The Times Adds to Gulf War Syndrome Hysteria

January 01, 1999  ·  Michael Fumento  ·  The Washington Times  ·  Gulf

"Poison gas reported used on GIs in Gulf" (April 12) is typical of the news media’s mishandling of the important subject known as Gulf war syndrome. Why does Desert Fever, a self-published Czech book, merit 23 paragraphs in The Washington Times? It is apparently because, "The authors write that the Czech gas detectors were more sensitive than comparable U.S. gadgetry in Iraq. If true, that bolsters the argument that the Czechs could detect a poison gas attack when U.S. monitors couldn’t." Sorry. It’s not that simple. All detection tests, whether used to determine pregnancy or poison gas, involve a tradeoff between "sensitivity" and "specificity." The higher the specificity, the less likely it is to register a false positive reading but the more likely it is to miss a real positive. The higher the sensitivity, the more likely it is to detect a true positive but also to give a false positive reading. U.S. poison gas detectors already emphasize sensitivity over specificity because you would rather have troops don protective gear when they don’t need to than not don it when they should. Yet, the Czech equipment is that much more sensitive and that much less specific, meaning it’s considerably more likely to "detect" poison gas where there is none. Considering that no member of the Allied forces reported poison gas symptoms during the war, this strongly indicates the Czech positives were false. Meanwhile, in just the past few days, another respectable publication ran a story blaming Gulf war syndrome on anthrax vaccinations, while running another a few days earlier blaming it on exposure to depleted uranium. Neither these, nor poison gas, would explain all the wives and children of Gulf war vets who claim to be suffering the disease. The reason these fad causes of Gulf war syndrome come and go is that they are all wrong. Exhaustive testing of Gulf war vets find they and their offspring are as healthy or healthier than counterparts who were not deployed to the gulf. The only difference is Gulf war vets have a somewhat higher level of complaints commonly associated with psychosomatic illness, such as aching joints, and that the media have conditioned them to believe that their every ache, pain and sickness is from Gulf war syndrome. The Washington Times has now added to the hysteria. Michael Fumento
Senior Fellow
Hudson Institute