The truth and Dr Wakefield - complete strangers (11/7/2009)
I was recently sent a gloating message headed Sunday Times Ordered 'Remove Wakefield MMR "Data Fixing" Story', leading me to an anti-vaccination web site which continued by saying UK Press Complaints Commission Orders Sunday Times "Remove MMR Journalist's Stories" on Dr. Wakefield from Paper's Web Site. (You can see more about Dr Wakefield here.) As I always take anything these creatures say with a bushel of salt, I checked the PCC web site and, surprise, surprise, there was no mention of any such order. I wrote to the Press Complaints Commission about this and received the following reply:
Dear Mr Bowditch
Thank you for your email.
The PCC has reached no formal ruling on the substance of the case. It has indicated that it will temporarily stay its investigation until the conclusion of the GMC hearing. In the meantime, it has requested that the paper remove the articles under complaint until a ruling can be reached by the PCC. This would be without any admission of liability on the part of the paper.
There is nothing on our website, because there is no substantive ruling at this stage.
So if "no formal ruling" had been made and therefore there was "no substantive ruling", how could the paper have been "ordered" to do anything? I asked politely at the web site where I could see the order, and the response was to say that I had been sued for defamation. When I pointed out that this was incorrect and asked again for the order, the response was to say that I had lost a court case and had been ordered to pay costs. When I pointed out that this was incorrect and asked again for the order, the response was to say that I had settled a court case with an agreement to post a notice on my web site. I was also told that the blog owner had access to all correspondence on the matter between the PCC and anybody so I was lying when I said that I had received an email saying there was no order. At that point I was about to give up both correcting the anonymous moderator of the blog and asking for evidence of any order. When someone is prepared to lie so comprehensively then resistance is futile. I decided to post one last set of corrections and a final request for evidence of an order when I found that a very familiar Gutless Anonymous Liar had put its oar in with the message (the xxxx stuff was done by the moderator):
Fascinating exhange. Bowditch is one of the internets biggest xxxxx. If his lips are moving he's xxxxx. If he's typing, he's xxxxx.
Bowditch was successfully sued for xxxxxxxxx. Bowditch was also xxxxxxxx for xxxxxxx xxxxxxx.
The only real question is: Is Bowditch a xxxxxx xxxx or a xxxxxxx that xxxx.
To which the equally anonymous (and therefore gutless) moderator commented:
[ED: Yes. We know. Any hard information welcome - can send by email.]
I eagerly await the publication of this "hard information".
It turns out that Dr Wakefield was the source of the media releases talking about the PCC's "order", and as a consequence the paper decided that it was under no obligation to continue withholding the articles from the world. This is what Brian Deer had to say to Wakefield's lawyer:
Subject: Dr Wakefield
Ms Joanne Bower,
Dear Ms Bower,
Your client, Dr Andrew Wakefield, has published, and caused to be published, on his website, thoughtfulhouse.org, and on other sites, false claims that the Press Complaints Commission has issued an "interim order" concerning my investigation into his conduct. Dr Wakefield claims that The Sunday Times has been ordered by the PCC to remove my stories about him from its website.
I understand that the PCC has written to your client to point out that these claims are untrue. In fact, all of my stories concerning him are available at the Times Online website.
thoughtfulhouse.org is unquestionably controlled by Dr Wakefield, and his publication there has caused similar untruths to be published on websites either directly controlled for his interests, such as cryshame.org, which, as you may know was set up by Mrs Isabella Thomas, the parent of two of the children anonymised in the now-infamous Lancet MMR paper, or indirectly controlled for his interests, such as ageofautism.com, operated to promote and profit from concern over children's vaccines.
It is, of course, nothing new for Dr Wakefield to mislead the public, and especially the parents of autistic children. He has faced the longest ever proceedings before a General Medical Council fitness to practise panel, following the GMC's reinvestigation of my journalism. In due course, I'd expect he will face a hearing of the PCC, covering much of the same ground on a significantly different evidential base.
However, you may feel it advisable to explain to your client that either he accepts the untruth of his latest claims and takes them down, or he maintains them in publication, in which case his conduct would not merely be wrong, but would be dishonest.
