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Henry Niman: Prophet of Doom for the Internet

[Editor's Note: I'm grateful that Dr Martin Williams had taken the time in 2005 to carefully examine Dr. Henry Niman's outrageous, alarmist, and reckless statements, and properly identified Niman's propensity to grossly exaggerate and cry 'wolf'. This is exactly the impression that Niman created for me with his ridiculous Swine Flu "pandemic" fear-mongering radio interviews with Jeff Rense and his endless stream of "pandemic" articles posted in 2009 (which he CONTINUES to trumpet to this very day). Henry Niman is no scientist. He's an arrogant and shameless propagandist for his pals in Big Parma and the entire internet world needs to know that...Ken Adachi]

By Dr. Martin Williams
August 30, 2005

Henry Niman: Prophet of Doom for the Internet by Dr. Martin Williams (Aug. 30, 2005)

Perhaps since before recorded history began, we've been fascinated by people who tell us we're all doomed - the end of the world is nigh. Especially, perhaps, those who appear to have special insights the rest of us aren't blessed with, such as visions, abilities to supposedly see into the future.

Now, in an age that's dominated by technologies many of us can use but few of us understand (operating VCRs can seem complex to many people, let alone understanding what makes a computer work), it seems the time has come for a new Prophet of Doom, one for the Internet Era. And that Prophet is one

Henry Niman

Armed with a Harvard Medical School (where he was an assistant surgery instructor, not a professor as he perhaps likes people to believe) background, and a vocabulary rich in jargon that clearly sets him apart from the rest of us ordinary mortals - "cleavage sites", "sequences deposited in GenBank", "a simple BLAST search"

- Niman pours forth a veritable stream-of-consciousness series of commentaries, taking news tidbits from here and there and concocting some truths, and a generous helping of pure baloney, many dollops of which concern his belief that wild birds are spreading h5n1.

Not for Niman the caution of scientists who publish in learned, peer-reviewed journals, and take care with their conclusions, couching them in dull terms that might often make even fellow scientists yawn; no, instead Niman loves to speculate, to leap and jump to conclusions, and to pepper them with both jargon, and colourful terms of phrase that make them irresistible to bloggers, and a goodly number of journalists. - "viruses don't read press releases" being among Niman's ready made soundbites.

Nor is Niman prone to understatement on his company website. A former surgery instructor at Harvard Medical School (or associated place called Shriners?), he founded Recombinomics, which espouses an exciting new theory of evolution, based on an astonishing set of rules:

These rules allow vaccines to be prepared before viruses emerge. These observations will produce a paradigm shift in the study of molecular evolution via recombination, which will provide solutions for unmet health needs

Fine goals indeed. Yet a review of his recombinomics (!) website suggests that, alas, Niman has too little time for actual research or publication in scientific journals, as he pours out his commentaries, and manages a host of interviews with the media.

And not content with commentaries on his own site, Niman also visits forums and weblogs, posting prodigiously, including on the supposedly "thoughtful" The Agonist - where once thoughtful info on diseases was all but suffocated by Niman and a small band who might be Nimanists (but don't worry, he and his band have found other places for their nonsense).

Nor is this the first time Niman has prodigiously posted; a search for Henry Niman on Google Groups reveals he was also hyperactive in touting biotech stocks in the late 1990s. Here, too, it seems he ruffled a good few feathers.

Why Henry Niman peddling biotech all the time? began one thread.

Another thread was headed CHTL Science: an open letter to Henry N, with a poster remarking,


In my opinion, a good scientist does not have that much time on promoting stocks in the internet and other on-line services.

Hmm, maybe parallels to the time our dear scientist and doyenne of the web has to spend posting on the net re H5N1 (and SARS before this), when he could be creating vaccines.

Ligand (LGND) - ONTAK Approval Rec started with a post by Niman on this approval for Ligand, a company he was involved with and was very actively promoting - but, alas, he was unable to answer follow-up queries on why the stocks "really fell off a cliff ... after the approval."

