Weapons of Mass Hysteria (WMH), Faulty Bio-Threat Predictions and its Impact on National (In)Security

96 Pages Posted: 19 Mar 2016

See all articles by Barbara Pfeffer Billauer

Barbara Pfeffer Billauer

Institute of World Politics; International Program in Bioethics, U. of Porto; Foundation for Law and Science Centers, Inc.

Date Written: March 18, 2016


Biothreat projections are generated by a straight-forward (computational) system using mathematical modeling. This method typically assigns three variables involved in disease transmission with a value culled from assorted past epidemics. In most models the data selected assumes absolute worst case scenarios; in all models biological plausibility, relevant historical data, and modern medical practice is ignored. Worst-case scenario data (such as the ‘Dark Winter’ scenario) involves mixing and matching individual worst datum from different epidemics, (again without regard to biological plausibility or societal/health system relevance) and is programmed to produce extreme calculations. These catastrophic predictions generate fear and hysteria, and as a by-product establish the predicate for maximum federal funding.

Past pandemic projections (Avian-Flu, Smallpox, Anthrax, Swine Flu and Ebola) demonstrate that current models grotesquely overestimate incidence and severity. Some flawed estimates generated adverse health consequences more severe than a realistic epidemic, such as adverse incidents (and deaths) from the smallpox vaccine, along with diverting resources from necessary but less glamorous quotidian public health concerns. Allocation of billions of dollars to futile biodefense endeavors is clearly wasteful. But it also breeds a climate of suspicion of governmental ability to accurately predict and prepare for bio-threats. And consistent overestimation of epidemic risks suggests a systemic failure in methodology, threatening to damage confidence in governmental anti-terrorism programs and homeland security preparedness.

Nevertheless, for fear of being under prepared, reliance on these models continues. Trying to prove that worst-case mathematical modelling to predict case/case-fatality numbers is an invalid method - is fraught with political danger. What if these “worst case” scenarios are in fact correct? Ignoring the possibility of calamity is a consideration no politician wishes to contemplate, even if ultimately more harm is caused by overzealous projections. Unless the validity of the model can be conclusively disproved, (and of course proving a negative is virtually impossible) the use of the current model continues, notwithstanding harm (and expense) which result.

This work seeks to persuasively demonstrate that using mathematical models in a vacuum for projection purposes, including reliance on worst-case (or even averaged) values, mixing and matching values from different epidemics, and straight line (unadjusted) use of data across generations without considering historical details, is invalid - and dangerous, and possibly motivated by personal interests. Further, this work raises historical facts which seriously undermine several assumptions used in homeland security planning for smallpox, considerations which may be applicable to overall pandemic planning and preparedness.

Keywords: smallpox, anthrax, saddam, biothreat, bioweapon, bioterrorism, vaccination, risk-benefit, iraq, weapons of mass destruction, weapons of mass hysteria, germany, yugoslavia, dark winter, WHO, CDC, mathematical models, modelling pandemics, terrorism projections

JEL Classification: A13, C13, C20, C30, C53, C63, C93, D63, D78, D84, H43, H51, H53, H56, H57, I10, I12, I18, I19, K13

Suggested Citation

Billauer, Barbara P., Weapons of Mass Hysteria (WMH), Faulty Bio-Threat Predictions and its Impact on National (In)Security (March 18, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2749658 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2749658

Barbara P. Billauer (Contact Author)

Institute of World Politics ( email )

1521 16th St NW,
Washington, DC
United States
+1 202-462-2101 (Phone)

International Program in Bioethics, U. of Porto ( email )

Rua Dr. Roberto Frias
4200-464 Porto

Foundation for Law and Science Centers, Inc. ( email )

1020 16th Street NW
Suite LL1
Washington, DC 20036
United States
972 54 344 6055 (Phone)

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