Following H5N1

My friend Ron Nigh and I have been exchanging bits of news about H5N1 for the last 18 months, starting from the monitoring of press coverage that I began in January 2004, and following the discovery of the issue by people better equipped than ourselves (Effect Measure, Pathogen Alert, The Coming Influenza Pandemic?, Henry Niman’s Recombinomics, and Connotea’s AvianFlu tag…) . Yesterday I forwarded to him a couple of links to stories about death of migratory birds in China, who seem to have come from India… Ron responded:

This is such a fascinating subject for anthropology and I will be forever
grateful to you for pointing me to it way back when. It has so many
dimensions, from the genetic, species diversity issues ,biomedical
issues to the social and political… All that is lacking is some GIS! Do you know if anyone is mapping bird
flu? It would be great to take this as a case for my anthro students in 2006. By
then it may well be a big story or may have faded away like SARS. Anyway it
would be fun to come up with some mapping and statistical exercises to do
with the students on the Internet, etc. An idle dream, I suppose.

I replied with some comments on the prospects for mapping:

Consider the myriad problems of mapping, which simply make the whole
thing even MORE ideal as a multidimensional whatever for anthropology:
there are so many actors (individual and corporate) whose Interest is in
NOT allowing Information about H5N1 to be public, and/or in distorting
the “facts”, that the inbound data stream for maps is completely
compromised –we can’t even know how bad (or good…) the data are. Sort
of like mapping gypsies. And that’s a good metaphor for the whole
problem of Data and Objectivity, innit? What we’d like is some proxies,
ideally overlapping proxies, for the data we’d really like but can’t
A lot of the stories I read via those blogs say pretty much the same
thing: the world of officialdom is bumbling and slow to get it, and
basically interested in not being caught in Type II Error (having cried
Wolf with public monies, when there was no lupine personage…), so the
testing that MUST be done to provide the data we need isn’t being done,
or is being suppressed, or in any case isn’t being fed into the channels
where troublemakers like Niman can get their mitts on and
misrepresent… etc etc.

Ron sez:

I don’t think anyone has said it quite as clearly as you. At least put your
thoughts on oook…

…so here they are.