What an interesting week! Ongoing salmonella cases, imported plague in Michigan, ISIS was found to be using chemical weapons, and a new prion disease was discovered. Pretty busy in the world of biodefense, I’d say. The Pandora Report is also fortunate to share with you a great piece by one of our graduate students, Greg Mercer, who tapped into Google Trends to look at ISIS nomenclature, and an upcoming book written by Dr. Brian Mazanec, regarding cyber warfare. So sit back and relax while we catch up on the week’s biodefense news.
US Confirmation of Islamic State Chemical Weapons
Sulfur mustard traces were found on fragments of ordnance used by the Islamic State, as well as on scraps of clothing from victims in Syria and Iraq. There have been several accounts by Kurdish officials that have claimed chemicals, like chlorine, were dispersed this summer, which is concerning for the ongoing use of these internationally banned substances. Testing done in the US was reported by officials on Friday, September 11, 2015, stating that, “there’s no doubt ISIS has used this,”. Officials have also said that the chemical residue recently found does not match known chemical ordinance that was used in the former Iraqi inventory. Overall, the use of chemical weapons is highly distressing and the method of acquisition, either manufacturing or from undeclared stocks, is under investigation.
Michigan Experiences Imported Plague Case
A Michigan woman is the second case of bubonic plague that was traced back to the Little Rainbow area of Colorado. The Michigan resident was visiting family in Salida, CO during a music festival in late August. While her exact exposure hasn’t been established, she became ill after returning home and was hospitalized shortly thereafter. Lucky for the diagnosticians, she displayed textbook plague symptoms, leading to CDC involvement and antimicrobial treatment. Fortunately, she was released from the hospital and is beginning the long road to recovery, although it’s probably the last time she’ll attend that particular music festival or go hiking around it….
The So-Called Islamic State 2
By Greg Mercer
In February, I wrote about a topic that had been puzzling me- the contentious nomenclature of the Islamic State, or ISIS, or ISIL, or Daesh. I decided to revisit this question now that the issue is a staple in the news, and that we’re probably saying it more frequently while thinking less about what we call it. So I fired up my good friend Google Trends again to take a look. Google is a decent measure of public interest in a subject. It’s the most popular search engine in the world, with 66.78% of search volume worldwide as of August 2015.
Last time, I found that ISIS was the most popular term by a fair amount. This seems to be true this time around too, which isn’t terribly surprising. Here’s what I got:
This time around, ISIS is still the most popular, but Google’s added a feature that tells us a little more. While I suspected that the terrorist organization was driving most of the searches for ISIS before, it’s true that ISIS is the only of the names that has other popular uses, notably an Egyptian goddess, a think tank, and of course a fictional intelligence organization. The new “topics” option in Google Trends lets us identify search volume for an entire subject. The dotted purple line indicates all searches for the organization, regardless of naming specifics. Since the searches for “ISIS” specifically and all of the searches for the organization are strongly correlated, it’s safe to say that mythology enthusiasts, nuclear scholars, and Archer fans aren’t skewing the trends.
It’s also still the case that search volumes for all of the names spike with major news events- no surprise there.
I also found the search trends by country interesting, here’s a look at the different terms and how they show up globally:
A couple of takeaways: Looking at the organization as a whole, the two most interested parties (by Google search) are Iraq and Iran. That’s not too surprising. Iran is also #1 for “Daesh”, which is used in both Arabic and Farsi and is considered more a disparaging name. In fact, the Iranian foreign minister told Iranian state media in January (fair warning, this links to Iran Daily) that he hates the term “Islamic State” and prefers “Daesh.” In my earlier article, I noted that other foreign policy practitioners share this sentiment, and prefer a name that doesn’t recognize the organization as a state or representative of Islam. This is also definitely the least popular name in mainstream American media. Ethiopia and Peru are the highest by volume for ISIS and ISIL, respectively, neither of which I would have expected offhand.
It’s interesting to see how these trends break down, and to look at a single massive political issue and international crisis with such a proliferation of terms. I think the name that finally sticks remains to be seen.
 This links to the search parameters I used for this article, so you can play around with the data.
 This site is really cool if you’re into this sort of thing- you can see what site users choose based on browser, operating system, and device type.
 Personally, I tried ISIL in the name of accurate translation, but I tended to use ISIS when being flippant, and then it ended up sticking.
 To get anecdotal, the only person I’ve heard use it is my buddy who does Arabic translation and Middle East studies for a living.
GMU’s very own, Dr. Brian Mazanec, delves into the world of cyber warfare and the reality of this threat. “Already, major cyber attacks have affected countries around the world: Estonia in 2007, Georgia in 2008, Iran in 2010, and most recently the United States. As with other methods of war, cyber technology can be used not only against military forces and facilities but also against civilian targets. Information technology has enabled a new method of warfare that is proving extremely difficult to combat, let alone defeat.” Available on November 1, 2015, we’re excited to share Brian’s phenomenal work!
Stories You May Have Missed:
- Flu vaccination rates went up a bit for the 2014/2015 season, however, the efficacy was only 18% due to an antigenic drift. Fortunately, vaccination compliance for healthcare workers increased and overall rates showed that women were more likely than men to get vaccinated.
- The Australian government will pass a new law, the “No Jab, No Pay Bill“, that will penalize parents who don’t vaccinate their children by withholding child care and other payments.
- An additional 77 cases of Salmonella Poona were reported since September 9, 2015, related to the multi-state cucumber outbreak. The total infected is now 418 people across 31 states, with 91 hospitalizations.
- A new prion disease has been identified by a team of scientists led by Stanley Prusiner. Their report outlines the discovery and the potentially infectious nature of this new prion.