delivery system for use as a weapon, or knowingly assists a foreign state or any organizationto do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for life or any term of years, or both. There is extraterritorial Federal jurisdiction over an offense under this section committed by or against a national of the United States.”
Boyle also warned:
Russia and China have undoubtedly reached the same conclusions I have derived from the same open and public sources, and have responded in kind. So what the world now witnesses is an all-out offensive biological warfare arms race among the major military powers of the world: United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, Israel, inter alia.
We have reconstructed the Offensive Biological Warfare Industry that we had deployed in this county before its prohibition by the Biological Weapons Convention of 1972, described by Seymour Hersh in his groundbreaking expose “Chemical and Biological Warfare: America’s Hidden Arsenal.” (1968)
Boyle now states that he has been “blackballed” in the media on this issue, despite his having written the relevant statute. The group he worked with on the law, the Council for Responsible Genetics, went under several years ago,making Boyle’s views against “biodefense” even more marginal as government money for dual use work poured into the field and critics within the scientific community have fallen silent. In turn, his denunciations have grown more sweeping.
In the 1990 book “Preventing a Biological Arms Race,” scholar Susan Wright argued that current laws regarding bioweapons were insufficient, as there were “projects in which offensive and defensive aspects can be distinguished only by claimed motive.” Boyle notes, correctly, that current law he drafted does not make an exception for “defensive” work, but only for “prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes.”
While Boyle is particularly vociferous in his condemnations, he is not alone. There has been irregular, but occasional media attention to this threat. The Guardian ran a piece in 2014, “Scientists condemn ‘crazy, dangerous’ creation of deadly airborne flu virus,” after Kawaoka created a life-threatening virus that “closely resembles the 1918 Spanish flu strain that killed an estimated 50m people”:
“The work they are doing is absolutely crazy. The whole thing is exceedingly dangerous,” said Lord May, the former president of the Royal Society and one time chief science adviser to the UK government. “Yes, there is a danger, but it’s not arising from the viruses out there in the animals, it’s arising from the labs of grossly ambitious people.”
Boyle’s charges beginning early this year that the coronavirus was bioengineered – allegations recently mirrored by French virologist and Nobel laureate Luc Montagnier – have not been corroborated by any publicly produced findings of any US scientist. Boyle even charges that scientists like Ebright, who is at Rutgers, are compromised because the university got a biosafety level 3 lab in 2017 – though Ebright is perhaps the most vocal eminent critic of this research, among US scientists. These and other controversies aside, Boyle’s concerns about the dangers of biowarfare are legitimate; indeed, Ebright shares them.
Some of the most vocal voices to discuss the origins of the novel coronavirus have been eager to minimize the dangers of lab work, or have focused almost exclusively on “wet markets” or “exotic” animals as the likely cause.
The media celebrated Laurie Garrett, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and former senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, when she declaredon Twitter on March 3 (in a since-deleted tweet) that the origin of thep andemic was discovered: “It’s pangolins. #COVID19 Researchers studied lung tissue from 12 of the scaled mammals that were illegally trafficked in Asia and found #SARSCoV2 in 3. The animals were found in Guangxi, China. Another virus+ smuggled sample found in Guangzhou.”
She was swiftly corrected by Ebright: “Arrant nonsense. Did you even read the paper? Reported pangolin coronavirus is not SARS-CoV-2 and is not even particularly close to SARS-CoV-2.Bat coronavirus RaTG13 is much closer to SARS-CoV-2 (96.2% identical) than reported pangolin coronavirus (92.4% identical).” He added: “No reason to invoke pangolinas intermediate. When A is much closer than B to C, in the absence of additional data, there is no rational basis to favor pathway A>B>C over pathway A>C.” When someone asked what Garrett was saying, Ebright responded: “She is saying she is scientifically illiterate.”
The following day, Garrett corrected herself (without acknowledging Ebright): “I blew it on the #Pangolins paper, & then took a few hours break from Twitter. It did NOT prove the species = source of #SARSCoV2.There’s a torrent of critique now, deservedly denouncing me & my posting. A lot of the critique is super-informative so leaving it all up 4 while.”
At least one Chinese government official has responded to the allegation that the labs in Wuhan could be the source for the pandemic by alleging that perhaps the US is responsible instead. In American mainstream media, that has been reflexively treated as even more idiculous than the original allegation that the virus could have come froma lab.
Obviously, the Chinese government’s allegations should not be taken at face value, but neither should US government claims – especially considering that US government labs were the apparent source for the anthrax attacks in 2001. Those attacks sent panic through the US and shut down Congress, allowing the Bush administration to enact the PATRIOT Act and ramp up the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Indeed, in October 2001, media darlings like Richard Butler and AndrewS ullivan propagandized for war with Iraq because of the anthrax attacks. (Neither Iraq nor al-Qaida was involved.)
The 2001 anthrax attacks also provided much of the pretext for the surge in biolab spending since then, even though they apparently originated in a US or U.S.-allied lab. Indeed, those attacks remain shrouded in mystery.
The US government has also come up with elaborate cover stories to distract from its bioweapons work. For instance, the US government infamously claimed the 1953 death of Frank Olson, a scientist at Fort Detrick, Maryland, was an LSD experiment gone wrong; it now appears to have been an execution to coverup for US biological warfare.
Regardless of the cause of the current pandemic, these biowarfare/biodefense labs need far more scrutiny. The call to shut them down by Boyle and others needs to be clearly heard – and light must be shone on precisely what research is being conducted.
The secrecy of these labs may prevent us ever knowing with certainty the origins of the current pandemic. What we do know is this kind of lab work comeswith real dangers. One might make a comparison to climate change: We cannotattribute an individual hurricane to man-made climate disruption, yet sciencetells us that human activity makes stronger hurricanes more likely. That brings us back to the imperative to cease the kinds of activities that produce such dangers in the first place.
If that doesn’t happen, the people of the planet will be at the mercy of the machinations and mistakes of state actors who are playing with fire for their geopolitical interests.

