The Q at Parkside

(for those for whom the Parkside Q is their hometrain)

News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

What If They're Wrong About Zika?

Got bit by mosquitoes today in my yard in Lefferts. There. Connection to neighborhood made. I did not contract Zika,  I think, but if I had I would probably get sick, but not sick enough to die, and I would have even more time to marvel over the extraordinary hysteria that has grabbed the entire world, when in fact, the link between Zika and birth defects has not been proven. That's right. It's just a guess, an educated guess I suppose, and it could turn out to be a correct guess. But while Zika itself continues to spread, we have yet to see a serious rise in birth defects anywhere outside of Northeastern Brazil. You will read of "zika related" birth defects, but all that means is that Zika is present and birth defect present. That is not the same as causation, as any statistician will tell you. I had cataracts and I have bunions. The cataracts did not cause the bunions.

It would, of course, be a huge deal to have a mosquito-passed virus that causes irreparable harm to a fetus. So I think it's safe to say they're playing it safe, those people who decide such things, particularly after botching ebola. I'm not a doctor, but my scientist pal from NYU is pretty certain this is a case of pure hysteria. But few are willing to step forward and try to slow the juggernaut. So I share that intrigue, not to make you doubt the news from almost every single media outlet on the planet, but to note that almost every media outlet on the planet gets its news from the same sources - press releases. And if they don't read the press release (say the most cited ones from the CDC) then they merely echo the other news outlets, and so on. Many months after first confirming the link, even the first doctor to claim the link has doubts, but very little of that is reaching the thousands of women freaking out about their future babies.

In other words, were scientists to prove, as some in Brazil have suggested, that Zika is NOT the cause of birth defects, most notably microcephaly, wouldn't that be something? I'd call it unprecedented really. Or maybe we're just hard-wired to accept misinformation.

Zip the Pinhead a/k/a
William Henry Johnson
We used to be oh-so enlightened on the issue of microcephaly, calling those who had the disease "pinheads." As in the bizarre long-running comic strip Zippy the Pinhead, or the phenomenal film achievement "Freaks" from 1932, wherein the pinheads were known as Zip and Pip, and played frightened and diffident supporting roles in what will surely stand the test of time as one of the strangest Hollywood films ever made. And in fact, the most famous pinhead of all time was the original Zip, who died a wealthy man after having fooled folks over his lifetime that he was mentally retarded or, as his super-popular P.T. Barnum sideshow would suggest, deranged. No less than Charles Dickens was said to ask Barnum "what is it" when he first saw Zip's act. Barnum thought that was terrific, using the image of Zip and the phrase "what is it?"as part of his marketing campaign.

Ota Benga: Tragic figure of another era
This was late 19th early 20th Century, a time that also saw a Mbuti Pygmy from Congo named Ota Benga being displayed at the Bronx Zoo. That's right; a human being in the zoo, barely more than 100 years ago. He eventually killed himself. His story is absolutely horrifying, and the depiction, by otherwise intelligent folks, was of Benga as a savage and ape-like. I guess this stands to tell us exactly how far mainstream society has come, sadly with yet so far to go. Many Americans continue to engage in de-humanizing, not always out of spite, but certainly out of ignorance. The tribal nature of humans seems to lead us to gross stereotype of those outside the clan. I guess.

And yet somehow, with little prodding, we as a species continue to regurgitate whatever we read in the legitimate press as fact. Until of course some exposAY comes along to shock the system and change our beliefs, often to the tune of "I told you so" or "I suspected as much." We're only tricked until we're not, then we knew all along.

A few months ago I caught slack for suggesting that Zika might not in fact be the cause of the outbreak of microcephaly in Brazil, not because I know anything, but because a respected scientist pal was convinced it was highly unethical to unleash such unproven information on the world, potentially causing enormous resources to be redirected to the study of possible cures or containment, leaving other essential research behind. Not to mention making people bat-shit crazy with worry.

Just check out what a story on Public Radio International ran just a couple weeks back:

But as Zika has spread across the Americas, it has so far not been followed by a corresponding rise in microcephaly. In Colombia, for example, thousands of pregnant women are known to have contracted Zika. Colombian health officials have confirmed 22 cases of microcephaly this year that they said are linked to the Zika virus. Even in Brazil, in the populous state of Minas Gerais, which borders the most affected region, Nature reported there have only been three confirmed cases.
 So what's the truth of the matter? I have no clue. There have been plenty of "Zika related" cases of birth defects. But I would remind that that is way different than Zika-caused, even though some media use those terms interchangeably. Zika related means the two co-exist. But using the same logic, one could conclude that certain cases were flu-related, or acne-related. Worthy of study? Sure.

But not worthy of worldwide panic.


Anonymous said...

scientific conspiracy by non-scientist, calm down Dr. Jill Stein

Clarkson FlatBed said...

No, silly. Not conspiracy. Rush to judge. That's all. I doubt very much that people will die from this, except if you're pro-life and think abortion is murder. Oh, and lots of unnecessary fear. But there's no shortage of that already.