The Washington Post reports that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are reversing a policy against the development of more lethal pathogens that could potentially result in global pandemics.
While Francis Collins assures us that only the best labs will be involved under the strictest attention to safety, she will not always be the director of the National Institutes of Health. If a President Trump appointed a know-nothing like Matthew Peterson with the approval of a Paul Ryan Congress, the chances of disaster would multiply.
Over the long term, a larger probability approaches inevitability. That’s not a political statement, either, but a simple acknowledgement of statistical reality.
“This is a way of regularizing a rigorous process that we really want to make sure we are doing right,” Collins tells the Post. A policy expert with the Nuclear Threat Initiative warns that the world needs to come together on rules about such research.
Still, [Beth] Cameron said, the United States now becomes what she believes may be the only nation in the world with such a plan, which highlights the need for international discussion of this issue.
She said she is concerned about the “increased ability to use tools in order to create viruses and bacteria that can evade counter-measures”
Even if the United States federal government succeeds at keeping incredibly lethal germs out of the wrong hands, nothing precludes other countries with less-stringent oversight from letting such a disaster loose, whether by accident or design. This is a problem that requires an international consultative and rules-making process — the sort of diplomacy that America cannot possibly accomplish during the Trump presidency. Nor is Trump the right president to regulate private biotech labs.
As long as we are governed by people who want to ban words “science-based” and question scientific understandings of the material world, it is not alarmist speculation to worry about the eventuality of an outbreak.
Who needs an actual “nuclear option” when a deadly virus is potentially much cheaper?
The end of the moratorium applies to research on the SARS, MERS and influenza viruses. The October 2014 pause was put in place after researchers in Wisconsin and the Netherlands sparked a debate by announcing in 2011 that they had made the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus more contagious in mammals.
Shortly before the ban, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged that lab personnel had been exposed to anthrax and that a lethal avian flu virus had been sent to a lab that had asked for a less deadly strain.
Remember, Donald Trump is personally inclined to anti-vaccination pseudoscience. Like almost all Republicans, he is dismissive of climate science. The evangelicals who love and adore Trump are actively opposed to any understanding of biology outside of their Bronze Age scriptures.
None of these people should inspire confidence in the future; many of them actively oppose letting the future happen at all.
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