Sunday, August 28

Sleight of hand

Re Liz's comments about the limits of speculation in your August 21 and 22 posts. Does she get that national defense is not lab bench science or courtroom law? I think she's failing to see the difference between speculation and going outside a narrow area of speculation in order to understand why a situation has arisen.

I keep remembering your mention of the software program that Paul Wolfowitz used after 9/11 to assess the terrorist threat. The program analyzed data that went beyond the narrow set of questions that the intelligence community used to assess the threat. Once this was done, the true nature and scope of the threat became obvious.

One of your essays brought out that for decades the same blind spot was there when assessing the threat from China. Every year the Congress and the White House asked the Pentagon to asses the threat by analyzing China's military readiness in terms of classic military measurements. They never took into account the kind of strategies that are discussed in "Unrestricted Warfare."

My point is that just because there is no hard data served up on a plate you can't give up trying investigate, when it's a matter of life and death. The effort would include trying analyze statements about a situation. That's what we've been doing with the pig disease scare in China.

You can try to limit your own speculation about the statements but no matter how speculative or outlandish the statements under consideration, the statements have to be analyzed, particularly when that is all you have to go on. If I've learned nothing else from following your blog, that much has been drilled into me.
Jan in Reston"

Dear Jan:
"Liz" is a pen name; the reader behind the name has shared some of her credentials with Pundita. From that, I think I can say with assurance that Liz understands very well the points you've made and would agree with them.

With regard to the pig illness, those who have taken up discussion outside this blog have not done what you suggest. Instead, they stayed within their own little realm of knowledge, then spun speculations to the sky -- without even a smidgen of reliable data from which to launch!

My reading of Liz's comments is that this is just the type of speculation she drew a bead on; I think she's right to consider this dangerous when it finds a public platform. Perhaps the greatest danger is that it keeps attention glued to one spot, so that other ways of looking at a situation are hidden in plain sight.

The truth is that a microbiologist got hold of the China pig illness story early on, and from there shaped the public view and examination of the illness. That's a classic situation, well told in the tale of The Emperor's New Clothes.

However, what we know of the symptoms, the suddenness of their onset and the rapidity of death point first not to an infectious disease but to a case of poisoning. But Henry Niman's specialized knowledge told him that the symptoms could only mean a mutated strain of Ebola virus had combined with a mutated highly lethal form of Avian Flu virus.

I guess he is so focused on chasing down resortments of the A(H) virus that it never occurred to him how useful China's government would find his speculations, if they were trying to stew red herring. They would be highly motivated, once they realized that no one with a half a brain was buying the strep suis diagnosis. Yet given the nature of the symptoms, it would be hard to lead speculation away from poisoning -- unless they could perform a sleight of hand.

If that was their intention they pulled it off in the Dr. Wong/Wang interview published on Boxun. By gum Wong managed to go Niman one better: not only was the mystery pig ailment a case of Ebola, it was also a case Bubonic Plague mixed with some kind of virus too strange to name.

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