Monday, October 28, 2013

Creationism and Wall Street Meet Superbugs

Creationism and Wall Street Meet Superbugs

In the last week or so, I ran across the following anecdotes come from Bill Bryson’s new book One Summer: America 1927, the Frontline documentary “Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria”, and The Dallas Morning Herald.

Inverse Floater (1994)

  •           On June 30, 1924, Calvin Coolidge Jr., son of the President, played tennis on the White House lawn and got a blister on his foot.  By July 7th he was dead from blood poisoning.

  •            In 1928, Sir Alexander Fleming discovered that Staphylococcus bacteria could be destroyed by penicillin mold. In 1943, clinical trials were finally completed for penicillin, and thereafter it became rapidly available as an antibiotic.

  •         In February 2011 Pfizer, the first mass manufacturer of penicillin, announced it would dramatically scale back its antimicrobial research at its labs in Sandwich, England and Groton, Connecticut and locate its remaining effort in China.  Pfizer was the last major pharmaceutical company with a large-scale anti-microbial program.  The company cut the program because they couldn’t generate the return on investment required by Wall Street.

  •          Later in 2011, the Clinical Center at the National Institute of Health was struck with Klebsiella pneumoniae carbapenemase, or KPC, an infection that cannot be treated with any known antibiotic.

  •          In 2012 NIH’s budget fell by $1.7 billion to $29.15 billion, and its budget is slated to fall by another $600 million next year, unless the House gets its way and slashes the budget by another $5 billion. 

  •          The Texas textbook curriculum committee will require the teaching of creationism in its science courses.  As a member of the committee said, “I feel very firmly that creation science based on Biblical principles should be incorporated into every biology book that is up for adoption.”

Science is under attack from two seemingly opposite sides.  At one end, skeptics in scientific methods and theories are undermining our school curriculums.  At the other end, the so-called science of Wall Street is undercutting the ability of companies to fund long-term research.  The trading mentality practiced by all too many money managers makes microbial drug discovery financially impracticable.

Meanwhile a wide spectrum of conservatives from fundamentalists to Wall Street bankers are clamoring to shrink the size of the federal government.  One of the last bastions of basic research, the NIH, is in the crosshairs of that effort.  Neither the marketplace nor the government seems capable of funding the research required to combat infection.

While we’ve been hollowing out our pharmaceutical companies in the name of short-term profits and gutting the NIH in our eagerness to downsize the federal government, evolution has been hard at work.  While evolution may be hard to grasp when it comes to human development, it is plainly visible when we’re talking about bacteria and antibiotics.  The creationists and money managers might spend a little time contemplating evolution at the bacterial level.

Sadly, the creationists and Wall Street are helping to return us to a time when our sons or daughters could get a scrape or blister on the playground or tennis court and be dead within days.  The creationists will discover that prayer is no match for a superbug, and Wall Street will learn that all of their billions in short-term profits can’t stop a superbug either.

For more on our dearth of long-term investing see, “New Highs for the Markets and New Lows for Investing (March 7, 2013)”

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