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The Flag of the World

-G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

This here blog is a glimpse or two or three at the condition of the 'fortress of our family' through the eyes Timothy Goddard, a Christian writer with an unhealthy interest in politics living in the Puget Sound area.

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Monday, February 17, 2003


A pack, not a herd--of scientists
Eugene Volokh says that, whatever Reason's Hit and Run blog may say, if the editors of the world's leading scientific journals want to delete information from their publications that they think may help terrorists, they can go ahead and do that. How do they know what this is? According to Ronald Atlas, president of the American Society of Microbiology, "you'll know it when you see it." Volokh says
...it seems to me that while "you know it when you see it" is a lousy way to define a coercive legal rule -- one that's enforced through threat of criminal punishment, and especially one that restricts speech -- it's a necessary tool for any editor.

I'd go one step further and say that it seems like a downright good idea, and an example of Jim Henley's "a pack, not a herd" theory Glenn Reynolds likes so much. It doesn't sound like the National Academy of Sciences was coerced into this sort of thing, but recognized it as "doing their part" in the war on terror, and considering the fact that "one of the excised details demonstrated how a microbe could be modified so it could kill 1 million people instead of 10,000," it sounds like it was a very good part indeed. I continue to be impressed with micro and molecular biology as a science and as a remarkably professional and cohesive group... convenient that that's exactly what I'm studying...
The article found someone--French, conveniently enough--who isn't quite as gung-ho as I am.
"Someone working with virulence factors might make a more virulent microbe," said Karl Simpson, a French biotechnology consultant. "But working with those same virulence factors might go a long way toward saving some of the 50 million people who die of infectious diseases each year."

Well, Simpson knows very well that most of those 50 million people die because they don't have access to basic medical care and/or don't practice basic hygiene. We have the tools to cure or prevent just about all of those, the problem is getting them to people and getting people to use them. Citing that statistic is just silly--no new medical advances are going to decrease that number significantly (they may well stop it from increasing in the face of more and more resistant diseases, but that's another story.) And the fact is that scientists are sensible people, generally, and if information about increased virulence is going to help someone, there are more ways than just published journals to get that information to the people who can use it--for activities other than terrorism.
UPDATE: Here's a more viscious viewpoint on the subject. I still disagree. Biological science is a sensible discipline that will get things done without putting weapons in the hands of terrorists.
Agree, disagree, have more information on the topic? Please, feel free to leave a comment. No profanity!

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