Every sector of life and humanity needs another to monitor its activities, keep it as honest as possible, and—hopefully—reign in its more destructive tendencies. While the scientists conducting research into deadly viruses and their threat to mankind no doubt wish to lessen the potential for outbreaks of, shall we say, “pandemicide,” the question I would ask is: To what extent are you willing to risk the well-being of yourself and society at large in order to achieve scientific breakthroughs? Are Scientists so addicted to scientific breakthroughs that they are blinded by their consequences?
Dutch scientists recently created a super-strain of the avian flu that has been described as “probably one of the most dangerous viruses you can make.” While the scientists agreed not to publish the “recipe” and its “ingredients”—lest such information be accessed by potential (and confirmed) bio-terrorists and unleashed on an unsuspecting and vulnerable public—the data has already been shared with hundreds of other researchers, greatly increasing the likelihood that the aforementioned bio-terrorists will eventually acquire said information. The research focused on how to convert the avian flu, difficult to acquire in its natural state, into a highly contagious virus capable of killing millions if used as a biological weapon of mass destruction. If successful, the virus would be spread through the air, meaning the simple act of breathing could bring with it the fatal and permanent act of death.
The National Institutes of Health, which funded the study, has endorsed its publication and believes doing so, as well as expanding on the research with further experiments, will allow scientists to anticipate mutations before they arise and contain potential pandemics. “We need as scientists and health officials to stay one step ahead of the virus as it mutates and changes its capability,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the NIH, in an interview with CNN. ”To anticipate that would be important to determine whether the countermeasures we have available, such as antivirals and vaccines, would actually be effective against such a virus that changed in such a way.”
Many in the scientific community are not nearly as optimistic as Dr. Fauci about the potential benefits of such studies, believing the risks far outweigh the benefits. The National Scientific Advisory Board for Biosecurity opposed the publication of the Dutch study, which was headed by virologist Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Center, as well as a similar study conducted by a team led by virologist Yoshihiro Kawaoka at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the University of Tokyo. Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, states flatly that “This work should never have been done.”
As words like “addict” and “junkie” have been attached to just about anyone who gets a rush from doing something precarious, dangerous, or risqué—“adrenaline junkies” and “danger addicts” come to mind—it seems not entirely out of the realm of possibility that some people in the scientific community might find the feeling of having the fate of millions under their jurisdiction. Could the risk aversion seen in many become a kind of risk addiction in the more adventurous among us—including scientists who experience the thrill of sharing laboratories with the most lethal organisms, viruses, and bacteria the world has to offer; finding ways to them even deadlier than nature had in mind; then heroically snuffing them out before entire populations succumb to their deleterious effects?
Courage is defined as taking action in the face of fear. And those thought of as courageous tend to be viewed as heroic figures. People have been known to set fires as a means of achieving hero status in the media. The desire to be perceived as heroic and for the power and celebrity that comes with perceived heroism can be a motivating factor in high risk behavior. The ramifications for the general public, should scientific experiments run amok produce worst-case scenario results, are enormous. It is of the utmost importance that the greater good be given primacy when deciding what risks to take with the public’s health, is it not?
The moral of this story is that anything exciting or pleasurable can be a source of addiction for some people under some circumstances. And oftentimes, the addiction of one can negatively affect the lives of many.
- Macrae, Fiona. Silver, Katie. “It’s too late to keep details of deadly flu a secret! U.S. scientists say details of virus created in laboratory ‘are already out there’, sparking renewed terror alert.” Mail Online. Daily Mail. December 2011. Web. 31 July 2012.
- Libby, Lewis. “Science journal could give recipe for deadly avian flu virus.” CNN. 12 May 2012. Web. 31 July 2012.
- Enserink, Martin. “Scientists Brace for Media Storm Around Controversial Flu Studies.” 23 December 2012. Science Insider. Science Online. Web. 31 July 2012.
By Greg L.
Filed under: Featured, Life · Tags: addicted, addicted to, Addiction, addicts, adrenaline junkies, avian flu, bio-terrorists, Courage, danger addicts, Dr. Anthony Fauci, fear, hero status, junkie, National Institutes of Health, Richard Ebright, risk addiction, Ron Fouchier, scientific, scientific community, scientists, University of Wisconsin