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News Briefs

Death Toll From Flu Higher Than Previously Thought

LOS ANGELES TIMES

Influenza causes nearly twice as many deaths each year as researchers had previously believed, according to a new study from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The annual toll has climbed from about 20,000 deaths per year in the 1970s to an average of about 36,000 per year in the 1990s -- with the number soaring as high as 70,000 in bad years, according to the study in Wednesday’s Journal of the American Medical Association.

Although more virulent strains of the influenza virus have played a role in the increase, the most important factor is the aging of the U.S. population. The number of Americans over the age of 80 has doubled during the last three decades, said Dr. Keiji Fukuda of the CDC.

About 90 percent of all flu deaths occur among people over the age of 65, and those over 80 are 32 times as likely to die from side effects of influenza as those between the ages of 60 and 65, he said.

As the proportion of the elderly in the population continues to grow, “Simple demographics practically ensure an impending public health disaster of great proportion,” Dr. David H. Morens of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases wrote in an editorial in the same journal.

Danish Professor Denounced For ’Scientific Dishonesty’

THE WASHINGTON POST

Once hailed as a brilliant iconoclast who challenged environmentalists’ gloom-and-doom prognoses of global warming, overpopulation and worldwide hunger, Danish author Bjorn Lomborg Tuesday was denounced by a panel of his country’s top scientists for engaging in “scientific dishonesty.”

Lomborg, an associate professor of statistics at Denmark’s University of Aarhus and a former member of Greenpeace, concluded in his best-selling 1999 book, “The Skeptical Environmentalist,” that “air and water around us are becoming less and less polluted. Mankind’s lot has actually improved in terms of practically every measurable indicator.”

Members of the Danish Research Agency -- Denmark’s equivalent of the National Academy of Sciences -- said Lomborg had “clearly acted at variance with good scientific practice” in light of his “one-sidedness in the choice of data and line of argument.” The panel, responsible for investigating allegations of scientific dishonesty, said Lomborg lacked “any special scientific expertise” in dealing with “the extraordinarily wide-ranging scientific topics” in his book.

Lomborg’s British publisher, Cambridge University Press, said it would not comment on the panel’s finding. Sloane Federer, the publisher’s New York marketing director, said in an interview that “we went through all the usual processes (of reviewing the material) in order for it to be printed.” He added, “We have no reason to doubt the process.”