Effect Measure has a terrific post today on how the public-health system is being sacrificed to the biodefense juggernaut. It offers a special rebuke to those who believe that increased bioterror spending will result in some sort of Golden Age for public health.
In reality, these people have it exactly backwards. If you build the best public-health system you can, in order to deal with everyday problems, most of the work of preparing for bioterror gets done automatically. Agent detection is an interesting but comparatively minor field; it doesn't work well, but even if it did, mere data aren't all that useful unless you have a staffed and funded and organized public-system system. Bioterror is primarily an intelligence and law-enforcement issue; the greatest threat (and it really is miniscule in comparison to everyday public-health threats) comes not from international jihadists, but from homegrown racists, lunatics, and apocalyptic religious cults (from Bush's base, in other words). Forcing the public-health system to concentrate on biodefense is like designing a car that has a parachute - in case a bridge you're driving on collapses - but doesn't have seat belts.
But BushCo is ignoring all of this in order to siphon more money into the defense industry's all too capacious pockets; a new bioweapons race - requiring a decade or two of fantastically expensive, taxpayer-funded research into some omnipotent high-tech "bioshield" - would suit them just fine. And as Revere notes, this is likely to have grave consequences for public health and science:
Some of the research will inevitably be secret or classified. No public health research that is classified can serve a public health purpose or even a legitimate scientific agenda. If the results of our research is not to be made available to the global public health community of scientists and public health workers, we are not serving public health, a global enterprise of shared knowledge and endeavor. Instead, we corrupt that enterprise, just as physics was corrrupted by the Cold War.Meanwhile, new vulnerability testing will be conducted in New York City:
At some point within the next two weeks, Madison Square Garden will play host to a swarm of observers scrutinizing the behavior of an unseen agent.Sounds innocuous enough, perhaps, but it isn't. I believe that under Bush, a return to earlier levels of intensive open-air testing is all but inevitable (if it hasn't happened already). The temptation to use live bacteria, or potentially allergenic aerosols or particulates, is not one I can see BushCo resisting. Whether such vulnerability testing ends up harming people or not, it's expensive, unethical, and indistinguishable from the testing of offensive bioweapons.
As early as Wednesday morning, depending on the weather, the carefully orchestrated release of a colorless, harmless gas in Manhattan should help researchers get a better handle on how hazardous contaminants - whether from natural sources or malicious attacks - disperse in an urban setting.