Economist on Bio-Terrorism

Well, just a slight ripple in the press, about the lack of preparedness for a bio-terror event, and the glacial pace that the authorities are preparing for such an event is contrasted with the near certainty among those leaders polled that a bio-terror attack is likely within the next 5 years. This is from the Economist, which IMHO has had consistently better reportage about Science and Health Issues. Perhaps their Art department and their Science and Technology staff have both been somewhat immune to the long, slow quality decline in the Economist I have noted over the last 6 or seven years or so?

Also, recall another Economist article “Chronicle of a Disease Foretold” from 1990 or so, another example of thoughtful reporting about the intersection of globalization and disease processes.


Can the line against bio-terror hold?
Dec 13th 2006

From The Economist print edition

Efforts to avert germ warfare succumb to low expectations

IMAGINE if the tiny amount of radioactive polonium-210 that killed a former Russian agent, Alexander Litvinenko, in London last month—contaminating his family and more than a dozen other people from London’s Mayfair district to Hamburg and Moscow—had instead been minute droplets of highly contagious smallpox virus, genetically engineered to neutralise vaccines. Does that sound too hard a trick for a would-be suicidal terrorist to pull off? In early 2001 a team of Australian-based scientists attempting to find a contraceptive vaccine for mice slipped a gene into the mousepox virus that inadvertently turned the normally mild strain deadly.


Yet a recent survey by Amy Smithson of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a think-tank in Washington, DC, found that over 80% of past and present senior American officials, congressmen and non-government experts interviewed thought a biological attack in the next five to ten years to be likely, very likely or else a dead cert.


Meanwhile, before the next review in 2011, annual meetings of experts will actually spend less time (one week, instead of two until now) discussing ways to improve lab safety and the security measures needed to govern dangerous pathogens, and on developing codes of conduct for those working in the biotech industry.

Well, thank heavens the safety of the American People is GWB’s first priority, otherwise, we’d be in real trouble, right?

Economist on Bio-Terrorism

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