Trenchant Lemmings
"Arrive in a clown car, bursting with anger."
YOUR HOST
Robert Weaver
PRESENT LOCATION
Sydney, Australia
OTHER STUFF
Old Weblog
LibraryThing
23hq Photos
ARCHIVES
NAVIGATION
Older Posts | Newer Posts
PREVIOUSLY
Defacing the Fly
Hoop's Eye View
Part of the Machine
The Numbers
Convergence
Lazy Links
Ronald Searle 1920-2011
The Mass of X
That Time of Year
Mr Newman Being Interesting As Usual
FEED
blogurl/feeds/posts/full
blogurl/atom.xml
ELSEWHERE
3 Quarks Daily
A Tiny Revolution
Alicublog
Bad Astronomy
Blogarach
Boing Boing
Caustic Cover Critic
Chase Me Ladies, I'm in the Cavalry
Counterpunch
The Early Days of a Better Nation
Ecstatic Days
Empire Burlesque
Exiled Online
The Failed Estate
FAIR Blog
Neil Gaiman
M. John Harrison
The Inferior 4 + 1
Inside Story
Jews Sans Frontieres
Laughing Squid
Lenin's Tomb
Limited Inc.
Antony Loewenstein
The Loom
LRB Blog
Nick Mamatas
Mind Hacks
Neurocritic
Neuroskeptic
Overland
Greg Palast
Riddled
Savage Minds
Mark Steel
Strange Maps
Michael Swanwick
Things Magazine
TomDispatch
Ben Tripp
Verso Blog
Peter Watts
Whatever It Is, I'm Against It
ELSEWHERE ARCHIVE
Bats Left, Throws Right
Deltoid
Drawn!
Eyeteeth
Fafblog!
Larvatus Prodeo
Lawrence of Cyberia
China Miéville
News from the Zona
Dennis Perrin
Pink Tentacle
Adam Roberts
Quotidian Hell
Matt Taibbi
Unspeak
 
The weblog description is a misquotation from Steve Aylett's Indicted to a Party: What to Do, Who to Blame.
 
The weblog title links to the "No Country Redirect" version, for whatever that might be worth.
January 26, 2012
Biosecurity

For the benefit of anyone who hasn’t been following, here’s the story so far: your garden-variety bird flu has always been a bug that combines a really nasty mortality rate (>50%) with fairly pathetic transmission, at least among us bipeds (it doesn’t spread person-to-person; human victims generally get it from contact with infected birds). But ... Ron Fouchier, Yoshihiro Kawaoka, and assorted colleagues set out to poke H5N1 with a stick and see what it might take to turn it into something really nasty.

The answer was: less than anybody suspected. A few tweaks ... turned poor old underachieving bird flu into an airborne superbug that killed 75% of the ferrets it infected. (Apparently ferrets are the go-to human analogues for this sort of thing. I did not know that.) By way of comparison, the Spanish Flu — which took out somewhere between 50-100 million people back in 1918 — had a mortality rate of maybe 3%.

When Fouchier and Kawaoka’s teams went to publish these findings, ... the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity ... strongly suggested that all how-to details be redacted prior to publication. ...[T]hose ... details, the board warned, “could enable replication of the experiments by those who would seek to do harm.”

...The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity has a diverse makeup, including representatives from the Departments of Commerce and Energy, Justice, the Interior — and oh, Defense and our old friends at Homeland Security. They’ve already read the details that they would deny to others, and you can be damn sure that none of them are volunteering to have their memories erased in the name of global security... And once the government starts deciding who gets to see what parts of this or that scientific paper, you have in effect (as one online commenter points out) “essentially a biological weapons program”...

Suppression might be a valid option if your enemies have about as much biological expertise as, say, Rick Santorum. That is not a gamble any sane person would make...

On the other hand, you have the very real likelihood of an accidental outbreak; of natural mutation to increased virulence; of the bad guys figuring out the appropriate tweaks independent of Kawaoka’s data. In which case you’ve got a few thousand epidemiologists who’ve been frozen out of the Culture Club, improvising by the seat of their pants as they go up against something that makes the Black Plague look like a case of acne.
Peter Watts at his blog.


Older Posts | Newer Posts