With best wishes,
Pure madness (11/7/2009)
Everyone must be familiar with the caduceus symbol, those snakes entwined around a staff that is sometimes a sign that medicine is nearby. (The actual symbol for medicine is the Rod of Asclepius which has only one serpent, but if Mike Adams gets something about medicine right it is an accident.) Well, you might have thought it meant that help was at hand, but "journalist" Mike Adams has revealed the truth at Natural News. Here is part of what he has to say:
So far, then, we have a staff carried by the Greek god Hermes, a protector of liars and thieves (who is also the guide of the dead), named as a staff or wand related to announcing information to the public, encircled by two serpents representing evil, and tied to yet another Greek myth about the female being beat to death.
This is the symbol of modern-day western medicine.
The part about the female being beaten to death is especially relevant, given how our male-dominated western medical system considers virtually all female physiology to be disease (pregnancy, menstruation, etc.). Women are treated like animals in many ways, through endless breast cancer screening and mandatory HPV vaccines. Female organs are considered useless or disease-ridden, such as when hysterectomies are performed to remove women's "hysteria" (madness). That's where the name "hysterectomy" actually comes from, of course.
That the two snakes representing evil would encircle the staff of public announcement could be an indication that the purpose of the staff is to announce evil (the propaganda of western medicine). At the same time, the mythological carrier of the staff is the protector of liars and thieves (the drug promoters and drug companies).
Once you understand the symbology, it becomes quite evident that this prominent symbol of western medicine was not chosen by chance: It sends a powerful subconscious message, much like the symbols of secret societies used on dollar bills, for example (the all-seeing eye floating above the pyramid on the back of the dollar bill). It might even be said that, through the repetition of this symbol which adorns the most important documents and texts used in the medical schools, doctors are, in a very true sense, being continuously indoctrinated with the powerful symbols of evil and death.
It would be funny if it wasn't so stupid. On second thoughts, things can be both stupid and funny. This is both. How could anyone take Adams seriously after this?
Homeopathic Emergency Department (11/7/2009)
OK, I know it's viralled itself all over the 'net and everybody has seen it before, but another look at this excellent Mitchell and Webb item can't do anybody any harm.
Conspiracy insanity (11/7/2009)
You would imagine that if a pharmaceutical company had developed a new and deadly virus they would want to keep it a secret. Apparently in the case of swine flu this is not so. That reliable source of medical information, the Australian Vaccination Network, published the following news item on their blog:
BAXTER LABS FILES PATENT ON H1N1 (SWINE FLU) IN AUGUST 2008-1 YEAR AHEAD OF THE OUTBREAK!
We are told that Swine Flu (so-called - the H1N1 virus) which is composed of 2 swine, one avian and one human virus is naturally-occuring. Yet here we have the company that shipped human flu vaccine contaminated with bird flu to 18 countries filing a patent on H1N1 almost a full year before the outbreak started! And, may I add, the outbreak began very close to Baxter's lab in Mexico City - the same lab that has been experimenting with flu vaccines! When is there going to be an independent investigation of this company? When is the government going to test flu vaccines for contamination?
You will note that the claim is that Baxter have invented and patented a new virus. You will also note the specific date of the patent application - August 2008. When I checked the US Patent Office register of patents and patent applications the only thing I could find about Baxter and H1N1 in the last couple of years was a single application in 2009 (not 2008) relating to research into the development of viral vaccines.
The most recent patent issued to Baxter relating to H1N1 is 7,052,701, dated May 30, 2006 - "Inactivated influenza virus vaccine for nasal or oral application". I couldn't find where they had patented the pathogen itself. Perhaps they patented it in Mexico.
I have asked Meryl Dorey of AVN the simple, unambiguous question: "What is the patent number?" As she is certain that Baxter has patented H1N1 she should have no problem providing a speedy and verifiable answer. If she either can't or won't answer then I will have to assume that the story is a fabrication. Wouldn't that be a surprise?
WooWoo Credo (11/7/2009)
I was flicking through my browser favourites the other day and I found that an interesting page had gone to the great bit bucket in the sky. It was called The WooWoo Credo and contained a list of the characteristics of the loons and fruitcakes who make life on the Internet such a rich tapestry of amusement, annoyance and frustration. (As an example, this week I have been observing a conversation in which constant allegations are being made that a friend of mine is lying about how old he will be at his next birthday. He was born in 1946 and his birthday is in November. The allegation is that he is lying by saying that he will not turn 64 in November. The allegator has been asked several times to consider the arithmetic of 2009 minus1946 but just responds with "Liar" taunts. Sad, isn't it?)
The good news is that I was able to recover the WooWoo Credo from the Internet Archive, and you can read it here.
