NEWS/BIO: Interesting closed-door meeting in Paris on Prions

From: Robert J. Bradbury (
Date: Tue Mar 20 2001 - 18:23:31 MST

Some of you may find this interesting on the whole open vs. closed door
Science, the politics of calming populations, eating meat in Europe, etc.

Its from FAST (


> Last week's high-level symposium on prion diseases organized in Paris by
> the Academy of Sciences, the Academy of Medicine and the British Academy of
> Medical Science made news for several reasons. The subject is red hot in a
> Europe that is weary of the slaughter and wary of the human epidemic to
> come, and the conference attracted all the top research actors in the field
> including the American Nobel laureate and prion discoverer Stanley
> Prusiner. It also attracted attention at the highest levels of power as
> President Chirac and Prime Minister Jospin both made appearances while
> vying for the Most Concerned Leader award, and government ministers took
> turns ensuring that there was always high-level presence throughout the
> three-day event. Newsworthy also was who didn't attend, as a decision to
> hold the symposium behind closed doors met with a good deal of criticism
> including from among the event's scientific participants. Rumor had it that
> the British co-hosts insisted upon this condition, while defenders of the
> decision cited the sensationalist press' penchant for distortion. (Critics
> argued that tabloid reporters are rarely seen hanging about scientific
> confabs.) Some researchers questioned the wisdom of giving the public the
> impression that the scientific community has something to hide on the
> matter, but what did finally make it out of the closed sessions is a clear
> impression of befuddlement as well as disagreement. Prion disease experts
> have trouble reaching any kind of consensus about the dimensions of the
> coming epidemic of new-form Creutzfeldt-Jakob, some saying there will be no
> epidemic, with few further casualties beyond the nearly 100 victims already
> in Great Britain, others saying there will most assuredly be more to come
> but no telling on what scale. Most specialists agree that the fact of
> geneless proteins morphing into killers relativizes genetic supremacy and
> that the prion's practically inert status pushes the boundaries of what is
> life. At conference end, the very Socratic wisdom of identifying how much
> one doesn't know seemed to be the principal scientific outcome; no one is
> sure what role prions play either in BSE (mad cow disease) or in new-form
> CJ, and little is known of the pathology of prion disease, its
> transmission, or its gestation period. French Health Minister Bernard
> Kouchner summed up hindsight consensus in his closing speech by underlining
> the folly of converting herbivores to carnivores and even to cannibals, and
> the ensuing monumental error of allowing nerve tissue scraps to find there
> way into burgers (consensual best guess as to how new-form CJ got its
> start). One bright spot is France's commitment to tripling its prion
> research budget to more than $30 million. As one British scientist pointed
> out in admiration, that is the equivalent of 12 times more per mad French
> cow than the UK is currently spending per mad British cow (Libération,
> March 14, p21,Corinne Bensimon; Agence France Presse, March 16)

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