Synthetic virus nearing reality
February 22, 2001 4:36 PM   Subscribe

Synthetic virus nearing reality Scientists will have the technology to create a wholly artificial virus within the next five years, a major conference in the US has been told. This is the quote I like best... Prof Hutchinson added: "Am I worried about a synthesised virus? No, you only worry about it if someone does it out of malicious motives."
posted by zeoslap (18 comments total)
hello! I don't know which is scarier, that this capability will exist or that the guys in charge of it are so ignorant.
posted by locombia at 4:37 PM on February 22, 2001

yup crazy times. "There's enough bad stuff out there now. So far, there is no reason to believe that this technology is going to make things any worse."
um, yup, sure buddy, keep telling yourself that...
posted by zeoslap at 4:43 PM on February 22, 2001

*SIGH* Alas, the guise of scientific objectivity.
What's the quote..."Science without philisophy is the opiate of the suburbs"?
posted by Hackworth at 5:04 PM on February 22, 2001

I'd like to say that scientific advancements like this should be banned, but that's impossible. Eventually, some corrupt government or terrorist organization will figure out how to create their own killer ebola, and when they do we're going to need to know exactly how they did it and how it works so mom and pop can rush to the hospital for a vaccine when suburbia gets hit with the bomb.
posted by tomorama at 5:59 PM on February 22, 2001

You're right. These things can't be effectively banned.

We could direct a few more resources and some more respect into the study of philosophy and the other humanities though, so as to reduce the number of "ignorant" scientists.
posted by locombia at 7:00 PM on February 22, 2001

I'm with locombia. scientific progress + cultural decay is a sure recipe for disaster, but it's where we've been headed for the past fifty years or so.
posted by dagnyscott at 7:24 PM on February 22, 2001

I'm reminded of Alfred Nobel. "They're using dynamite for WHAT?"
posted by xtrmntr at 9:24 PM on February 22, 2001

dagnyscott: Yeah, our culture in the first half of the century rocked. All that segregation and stuff? That was awesome. Cultural decay my ass.
posted by sonofsamiam at 7:54 AM on February 23, 2001

"But if the technology is abused, it could lead to bioweapons against which society might have little defence. "Yes, I agree, the consequences on humanity, both good and bad, will easily surpass the impacts of nuclear technology. But it may also have the same difficulty rating....we will definitely make our share of mistakes.But getting genetic engineers to stop would be just as difficult as asking the entire UK to suddenly drop their variant on the spelling of defense. sigh...
posted by samsara at 8:50 AM on February 23, 2001

Mmmmmm. 12 Monkeys.
posted by kindall at 9:25 AM on February 23, 2001

scientific progress + cultural decay is a sure recipe for disaster

I have no idea what basis this statement has, historically or philosophically. In fact, I'm not even sure what it's supposed to mean, other than implying that The Good Old Days are over and here comes dystopia! Evil scientists! If only we could have abandoned science in 1950! Alas, MTV has rotted their brains.
posted by Skot at 9:50 AM on February 23, 2001

Whether Akmed the Terrorist kills people with a virus or 500 gallons of sarin he made in his bathtub, the end result is the same.

The US needs to really crack down on terrorism, especially the mooks that, although they cannot be found by the NSA, CIA, FBI, SEX, the NY Times, Newsweek, US News & World Report and Highlights for Kids have interviews with them in person every month....
posted by Capn_Stuby at 10:29 AM on February 23, 2001

Skot: the statement's basis and meaning is pretty clear to me. Who said anything about abandoning science and who said anything about wanting the good old days of the 1950's?

Science combined with amorality is a dangerous thing. Allow me to steal a line from Hollywood. "Your scientists were so preoccupied when whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think whether or not the should."
posted by tomorama at 10:37 AM on February 23, 2001

Bullhockey. Science has always been misused, ever since the first case of arson. It also kept us from freezing in the caves.
No more soft-focus luddite crap, please.
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:45 AM on February 23, 2001

The rest of dagnyscott's post reads: but it's where we've been headed for the past fifty years or so.

Meaning, I took it, that science started on the road to disaster when we became "amoral" (your term) around 50 years ago. Sonofsam has it right: luddism. And fogeyism.

posted by Skot at 10:49 AM on February 23, 2001


I don't think we - the human race - are able to stop. Curiousity is nearly as fundamental a drive as sex. Like it or not, we-the-human-race are going to keep taking the next steps in understanding, simply because somebody is going to be curious and persist until they figure it out.

Furthermore - what the hell is "amorality"? What does that even mean in 2001?

posted by Mars Saxman at 12:06 PM on February 23, 2001

I think that there is something to be said for luddism. By any measure, the last 150+ years (going back to the industrial revolution) have been among the most tumultuous in the history of humanity. Advances in manufacturing, medicine, warfare, technology, transportation, etc. have all outpaced our ability to deal with the changes they bring, much less understand the social ramifications of said advances.

Before this period, there was ample time for advances to be absorbed into society. (Not to say that new technologies did not wreak their own special brand of havoc. Look at what the Mongols were able to do with a groovy little invention called the stirrup which allowed them to keep their hands free to draw weapons.)

We don't have the advantage of adjusting to major changes; ideas and people have the freedom to move as never before. Relatively isolated tribal communities that functioned the same way for centuries are now beset with the economics of globalization. I think that what they are experiencing is a microcosm of what could occur on a global level.

The fact the change occurs is not new; our wholesale inability to adjust accordingly is. And while we cannot (or perhaps even ought not) put the genie back in the bottle, we ought to place more emphasis on figuring out how all of us should deal with change. Perhaps this is what is meant by "morality": the ability and will to place our actions within the context of the greater world.
posted by Avogadro at 12:37 PM on February 23, 2001

amoral - Lacking moral sensibility; not caring about right and wrong.
posted by tomorama at 12:50 PM on February 23, 2001

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