Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Misleading Vividness

Via Defense Tech, hundreds of scientists have signed a petition to protest the funneling of public-health dollars into that mysterious black hole known as "bioterror preparedness."

More than 700 scientists sent a petition on Monday to the director of the National Institutes of Health protesting what they said was the shift of tens of millions of dollars in federal research money since 2001 away from pathogens that cause major public health problems to obscure germs the government fears might be used in a bioterrorist attack.
They're right, of course. And apart from the fact that common pathogens (to say nothing of emergent or drug-resistant ones) pose a far greater threat than anthrax or botulinum toxin, I can't help noticing that research into bioterror "preparedness" and "defense" often bears an eerie resemblance to offensive weapons research, particularly when it involves vulnerability testing over urban areas.

I've noted elsewhere that the DHS has vastly overstated the danger we face from bioterror agents like botulinum toxin. Whenever government or media choose to hyperventilate over remote dangers, I assume that they're consciously exploiting the availability heuristic, by using "misleading vividness" to make unlikely threats seem immediate. It's tempting to view their "concern" about bioterrorism as a mechanism of social control, and (more important) as an excuse to line the pockets of defense behemoths like BAE Systems.

If you want to know exactly how drastically BushCo has cut our expenditures on diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis, and hepatitis, here are the numbers. Read 'em and weep!

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