Destruction of smallpox

James Lyons-Weiler weiler at ERS.UNR.EDU
Thu Aug 1 10:49:07 CDT 1996

My vote is to keep smallpox around.  I for one would argue also to keep at
least a few thousand nuclear devices handy.  Weapons of destruction at one
scale may be simple, useful tools for the prevention of destruction at
another scale.  My position is that because we are not capable of
forecasting future events, the things we destroy today could turn out to
be highly useful and critically so in the future.

For smallpox, we can't be sure that some protein it encodes wouldn't serve
as an essential building block for a living cocktail cure for some nasty
plague.  Keeping its genetic material around cannot be accomplished
indefinitely; both DNA and RNA degrade (however slowly in the
superfreeze), any how could we be sure that we kept "enough"?  Random
evolution occurs during PCR, so keeping the original information intact
would be a difficult thing to do over thousands of human generations.

For nuclear devices, they provide an option for moving comets and
asteroids out of a collision course with the planet.  There are fewer than
two dozen astronomers scanning solar space for killer objects, and their
tools are not well fitted to the job.  Although we might retain the
knowledge of how to put such deplorable things together, would there be
time?  Who knows.



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