Tuesday, August 01, 2006

BIOTERROR INEVITABLE: For the second or third time this week

If you regularly check the Google News tab for the word "bioterror," you know there are news stories on it and the business opportunities it affords, even though the actual incidence of historically recent bioterrorism resulting in death is very small.

Because of the Amerithrax attack, though, bioterrorism has become a great subject to write about and launch careers on. One can feign a concern for the welfare of the nation and bloviate at length on a threat that lends itself wonderfully to theoretical discussions. Bioterrorism is also great because it means jobs and money for companies, institutions, scientists and technicians.
Bioterror is one of the significant business movers of what's sized up as an endless war.

The Baltimore Sun op-ed page weighed in on bioterror today, partly in response to a news story in the Washington Post on the NBACC, a secret biodedefense/biowar lab complex being installed at Ft. Detrick. Details were furnished in the The fun business of bioterror on Sunday.

When tackling bioterrorism, journalists are good choices to make the tackles because they're so bad it. The make howling errors, the kind that even a cursory examination through Google or Lex-Nex would vaccinate against. And they can be counted on to only interview a small number of sources who deliver the most exciting and doom-filled proclamations.

Wrote the Sun, today:


Plenty of experts believe that a bioterror attack is inevitable, though none has been successfully tried, and cheap and effective explosives remain the weapon of choice for the world's extremists. The use of deadly germs by terrorists would be unlikely to lead to widespread death - because that's a very difficult undertaking - but the psychological impact would be enormous, and that might be the terrorists' real goal anyway. A simple bioweapon does not require tremendously sophisticated equipment or expertise. But does it make sense, in that case, to devote finite research dollars to the most outlandish threats, rather than focusing on the most likely ones?
The words bioterror and inevitable are even more exciting than the combination of bioterror and wake-up call. The nifty official GlobalSecurity.Org senior fellow-approved Google search string -- here -- puts an exclamation point to it.

It's a cliche, something to mumble to readers when you have nothing interesting to say but wish to appear on the politically correct and national security-minded side of the issue. Google's return of plus 30,000 hits, while not agonizingly scientific, does indicate that the claiming that bioterror is inevitable is, well, inevitable. Or continuing. Or constant.

The Sun also errs when it writes "none have been successfully tried."

Of course there have, but the number of successful attacks is scant.

The Amerithrax case, for instance, which the Sun obviously knows about, was one. Oddly, the op-ed piece even alludes to it in the column. And in 1984, the Rajneesh group in the Dalles, Oregon, used Salmonella on food.

And, it should be added while there are plenty of experts who believe that the threat of a bioterror attack inevitable, there are also plenty of scientists who believe that the threat of bioterrorism has been overcooked in the United States. And that this overcooking has contributed to the creation of the NBACC and its research plans for cooking up new disease so as to assess threats.

To paraphrase a colleague, bioterrorism may develop into a physically present, rather than largely discussion-based threat, in the future. And it might not. But in either case, it is not one of the most pressing menaces with which the world is faced.

The Sun op-ed does gently lay negativity on the idea that the nation must make more deadly diseases in secret so that it might understand future threats better. It could have added that the United States' reputation in the world is now such that not only will doing such things not make others in the world community not feel better about us, but that it will encourage other nations to redouble their secret efforts in biowarfare. The "Trust us, we're the good guys and we know what we're doing" rationalization doesn't work anymore.

The regular weekly dose of bioterror cant, bioterror business and bioterror this and that in the absence of bioterror in the national news. Book this page as one of your favorites and check back now and then to hit the search string above and this one. Bonus feature: If bioterror actually occurs, you'll be among the first to know!

This will allow you to keep abreast of the fun business of bioterrorism.

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