Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Science Gone Mad

UPDATE: Pogue made some good points in a comment and finding it a little unwieldy to include all the links in a comment, I decided to go the update route.

So first, Pogue's comment:

OK, not having seen what the original research proposal was it's difficult to say what funding was specifically approved for. As I read the article, the form of H5N1 they worked with is not contagious to humans, so I don't know how it was made "more deadly" other than for headline effect. I doubt that the proposal was to make it an airborne pathogen. In my circles that is referred to as "weaponizing a virus" and I'm not surprised that there is discussion about classifying it. The technique is the issue, not the specific result. When we get into a "government shouldn't have funded that research" argument be careful what you wish for - almost any research may have some potentially dangerous applications, so we shouldn't support stem cell or HIV related research, right?
First, let me say, that for me, personally, the issue of who financed the research is much less of an issue than that scientists intentionally set out to do this. [See my previous comment re: just because you can do something doesn't mean you should actually do it.]  Although, I must say, seeing who the backer was does make me stop and shake my head more than a little bit.

Moving on, I think I see where/why you got the idea that this specific strain of H5N1 is not "contagious to humans". Unfortunately, the quote was a little misleading.
The researchers, led by Albert Osterhaus of the Erasmus Medical Centre in the Netherlands and Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin, mutated the H5N1 strain of avain flu, which could not be transmitted between humans, to an "airborne" strain that can be transmitted in coughs and sneezes between laboratory ferrets, the best animal model of human flu.
What they were (rather badly) trying to say was that (prior to the present research) this strain of the virus was not transmittable between humans - from coughs or sneezes. However, although it's ability to infect humans was limited (transmission required direct contract with either infected poultry or contaminated surfaces) it has proven to be deadly when it does. In fact, you might recall back in 1997, when it spread through live-poultry markets in Hong Kong to humans, killing 6 of 18 infected people. So far, on average, it's killed roughly 60% of the humans it has infected. You can find a list of the confirmed human cases and mortality ratehere.

So as far as I am concerned both the technique and the result are the problem. I don't know whether they started out with the intention of "weaponizing the virus" (frankly, I have no idea what they might have been thinking at that point) but that certainly does appear to be the result.

I must admit I can't quite follow your comment about not supporting stem cell or HIV research because almost any research can have potentially dangerous applications. From what I know about stem cell research, the only down side is that some individuals have used aborted fetuses to harvest infant stem cells. Putting aside the fact that adult stem cells are suppose to work just as well (if not better, in most cases), I see that as a problem with how people choose to use new scientific knowledge as opposed to a problem with the research itself. And, quite frankly, I can't quite get my head around what you might be thinking about with HIV research.

Could somebody please explain this to me?

But, please, speak real slowly ... because you're going to have to work really hard to make me understand, let alone accept, this one.
A new report out Tuesday claims Dutch scientists have created a highly contagious, airborne form of the bird flu, which could potentially be capable of killing millions.

Unlike the normal H5N1 strain of avian influenza - which was only contagious through close personal contact with an infected person - this form can be spread by merely coughing or sneezing.

The lab-created bird flu strain was engineered by a team of scientists led by Ron Fouchier of Rotterdam's Erasmus Medical Centre. The researchers said the mutation only required a few variations to the original strain.
But wait ... it gets better!

The research was funded by ... wait for it ... the United States National Institutes of Idiocracy Health.  And ... and for the piece de resistance... officials of that same government have begged requested researchers not to release information concerning the virus to the scientific community.

Because ... you know ... if they did, well, maybe, just maybe, some terrorist group might get ahold of it. And you know, kill us all. The theory of unforeseen consequences always being at play and all.

But, hey, don't take my word for it.
The decision was made after the US government warned releasing the details could be kill millions of people if it was used as a weapon of biological warfare.
Of course, freedom of speech and scientific integrity being the laudable constructs they are, the idiots scientists involved have expressed concern "about withholding potentially important public-health information from responsible influenza researchers".

As to the justification for that concern - apparently, "many scientists within the influenza community have a bona fide need to know the details of this research in order to protect the public, especially if they currently are working with related strains of the virus".

Right, that.

And yet it seems rather self-obvious that there would be a lot less need to know and a lot less to protect the public from if this particular virus hadn't been so painstakingly created in the first place.

I mean just because you can do something ... does that always mean you should?

Just for giggles, I note that the scientific community isn't all that impressed with the request to have the research information withheld; first, because they note that, perhaps,the government ought not to have authorized the research if they did not know how to deal with it and, secondly, it's all a little too late considering that several details had already been shared with hundreds of researchers and governments in open meetings.

So, has everybody had their flu shot for this year?

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Very Unmerry Christmas

Sifting through my email this morning, I came across this story.

This story that almost defines words.
A 9-year-old autistic boy who misbehaved at school was stuffed into a duffel bag and the drawstring pulled tight, according to his mother, who said she found him wiggling inside as a teacher's aide stood by.