[See attached image for performance of Ligand stocks; yet more failed predictions by Niman.]

Scan through these and other posts, and you find that when questioned, Niman answers questions with questions, or with dense verbiage. A habit he retains today. He may write of shock and awe, but Niman instead just manages Bluff and Bluster, Bluff and Bluster, ad infinitum.

But while Niman may not be a regular scientist, noone can really accuse him of not being entertaining. From his Recombinomics computer, Niman has spread far and wide across the Internet a veritable pandemic of commentaries and forum posts with conclusions and predictions that make even the script writers for The X-Files seem unimaginative. (Indeed, if you pine for the days when we could look forward to fresh X-Files series, Recombinomics is a fine place to look.)

Here are some examples:

Bioweapons, and the pigs sent to bioterrorise America :ohmy: In pure, free flowing Nimanism, the doc wrote a commentary titled Tracing WSN/33 Human Bird Flu Squences in Swine in Korea, speculating that the sequences originated from a bioweapons programme.

Laurie Garrett - a US journalist specialising in diseases, whose web site entry page notes has won three major prizes including Pullitzer - was so impressed by this that she wrote in Scary Near-Miss Shows Bioterrorism Vulnerabilities:

Since neither the particular bird flu strain nor the WSN/33 flu were known to exist outside of laboratories, one Internet journal concluded that “these sequences could represent a military experiment that resulted in an unplanned release. Moreover, at this point, bioterrorism cannot be ruled out.”

Ah, the perils of citing from an "internet journal" for such a major matter; could no expert virologists have mentioned to Ms Garrett that WSN33 is nasty for mice, not people. Or are the Koreans really about to wage war on the world's mice? :blush:

At least Ms Garrett was not drawn by another Niman commentary, Human WSN/33 Bioterror Attack on United States Sw - in which our Dear Speculator even suggested pigs imported to the US in 2001 were a bioterror attack.

Science Magazine, however, published an article titled "Experts dismiss pig flu scare as nonsense". This noted that Niman's idea garnered much attention on the Internet and in media, irking Klaus Stöhr, WHO's global influenza coordinator, "who points out that Niman has not published in the scientific literature since 1996 and is not a flu expert."

Ebola and H5N1 infecting Chinese pig farmers :sick:
For Niman, there was no time to linger on the bioweapons story, and discovering it was untrue. Instead, he was compelled to go on in his quest for spectacular conclusions, and soon turned up trumps, thanks to a "machine translation" of a news item on a Chinese language site that not everyone considers sound.

This concerned deaths of farm workers (working with pigs) in Sichuan, and suggested Ebola was involved. To Niman, this looked real dangerous:

Dual infectiosn are a major concern and having Ebola and H5N1 in te same area and possibly the same hosts is cause for concern.
But the Chinese authorities were saying the deaths and illnesses were due to a bacteria, not a virus. Some were taken in, but not Niman:

China is running the ABBT diagnosis [re bacteria] to try to get reporters to bite. Some. like the NY Times, appear to have swallowed the bait, hook, line, and sinker.

Sichuan Pig = Biochemical Test?

Others have since swallowed the bait, so much so that the bacteria story looks widely accepted, and there's no reported evidence I know of that h5n1 has hit Sichuan this summer, let alone that Ebola has been anywhere near China. Singapore's Straits Times ran a large feature on the Ebola/H5N1 shenanigans.

Though it's not freely available on the paper's website, at least one blogger has kindly reproduced the article, titled China Bug – Is It Ebola-like Bird Flu?, so we can all read and tremble. Curiously, though, I'm not aware of a recent follow up by this enterprising paper. :S

Phase 6 of the Bird Flu Pandemic is Underway
(The Niman who cried Wolf) In the Information About Influenza Pandemics page by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6 stages (or phases) of a pandemic are listed. Phase 6 is the last of these: "Pandemic: increased and sustained transmission in general population."

