Destruction of smallpox

James Lyons-Weiler weiler at ERS.UNR.EDU
Thu Aug 1 19:10:17 CDT 1996

On Fri, 2 Aug 1996, Steve Tracey wrote:

> Nuclear devices have always been useful for those who need such things.  If
> you could eliminate them (difficult) they would probably just be rebuilt
> again anyway.

But the question is, In time to avert a mass extinction?

> Smallpox has never been of use, as such, and is highly dangerous.  The
> nightmare scenario of a group of scientists extracting bits from a smallpox
> virus to build some sort of living cocktail is what first gave genetic
> research a bad name.

This is where ends do indeed justify means.  If the cocktail prevented
wanton loss of human life, saving the beasty would have been justified.
It is my position that we, in our infinite ignorance, shouldn't pretend to
be so arrogant as to be able to be certain that destroying biodiversity
won't come back to haunt us.  What is true of the potential of one genome
is true of another.

Of course, there are risks when dangerous things are about (weapons, etc).
Modern science is still quite young on the timescale of technological
development; one would hope that wisdom would come with age.  We should
face the risks we can control now to better mitigate those risks in the
future that we know nothing about and might better handle with our nuclear
and biological toolboxes.

I generally find the global fight against entropy is better fought by
reducing, not increasing, destruction.  James


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