Thinking about how I missed out on winning Lotto (again), I was reminded about how people don't understand numbers. This resulted in the next Naked Skeptic column for Australasian Science magazine. The article is called "Understand the numbers? Don't count on it" and you can read it here. It would be remiss of me not to mention that you can subscribe to this excellent magazine here.
We finally made it! (11/7/2009)
You might remember that back in February I planned a barbeque to celebrate Charles Darwin's 200th birthday. The eating was to be preceded by a walk along the path that Darwin took in 1836 when he walked past the end of my street to look at the stunning view of the Jamison Valley from the top of Wentworth Falls. The only problem with the event was that it rained heavily for about sixteen consecutive days beforehand and the track became a swamp where it wasn't actually a river.
There was much better weather when a group from Western Sydney Freethinkers got together to retrace Darwin's steps last weekend. Darwin might have been wrong about how the valley was formed, but he was exactly right when he described the view from the falls as "extremely magnificent". (We might eschew superstition but we decided to avoid the risk of the barbeque weather curse and ate in a nearby pub afterwards.) A day very well spent, and if you travel to the Blue Mountains you can do a lot worse touristy things than taking this pleasant walk through the bush.
Where were you 40 years ago? (18/7/2009)
In July 1969 I was in the army. Conscription and the Vietnam war were in full swing, and the politicians were lying about both as only politicians can. I was stationed at Holsworthy, west of Sydney, and on the day in question most of the battalion were somewhere else, with only a skeleton crew left behind. My job that day was to man the boom gate at the entrance to the camp in case the Viet Cong came rushing down Heathcote Road. Suddenly the word went round the camp that we were all invited to the Sergeants' Mess to watch something on television. It had to be something very special, because there is strict segregation of social activities in the army and this was a building exclusively for the use of non-commissioned officers. We were a bit out of touch with world news at the time and I imagine that some of us would have secretly hoped that we were going to see the Prime Minister announce that the war and conscription were over and we could all go home.
What we saw instead was something so amazing that it I can't imagine how anybody could forget where they were when they saw it. We saw incredibly brave men do what no human had done before - stand on the surface of some place in the universe other than Earth. I remember that the battalion's Commanding Officer turned to me afterwards and asked me who was guarding the camp. When I admitted that I had abandoned my post and nobody was on duty at the gate he replied: "That is as it should be. Nothing is more important than this".
Which reminds me ... (18/7/2009)
Psychologists talk about "flashbulb memory" - the way we indelibly remember significant events. When I was at university the standard example was "Where were you when you heard that President Kennedy had been shot?" (At my school friend Ray's place. Three of us had slept there overnight. We knew something was wrong as soon as we turned on the radio, because the announcer Mad Mel had dropped his usual frantic style and was speaking like a normal human being. The walls were painted yellow and there was a series of fake dog paw prints on the wall next to the stairs which we had thought were very amusing when we painted them.) Of course, these days you have to explain to students who Kennedy was, just after you tell them what a flashbulb was.
Here are some things I saw on live television which had that effect on me. Your choices would almost certainly be different, but I won't be the only person with some of these on the list.
There was one thing I can't add to the list because I didn't see it, but it would have almost certainly been there if I had. I sat up very late to watch Nelson Mandela's release from prison. The local television operators had booked satellite time for the event but there was some delay in the proceedings. About two minutes before Mandela appeared the satellite operators decided that the booked time was over and switched off the link. I was not pleased.
Religion in action (18/7/2009)
Here are two pictures from this week's news. Both show street scenes resulting from the actions of people who are very concerned about the sort of religion practised by other people. The first is from Jakarta, where followers of the "religion of peace" found it necessary to kill some strangers, as apparently the murders of large numbers of people is a way of convincing the government that an Islamist theocracy would be a better way to run the country. The second is from Belfast, where one sort of Christians want to kill some other sort of Christians for being the wrong sort of Christians and walking in the wrong place. Perhaps some Muslims might like to march through Belfast to see if the two lots of Christians could agree on something and share their stashes of Molotov cocktails.
Pure madness all round. And why is it that people who are so proud of their religion that they are prepared to kill for it so often hide their faces?
Speaking of speaking ... (18/7/2009)
I'll be giving two talks in Melbourne in the middle of August. Both will be on the topic of vaccination and its detractors, but I have a lot to say on this matter so it will be safe to come to both presentations without the risk of hearing the same thing twice.