Even as acknowledged flu experts monitor the situation, including by actually visiting countries affected by H5N1, Niman has charted the progress to Stage 6 from his base in the US. And, again apparently without leaving his office, taking any samples, he has been ever alert for the start of Phase 6 - and quick to bring us notice, this spring, that it has already begun.

As early as January this year, Niman was close to announcing Phase 6 had started: Efficient Human to Human Transmission of Bird Flu in The Philippines? (not so; even by 6 months later, H5N1 had not been found in the Philippines: CIDRAP).

Then, in early February, Niman wrote of Efficient Human to Human Transmission of H5N1 in SE Asia. In this commentary, he said a comment in the New England Journal of Medicine that the authors had identified the first case of human to human transmission of H5N1 was not true: the mighty Niman, former surgical instructor and non flu expert who has not published since 1996 [tho his commentary did not note this] had correctly analysed the data, and identified 11 such cases.

And the peer-reviewed medical literature surely still awaits the benefit of his correct analyses, even though they have spread far and wide across the Internet.

On 6 April, writing of Thai Binh Haiphong and Quang Ninh H5N1 Clusters, Niman concluded "The flu pandemic of 2005 has clearly begun." - This helped prompt a thread on the Agonist (the Nimanist?), starting in July with posters wondering when the world's media would take notice of H5N1 in humans; the concensus was during August; one forecast the US would be knee-deep in bodies by mid-October. (See separate thread in this forum, on Chicken Little Flu)

This was, however, no instant pandemic; Niman had to wait a little before spotting more evidence it was underway. By 26 May, Niman suggested there was the Final Phase 6 Bird Flu Pandemic in Qinghai China? A month later, results from Vietnam set Niman's alarm bells ringing once again: Western Blot Signals Phase 6 Bird Flu Pandemic in Vietnam ("So now there are hundreds of H5N1 positives in patients in Vietnam, but more tests are required, but Vietnam lacks the testing facilities. There is so much H5N1 outside the lab that H5N1 cannot be grown inside the lab.") [Note that WHO teams that, unlike Niman, actually went to Vietnam to investigate found there was no pandemic underway.]

Worse was to come. On 22 July, Niman cited a translation of an apparent online exchange between two students in Qinghai, and suggested Raging Stage 6 Bird Flu Pandemic in China? :ohmy: :ohmy: :lol: :lol:

It's 1918 flu all over again
Much is being made over whether a flu pandemic like the "Spanish Flu" of 1918-1919 is possible. Niman is in no doubt. "The above comments combined with the recent cases in Vietnam that did not initially present with respiratory symptoms, clearly indicate that history is repeating itself."

Bird flu, bird flu everywhere Niman is ever on the lookout for potential bird flu cases around the world. As noted above, he figured H5N1 was behind illnesses in the Philippines (not so). When pig farmers fell ill, several dying, in Sichuan, he was concerned Ebola and H5N1 were mixing (it was a bacteria causing the disease). Even when far-off Angola had an Ebola like illness, Niman was ready to ask [url=]Is Ebola-like Illness in Angola Really Bird Flu? [/url] - suggesing testing for H5N1 is necessary. - on Agonist forums,

Niman is prone to write, when experts say bird flu likely is not present, ABBF - Anything But Bird Flu. But of course he is, since for Niman, EIBF - Everything is Bird Flu. (Lately, Agonist disease forums having problems; maybe overwhelmed by posts from Niman and followers.) 

Niman wrongly obsessed with wild birds and h5n1

Not only does Niman like to cry "Pandemic!" every few weeks - stirring those delicious rushes of anticipations among his followers [a worldwide disaster is about to happen, and we are the first to know, all Hail to the Niman] - but lately he has become oddly obsessed with propounding his notion wild birds are now spreading H5N1.