Smallpox: the next coronavirus?
by Christian Jürs
Smallpox (also known by the Latin names Variola or Variola vera) is a highly contagious disease unique to humans caused by two virus variants called Variola major and Variola minor. V. major is the more deadly form, with a typical mortality of 20-40 percent of those infected. The other type, V. minor, only kills 1% of its victims. Many survivors are left blind in one or both eyes from corneal ulceration, and persistent skin scarring – pockmarks – is nearly universal. Smallpox was responsible for an estimated 300-500 million deaths in the 20th century. As recently as 1967, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 15 million people contracted the disease and that two million died in that year
Edward Jenner developed a smallpox vaccine by using cowpox fluid (hence the name vaccination, from the Latin vaca, cow); his first inoculation occurred on May 14, 1796. After independent confirmation, this practice of vaccination against smallpox spread quickly in Europe. The first smallpox vaccination in North America occurred on June 2, 1800. National laws requiring vaccination began appearing as early as 1805. The last case of wild smallpox occurred on September 11th, 1977.
One last victim was claimed by the disease in the UK in September 1978, when Janet Parker, a photographer in the University of Birmingham Medical School, contracted the disease and died. A research project on smallpox was being conducted in the building at the time, though the exact route by which Ms. Parker became infected was never fully elucidated. After successful vaccination campaigns, the WHO in 1980 declared the eradication of smallpox, though cultures of the virus are kept by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States and in Russia. Smallpox vaccination was discontinued in most countries in the 1970s as the risks of vaccination include death (~1 per million), among other serious side effects.
Nonetheless, after the 2001 anthrax attacks took place in the United States, concerns about smallpox have resurfaced as a possible agent for bioterrorism. As a result, there has been increased concern about the availability of vaccine stocks.
Smallpox is a serious, contagious, and sometimes fatal infectious disease. There is no specific treatment for smallpox disease, and the only prevention is vaccination. The name smallpox is derived from the Latin word for “spotted” and refers to the raised bumps that appear on the face and body of an infected person.
There are two clinical forms of smallpox. Variola major is the severe and most common form of smallpox, with a more extensive rash and higher fever. There are four types of variola major smallpox: ordinary (the most frequent type, accounting for 90% or more of cases); modified (mild and occurring in previously vaccinated persons); flat; and hemorrhagic (both rare and very severe). Historically, variola major has an overall fatality rate of about 35-40%; however, flat and hemorrhagic smallpox usually are fatal. Variola minor is a less common presentation of smallpox, and a much less severe disease, with death rates historically of 1% or less.
Smallpox outbreaks have occurred from time to time for thousands of years, but the disease is now eradicated after a successful worldwide vaccination program. The last case of smallpox in the United States was in 1949. The last naturally occurring case in the world was in Somalia in 1977. After the disease was eliminated from the world, routine vaccination against smallpox among the general public was stopped because it was no longer necessary for prevention.
Where Smallpox Comes From
Smallpox is caused by the variola virus that emerged in human populations thousands of years ago. Except for laboratory stockpiles, the variola virus has been eliminated. However, in the aftermath of the events of September and October, 2001, there is heightened concern that the variola virus might be used as an agent of bioterrorism. For this reason, the U.S. government is taking precautions for dealing with a smallpox outbreak.
Transmission
Generally, direct and fairly prolonged face-to-face contact is required to spread smallpox from one person to another. Smallpox also can be spread through direct contact with infected bodily fluids or contaminated objects such as bedding or clothing. Rarely, smallpox has been spread by virus carried in the air in enclosed settings such as buildings, buses, and trains. Humans are the only natural hosts of variola. Smallpox is not known to be transmitted by insects or animals.
A person with smallpox is sometimes contagious with onset of fever (prodrome phase), but the person becomes most contagious with the onset of rash. At this stage the infected person is usually very sick and not able to move around in the community. The infected person is contagious until the last smallpox scab falls off.
Smallpox probably was first used as a biological weapon during the French and Indian Wars (1754-1767) by British forces in North America. Soldiers distributed blankets that had been used by smallpox patients with the intent of initiating outbreaks among American Indians. Epidemics occurred, killing more than 50% of many affected tribes. With Edward Jenner’s demonstration in 1796 that an infection caused by cowpox protected against smallpox and the rapid diffusion worldwide of the practice of cowpox inoculation (ie, vaccination), the potential threat of smallpox as a bioweapon was greatly diminished.
A global campaign, begun in 1967 under the aegis of the World Health Organization (WHO), succeeded in eradicating smallpox in 1977.In 1980, the World Health Assembly recommended that all countries cease vaccination.5 A WHO expert committee recommended that all laboratories destroy their stocks of variola virus or transfer them to 1 of 2 WHO reference laboratories—the Institute of Virus Preparations in Moscow, Russia, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Ga.
All countries reported compliance.
The WHO committee later recommended that all virus stocks be destroyed in June 1999, and the 1996 World Health Assembly concurred. In 1998, possible research uses for variola virus were reviewed by a committee of the Institute of Medicine (IOM).7 The IOM committee concluded, as did the preceding WHO committee, that there were research questions that might be addressed if the virus were to be retained. However, the IOM committee did not explore the costs or relative priority to be assigned to such an effort, and that committee was not asked to weigh the possible benefits resulting from such research activities contrasted with the possible benefits resulting from an international decision to destroy all virus stocks. These considerations will be weighed and decided by the 1999 World Health Assembly