And if you wonder what "celestial teapot" refers to, it is from "Is There a God?" by Bertrand Russell, in which he said:
Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.
You can read the whole paper here.
More from the AVN, but is it truth? (18/7/2009)
That's a rhetorical question, of course.
Last week I mentioned that I had asked Meryl Dorey from AVN for the number of the patent she claimed Baxter Healthcare had filed on the swine flu virus. She replied with something like (but not exactly) the patent application number I already knew about. (I loved the way she described it as "so-called - the H1N1 virus". For some reason quacks and their supporters seem to think that putting "so-called" in front of the real name of something has meaning, other than exhibiting the mental inadequacy of the writer. I have seen it many times and it always amuses me.) I sent the following reply to her, but I haven't received an answer yet. (I didn't bother to point out that the virus behind the 1918 flu epidemic was the "so-called" H1N1, which has just been invented.)
That is not a patent, it is a patent application.
It is not a patent of a virus, it is an application for a patent on a method for the manufacture of viral vaccines.
The only mentions of H1N1 (which is also a human flu virus) are in a) discussion of the well-known fact that flu vaccines contain multiple antigens and b) description of how the viruses are inactivated so that the vaccine cannot cause infection.
There are 2816 articles indexed in PubMed with the keyword "H1N1", going back to 1976. Are you suggesting that they are all about the current strain of swine flu?
Anything else you would care to get wrong?
By the way, I live within 50 kilometres of Baxter's plant at Toongabbie? Should I be worried, seeing as that is the evidence for Baxter being involved in the swine flu outbreak in Mexico?
While I had PubMed out I thought I would answer another AVN claim which was made in the same Baxter bashing thread on the AVN blog. The claim was "[n]o vaccine has ever undergone a true double-blind crossover placebo study". My comment did not make it past the blog moderator (I didn't really expect it would), so it also remains unanswered.
HIV Testing Outside of the Study Among Men Who Have Sex With Men Participating in an HIV Vaccine Efficacy Trial. Gust DA, Wiegand RE, Para M, Chen RT, Bartholow BN. 1: J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2009 Jul 1. [Epub ahead of print]
METHODS:: Analyses were restricted to men who have sex with men (MSM) who completed a survey at one or more annual visits in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled efficacy trial of a bivalent rgp 120 vaccine conducted from 1998-2002.
Antibody response to influenza vaccine in coronary artery disease: a substudy of the FLUCAD study. Brydak LB, Romanowska M, Nowak I, Ciszewski A, Bilińska ZT. 1: Med Sci Monit. 2009 Jul;15(7):PH85-91
MATERIAL/METHODS: This was a substudy of the randomized prospective double-blind placebo-controlled FLUCAD study on influenza vaccination in the secondary prevention of ischemic coronary events in patients with coronary artery disease.
A Dose-Escalation Safety and Immunogenicity Study of Live Attenuated Oral Rotavirus Vaccine 116E in Infants: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Bhandari N, Sharma P, Taneja S, Kumar T, Rongsen-Chandola T, Appaiahgari MB, Mishra A, Singh S, Vrati S; Rotavirus Vaccine Development Group. 1: J Infect Dis. 2009 Aug 1;200(3):421-429
Methods. The neonatal rotavirus candidate vaccine 116E was tested in a double-blind, placebo-controlled dose-escalation trial in India.
Now you have at least three (out of the 1031 in PubMed found by searching for "vaccine double blind placebo") you can stop saying "No vaccine has ever undergone a true double-blind placebo study", because saying it again would be a lie as you now know the truth.
Do you ever tire of being wrong?
And the bit about "crossover" trials? Well that is true. There have never been any crossover trials, because such a trial would involve vaccinating half the subjects but not the rest and at some later time vaccinating the previously unvaccinated and unvaccinating the vaccinated. This is obviously impossible and the anti-vaccination liars know that. They hope that the people they lie to don't know.
A good excuse for being late (28/7/2009)
This week's update has been delayed from Saturday to Tuesday. I was thrilled to be asked to publish the article below by Simon Singh that so offended the chiropractors. This version has been checked, vetted, scrutinised and examined by lawyers to ensure that the truth can be told while minimising the chances that quacks can say "Don't ask me for scientific evidence, because I don't have any. You hurt my feelings so I'm going to bankrupt you with legal fees instead".
