I love a good thriller. I write them myself, filled with colorful bad guys with evil plots to conquer the world. But the new Dan Brown book, Inferno, caught my attention on several levels -- his understanding of a current global threat, and his misrepresentation of an organization that has been active in trying to prevent it.
Now, Dan can spin a good story. Without giving anything away, his evil mastermind is intent on unleashing a viral plague on the world for the purpose of population control. In Dan Brown's plot, this man is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
The journalist in me objected strongly to that scenario. I feel that plotline does a singular disservice to an organization that has been in the forefront of looking for policy solutions to global pandemic.
A few years ago I personally attended a two-day symposium sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations to deal with the threat of avian flu. As a member of the organization, I moderated a panel of experts who described in no uncertain terms a situation that would make Dan Brown's scenario look like a fairy tale.
During that symposium, medical experts, policy leaders and concerned members of the Council spent hours discussing the prospect of a SARS of influenza "superbug," and how global governmental and health policy should reflect this new reality. These diseases are a real and present danger.
Yesterday the head of the World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chan stated that it is virtually impossible to predict the outcome of the current H7N9 avian flu outbreak in China. Dr. Chan said "the source of the human infection with the virus is not yet fully understood."
In addition, she stated that the SARS type coronavirus, rediscovered in the Middle East last year, has climbed to 41 cases with 20 fatalities.
My point is this: for many years I covered Avian Flu outbreaks in my work as a reporter for CNN. I am very aware of the dangers of global pandemic. I see a service in bringing information about this subject to the thriller-reading public. We can learn about new discoveries and science in our thriller plots. After all, Michael Crichton's treatment of DNA in Jurassic Park brought better understanding of that scientific breakthrough to the general public. I even had the 1918 pandemic as a subplot in my first book The Explorer's Code. But in this case of Dan Brown's scenario, why pin a global pandemic on a legitimate organization? Reality is scary enough.Dr. Chan said yesterday:
These two new diseases remind us that the threat from emerging and epidemic-prone diseases is ever present. Constant mutation and adaptation are the survival mechanism of the microbial world.
That is the fear that keeps me up at night. Why should Dan Brown embellish it a way that besmirches an organization that has tried to be part of the solution.
Now I realize that Inferno is only a novel. And plenty of people spend too much time complaining about Dan Brown. I don't. I applaud his success as an author, and enjoy his books. I think he is a very talented man. But as a journalist and fellow author, I would love to see credit given to the Council on Foreign Relations for trying to be part of the solution.