The recent chat about the widespread generation and circulation of false news reminded me of the early days of ProMED when we were constantly on the watch for misinformation and disinformation. Our worry was not theoretical; I can remember an unmoderated BSE site that was rife with egos, anger, and scorn. A major corrective was that ProMED was moderated: incoming information did not go out unscreened, a process that calmed down what was said. We were very fortunate to have Jack Woodall (may he rest in peace) and Steve Morse as stabilizing factors and we developed specialist teams based around the world for expert advice on specific diseases; for example, I built a team of ten rabies authorities who would quickly answer questions and provide true insights.
It is interesting how informative identified disinformation can be as the false information points to the real objectives of the disinformants. As I would tell my grad students, liars can sometimes indirectly tell you facts unknown to the truly informed. To the surprise of the other ProMED moderators, over the years I've had several enthusiastic ill-informed sources, whom I never discouraged. Like a blind sow that sometimes find acorns, they, too, would occasionally stumble onto something valid missed by others. Also interesting is how accurate the less informed can be in describing what they have seen. When I was working at Weybridge on congenital abnormalities, we found that the farmer's wife was frequently more dependable on what had happened to her new born calf than the local veterinarian, who would confuse anencephaly and microencephaly, still possible before Zika, remembering the terms but not the definitions.
Moderation and a commitment to careful, unbiased vetting and analysis are still ProMED hallmarks. We now have a large team of expert moderators providing infectious disease surveillance worldwide from a One Health perspective. When I joined ProMED, I was the single veterinary moderator, now we have twelve. Key components of ProMED's global staff of 59 are teams dedicated to covering Latin America, the former Soviet Union, Africa, the Middle East, and southern Asia. This growth and expansion has made for better accuracy and reliability, but it also makes running ProMED much more expensive.
ProMED-mail serves a vital role by providing infectious disease practitioners worldwide with news and analysis. To keep you up to date on topics you need and want to know about, ProMED maintains an international staff of experts available 24 hours a day, seven days a week putting the news in context
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As a moderator, I enjoy constructing, when appropriate, an 'Inspector Poirot' explanation - remember how at the end of every investigation he would explain to all the gathered participants what had really happened? - starting from the limited facts revealed in an event, adding my knowledge of the disease, usually anthrax, and applying common sense. I remember an outbreak I moderated on the southern border of Tajikistan in some imported cattle in a Tajik market. I proposed that there would be secondary cases in two named towns to the east and west. My CIA contact asked how in heck did I know as it took them 8 days to confirm that those secondary cases in market cattle had occurred? It was obvious it was going to happen as the nearest markets were in those towns and all were on the same highway. My source of information? An atlas.
ProMED is blessed to have a global community of observant and informed members who have their eyes on the ground. When moderators make a mistake, or miss something, ProMED-mail readers are quick to correct our errors, even if it is just a matter of balance. What makes ProMED so valuable? The context, perspective, and analysis mentioned above and the fact that they are built on the information, knowledge, and common sense of the diverse, worldwide community that is ProMED.
ProMED-mail Animal Disease Assistant Moderator
Professor Emeritus, Department of Environmental Sciences, School of the Coast & Environment, and
Professor Emeritus, Department of Pathobiological Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine,
Louisiana State University
P.S. Please remember that ProMED membership is a partnership. We moderators, on our own or helped by our Correspondents, will find what is in the news or scientific press. But we don't know what unexpected event is happening in your backyard. You will see it first!
But ProMED won't be able to report it unless you recognize the value of ProMED to yourself and the infectious disease community. Your support is what keeps ProMED going.
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