Tuesday, February 01, 2005


Frontlines or Sidelines?

Red State Rabble made remarks at the Science Standards hearing in Kansas City, Kansas tonight. Check back later for a fuller report on the hearings. Immodest as it may be, here are my remarks:
I’m here tonight, to speak in support of teaching real science – not religious belief, no matter how sincerely held – in science classrooms across Kansas.
On the morning of March 11, 1918, at Camp Funston, now part of Fort Riley, just southwest of Manhattan, Kansas, Albert Mitchell, a company cook, reported to the infirmary with flu-like symptoms. By noon, 107 soldiers were sick. Within two days 522 more fell ill.
That spring, U.S. servicemen were shipping out to Europe to fight in World War I, and the flu they carried with them was relatively mild. Then something changed and the epidemic turned deadly. In Spain, as many as 8 million may have died of what came to be called the Spanish Flu. As many doughboys died from it as from combat. When the American Expeditionary force came home, they brought the virulent strain back with them. And a second, more deadly wave swept this country. By 1919, the pandemic had spread to every corner of the earth and between 20 and 40 million people were dead.
The pandemic is more than just a historical curiosity. Scientists are intensely interested to learn how the virus evolved from one that caused mild symptoms in the spring, to one that killed tens of millions just hours after they first fell sick in the fall. The fact that influenza outbreaks are cyclical, and scientists predict that we are overdue for another pandemic, makes the outcome of this research important to us all.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, Influenza ‘A' – the likely culprit in the 1918 pandemic – is capable of rapid genetic change in mammals. One in five virus particles produced is likely to contain a change. If such a change provides the virus with a competitive advantage, that strain quickly replaces its predecessor. In humans, who become immune to flu viruses they have been exposed to, positive selection pressure is exerted on the virus leading to the emergence of distinct variant virus strains every two to three years.
What are we seeing here? Nothing less than the living process of evolution, just as Darwin described it.
When the next pandemic breaks out, will self-confident young Kansans be on the frontlines helping to find a cure because they were inspired by the power of science to solve problems in the real world? Or, will they stand on the sidelines helplessly wringing their hands because their school board devalued evolution and opened the door to pseudoscience? Members of the Kansas State Board of Education, that decision is largely up to you.


<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?