And this despite him knowing far, far, far, far less about wild birds than I know about viruses. (Great Shearwater could carry h5n1 worldwide; birds breeding in west Siberia migrate to North America, then down to South America, for goodness sake!!) And despite wild birds being blamed but shown innocent for spreading H5N1 in east/southeast Asia during 2003/04 (see my Dead Ducks Don't Fly article - link on left); also despite scientists who look closely at the issue, even after the Russia outbreaks, and concluding there is no solid evidence wild birds are the vectors. Instead, it again appears that legal and illegal trade within the poultry industry (and fighting cocks - Kazakhstan reportedly has cock-fighting - fighting cocks have been blamed for some h5n1 poultry flu spread in Thailand) are the real vectors, with wild birds again becoming victims.

Niman's view is not merely some quirky curiosity, like some chap roaming the streets wearing a sandwich board proclaiming "The End of the World is Nigh". But, if widely and wrongly accepted, it can be dangerous. Dangerous to wild birds - for culls just might be possible (Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin threatened a cull when openbill storks caught H5N1 and died [he didn't cull, only a handful of storks were infected, and died]; the Philippines has a plan for culling all wild birds across a fairly large area should a proportion be found to have bird flu). Further, making governments edgy about and people scared of wild birds can have economic consequences, such as for bird reserves. Hong Kong's Mai Po Marshes reserve was closed by the Hong Kong government for a month during a bird flu scare in spring 2004; no bird flu was found there, nor were any wild birds found sick, but WWF Hong Kong suffered a severe economic loss. Suppose the Niman-inspired scare continues into late autumn, winter in Europe - even if reserves aren't closed, a major drop in visitors and revenue seems possible. Already, we have Dutch farmers in surely expensive measures to guard against h5n1 infections by wild birds. Not only may this be unnecessary; might also deflect attention from the real vector - trade (including illegal; and from areas hit by poultry, surely can buy at real low prices; chickens, going cheep).

As news of bird deaths at Qinghai Lake, northwest China, first emerged in early May, Niman was quick to figure H5N1 was to blame (he was right this time; but if you figure Everything is Bird Flu for mysterious deaths, ou might be right sometimes). Yet for some quirky reason, Niman wrote, with no apparent support, "Migrating birds transport new H5N1 sequences each season." He waffled about geese in southeast China that may have died of H5N1. Bird Flu Killing Geese in Qinghai Province in China?. By 21 May, when H5N1 was confirmed in dead birds at Qinghai, Niman speculated H5N1 in Qinghai China Imported from India? - based on Bar-headed Geese, the species reported dead, migrating to Qinghai from northern India, and arriving May and June (almost correct, tho seems a bit late). Though H5N1 had not been reported in India, nor had there been unusual deaths of poultry or wild birds there, Niman figured India was the source of the H5N1 (based on three poultry flu workers reportedly testing positive for H5N1 in 2002). [A paper in Nature later appeared, revealing that the H5N1 at Qinghai was like a strain actually found in southeast China this spring.)

