The report on Prof. Roy Anderson's address in Aberdeen has made me very irritated!
I have the greatest respect for those who are 'educated' and have managed to take advantage of the opportunities that were avaliable to them to qualify as Scientists etc,. I have even more respect for those scientists who have taken take the time and trouble to explain aspects of their subject to an uneducated 'me'!
However, I wonder why Prof. Roy Anderson, in his recent address in Aberdeen, sought to convince his audience that scientists should improve their media skills and be more honest. He also said, "Many of the scientific issues in epidemics such as BSE and the 2001 foot-and-mouth epidemic were quite complex, and included many unknowns about future impacts of possible interventions or even how to measure some key factors..."
I'm afraid he has completely lost me there, on both counts. I hardly think 'honesty' was at the top of his priority list when he and his friends 'engineered' the presentation of his 'model', excluding other scientists with experience and alternatives to offer. (See the article - 'The Gods have hearts of stone and feet of clay' - Articles page - http://www.farmtalking.org and/or 'Not the Foot & Mouth report' - Private Eye magazine, etc).
Nor do I see what was particularly 'complicated about the scientific issues' with the FMD epidemic or for that matter, BSE. FMD is an infectious viral disease, affecting cloven hooved animals for which there is a vaccine. The only reason the vaccine wasn't used as far as I understand it, was because of a ridiculous agreement that Europe should maintain its self declared FMD free status. Add to that the possibility that our Government wished to reduce stocking levels in the UK and chose to ignore the advice of the 1967/8 Northumberland report and therein lay the recipe for the disaster we have witnessed. Nothing too 'complicated' or 'scientific' about that is there? Or am I missing something?
For him to suggest that the complexities "included many unknowns about future impacts of possible interventions or even how to measure some key factors" seems idiotic to me under the circumstances. There are plenty of farmers and pet owners who would have jumped at the chance to vaccinate their animals as a possible intervention factor and wait to see what the impact would be. Which from the success of vaccination in other countries, he could hardly claim was 'unknown'. The same applies to the use of the on-farm testing available via the Smart Cycler machine, which was rejected out of hand. It would have been very nice to have the chance to assess the 'impact' of it's 'intervention' and if we had, there is little doubt that millions of animals would still be alive today. (see the statistics revealing the number of animals tested with negative results. Lusmore-Submission to Lessons Learned Inquiry - http://www.farmtalking.org/news.html).
AFAIK Scientists have no positive proof that BSE was discovered only a few years ago, (I've known vets who described similar symptoms in the 1960/70's) or that it was the result of feeding animal protien, or that it causes nvCJD in human beings. Nevertheless, to be what they describe as 'on the safe side' the have recommended the slaughter of many apparently perfectly healthy animals and suggest similar tactics for sheep with regard to scrapie.
As regards his media skills I fear we cannot find too much fault with them can we? After all, he managed to successfully persuade both the Government and the majority, via his T.V. appearances and media 'sound bites', that his modeling for the control of FMD was the way to go, and go his way they did!
The fact that his model was flawed, fed with incorrect data and a complete disaster, seems to have escaped his notice. On the other hand perhaps he was only trying to encourage other scientists to emulate him. In other words, for 'media skills' read 'the ability to embroider, fabricate and conceal information with sufficient skill to convince your audience of your impeccable credibility'.
In my efforts to 'understand' from a scientifically uneducated point of view, perhaps I should have respect for his qualifications and abilities and believe that he was doing the very best he could with the skills he had. Even if - and I find it impossible to do so - I convince myself that his FMD strategy was correct, the damage it caused and the price that has, and still is, to be paid, far outweighs any benefits it achieved. A situation that was painfully obvious early last year and should have been the trigger for it's abandonment.
The Japanese culture calls for deep humiliation, apologies and recompense from those responsible, however inadvertantly, for disasters. Perhaps if we had the same tradition, Scientists such as Prof. Anderson and his team would be more careful.
I'm afraid he's one scientist who has a lot of explaining and apologising to do before I will accept or respect his views.