‘We did it to ourselves’: scientist says intrusion into nature led to pandemic
Leading US biologist Thomas Lovejoy says to stop future outbreaks we need more respect for natural world
April 25, 2020
by Phoebe Weston
The Guardian
The vast illegal wildlife trade and humanity’s excessive intrusion into nature is to blame for the coronavirus pandemic, according to a leading US scientist who says “this is not nature’s revenge, we did it to ourselves”.
Scientists are discovering two to four new viruses are created every year as a result of human infringement on the natural world, and any one of those could turn into a pandemic, according to Thomas Lovejoy, who coined the term “biological diversity” in 1980 and is often referred to as the godfather of biodiversity.
“This pandemic is the consequence of our persistent and excessive intrusion in nature and the vast illegal wildlife trade, and in particular, the wildlife markets, the wet markets, of south Asia and bush meat markets of Africa… It’s pretty obvious, it was just a matter of time before something like this was going to happen,” said Lovejoy, a senior fellow at the United Nations Foundation and professor of environment science at George Mason University.
His comments were made to mark the release of a report by the Center for American Progress arguing that the US should step up efforts to combat the wildlife trade to help confront pandemics.
Wet markets are traditional markets selling live animals (farmed and wild) as well as fresh fruit, vegetables and fish, often in unhygienic conditions. They are found all over Africa and Asia, providing sustenance for hundreds of millions of people. The wet market in Wuhan believed to be the source of Covid-19 contained a number of wild animals, including foxes, rats, squirrels, wolf pups and salamanders.
Lovejoy said separating wild animals from farmed animals in markets would significantly lower the risk of disease transmission. This is because there would be fewer new species for viruses to latch on to. “[Domesticated animals] can acquire these viruses, but if that’s all there was in the market, it would really lower the probability of a leak from a wild animal to a domesticated animal.”
He told the Guardian: “The name of the game is reducing certain amounts of activity so the probability of that kind of leap becomes small enough that it’s inconsequential. The big difficulty is that if you just shut them down – which in many ways would be the ideal thing – they will be topped up with black markets, and that’s even harder to deal with because it’s clandestine.”
The pandemic will cost the global economy $1tn this year, according to the World Economic Forum, with vulnerable communities impacted the most, and nearly half of all jobs in Africa could be lost. “This is not nature’s revenge, we did it to ourselves. The solution is to have a much more respectful approach to nature, which includes dealing with climate change and all the rest,” Lovejoy said.
His comments echo those of a study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B earlier this month that suggested the underlying cause of the present pandemic was likely to be increased human contact with wildlife.
Experts are divided about how to regulate the vast trade in animals, with many concerned the poorest are most at risk from a crackdown. Urgent action on the wildlife trade is clearly needed, said Dr Amy Dickman, a conservation biologist from the University of Oxford, but she was “alarmed” by calls for indiscriminate bans on the wildlife trade.
She is one of more than 250 signatories of an open letter to the World Health Organization and United Nations Environment Programme saying any transition must contribute to – and not detract from – the livelihoods of the world’s most vulnerable people, many of whom depend on wild resources for survival. Other signatories include representatives from the African Wildlife Foundation, the Frankfurt Zoological Society and IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).
The letter reads: “Covid-19 is inflicting unprecedented social and economic costs on countries and communities, with the poor and vulnerable hardest hit. The virus’s suspected links with a Chinese ‘wet market’ has led to calls to ban wet markets and restrict or end the trade, medicinal use and consumption of wildlife. However, indiscriminate bans and restrictions risk being inequitable and ineffective.”
Scientists and NGOs are concerned that over-simplistic and indiscriminate restrictions will exacerbate poverty and inequality, resulting in an increase in criminality. This could accelerate the exploitation and extinction of species in the wild, authors of the letter warn.
“People often seem more willing to point the finger at markets far away, as bans there will not affect their everyday lives – although they will often affect the rights of extremely vulnerable people,” said Dickman.
There are also concerns about the impacts of an outright ban on a number of indigenous populations, such as tribes in Orinoquia and Amazonia, with representatives describing it as an “attack” on their livelihoods.
Mama Mouamfon, who is based in Cameroon and directs an NGO called Fondation Camerounaise de la Terre Vivante (FCTV), said banning the trade would damage livelihoods: “Bush meat is very important for people in the forest because it’s one of the best ways to get animal protein. With this issue of poverty and people living in remote areas, it’s not easy for them to look for good meat,” he said.
“Sometimes people take decisions because they are sitting in an office and are very far from reality. If they knew our reality they would not take that [same] decision.”

