The Next Worse Thing

Is the federal government's expansion of biodefense research paving the way for the bioweapons of the future?

| March 18, 2004

In the aftershock of 9/11, the U.S government has entered a new arms race, redirecting up to $10 billion toward biodefense research. Officials have justified this biodefense push as a necessary evil in the shadow of what a CIA report has called the 'darker bioweapons future.' Presumably, our neighbors (read: potential terrorists) are in the same race, making staying ahead of the Joneses' a matter of national security.

But what are the overlooked implications of this 'modern-day Manhattan project'? By frantically pursuing research that could potentially change the face of biological science as we know it, are we blindly jackhammering at Pandora's box? A growing number of microbiologists, nonproliferation experts, and former government officials say . . . with poor oversight, government funded scientists could actually be paving the way for the next generation of killer germs -- and given the explosion of research, there is no way to keep track of what is being done.'

In October the National Academy of Sciences released a little-noticed report warning that 'the government has no mechanism to prevent 'the misuse of tools, technology, or knowledge base of this research enterprise for offensive military or terrorist purposes.'' As of yet, Congress has failed to act on the recommendations of this report -- in fact 'the administration is pushing to expand research programs even further.' 'When you have thrown a lot of money at it,' says Mark Buller, an American virologist currently working on a more deadly strain of mousepox, 'people start to think very hard about what is possible, losing sight of what is practical.'
-- Eliza Thomas

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