Dr. Gibbs, who had studied the gene sequences of the swine flu virus posted on public data banks, argued that it must have been grown in eggs, the medium used in vaccine laboratories. He reached that conclusion, he said, because the new virus was not closely related to known ones and because it had more of the amino acid lysine and more mutations than typical strains of swine flu.
His theory was reported by Bloomberg News on Tuesday. Even though scientists at theCenters for Disease Control and Prevention were skeptical and some prominent virologists openly derisive, news outlets have repeated and magnified the theory, adding speculation about bioterrorism that even Dr. Gibbs repudiated. He was also interviewed Thursday on the ABC News program “Good Morning America.”
Dr. Fukuda said a W.H.O. panel of experts had concluded that “the hypothesis does not really stand up to scrutiny.” The lysine residues and mutation rates were typical, he said, and many swine flus seem unrelated because not enough pigs are tested each year.
The article went on to make some astute points about the damage that misinformation like this has caused in the fight against diseases like AIDS and polio.
This is why the cultural expectation in science is that you publish, then pronounce. Or, in cases where the early dissemination of your research could save lives, that you at least get your work through the peer review process before typing up your press release.
Because science matters. Getting it wrong matters. Reducing the public's trust in the people working to protect them matters.
Dr. Gibbs should have known better.