Donald Trump reportedly owes tens of millions to the Bank of China
Debt derives from 30% share the US president owns in a Manhattan building that was refinanced in 2012
April 24, 2020
by Julian Borger in Washington
The Guardian
Donald Trump is reported to owe tens of millions of dollars to China, through a real estate debt which falls due in 2022, offering “astonishing leverage” to Beijing.
The debt derives from a 30% share the US president owns in a billion-dollar building on the Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan, which was refinanced in 2012, with $211m of the funding coming from the state-owned Bank of China, Politico reported on Friday.
The Chinese debt complicates Trump’s emerging election strategy of portraying his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, as being soft on China. In a briefing on Saturday, Trump said that “China will own the United States” if Biden was elected in November.
But China is heavily involved in the Trump business empire. A Chinese state-owned construction company is helping build the Trump World Golf Club in Dubai, and Beijing has awarded trademarks to the president’s daughter, Ivanka. In the past, Ivanka’s husband (and a White House adviser), Jared Kushner, has sought Chinese finance for at least one major real estate deal.
The president is a passive minority investor in the 1290 Avenue of the Americas office tower. The main investor is Vornado Realty Trust, which owns 70%.
Neither the White House nor the Trump Organization responded to requests for comment. Trump has officially handed over the day-to-day running of his business empire to his sons, but he benefits financially from its profits, producing multiple conflicts of interest. The Trump Organization has recently applied for coronavirus compensation from the government.
Trump’s approach to China has alternated between combative and unctuous, particularly in relation to the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, with whom Trump has consistently claimed to have an excellent personal relationship.
Trump tweeted on 24 January, in the early stages of the pandemic: “China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!”
“I study Beijing’s influence on America, and this is the most problematic conflict of interest I’ve seen,” Isaac Stone Fish, a senior fellow at the Asia Society, wrote on Twitter. “The Bank of China is a state-owned bank, controlled by China’s State Council, the country’s major administrative body, chaired by the Premier Li Keqiang.
“The leverage this presents is astonishing. What if the Bank of China cancels the loan, or requires Trump to pay it back earlier?” Fish asked. “Is this why Trump often praises Chinese Chairman Xi Jinping? Does this cause him to temper his policies or his public remarks? This raises so many questions.”

