I could not resist… (1)

… posting an excerpt from my private email correspondence, in the context of the article which has just appeared on the BBC website. As you will find, the title of this post is actually something of a pun.

First the BBC piece:


which claims:

The rise in drug resistant infections is comparable to the threat of global warming, according to the chief medical officer for England.


Prof Davies said: “It is clear that we might not ever see global warming, the apocalyptic scenario is that when I need a new hip in 20 years I’ll die from a routine infection because we’ve run out of antibiotics.”

And now my 2010 email:

You know what I think about AGW and related topics. Basically for me the jury is still out and the amount of uncertainty in the assumed causal links is enormous. AGW has become a vehicle for creating public profiles, developing scientific and political careers, and advancing commercial interests. All of this does not mean that the AGW is a fantasy but, being only one of many possible global threats, it should compete for the contingency funding with other nasty scenarios like accidental release of smallpox virus, emergence of drug-resistant E.coli etc. Instead, AGW has become the only thing activists obsess about, which is dangerously narrow-minded.

The issue is not that AGW is a scam but that, in our anti-CO2 fervour, we may overlook other serious threats to the humankind. The particular issue of drug-resistant bacteria is very serious indeed. Development of new drugs takes a long time and, apparently, there is very little in the pipeline in terms of new antibiotics. I know of two main reasons why this is so.

Firstly, antibiotics target biological vulnerabilities in bacteria. The obvious chinks in their armour have now all been exploited and new ones are getting harder and harder to find. Secondly, drug development costs billions of dollars and pharmaceutical companies tend to put their research money into projects promising good returns. These are typically drugs which people use regularly and over a long period of time – like medication for high blood pressure, diabetes or depression. Antibiotics are used to cure infrequent bacterial infections so the financial returns are not there to justify the huge research spending required.

So much for the drug-resistant bacteria but what other potential threats we are facing should be treated at least as seriously as global warming?

I could not resist… (2)


6 Responses to “I could not resist… (1)”

  1. Nick Says:

    I don’t see the reason why we should diminish the threat of global warming acting as some oil-KGB lobby from Russia. The problem is there it is real and there is no need to oppose it to other problems facing the humanity.
    I’ve heard about these highly resistant bacterias long time ago. For example, staphylococcus flourish in hospitals and birth-houses in ex-USSR as a result of many years of maniac sterilisation of all possible surfaces there. It mutated so effectively that there are no means to get rid of it. This was one of the reasons why we gave homebirth to our children.

  2. da-boss Says:

    From where I am the issue is a realistic assessment of all threats and choosing the best contingency strategy. The second part of my post will list some other potential threats to humanity but MRSA or drug-resistant TB are already scary enough. The thing is we do not have enough wealth to address all issues at once and reducing carbon emissions comes at a huge monetary cost. If we spend all our contingency funds on solar cells and then get wiped out by a superbug we will have got our priorities wrong. How to hedge one’s bets in face of multiple threats is not a trivial question. I would start with a realistic assessment of all known possible threats. What is a chance of a 100m meteor hitting the Earth? Or a bunch of ICBM’s deciding to take off. Or someone in Vector Institute, Koltsovo accidentally dropping that glass vial with smallpox on the floor. If either of these events happened would having electric cars help us deal with the mess? If not – what would?

  3. Nick Says:

    The priority is obvious: climate change is happening right now, but the other threats might never occur. Of course we should have proper contingency plans for all of them, ideally. But I believe that climate change is the most significant threat nowadays. I am not talking about global warming only. It seems that this planet can balance itself to some extent: I read an article yesterday claiming that the Gulf Stream has already nearly stopped and disintegrated into many insignificant whirls. This will cause the frosts in the whole Europe next winter, and American middle-east quite soon might become an analogue of Naska desert which is situated on the same latitude.
    This will affect the whole Globe, it is happening right now, but have you heard about some global contingency measures except Europe feverishly pulling the gas-pipes from the eastern countries? Do they have houses insulation or double-glasing programmes in Europe? It could be as cold in Paris as in Vladivostok next winter. I hope, grace to environmentalists, governments have some plans for this, but I am not sure. As I am not sure that the problem with the Gulf Stream is not a legend created by Russians in order to make Europeans buy more oil and gas 😉
    But still, in comparison to the global climate a meteorite threat looks like fun.

  4. da-boss Says:

    I will do a full post on AGW at some stage so just a few random thoughts here. If GW “is happening” then so is MRSA and drug-resistant TB. People have died as a result of them and many more will. Meteorite strikes have happened. The Yucatan monster is the reason there are no T-Rex’es looking in through your kitchen window :-). In early 1970s we were warned about New Ice Age, which then became Global Warming and around year 2000 transformed into Climate Change (which I guess encompasses both). The ease with which we swallowed this transformation reminds me of “1984” by George Orwell. In it an alliance shift happened in the middle of the political rally and the crowd which started by chanting “death to East-Asia” effortlessly changed to “death to West-Asia” (or whatever – the names do not matter here).

  5. Nick Says:

    Yep, the truth is still out there 🙂
    But why do you think that people don’t care about other problems? There are hundreds of thousands of scientists working on every possible problem humanity might face.
    I think the climate issue is the most popular simply because it affects everybody and much more easy to believe than asteroid strike. The second reason is that people just like weather-talks 🙂 I read, for instance, that a polite Japanese letter must contain several lines about the weather.

  6. da-boss Says:

    The problem is the scientists work on what the society is happy to pay them to work on. But the society is just a collection of individuals and so subject to various pressures. Were there many social scientists (brrrr… I despise the term) in Stalin’s times working on the destructive influence of Stalinism? Well, the current times are no different – if you do not tow the GW line you will get no funding. I do not believe the climate issue affects everybody – the “rich” can build dachas in the Caucasus Mountains and laugh about the ocean level rise. In contrast, MRSA affects everybody – rich or pour, you will perish when we have run out of drugs to cure you…

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