What Pandemics and Meteorology Have in Common

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We aren't very good at predicting either one much further out than a week or two.

A BBC story (and film) talks about the problems virologists and public health defenders face as they tackle a virus like H1N1 flu and try to figure out how the disease will impact people around the globe. It's an honest examination of both the strengths of science, and the barriers that exist around human knowledge.

Such are the limitations of science, whether meteorology or virology. The recent H1N1 or swine flu predictions have led to forecasts of 65,000 deaths in the UK - but the truth is, we simply don't know. Yet in reporting the outbreak, the media broadly falls between two extremes - from alarming scare stories to experts who purport mass vaccination to be "madness, foolhardy and a gamble". Whatever happens when the pandemic pans out, there will be a substantial third group - the "I told you so" faction. Pandemic disease remains a critical test of the extent of what we do and don't know.

Pandemics--What History Tells Us on the BBC, via Holly Tucker.

Image courtesy Flickr user chascar, via CC.