World leaders launch plan to speed COVID-19 drugs, vaccine; U.S. stays away
April 24, 2020
by Stephanie Nebehay and Michael Shields
Reuters
GENEVA/ZURICH (Reuters) – World leaders pledged on Friday to accelerate work on tests, drugs and vaccines against COVID-19 and to share them around the globe, but the United States did not take part in the launch of the World Health Organization (WHO) initiative.
French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa were among those who joined a video conference to launch what the WHO billed as a “landmark collaboration” to fight the pandemic.
The aim is to speed development of safe and effective drugs, tests and vaccines to prevent, diagnose and treat COVID-19, the lung disease caused be the novel coronavirus – and ensure equal access to treatments for rich and poor.
“We are facing a common threat which we can only defeat with a common approach,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said as he opened the virtual meeting.
“Experience has told us that even when tools are available they have not been equally available to all. We cannot allow that to happen.”
During the H1N1 swine flu pandemic in 2009, there was criticism that distribution of vaccines was not equitable as wealthier countries were able to purchase more.
“We must make sure that people who need them get them,” said Peter Sands, head of the Global Fund to Fight on AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. “The lessons from AIDS must be learned. Too many millions died before anti-retroviral medicines were made widely accessible.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that the objective at a global pledging effort on May 4 would be to raise 7.5 billion euros ($8.10 billion) to ramp up work on prevention, diagnostics and treatment.
“This is a first step only, but more will be needed in the future,” von der Leyen told the conference.
“COMMON FIGHT”
Leaders from Asia, the Middle East and the Americas also joined the videoconference, but several big countries did not participate, including China, India and Russia.
A spokesman for the U.S. mission in Geneva had earlier told Reuters that the United States would not be involved.
“Although the United States was not in attendance at the meeting in question, there should be no doubt about our continuing determination to lead on global health matters, including the current COVID crisis,” he said by email.
We remain deeply concerned about the WHO’s effectiveness, given that its gross failures helped fuel the current pandemic,” he later said.
U.S. President Donald Trump has lambasted the WHO as being slow to react to the outbreak and being “China-centric” and announced a suspension of funding.
Tedros has steadfastly defended the WHO’s handling of the pandemic and repeatedly committed to conducting a post-pandemic evaluation, as the agency does with all crises.
Macron, Merkel, Ramaphosa, and Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez were among those voicing strong support to WHO.
Macron urged all G7 and G20 countries to get behind the initiative, adding: “And I hope we’ll manage to reconcile around this joint initiative both China and the U.S., because this is about saying ‘the fight against COVID-19 is a common human good and there should be no division in order to win this battle’.”
Merkel said: “This concerns a global public good, to produce this vaccine and to distribute it in all parts of the world.”
Ramaphosa, chairman of the African Union, warned that the continent – with its generally poor standards of healthcare – was “extremely vulnerable to the ravages of this virus and is in need of support”.
VACCINE TRIALS
More than 2.7 million people have been infected with COVID-19 and nearly 190,000 have died from it since the new coronavirus emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, according to a Reuters tally.
“As new diagnostics, treatments and vaccines become available, we have a responsibility to get them out equitably with the understanding that all lives have equal value,” said Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation, which was WHO’s second largest donor last year.
More than 100 potential COVID-19 vaccines are being developed, including six already in clinical trials, said Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of the GAVI vaccine alliance, a public-private partnership that leads immunisation campaigns in poor countries.
“We need to ensure that there are enough vaccines for everyone, we are going to need global leadership to identify and prioritise vaccine candidates,” he told a Geneva news briefing.
Yuan Qiong, senior legal and policy advisor at Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) Access Campaign welcomed the pledges but called for concrete steps. “There shouldn’t be any patent monopoly and profiteering out of this pandemic,” she told Reuters.
Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Michael Shields in Zurich, Kate Kelland in London and Michel Rose in Paris; Editing by Nick Macfie and Alex Richardson

