Sun, Aug 18, 2013 - Page 8 News List

[ LETTERS ]

Bad leadership and science

The news that “experts” from the US are to arrive in Taiwan to advise the government (“Rabies found in four more Formosan ferret badgers,” Aug. 9, page 3) on the rabies outbreak is puzzling — although the story turns out to be one of familiar government bumbling and incompetence.

In the last 10 years, rabies has been quickly, safely and effectively eradicated from Estonia and Italy. They used a bait developed in France from a less virulent strain of the virus. The bait meets high EU standards. The bait’s advantage is that it may be used for many species — including dogs. The solution to the urgent issue of vaccinating the growing numbers of stray dogs in Taiwan is very clear, except to those working for the Council of Agriculture. The bait for stray dogs, at least, could have been on its way by now.

The problem is that, rather than get experts already in Taiwan to sequence the RNA and analyze the data, or simply listen to what others more qualified than them are telling them, the council has its own chosen people that are there, not because of merit or expertise, but because of cronyism or simply because they have passed the civil service exam.

So, when the council issued its report that declared the strain of rabies to be close to that found in China, it was clear to professionals in Taiwan that the report lacked the necessary scientific rigor. They sequenced part of the RNA, but for reasons best known to themselves they highlighted only the matches with the Chinese strain. It was a straightforward matter to run the data through a database to find that, in actual fact, the strain is closer to one found in the Philippines.

Hence also their confusion as to whether a rabies bait that meets European standards is good enough. Given that EU standards meet and often exceed US standards, this causes unnecessary delay by people who are not sufficiently informed to make a decision.

Their conclusion, stated in the same Taipei Times article, that the virus has been “lurking in mountainous areas for years” may be true — but this conclusion cannot be based on the analysis they have so far released, because so little of the RNA has been sequenced, and only the council’s own analysis has been published. No reasons have been offered for why only a small sample was sequenced. No one else, such as the qualified scientists Taiwan already has, outside of the government and its cronies, have been invited to sequence the RNA.

This is bad science. Science requires a transparent process showing a clear method and making available all raw data (not just analysis or interpretation).

It is also bad governance. Good governance also requires transparency, and it requires the government to make use of the best people in technical matters — not a privileged few who do not have the expertise, but who do find themselves in government jobs.

If this is just rabies, one wonders about the more weighty issues of the day, such as sweeping economic deals with other countries.

Name withheld at author’s request

Not a vegetarian paradise

Taiwan is a sort of “vegetarian paradise,” but the statistics for the island seem to indicate that the exact opposite is true.

Taiwan has an astoundingly high rate of both pork production and poultry production — these figures are both unbelievably high in absolute numbers and when the per capita ratio is compared to other countries in Asia.

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