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Medicine Science

Why Are the World's Scientists Continuing To Take Chances With Smallpox? 190

Posted by Soulskill
from the what-could-possibly-go-wrong dept.
Lasrick writes: MIT's Jeanne Guillemin looks at the recent blunders with smallpox and H5N1 at the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health to chronicle the fascinating history of smallpox eradication efforts and the attempts (thwarted by Western scientists) to destroy lab collections of the virus in order to make it truly extinct. "In 1986, with no new smallpox cases reported, the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the WHO, resolved to destroy the strain collections and make the virus extinct. But there was resistance to this; American scientists in particular wanted to continue their research." Within a few years, secret biological warfare programs were discovered in Moscow and in Iraq, and a new flurry of defensive research was funded. Nevertheless, Guillemin and others believe that changes in research methods, which no longer require the use of live viruses, mean that stocks of the live smallpox virus can and should finally be destroyed.
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Why Are the World's Scientists Continuing To Take Chances With Smallpox?

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  • The problem is... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lab Rat Jason (2495638) on Tuesday July 22, 2014 @03:43PM (#47509971)

    ...you can't possibly guarantee the destruction of every sample. We have lax tracking policies to thank for that. If we voluntarily destroy all our live samples, and some other nation doesn't, then you can bet your next paycheck someone will use that as a weapon against us and we'll be totally powerless to retaliate (or so goes the argument).

  • Benefits (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 22, 2014 @03:54PM (#47510047)

    They take chances with it because the benefits outweighs the risks.
    How about we focus on those things that actually gets people hurt, like banksters taking chances with the economy and politicians using the army to play chicken-race. You know, the stuff that actually gets innocent people killed.

    In the case of smallpox what would happen is that the scientist screwing up might get infected and placed in quarantine. Even in the case of an actual smallpox outbreak it can be contained again with proper vaccination.

  • by mythosaz (572040) on Tuesday July 22, 2014 @04:26PM (#47510277)

    Destroying smallpox samples doesn't magically erase the disease from existence.

    Correct.

    In erases it from existence by non-magic, real, tangible methods (e.g. destroying every last living member of the species).

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Tuesday July 22, 2014 @04:38PM (#47510377)

    No one who wasn't literally insane would try to use smallpox as a weapon, the infection would inevitably spread back to the country which initiated it, and the idea that we would need samples of our own to retaliate is preposterous.

    Yes, the point is that it's like MAD and other weapons policies: you don't want to put down your gun (or shield, for that matter) while the other guy is still holding on to his. Despite what many people say, that is completely sane and rational behavior.

    The thing OP kind of sidesteps is that while Western countries countries resisted complete eradication, they did so openly. Only later it was discovered that other countries (most of which were supposedly in favor of the eradication program) kept their own samples and research anyway. Which is a perfect illustration of why the West wanted to hang on to theirs, too.

    It's easy enough to call such policies insane, but nobody wants to be the only "sane" person in the room while all the nutjobs still have their weapons. That kind of disproves it would a sane approach, yes?

  • by Oligonicella (659917) on Tuesday July 22, 2014 @05:39PM (#47510801)

    Still doesn't justify keeping it around. We *have* a vaccine. We also have nukes, so retaliation by smallpox isn't necessary.

  • by Qzukk (229616) on Tuesday July 22, 2014 @06:11PM (#47511037) Journal

    If it's not exactly the same then what we've got wouldn't be very useful.

    I'm with the "destroy it" crowd. If someone attacks us with smallpox, nuke the fuck out of them.

Those who do things in a noble spirit of self-sacrifice are to be avoided at all costs. -- N. Alexander.

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