Tuesday, June 06, 2006

"What do I know - I'm only a vet...."

Two letters in the Veterinary Times (June 5th.) take issue with Professor John Bourne's comments on the qualifications - or not - of the veterinary profession dealing with bTb in the past. His insultingly vague comments referred to ;

"dogmatic belief [held] by scientifically uninformed veterinary opinion".

And up with that, senior and practising veterinary personel, will not put.

Andrew Proud, BvSc, DVSM, MRCVS weighs in with a the conclusion that with a comment like that, Bourne has "destroyed any credibility that they [the ISG] might have had".

He continues:
" The 'scientifically uninformed dogmatism' is exhibited by those who take the line that the significance of cattle to cattle transmission may be assumed without evidence, while the alternative view has to be subjected to protracted, expensive and gold plated experimental method. Bourne et al, cling to the straws of cattle-to-cattle transmission, pre-movement testing and 'heightened on-farm biosecurity', but conveniently ignore the facts that led most of Dr. John Gallagher's contemporaries among officers of the State Veterinary Service of the south west to abandon their beliefs in such possibilities".

"Too many closed herds experience breakdowns, and too many herd breakdowns involve only one animal. ..[] the minimal techniques of veterinary hygiene (old and better; English for 'bio security') on which the Attested herds scheme depended, were too effective to leave any room for confidence in any control measures that stop short of separating cattle from infectious badgers. ..[] And as Paul Caruana will be well aware, in those days badger removal operations were pursued with a much greater intensity than was the norm in the 'trial'".

Another letter from Adrian Wingfield BVMS, MRCVS based in (badger free?) Cambridge also questions John Bourne's credentials.

"The ISG states that it took an explicitly scientific approach in designing the RBCT, and took full account of practical aspects and limitations from the outset. Yet we are told that many changes in procedure were adopted and implemented during the trial, including modification to the rather pivotal matter of trapping badgers.

We are told that statistical analysis has duly dealt with any aberrations arising from such operational changes, though it is, of course, a well established principle that if the data are tortured for long enough, and by a sufficient number of methods, they will eventually admit to the version of the 'truth' that is being sought.

Of equal, if not greater concern is the fact that the design of the RBCT was explicitly constrained by "a ministerial directive that badgers should not be totally eliminated from large tracts of the English countryside". It would therefore appear that, rather than be rigourously scientific, the RBCT may actually have been designed to evaluate the a form of badger cull that politicians had already decided that they might be able to 'live with' or 'sell to the public'".

That the ISG has apparently so readily bowed to political diktat may call into question the use of the words 'Independent' and 'Scientific' in the title of the group.

The vehement attack on the scientific integrity of the veterinary profession, and the very personal attacks on Paul Caruana, John Gallagher, John Daykin and colleagues, are as extraordinary as they are unconstructive, and are very clearly founded in the arrogant belief that statistical experimental science is the only discipline worthy of serious consideration.

However, colleagues may recall that the involvement and influence of statistical experimental scientists during the UK FMD outbreak in 2001, directly resulted in the greatest animal health disaster that the United Kingdom, and probably the world, has ever had the misfortune to suffer.

But I am just a vet, so what could possibly know about animal health and disease?"

Both these excellent letters are describing the group of scientists - led by the diminutive John Bourne- who for several years based their cattle-to-cattle transmission theory on the '14 million animal movements' gleaned from BCMS: announcing to all and sundry that these were made by 'cattle', when in fact they were multiplications of data.

What on earth did they expect?

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