Bebergian Scenario

Russell Turpin
Tue, 18 Mar 2003 19:07:47 +0000

Eugen Leitl:
>Actually it would take several, simultaneously stealthily released strains 
>of engineered pathogens with 1) high infectivity (rhinoviruses) 2) long 
>symptomless latency (HIV) and 3) high mortality to achieve GDeath range.

That misses an important requirement to be a true
weapon: (4) treatment, remedy, or vaccine for the
side that deploys it.

Killing off a random fraction of the world's
population is not, in itself, a potent military
tactic. A quarter of the enemy is dead? So what?
So is a quarter of your own population. That's
why highly infectious diseases have not been
weaponized. Weaponized anthrax, for example,
produces a respiratory infection directly from
the released particles. That infection is not
so infectious person to person, and does not
then go on to produce an epidemic. (If it did,
everyone in Texas would be dead, since some of
the weaponized strains are native here. Or
would you prefer a deadly virus vectored by
mosquito? We have at least three.)

That, really, is the thing about most existing
infectious organisms: they're already out there.
The evil terrorist can breed a more virulent
strain, or deliver it to where it hasn't been
for a while. But unless there is a qualitative
change in the nature of the pathogen, it will
resume its native pattern, occupying the niches
to which it has adapted. Until biologists get to
the point where they create truly new kinds of
pathogen, that tends to limit the risk from
bioweaponry. We are suriving the worst that
evolution can throw against us! Three cheers for
humanity and our immune system.

The exception is smallpox, which we have
eliminated in the wild. I have no doubt that
tens or hundreds of millions of people would die
if a smallpox epidemic were started. And that IS
within the bounds of current technology, even
without preserved samples. But where would be
the benefit to a bin Laden from doing this? The
third world would suffer the brunt of the epidemic.
Even if the plague is started in New York, Chicago,
and San Francisco, it would rapidly spread. The
western world, which is richer, better nourished,
and has more rapid medical response, would not
suffer nearly as much as Africa, South Asia, and
the Middle East.

Now yeah, I know: madmen aren't rational. Manmen
who think they know the mind of God might believe
He intends them to start a worldwide plague. It's
not the believer who prays you have to watch, but
the one who listens to the response. But that
kind of doomsday scenario is more Bebergian than
it is a plausible result of the coming war.

Tired of spam? Get advanced junk mail protection with MSN 8.