Tuesday, October 18, 2005


WMD flu Counterarguments

...and Weblogsky points us to some counterarguments to those of us who think it is reckless to post the DNA recipe:

Secrecy vs. openness: Three counter-arguments to Kurzweil and Joy

Let us address all 3 counter-arguments:.

(1) from Jon Dugan:
The goal of human health is too important to stop people from doing research and publishing results.

This is the core of the matter. My claim is that Dugan is confusing "human health" with profit. The health industry is motivated by profit, not human health. If you can't afford to pay the cost (determined by maximizing profit) of the medicine to save your life, you die. It clouds the issue to appeal to fairy tale notions of benevolent institutions.
I would argue there are no "wrong hands" for information to get into. We are collectively responsible for situations that create the anger and misguided behavior that lead to mass destruction

It only takes one person out of billions to unleash the pandemic. I'm not a statistics expert, but that doesn't seem like good odds. Any of us who have operated an anonymous online forum can tell you that it is inevitable that one person shows up and destroys the forum for everyone. I agree that we are collectively responsible for each other but that doesn't mean I'm going to give everybody access to the button.
Getting everyone to play together and hide information will only work when all involved agrees to hide it.

We need to define "all involved" for this sentence to have any meaning. If all involved is a handful of people, then it seems we can achieve this easily.
One person can spill the beans.

We would have been better off if we didn't fund a 10 year research project to map the DNA of the 1918 flu and publish it.
After these major disasters happen, those that are left will have to realize we are not here to compete against each other, but for us all to survive (preferably well). Hopefully it won't be too painful for humanity to change our story.

This is apocalyptic thinking. I've heard it before.

(2) from Peter Swire:

His argument seems to be a hope that there are more good guys than bad guys and therefore the good guys will triumph. There are a lot of assumptions here. I haven't read his paper yet, but I imagine it is not focused on addressing security issues of life and death. The openness idea may be fine when the consequence is that you have to reinstall your operating system, but unless the good guys know how to bring your dead corpse back to life, I do not share the good guys argument.

(3) from Thomas Leavitt:
The current plague of spam, computer virii, spyware and malware may actually turn out to be a blessing in disguise, by providing us with the basic techniques and technologies necessary to implement similiar systems in the "real world".

Again, we have someone using the world of computers to address the problems of a life and death pandemic killing millions.
We are going to have to accept that death from attacks of this sort is a fact of life - our level of success will be judged not by whether we prevent them from happening at all, but how well we limit the scale of these outbreaks when they occur

This is true. And nature has provided that for us through sexual recombination. However, when nature developed that mechanism, it did not have reckless idiots publishing WMD recipes on the taxpayer's dime either.

OK, so there you have it. So far, the counter-arguments seem weak, so why was this reckless action executed?

After my trip to India, I no longer fear death. I fear a long, painful and protracted death, but not death itself.

We will all have a definite opportunity to die of human arrogance. Let's just hope something 'natural' happens first.
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