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October 31, 2005

A Little Logical Fallacies Exercise in Today’s Globe [7:54 am]

Ah - still going to be a little sparse posting here until later in the week, but an opinion piece in today’s Boston Globe, Patent nonsense on avian flu [pdf], led me back to Steven Downes great Logical Fallacies page (not to mention a good scare for All Hallows Eve). Today’s example: the irrelevant conclusion (with lots of subsidiary elements, if you can get yourself to work that hard)

First, the elements of the argument:

While it makes sense to build government stockpiles of Tamiflu in preparation for a possible outbreak of H5N1, it is far from clear that breaking the patent would be helpful — indeed the opposite is more likely to be the case for several reasons.

First, the raw ingredients for Tamiflu come from a Chinese herb which is in short supply. Unless production of the herb is increased, it will be impossible to increase production of Tamiflu. In this case, breaking the patent would have no impact on availability of the drug.

Second, Tamiflu is difficult to manufacture. Since Roche has developed the manufacturing expertise, it seems sensible to encourage Roche to increase production and/or to help other companies produce the drug under a voluntary license. Breaking the patent through a compulsory license would actively discourage Roche from either producing the drug or lending its expertise, which would be directly counterproductive.

Third, given that scientists have only a vague idea of what a human strain of H5N1 might look like, there is no certainty that Tamiflu will be effective. Even if Tamiflu does work on some people, widespread use would inevitably result in the development of resistant strains. So, either way, alternatives are clearly needed.

So, therefore

[T]he most important role for government is to uphold private property rights and ensure that the rule of law applies — which means protecting rather than breaking patents. The alternative — the rule of the mob — would truly be devastating.

Hmmm — so (1) the dependency of Tamiflu production upon the need for a scarce Chinese herb, (2) an expectation that Roche will just take its football and go home in the face of a threat to its customers, and (3) the uncertainties we have about the genetic structure of the viral culprit in a flu pandemic prove that property rights (even those formally constructed by a government whose roles specifically include protecting the security and well-being of its citizens) are sacrosanct?

Whew - thanks for explaining the vital role that market-based paradigms have in framing every debate, not to mention defining the ethos that characterize their resolution — unless the Old Testament says something different, I guess……

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