This commentary closed with pure Nimanism: "Clearly the WHO is not taking the 2005 H5N1 pandemic seriously. They are simply putting out fires in the most obvious areas and making plans to bury the bodies.":woohoo: Three days later, as news of more bird deaths at Qinghai emerged, Niman wrote "Frequently, H5N1 infections in ducks and geese are asymtomatic, so infected birds can transmit H5N1 throughout the two flyways, which cover virtually all of Asia." Here, he seemed oblivious to the massive contradiction: if there are so many asymptomatic infections, how is it that so many birds were dying at Qinghai? [The asymptomatic cases were farm ducks in Vietnam]. this allowed a Nimanistic leap to comment on Qinghai Nature Reserve - Overlapping Bird Flu Flyways - and even to intimate some human deaths in Sri Lanka were due to H5N1. 17 July saw Niman again peering into his crystal ball, where H5N1 genes were a-swirling, and he foresaw "a catastrophic pandemic will expand, as birds migrate away from Qinghi Lake and summer nesting sites and return to Europe, India, and southeast Asia to spread a variety of new and old H5N1 strains capable of causing lethal infections in humans and a variety of other species." Top that, Nostradamus!! :evil: No matter, apparently, that birds nesting at Qinghai Lake don't winter in Europe; nor [that I know of] in Southeast Asia - South Asia is their key winter site, plus sw China. Nor did Niman really seem troubled by the fact there has been no known case of wild bird to human transmission of H5N1. Add to which, the fact the birds known to have H5N1 at Qinghai were, err, dead. On 28 July, as he pontificated about Rapid Evolution in Qinghai Lake Migratory Bird Flu H5N1, Niman forecast that the "recombinants" [new virus variants] "will soon arrive in areas to the east, south, and west, of the summer location." This fit a 22 July post Niman made to the disease forum, after he saw post noting re snow in Qinghai area:

If it is snowing at Qinghai Lake, migration south may begin early (like now)

A couple of days later, as there were reports of illnesses and deaths in pig farmers in Sichuan, China, Niman was quick to figure H5N1 could be responsible (he later was concerned Ebola was mixing with H5N1 - but to most other people, the problem was actually bacteria). In Fatalities in Sichuan Linked to H5N1 Bird Flu Migration? Niman pontificated:

As birds at Qingahi Lake and nature reserves in Russia begin to migrate to the south, west, and east, there is concern that such a migration might lead to a catastrophic spread of H5N1. Human deaths in the adjacent province of Sichuan may indicate that such spread has already begun.

So, what happened after Niman's predictions? What happened was: there were outbreaks to the north of Qinghai, ie not to the south, nor (strictly) to any of the directions Niman forecast. And, to the world's satisfaction, the Sichuan disease was shown to be not bird flu, but a bacterium, Streptococcus sui. Anyway, Niman isn't one to worry about his predictions turning out completely wrong. He noticed there was Confirmed H5 Bird Flu in Novosibirsk Russia, Here, he made Nimanist leaps of logic, via H5N1 outbreaks in northern Xinjiang, to say "Most of the reported migratory bird deaths at Qinghai lake were also geese, so the deaths of 200 geese in Russia strongly suggest a relationship and further spread of H5N1 by migratory birds." Without explanation, this is a very curious statement - and Niman did not later note that (as was the case) most birds reportedly dying from H5N1 in Russia were chickens, which by Nimanist logic should sugget the virus was spread by, err, chickens.

On 11 August, as outbreaks spread in Russia, in, Niman cited the very hazy notion that "The sequence of H5N1 in the Novosibirsk is said to be similar to H5N1 in Vietnam, but somewhat different. That description matches the sequences fro H5N1 isolated at Qinghai Lake." This, of course, is for real scientists a long way from confirming the Nobosibirsk virus came from Qinghai; but in Nimanism, it's sufficient. Also very bizarre here: "Since many birds that nest or rest at Qinghai Lake go on to summer at Chany Lake." Err, no - no birds at all that nest at Qinghai will go on to summer at Chany Lake. They breed during summer; and after that, in autumn, they fly south. Simple really.

On 18 August, commenting re [url= ]H5N1 Wild Bird Flu Confirmed in Erkhel Lake Mongolia[/url], Niman for some reason announced:

The ability to cause fatal infections is dependent on several conditions, including the level of H5N1 in feces and dilution factors. In nature reserves with large lakes, the feces are diluted by the volume of water. However, in smaller lakes and ponds near farms, the concentration of virus is higher.

- which seems utterly at variance with the massive die-off reported at (huge) Qinghai Lake.

