Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Rob Wallace and his "Dead Epidemiologists: On the Origins of COVID-19"


Minneapolis 2019-9

Eamon Whalen offers us in The Nation (paywall, and fortunately this site remembers my logon pretty well) “The Unemployed Epidemiologist Who Predicted the Pandemic

This article is a short bio of Rob Wallace, from a Minnesota family that also provided scientists as parents.  Rob has a book from October 2020 “Dead Epidemiologists: On the Origins of COVID-19”, from Monthly Review Press", 260 pages.

Rob’s main thesis is that concentrated agribusiness by its nature increases the risk of new pathogens and pandemics.  That can be true in the United States, but in China it has also compounded itself by driving smaller farmers into moving into riskier outlier areas (maybe near bat caves).  China’s socialism has not provided a panacea for this problem Furthermore, in China small farmers may live very close to their farm animals, which is particularly a risk for new influenza strains.

Rob buys the idea that a novel coronavirus jumped species in a small operation and was accidentally taken to Wuhan, among other larger cities to the north.  But he doesn’t explain why outbreaks didn’t happen in other cities.  Maybe the way superpreader events work?  Of course, there is some sporadic evidence (like wastewater) of earlier cases around the world, maybe even in the US, in the later part of 2019 that were usually mild and did not lead immediately to pandemic.  The idea that it could have changed radically inside an immunocompromised human (or animal) seems possible.  (But this never really happened during the AIDS epidemic with other infections, for example, at least not in a way that ignited a secondary pandemic.) Rob does not deny that a Wuhan lab leak is possible, and also considers much research dangerous.  But he still thinks agricultural practices are a far bigger risk.

Rob lost a job because of outspokenness in circumstances that sound complicated, but managed to turn a blog into a book as a collection of essays in 2016, titled “Big Farms Make Big Flu: Dispatches on Influenza, Agribusiness, and the Nature of Science”, from Monthly Review Press in June 2016, 400 pages, paper.

His parents (Deborah and Rodrick Wallace) had written a book in 2001 “A Plague on Your Houses: How New York Was Burned Down andNational Public Health Crumbled (Haymarket Series)”, Verso, 242 pages.  The South Bronx crumbled because NYC reduced fire services in poor neighborhoods after 1969 based on a study from Rand Corporation (which interviewed me for a job at the end of 1969 as I was leaving the Army, like I might have wound up in California.)

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