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SCOTT JAGOW: Many economists say markets are perhaps the best tool for predicting the future. With that in mind, a new health prediction market starts up today. It's called the bird flu market. From the Health Desk at WGBH, Helen Palmer report.

HELEN PALMER: The University of Iowa already runs a seasonal flu market. If doctors think there'll be more cases in a couple of weeks they'll buy flu futures. If not, they'll sell.

They use educational grants and journal subscriptions as "cash."

PHILIP POLGREEN: We can actually predict the start, the peak and the end of the season.

Philip Polgreen of America's Infectious Disease Society.

For the bird flu market, Polgreen will sign up members of ProMED, a global Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases. They'll buy futures in, for example, when avian flu will arrive in the Americas.

Polgreen makes no apology for "gambling" on the potentially deadly pandemic flu. He says this experiment will bolster current surveillance efforts.

POLGREEN: The social good that we're trying to create is to improve information in public health.

He thinks scientists in the developing world will be happy to bet on their knowledge — and benefit — even if just with medical journal subscriptions.

In Boston, I'm Helen Palmer for Marketplace.