The Next Worse Thing

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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The Next Worst Thing

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