Migratory birds are clearly spreading the H5N1 wild bird flu.

announced Niman, without - as ever - giving any info on just which migratory birds he meant, or why he arrived at such a conclusion. (What species' migration route and timing fits the reported outbreaks? Niman leaves us guessing, as he hasn't a clue himself.) Niman has developed great fondness for what he calls his H5N1 wild bird flu map.

Quite why he calls it "wild bird flu" is unclear, since it covers outbreaks of H5N1 variant that originated from poultry farms - so is very obviously H5N1 Poultry Farm Flu. Looking at it, we are supposed to se e the map shows that H5N1 spread from Qinghai to Russia and nearby is by wild birds - yet Niman makes a glaring omission: no wild bird migration routes and timings appear. But of course they don't; for no wild bird migration routes and migration timings fit Niman's map. Niman's map is, instead, like an ink blot test, or one of those pieces of toast with the Virgin Mary's face on that are auctioned on eBay: without being told what it means in advance, you really wouldn't know. (Try looking at the map, with me telling you it means an outbreak following introcuction from poultry farms in Qinghai, then transport to areas north of China, and further transport. Any problems fitting such a story to the map? No, of course not, for the map proves nothing, except showing H5N1 has been spreading.)

Although Niman has long propounded his story of wild birds spreading H5N1, despite evidence to the contrary, his massive ignorance of wild birds seems to have only increased - so much so that on 9 September he wrote in More H5N1 Wild Bird Flu Confirmation in Tomsk Region In Russia:

Northern Siberia birds migrate to North America from the east and the west. Birds in the west migrate across Greenland into northeast Canada, while those in the east migrate across the Bering Straight into Alaska. Birds from both areas then migrate south into Canada, the United States, and points south, including South America.

(Come, come Henry - calm down after all these commentaries, and tell us just which species has individuals that migrate from west Siberia to north America and then to South America? Come on, some specifics for a change please. Further,tell us about some species that migrate from east Siberia to the Americas - which are they? Rather more likely; but few n far between that I know of). 

Fri, 09/02/2005 - 17:38
Re:Henry Niman: prophet of doom for the Internet

Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

Forwarned is forarmed.


Re:Henry Niman: prophet of doom for the Internet

Niman today switched the site where he posts full text articles (which he calls "Media Resources" at the end of his Recombinomics commentaries). Instead of posting the full text article he wants to comment on, at his site ... he posts it at another site, then posts a link back to his commentary (to generate more web hits and Google counts). He used to use Agonist bulletin board for this, then went to Current Events, ... now he is doing it at Silicon Investors (their SARS and Avian Flu message board) They know him from before, at Silicon Investors, and his recent burst of activity there has generated some interesting conversations, for example:

You remain a moron posting nonsense. The posts on the H5N1 threat were not directed to you and your comment on fear mongering remains among the dumbest I have seen by scientists or pseudo-scientists.

Nobody's got their head in the sand. There's a difference between responsible reporting and being an alarmist with profit motive.

A flu pandemic is an easy call. However, there is the matter of the Niman "broken clock", which you fail to acknowledge. You're a frigging joke, Henry. I do appreciate being kept abreast of flu news, however.

A flu pandemic is coming, just as they've come in the past. Sit here and fear-monger, year after year, until it happens.

You've made many silly calls in this thread, while making demeaning comments about good CDC (and other) scientists who are in positions of responsibility. If there is a single scientist on Earth who would be glad to count you among their colleagues, I'd be amazed.

There is a difference between pointing out that you're a fear mongering jerk and saying that bird flu is not a threat. I've never come remotely close to saying the latter. Shucks, there goes that "agenda".

The entire world looks at an outbreak of a mild, limited infectious disease in Vancouver and holds breath. You're out there yelling River City. CDC experts and others say that there's nothing to worry about, and you label them morons. And it has gone on and on.


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All information posted on this web site is the opinion of the author and is provided for educational purposes only. It is not to be construed as medical advice. Only a licensed medical doctor can legally offer medical advice in the United States. Consult the healer of your choice for medical care and advice.