Recently, an article appeared in the LA Times mischaracterizing one of the leaders of the efforts against bioterrorism as self-interested and inappropriately masking a conflict of interest. The following two letters, which appeared Sunday in the LA Times, better describe the situation.
The second letter was signed by all the people shown, but the LA Times publication policies permitted only three signatures (mine was one of them) to be shown.
Letter from Richard Danzig:
Your article alleging that I didn’t adequately reveal a conflict of interest doesn’t mention that the “About the Author” page of my 2003 bioterrorism report explicitly stated that I was “a director of the Human Genome Sciences Corporation.”
Moreover, readers who pursue your article to its 58th paragraph will find that it acknowledges that in the 2003 report, far from obscuring any conflict, I wrote: “As a member of the Board of Directors of Human Genome Sciences, a NASDAQ listed company, I have encouraged the company in its efforts to develop an anthrax antitoxin. I do not believe that my views on this point are distorted by any financial interest, but readers will want to make their own determination.”
The article notes that I wrote six other reports on bioterrorism without flagging my director status, but the only one cited as relevant and posted on The Times’ website referred just tangentially to antibiotic-resistant anthrax, and actually argued against the strategy of buying specific drugs for specific pathogens for anthrax. The report criticized this approach, saying, “This is like strengthening forts along the Maginot Line.”
Finally, the article deprecates the risk of antibiotic-resistant anthrax. Yet in 2006, the secretary of Homeland Security determined that this was a material threat. And last year, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences concluded: “The level of microbiologic knowledge needed to create [multi-drug resistant] anthrax is not high, and descriptive methodology is available in the open literature.”
The writer, a former secretary of the Navy, is a biowarfare consultant to the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security.
Group letter from 30 colleagues in the biosecurity community:
The article describes Danzig in ways completely contrary to our experience. For more than a decade we — along with dozens of other experts in the private, not-for-profit and academic sectors who have read and agree with this letter — have worked with him in a broad effort to reduce the risks of bioterrorism. We do not all share the same perspective of the threats or the solutions, but we do value the openness with which the dialogue takes place.
The article implies that Danzig inflated the risk of antibiotic-resistant anthrax without adequately disclosing that he was associated with a company that could profit from attention to the risk. Our experiences don’t bear this out.
The article neglects to say there is a consensus of scientific thought that the risks of antibiotic-resistant anthrax are real; that dissent about the plausibility of this and other propositions was encouraged by Danzig himself; and that he neither originated the issue nor was he particularly associated with it but instead drove discussion about many aspects of protecting civilian populations from the threat of deliberately released biological agents.
Danzig’s fostering of discussion and honest debate on topics central to national security has become a role model for many of us. As active participants in the discussions on bioterrorism, none of us has ever found him to be misleading or self-serving.
Michael Goldblatt, PhD, JD
Michael Hopmeier, MSME
D. A. Henderson, MD, MPH
The Honorable R. David Paulison
Noreen A Hynes, MD, MPH, FIDSA, FASTMH
Kenneth Bernard, MD, DTM&H
Paula Olsiewski, PhD
David Franz, DVM, PhD
John Vitko, PhD
Elin Gursky, MSc, ScD
Donna Barbisch, PhD
Michael Callahan MD, DTM&H (U.K.), MSPH
Jeffrey Runge, MD, FACEP
Kaveh Zamani, PhD
Tom Inglesby, MD
Roger Breeze, DVM, PhD
Steve Morse, PhD
Margaret Jo Velardo, PhD
Klaus Schafer, MD
Lawrence Wein, PhD
Eric Eisenstadt, PhD
Shaun Jones, MD
Robert Kadlec, MD
Terry Leighton, PhD
Stewart Simonson, JD
June 2 Letters to the Editor: http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/letters/la-le-0602-sunday-bioterrorism-20130602,0,6333955.story