Trump’s COVID-19 disinfectant ideas horrify health experts
April 24, 2020
by Kate Kelland and Raphael Satter
Reuters
LONDON/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s musings on whether injecting disinfectants might treat COVID-19 horrified medical professionals on Friday and raised fresh concerns that his stream-of-consciousness briefings could push frightened people to poison themselves with untested treatments.
An international chorus of doctors and health experts urged people not to drink or inject disinfectant after Trump on Thursday suggested that scientists should investigate inserting the cleaning agent into the body as a way to cure COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus.
Trump on Friday sought to portray his remarks as sarcasm.
“I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
His remarks during his daily media briefing on Thursday, directed at doctors in the room who serve on his coronavirus task force, did not come across as sarcasm.
Medical experts denounced Trump’s suggestions and leading Democrats blasted the Republican president.
“It is unfortunate that I have to comment on this, but people should under no circumstances ingest or inject bleach or disinfectant,” American Medical Association President Patrice Harris said in a statement. “Rest assured when we eventually find a treatment for or vaccine against COVID-19, it will not be in the cleaning supplies aisle.”
Trump said on Thursday that scientists should explore whether inserting ultraviolet light or disinfectant into the bodies of people infected with the coronavirus might help them clear the disease.
“Is there a way we can do something like that by injection, inside, or almost a cleaning?” Trump asked. “It would be interesting to check that.”
Pressed repeatedly about the issue on Friday, Trump said he was not encouraging people to ingest disinfectant.
Trump also has promoted an anti-malaria drug called hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 even though its effectiveness is unproven and there are concerns about heart issues. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday cautioned against using hydroxychloroquine in COVID-19 patients outside of hospitals and clinical trials, citing risks of serious heart rhythm problems.
Reckitt Benckiser (RB.L), a British company that manufactures the household disinfectants Dettol and Lysol, issued a statement warning people not to ingest or inject its products.
The American Cleaning Institute, representing the U.S. cleaning products industry, said in a statement, “Disinfectants are meant to kill germs or viruses on hard surfaces. Under no circumstances should they ever be used on one’s skin, ingested or injected internally.”
There were early signs that at least some Americans were preparing to act on Trump’s comments. A spokesman for Maryland’s governor wrote on Twitter that the state’s Emergency Management Agency had received more than 100 calls about the use of bleach to treat COVID-19.
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the U.S. Congress, said she doubted that the Republican president was being sarcastic, telling MSNBC sarcastically “it seemed like he was speaking from his usual great authority on every subject.”
Joe Biden, Trump’s presumptive Democratic challenger in the Nov. 3 U.S. election, wrote on Twitter, “I can’t believe I have to say this, but please don’t drink bleach.”
TORRENT OF RIDICULE
Trump’s suggestion unleashed a torrent of ridicule online, with one comedian on social media app TikTok miming the action of injecting bleach into her veins like a drug.
On Twitter, journalists shared a video of Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House task force on the coronavirus, who appeared to look down, hunch her shoulders, and blink rapidly as Trump told the briefing that disinfectant “does a tremendous number on the lungs.”
The White House initially on Friday said critics were taking Trump’s remarks out of context. At an Oval Office event later on Friday, as Trump sought to walk back his comments he also returned to the notion that disinfectants and sunlight might help within the body.
Health professionals have been encouraging people to wash their hands thoroughly with soap or to use hand sanitizer to combat the spread of the virus.
“I do think that disinfectant on the hands could have a very good effect,” Trump said.
“Sun and heat and humidity wipe it out. And this is from tests – they’ve been doing these tests for … a number of months. And the result – so then I said, ‘Well, how do we do it inside the body or even outside the body with the hands and disinfectant I think would work.’”
While ultraviolet rays are known to kill viruses contained in droplets in the air, doctors say there is no way UV light could be introduced into the human body to target cells infected with the coronavirus.
“Neither sitting in the sun, nor heating will kill a virus replicating in an individual patient’s internal organs,” said Penny Ward, a professor in pharmaceutical medicine at Kings College London.
Reporting by Kate Kelland in London and Raphael Satter in Washington; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Steve Holland and Lisa Lambert in Washington; Editing by William Maclean, Howard Goller and Will Dunham