I received the request to publish the article just after I got back from dinner with Simon following an excellent talk he gave in Sydney. I immediately agreed, and I also agreed to an embargo until July 28 when the article will appear in the excellent science magazine Cosmos.
Beware the spinal trap (28/7/2009)
In June I mentioned that author Simon Singh was being sued by the British Chiropractic Association over an article printed in The Guardian newspaper which suggested that chiropractic was sometimes used as a treatment where no evidence of efficacy existed. A judge ruled that it was defamatory to say that chiropractors were happy to offer bogus treatments, a statement which could only cause offence to people who deliberately refused to use the word "happy" in its everyday sense. The newspaper withdrew the article from their web site, but a revised and hopefully lawyer-proof version is now available. Here it is.
Beware the spinal trap
Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all, but the research suggests chiropractic therapy has mixed results - and can even be lethal, says Simon Singh.
You might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that "99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae". In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.
In fact, Palmer's first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.
You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact some still possess quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything, including helping treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying - even though there is not a jot of evidence.
I can confidently label these assertions as utter nonsense because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world's first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.
But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.
In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.
More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.
Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.
Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: "Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck."
This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Edzard Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.
If spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.
Simon Singh is a science writer in London and the co-author, with Edzard Ernst, of . This is an edited version of an article published in The Guardian for which Singh is being personally sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.
In case you wonder what was in the original article but omitted from this modified version, I quote from the British Chiropractic Association's own web site:
In April 2008 Simon Singh published an article in the Guardian newspaper and on Guardian Online in the course of which he wrote that:
"the British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments."
Into the sack with them (28/7/2009)
Well, those aren't the exact words Dara O'Briain uses, but this is a family web site visited by innocent children and maiden aunts so I have to protect their sensitivities. Here's Dara's commentary about homeopaths, other quacks and the respect that should be shown to their opinions.
On the bookshelf (28/7/2009)
So, what am I reading this week? Apart from the three incredibly boring textbooks about computer programming that arrived from Amazon and are now sitting next to my desk glaring at me with ill-concealed contempt, I have been indulging in a little fiction reading.
The first book is Blind Faith by Ben Elton. Strangely, I had never read anything by him before, although I have watched a lot of excellent television using scripts that have come from his word processor. When I was a few pages into this book I thought I was reading a ripoff of Orwell's 1984, updated to the Internet age, but when 1984 itself got a mention to provide an explanation for the story line I decided to keep reading. Yes, the book is about a future where personal privacy and thoughts are either frowned upon or illegal, and it is about someone who defies the rulers by having secrets, but instead of a world ruled by fascist or communist totalitarianism it is ruled by new age idiocy, self-esteem nonsense, medical quackery, infantile religion and relentless compulsory self-promotion by everyone. It is a totalitarianism which dictates that every moment of everyone's lives must be shared with the world. It almost made me want to close my Twitter and Facebook accounts.
Of course, like any totalitarian state there are not only things that loyal citizens are required to do. There are actions which are absolutely forbidden, and in a society where half the children die of disease before their first birthday anyone caught vaccinating a child faces torture and death. The only crime which comes close is to fail to show complete respect for the ideas and actions of others. To me, this book isn't so much an update of 1984 but a new version of Dante's Divine Comedy. Hell could not be this awful. Despite that I can highly recommend the book.
The second book is The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton. This is a book that I have been aware of for decades and I always assumed that I had read it. I found it in the local library and, surprise, I had in fact never read it. It is, of course, one of those books like On The Road, Catcher in the Rye and Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas that everybody my age is supposed to have read and been influenced by. Perhaps we passed round copies at Woodstock and have forgotten.
This book has some topicality now with the fortieth anniversary of the first moon landing being celebrated everywhere. It was written just before the first moon missions in 1969 and deals with something that was a real fear at the time - the possibility of infectious organisms being brought back to Earth from space. An excellent yarn, and I wish I had found it earlier.
This isn't the first book by Michael Crichton that I have read, and generally they are good reads, with any science not being too implausible. (He points out in the talk you can hear below that fiction, in books and films, isn't supposed to be absolutely true - it's supposed to be entertaining and not too untrue.) I have to admit, however, that one of his books, Prey, was one that I couldn't put down - fast enough. By about the third chapter the only possible story line was obvious, and if I can write a book myself I don't have to waste time with the professional version. I think this might have been Crichton's last book before he died, and it is always sad to see someone with talent just going through the motions.