The mother of fourth-grader Christopher Baker said her son called out to her when she walked up to him in the bag Dec. 14. The case has spurred an online petition calling for the firing of school employees responsible.

"He was treated like trash and thrown in the hallway," Chris' mother, Sandra Baker, said Thursday. She did not know how exactly how long he had been in the bag, but probably not more than 20 minutes.
And just what did this young boy do to ... deserve ... such treatment, you may ask?
Baker said when school officials called the family to pick him up, they were told he was "jumping off the walls." Days later, at a meeting with school officials, Baker said she was told the boy had smirked at the teacher when he was told to put down a basketball, then threw it across the room.
But don't fret, gentle reader. All will be fine. After all, the matter is being ... investigated.
Mercer County schools Interim Superintendent Dennis Davis said confidentiality laws forbid him from commenting.
"The employees of the Mercer County Public Schools are qualified professionals who treat students with respect and dignity while providing a safe and nurturing learning environment," Davis said in a statement.  
And there is, of course, legitimate reason for using a duffel bag in such a manner.
At a meeting with school district officials, the bag was described as a "therapy bag," Baker said, though she wasn't clear exactly what that meant. She said her son would sometimes be asked to roll over a bag filled with balls as a form of therapy, but she didn't know her son was being placed in the bag. She said school officials told her it was not the first time they had put him in the bag.
After all, it's not like this sort of thing occurs on a regular basis.
A July letter from the state agency to special education directors said the state had investigated two informal complaints this year.
In one, "a student (was) nearly asphyxiated while being restrained," and in the other, a student vomited from panic attacks after spending most of an academic year "confined to a closet, with no ventilation or outside source of light," according to the letter.
So. What are we to make of this?

In Kentucky, there are no laws on using restraint or seclusion in public schools.

I'm not aware of any "time out" bags being used in Nova Scotia, but we're all very aware what can happen time out rooms aren't regulated. Or, sometimes, even when they supposedly are.

It boggles the mind to think that such a thing could happen in the US, of all places, with their plethora of safeguards against just such abuse.

The woman who started a petition in this matter, herself autistic, stated "That would not be wrong just for an autistic student. That would be wrong to do to anyone".

Might I suggest that the only statement that need be made (if any) is that such a thing should not be done to any student. Ever. Period.

This is not just a lawsuit waiting to be filed. It's a lawsuit begging to be filed.

Monday, December 19, 2011

'Autism Night Before Christmas'

Disability is a part of my life. A part of my family's family.

Or, put another way, overcoming challenges is a part of my life. A part of my family's life.

So when I came across this little gem on 5 Minutes for Special Needs (a spot I make it to far too rarely lately), I just had to share. Because it's something I think just about any parent of  a challenged child, be they autistic or not, can relate to.
Twas the Night Before Christmas
And all through the house
The creatures were stirring
Yes, even the mouse

We tried melatonin
And gave a hot bath
But the holiday jitters
They always distract

The children were finally
All nestled in bed
When nightmares of terror
Ran through my OWN head

Did I get the right gift
The right color
And style
Would there be a tantrum
Or even, maybe, a smile?

Our relatives come
But they don’t understand
The pleasure he gets
Just from flapping his hands.

“He needs discipline,” they say
“Just a well-needed smack,
You must learn to parent…”
And on goes the attack

Now go read the rest of it. Please.

And  a Very Merry Christmas to you all.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas Miracle

I believe.

You might recall (well assuming I have any semi-regular readers left, that is) that a little over a year ago my husband lost his job of 15 years.

Which might lead one to question what, exactly, would happen a year later when his EI benefits ran out. Well, that's exactly what we were wondering too. Especially considering I only* work part-time and it was a struggle to keep it afloat even with EI.

But then this past Friday (the very last day for his EI claim), he started a new job. Hence the name of this post.

Now is that timing or ... a miracle?

True enough, it's not much more than minimum wage pay but it's full-time and we're certainly not complaining. In fact, we're actually doing a little (extremely fiscally-responsible) celebrating.

And I'm happy to say that I've taken up a new hobby now too. Nope, you will never guess .... Breathing! I know, who would have thunk it? Breathe in ... breathe out ... nice deep breaths. (Thanks, Pogue!)

So now that I can actually breathe a teeny tiny bit and seeing as how we were just speaking of celebrating, I was wondering if maybe I should decorate ye olde blog a little for Christmas. I mean I always do every other year, right?

So, let's see, maybe if I put this here and move that there and buy a new ...

* Although it feels like pretty much full-time + trying to get this new business off the ground. What between the paperwork, the workshops, the two-day "Core Training" ... gee, I have the feeling I'm forgetting something but I can't for the life of me remember .... Oh yeah, right! Then there's the whole actual running the business part!