Malicious forces creating ‘perfect storm’ of coronavirus disinformation
Russia and China among state and other actors spreading fake news and disruption, say experts
April 24, 2020
by Peter Beaumont, Julian Borger and Daniel Boffey
The Guardian
The coronavirus crisis has sparked a “perfect storm” of global online disinformation, cyber-espionage and disruption, involving up to a dozen states but most prominently Russia and China, experts have warned.
In the midst of a pandemic that has killed tens of thousands of people, analysts have witnessed a sharp rise in deliberate misinformation campaigns on social media, which have occurred in parallel with attempts to hack international organisations at the forefront of the coronavirus response.
Senior executives from Facebook, Google and Twitter are scheduled to appear before UK MPs next Thursday to answer questions about the spread of coronavirus disinformation.
A report published by the EU on Friday accused Russia and China of targeting European citizens, including Britons, during the pandemic, and provided a range of examples.
Echoing other experts, the bloc’s foreign affairs wing, the European external action service, said there had been a “proliferation” during the month of April.
“Despite their potentially grave impact on public health, official and state-backed sources from various governments, including Russia and – to a lesser extent – China, have continued to widely target conspiracy narratives and disinformation both at public audiences in the EU and the wider neighbourhood,” the report said.
In the last week alone reports have emerged of hacking attacks on the World Health Organization and the US National Institutes of Health. The WHO has reported a fivefold increase in cyber-attacks on both itself and on the public.
While some of the activity has been criminal, or linked to “dark PR” firms who work with governments and the far right, other attempts to sow discord have been laid at the door of governments – including disruptive messaging to US mobile phones that has been blamed by US officials on China.
In that incident, according to the New York Times, millions of mobile phone and social media accounts were bombarded with fake messages in March, including one saying the Trump administration was about to deploy troops to enforce a lockdown.
While Russia and China have been the focus of scrutiny for some of the attacks, others have originated in the US and mirror misinformation and untruths propagated by Donald Trump and some of his most prominent supporters in the US media.
The EU report examined material published in nine languages and found that even fact checkers were being fooled by false or highly misleading content that was reaching millions of people on social media.
EU officials cited the fact that a third of UK citizens believe that vodka can be used as hand sanitiser as an example of the effectiveness of the disinformation. Conspiracy theories about 5G telecommunication masts facilitating the spread of Covid-19 were also being boosted by actors seeking to promote false narratives, the report said.
“In the period covered by this report, it was confirmed that pro-Kremlin sources and Russian state media continue running a coordinated campaign with the twofold aim of undermining the EU and its crisis response, and to sow confusion about the origins and health implications of Covid-19/coronavirus”, the report said.
The WHO and its director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, have been among the main targets for digital attacks since the outbreak began.
The attacks have included racial abuse and the publication of cartoons of Tedros, an Ethiopian microbiologist and diplomat, as a dog on a lead being held by the Chinese president, Xi Jinping.
Earlier this month, Tedros said he had been subjected to racism and death threats and said many of the attacks had originated in Taiwan, which has complained of being excluded from critical WHO deliberations.
Tedros noted that Taiwan’s foreign ministry had not disassociated itself from the attacks, an observation Taipei rejected as “slander”. The attacks appear to have gathered momentum since Trump began blaming the WHO for the slow US response to the pandemic.
First Draft, a nonprofit coalition investigating internet disinformation, carried out an analysis of 15,000 tweets in the week beginning 14 April which used the hashtags #tedrosresign and #tedrosliedpeopledied.
About a sixth of a sample of 1,200 accounts contained the tag #maga, associated with Trump supporters. “Around 10% of accounts using hashtags attacking the director general were created in the last six months, the majority of those in 2020,” First Draft said.
Ron Deibert, the director of the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, which studies digital threats to civil society, told the Guardian that while the rise in malign online activities reflected often different behaviours and interests, together they amount to a “perfect storm” of disinformation.
“It’s hard to quantify how widespread it is but there is a threat analyst group I know of tracking 12 nation states and other organisations, both public and private, [who] are reporting a sharp increase.
Deibert cautioned that such campaigns have been seen before, even in the pre-internet era, around for instance well-documented attempts by Russia to spread disinformation blaming the US for Aids. But a combination of global connectivity and anxiety has amplified the intensity of the disinformation war over Covid-19.
“This is a global event that touches everyone directly,” Deibert said. “The heightened level of anxiety means citizens are dependent on getting access to health information, often working at home. That anxiety means people are more likely click on something malicious.
“We’ve been tracking it closely and you can see several different strands connected in various ways. There are different aims and different technologies. But what you can say is they all work in a communications ecosystem which, by design, has created an environment almost irresistible to malicious actors trying to manipulate, confuse and spread disinformation. Everyone is trying to further their strategic aims.”
Paul Barrett, a New York University expert in disinformation and fake news, has identified similar trends and said that some malicious actors are feeding off each other’s disinformation for their own ends.
“It’s a three-ring circus of disinformation,” he said. “It is almost impossible to pick out one strain and isolate it, because simultaneously Russian and China and Trump are getting in on the act and imitating each other more and more. It is incredibly difficult for an ordinary citizen to navigate what’s true.”

Encyclopedia of American Loons

Kristine Severyn

Medical Voices is an antivaccine website that seems to pretend to offer scholarly articles written by various quacks, pseudoscientists and denialists on various medical issues loosely related to vaccines (or: it used to be; at present it seems to have reverted to its origin as the International Medical Council on Vaccination). The publication criteria seem mostly to be that the author uses (or misuses) medical terms in their articles, and their academic standards are otherwise non-existent. The goal, however, seems clearly to be to have a repository of articles that quacks can cite in a manner that superficially looks scholarly practice, which they certainly need given that they otherwise struggle to have their rants published in outlets that care about details like evidence, fact and accuracy. The list of people who have published on the site accordingly makes for a fairly comprehensive list of the most egregious woo-promoters and antivaccine advocates in the US, including Joe Mercola, Suzanne Humphries, Bob Sears, Russell Blaylock and Sherri Tenpenny.
Kristine Severyn has also “published” with Medical Voices. Severyn is an “RPh, PhD” and antivaccine activist. For Medical Voices, Severyn published the article “Profits, Not Science, Motivate Vaccine Mandates,” where she argued that “[v]accines represent an economic boon for pediatricians. Profitable well-baby visits are timed to coincide with vaccination schedules established by the AAP and the CDC,” and therefore that vaccine mandates are not motivated by science – the shill gambit is a recurring strategy in Medical Voices articles. Of course, in real life (yes: there are studies on this), “the vaccination portion of the business model for primary care pediatric practices that serve private-pay patients results in little or no profit from vaccine delivery. When losses from vaccinating publicly insured children are included, most practices lose money.” It is worth emphasizing, however, that Severyn’s conclusion wouldn’t follow even if one assumed the opposite of what is actually the case with regard to profits.
Severyn is otherwise the founder of Ohio Parents for Vaccine Safety, which has long been fighting for religious as well as “moral and philosophical” exemptions to vaccinations in Ohio as well as pushing various myths and conspiracy theories about vaccines (including aborted fetal tissue scaremongering and falsely claiming that vaccines aren’t tested). Severyn, a registered Republican, has apparently also been involved in various anti-abortion campaigns.
Diagnosis: A tireless veteran campaigner for unreason, denialism and conspiracy theories, Severyn is perhaps not among the most notable celebrities in the antivaccine movement, but her persistent efforts to promote myths and falsehoods are surely not making a positive contribution to humanity.

