LANL scientists to talk
People can protect themselves from bird flu, or an avian influenza pandemic, and scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory want to help.

A global outbreak has yet to occur, but there are many things to learn about the potential catastrophe, including its background, current status, biology and government policy, according to lab officials.

Lab scientists are hitting the road this month for a series of free public lectures

The lab has been heavily involved in avian influenza work… Researchers have used supercomputers to model how a bird flu pandemic could sweep the country and infect as much as 54 percent of the country.

And lab researchers continue to work on The Influenza Sequence Database, an effort to help scientists study how the virus evolves.

My 2 cents —
This is an odd project, lectures in H5N1 influenza. I would have thought the workshops and lectures by the state (and local) health and emergency response and neighborhood associations would be more relevant.

The lectures sound like another PR effort, which is distracting from research and public interpretation.

“We’re starting to understand that these very robust social systems — you can’t depend on them during a major catastrophe,” Resnick said. Instead, communities and individuals may have to depend on themselves.

“This is very much in line with the growing understanding that one can’t depend on the federal cavalry to ride in and make everything well,” Resnick said, speaking of large-scale disasters.

This quote is the “official” line in Alaska, too, and seems to be coming down through the Feds (Homeland Security and Health & Human Services) I think it sounds rather patronizing and doesn’t support local people who are attempting to make preparations. The idea isn’t to take government off the hook before a catastrophe, but to make sure government enables people to help themselves.

The Lab has always had a dearth of expertise in human sciences (the efforts at changing “safety culture” are a classic example) and as a consequence their own preparedness and research into complex, non-linear, dynamic systems (i.e., cultural and social systems, human ecology) has suffered. (for example, incident command exercises which don’t involve the de facto backup of officers and ambulances from all the Pueblos).

“What we’re going to provide is a scientific understanding for the public so they can interpret the information that’s being provided,”

The Lab or any scientist or government or college or other institution cannot provide an understanding for the public, it’s not like serving hamburgers at a picnic. Good public involvement means that institutions and the communities work together. The lab wouldn’t build a new reactor without a nuclear engineer, why do they think they can do public planning without the public as an equal partner? How can one “provide” an understanding for someone else?

This report no doubt comes from a press release, but the level of naivete about public health and public involvement that is expressed is at best a waste of taxpayer money for the time and travel and at worst results in a false sense of security: “we provide so you don’t have to bother”

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