The return to The Hot Zone

Michael L. Perdue mperdue at ASRR.ARSUSDA.GOV
Thu Jan 18 16:56:34 EST 1996


Hi Y'all

I think scientists and journalists alike have done some
disservice to the public, myself included, but I think its pretty much 
human nature. Virologists are certainly going to argue that deadly 
viruses must be taken "very" seriously when they are applying for 
research monies.  They tend to stretch the limits of the deadly 
capabilities of virus strains.  But when journalists pick up on this and 
start portraying the agents in question as "Apocalypse Bugs", we wince 
mightily. This is partly because journalists are stealing our thunder and 
partly because we know that such characterizations are very likely not 
true.  Certainly the potential exists I suppose for an "Apocalypse Bug", 
but so does the potential for an apocalyptic meteor arrival.  The problem 
is when you see patients oozing blood from their various orifices on CNN the 
"killer virus" scenario seems a bit more immediate and close to home.
For journalists, I have one big admonition.  My experience is 
that viruses don't "try" to do anything (e.g. "trying to escape the 
jungle or Africa").  You might stretch the case for bacteria, 
saying they are "trying" to establish niches or "trying" to 
communicate with one another while causing disease, but really, viruses do 
neither of these things and certainly don't try to infect new hosts and 
leave continents, or cause an apocalypse.  News reports which do 
things like calling the ebola virus the "apocalyse bug" as CNN did really 
does a disservice to viewers not familiar with viruses and in my worthless 
opinion should be avoided at all costs in journalism.

Mike

Michael L. Perdue, Ph.D.
Athens, Georgia  30605
Ph: 706-546-3435
Fx: 706-546-3161
mperdue at asrr.arsusda.gov




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