Bioterrorism: Contentious content


The sudden spurt in articles on bioterrorism published by medical journals may have inadvertently helped convince the public that the war on Iraq was just, argues Ian Roberts, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Roberts' research discloses that the number of articles on bioterrorism in five important medical journals increased from two to 72 between 1999 and 2000.

Roberts notes that this extensive coverage of bioterrorism originated mainly from the us. Authors based in that country contributed 63 per cent of the 124 articles reviewed. "I am not implying that this is a deliberate attempt to alarm the population, but nevertheless it may have had this effect,' the researcher infers.

The revelations have caused a debate in the British Medical Journal (bmj) regarding the political stance of medical journals. bmj's web editor, Tony Delamothe, says the periodical covers "clinical, scientific, social, political and economic factors affecting health.' He adds that, "Nothing touches nerves faster than our forays into the public health consequences of conflict.' For example, the journal was criticised for publishing a letter that addressed the different kinds of battle injuries experienced by Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied lands.

Delamothe admits that the rise in the number of articles on topics such as chemical weapons may have "stoked up fears and justified the allies' response'.