Gary Ruskin & the USRTK

Gary Ruskin is the executive director of the US Right to Know (USRTK), an anti-GMO activist organization ostensibly devoted to “uncovering the food industry’s efforts to manipulate scientists into advancing pro-genetically-modified propaganda,” but primarily trying to advance denialist causes by issuing FOIA requests designed to harass or silence those he disagrees with, i.e. experts and scientists who actually know anything about the topic. After all, as the American Association for the Advancement of Science puts it, “[e]very … respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion,” namely that “[c]onsuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.” Anti-GMO movements accordingly cannot win on facts or evidence, but other strategies are available: after all, public debates, as opposed to the scientific ones, are often not won by facts and evidence.
As such, Ruskin and his group have become notable for having perfected one of the most effective denialist campaigning strategies in existence, the advanced shill gambit: if an expert who knows more than you on a topic a says something that don’t gel with your preferred narrative, don’t bother to discuss the facts; go for poisoning the well instead. In particular: investigate the person and harass her/him with FOIA requests; eventually, you will find some association you can possibly spin in a manner that makes it possible to question the integrity of the expert in question. What you find need of course not be anything that is even remotely fishy; as long as your target needs to explain the association, then questions are raised, and the FUD strategy has succeeded. Thus, any integrity issues you raise might involve multiple degrees of separation, if need be: If your target’s uncle works at the same institution as the mother-in-law of the founder of a non-profit organization you think (but has no evidence for thinking) has received support from Big Pharma, for instance (this was actually the one used by antivaccine conspiracy theorist Jake Crosby to try to discredit a science-based book Seth Mnookin that Crosby didn’t like or have the capacity to engage with on fact- and evidence-based grounds), you are in a position to reject anything your target has said about anything. It really is the most effective strategy when you can’t argue the facts or the evidence: question instead your opponent’s motives – yes, the strategy, which Ruskin has perfected, is the ultimate ad hominem.
Ruskin has summed up some of his “findings” in his report “Seedy Business: What Big Food Is Hiding With Its Slick PR Campaign on GMOs”, which proceeds by accusing scientists who disagree with him of being “untrustworthy” and “shills” in lieu of having to deal with the actual science. Perhaps the most illustrative example of the strategy is Ruskin’s and USRTK’s campaigns targeting Kevin Folta, which are detailed here. Ruskin’s strategy and its outcomes are further discussed here. Ruskin has also appeared on Dr. Oz to promote his harassment strategies and, without a hint of irony, to help discredit Oz’s critics with the help of shill gambits; yes, that’s right: dr. Oz was trying to discredit people pointing out how corrupt he is by accusing them of being paid.
It should be emphasized that the URSTK itself is funded by the organic food industry, a fact that they are, shall we say, not always sanguine about and sometimes inadvertently forget to mention when defending their own tactics.
Apart from harassing scientists, the URSTK website also serves as a repository for various denialist talking points and conspiracy theories. It should also be mentioned that one of the most experienced FUD tacticians in the denialist movement, Carey Gillam, is an central figure in URSTK.
Diagnosis: Yes, their business model is built around a familiar fallacy. So what? It’s effective, and this was never about facts, evidence or science. An icon of the post-truth political discourse, URSTK is an insidious threat to civilization and, yes, democracy.
And keep in mind: If you believe that scientists, who have devoted their lives and careers – and often sacrificed far more lucrative employment opportunities – to research their fields of interest, will without further ado opt for lying and deceiving on behalf of industry in return for small research grants, then that tells us quite a bit about you and your integrity; not so much about those scientists.

2 responses so far

  1. Dears!
    According to Wikipedia sources your article on Walter Screiber was not correct. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Schreiber

    Kind regards!
    Tone Percic, Slovenia

  2. I have a thick file on Walter Schreiber from the US National Archives dealing with this. Using him to develop a plague to attack the Russians was/is considered a verboten subject and Wikipedia has a reputation for obeying the dictates of the American government. He planned to do just as I said, Wikipedia to the contrary.

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