San Francisco 2002 IRE Annual Conference: Don't Ignore Local Angle to Bioterrorism Stories

Article excerpt

Could your local hospital be a bioterrorism threat? That question may not be as farfetched as it seems, according to a panelist at the recent IRE Annual Conference.

David Perlman, science editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, said the theft of radiological equipment from hospitals is a more likely scenario than a terrorist stealing a nuclear bomb. And, he said, local reporters would do well to check out the precautions local authorities have in place to prevent such pilfering. "These would make very good stories," Perlman said.

Joining Perlman on the public health panel were Newsday medical and science writer Laurie Garrett, the author of two books on global health issues, and Stephen Engelberg, managing editor for enterprise at The (Portland) Oregonian. Formerly investigations editor at The New York Times, Engelberg co-authored "Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War."

Like Perlman, Garrett suggested a way to localize a national public health issue.

She said that Congress - in the wake of last year's anthrax attacks - is appropriating billions of dollars for bioterrorism research and prevention. Reporters should track that money as it filters down to researchers around the country, she said. Journalists should also keep tabs on the government agencies that are supposed to oversee these funds, she said.

"Is there anybody competent in that bureaucracy [to determine] if the scientists are doing something of value? …