Patterico's Pontifications


Scientists: Airborne Transmission of Ebola “Very Likely”

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:46 am

What do you know?

A team of prominent researchers suggested Thursday that limited airborne transmission of the Ebola virus is “very likely,” a hypothesis that could reignite the debate that started last fall after one of the scientists offered the same opinion.

No, he didn’t — but look at me, interrupting the exposition because I feel some compulsion to refute a falsehood in their first sentence.

It is very likely that at least some degree of Ebola virus transmission currently occurs via infectious aerosols generated from the gastrointestinal tract, the respiratory tract, or medical procedures, although this has been difficult to definitively demonstrate or rule out, since those exposed to infectious aerosols also are most likely to be in close proximity to, and in direct contact with, an infected case,” the scientists wrote. Their peer-reviewed analysis was published in mBio, a journal of the American Society of Microbiology.

The paper’s lead author, Michael T. Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, touched off a small furor and was condemned by some experts last Sept. 11 when he raised the same possibility in an op-ed piece in the New York Times as concern over the spread of the deadly disease was increasing rapidly.

(“Raised the same possibility” is slightly more accurate than the false statement in the lede that he “offered the same opinion” in the op-ed. What he actually said in the op-ed was that Ebola was spread “only through direct contact with bodily fluids” but that “an Ebola virus could mutate to become transmissible through the air.” Apparently understanding such nuances is beyond the capability of the WaPo reporter.)

So, wait: I thought that part of the POLITIFACT LIE OF THE YEAR occurred when George Will said that “there are doctors” who said “some of the airborne particles can be infectious”!! Lie of the YEAR, I say! And yet, we now learn that doctors in a peer-reviewed paper are saying airborne transmission of the Ebola virus is “very likely”??!!??!!

Making the LIE OF THE YEAR . . . the literal truth.

Well, how about that?

Nobody does outrage like Ace, so I’ll hand him the mike for one paragraph:

See, the media is not particularly bright but they are Bossy and they like pretending they Love Science. So when they see an opportunity to Pretend to Be Scientists and Yell At Their Dumb Readers, they seize upon it, even if they don’t have any idea about what the fuck they are talking. (Note preposition smartly undangled, all expert-like.)

Ace says the conclusion of this new paper is “new(ish)” — but really, the basic conclusion at a high level of generality (namely: that we didn’t really know what they claimed we knew) is little surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. The CDC clearly admitted that Ebola can spread through sneezes, then quietly pulled the poster from their site, then contradicted itself in numerous material ways on how Ebola spreads.

And then, a bunch of holier-than-thou journalists took the assurances of The Experts and ran to lecture their readers. Most of whom, I will add, were not being alarmists — but rather were simply being skeptical about the numerous inconsistent claims that were coming out of the federal government.

My goal is to take this study and stick it directly in the faces of those journalists and to demand a reaction.

I am starting with PolitiFact’s Aaron Sharockman:


Sir, it appears your piece titled “lie of the year” was itself the lie of the year:

Please note: I don’t expect you to do the honorable thing and retract your piece. You and I both know that covering your ass is more important to you than the truth — which is rather ironic, given your stated mission. How do I know this? Because when people proved that what George Will said, which you called “false,” was actually true, you defended your ridiculous post through several acts of pure sophistry, including:

  • Claiming droplets in sneezes borne through the air are not actually “airborne”;
  • Claiming Will implied that sneezing was more likely from an Ebola patient, when he said or implied no such thing; and
  • Claiming Will was taking research applicable to hospital rooms and misapplying it to the public, when he did no such thing.

Your post was nothing but an exercise in trying to maintain that you had really gotten it right, when you had really gotten it wrong. Which, again, is ironic, given your supposed mission.

If this email seems to drip with contempt for you, well, I have read your work and already formed my opinion.

I just wanted to put this new finding directly in your face, to watch you either a) ignore it or b) use your typical sophistry to discount it.

It’s fun to watch “fact-checkers” spin like a top.

Have a nice day.

Patrick Frey

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