Yellow Science Journalism

Apparently there’s a liberal equivalent to Donald Trump’s Sinophobic expediency.

In a New York Times op-ed yesterday, Sonia Shah, the author of a forthcoming book on pandemics, presents a nationalistic disease ecology, characterizing avian influenza as the dirty Chinese’s fault.

As if the industrial model of production didn’t originate in the States.

As if migratory birds haven’t been transporting influenza strains across the Bering Sea for thousands of years, even as those patterns also shift in response to environmental changes global and local.

As if China’s disease ecology isn’t a lot more complicated than dirty markets.

As if the H5N2 outbreak stateside last year didn‘t evolve its virulence and a shift in transmission mode inside the Midwest’s poultry monoculture.

Shah supports her contentions quoting University of Minnesota’s Carol Cardona, who takes gobs of poultry industry money. She takes Cardona’s assurances about industrial screening, ventilation, and disinfection at face value. She retails the National Chicken Council’s line lock, stock and barrel.

As I describe in my new book out in May, the novel evolutionary regimes of avian influenza, and many of our newly globalized pathogens, are in fact increasingly framed by circuits of capital driving shifts in deforestation and development. Neoliberalism is opening up new niches for previously marginalized diseases.

That is, despite a passing (and disconnected) reference to Tyson Foods, the kinds of people and plans Shah’s arguments protect.

Apparently the delicate balance of talking about the ecology of disease without touching on its major causes is now its own bestselling genre.

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