Tuesday, February 06, 2007
As I said below, it is hard to know where to set the worryometer when it comes to bird flu. But at least I do know what there might be to worry about. Most people seem to think it's just a question of this particular virus jumping from birds to humans. This is the impression Mick Hume gives in his column. Certainly this would be a rare event in a population that does not live in close proximity to birds. But, even if it happened just occasionally and if, just once, it infected a person already carrying the virus of a conventional human flu, then there could be a lethal mutation. In fact, some argue that, over time, this is certain to happen. Hume's approach is based on a narrow social and political rationality - we should be more concerned about jobs than health - that does not take into account the effects of a broader scientific rationality. If we did not know as much as we do, then we would not have thought of the possibility of a lethal flu pandemic arising from a few sick birds. Maybe we would have been right; maybe nothing would have happened. But the point is that we know and cannot unknow what we know. This is why scientists are caught in the embarrassing position of telling us simultaneously to worry and not to worry. The real contemporary quandary is what to do about knowing too much.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 5:53 am