Thursday, August 5, 2010

Calculated Risk

Infectious disease, fascinating subject really. Like the eradication of Smallpox for instance? Couldn't have happened without Lady Montagu, Edward Jenner, and Western Civ charity, tech and money.

But the real turning point in fighting Smallpox? It was the shift away from mass inoculation programs, to outbreak targeted quick response. That pivotal strategy came from a young Indian Health Service worker. He said, "In my village, when a house catches on fire, we don't throw water on ALL the houses." Very clear thinking there.

Yet the end wasn't known when the new strategy was proposed. Trying it meant risk.
I wasn't gonna type about Smallpox though...

Ya got this malaria thing. Kills LOTS of people in Africa, South America and Asia, even with liberal use of DDT. Oh yeah, you thought DDT was banned worldwide? Naw! They spray it on houses in rural India. Helps a lot, but not a perfect solution.

Now some scientists in AZ have engineered a mosquito that can't be infected by the malaria parasite. They think they can introduce into the wild in sufficient numbers where the old fashioned mosquito will quickly be bred out of existence.

Frankenbug to the rescue!!!

Well let's round up the usual suspects, while the giants of science are busy popping champagne corks...

I'm a product of midnight Creature Feature, so I KNOW about unintended consequences of Science. Nuke tests in the desert get you... giant ants, giant Gila Monster, giant Tarantula, and the Amazing Colossal Man. That's just in the US. You don't EVEN want to know about Nuke after effects in Japan!!! I bet homeowner's insurance rates skyrocketed in Tokyo in the 1950's.

But I also know about Kudzu, and Australian cane toads. I know the well meant intentional introduction of species can get way out of hand. And my time with Charles Fort has given me a healthy skepticism about unwarranted certainty from Scientists, who since Hiroshima have become our cultural high priests.

And one reason our culture was so outraged at the Gulf Oil leak is because
post-Apollo generations have come to believe our high priests won't let us down.

I trust the fathers & mothers of Frankenbug to insure they haven't accidentally engineered a mosquito that won't host malaria, but will carry HIV or Ebola quite well. Yet, they can't test Mosquito 3.0 for its interactions with pathogens that haven't been identified yet, huh?

Oh, I'm not sitting in the seat of the 'Cautioneer' here, just sayin' is all. Might as well get the hippie take articulated while I'm at it...

"Dude, this is SO wrong interfering with Nature! It's evil putting things where they don't belong, interfering with the beautiful, perfect balance of nature. We should just do treated nets. Mosquitos are people too you know!"

Well, it'd be dismissive to remind the hippies that marijuana ain't exactly a native species in northern California, but that's too easy. It's an entire mindset that merits honest challenge.

Nature mostly wants to kill you. That's Nature's job. Mosquito nets are wonderful. Bill & Melinda Gates, Bono, post-WH Laura & GW Bush are to be commended for their efforts. Of course personally, I wonder why they don't establish factories in affected areas, teach people tech to make their own nets.

A dirty secret about the nets? Even IF you can get primitive, superstitious cultures to accept these nets prevent Malaria? The nets always go first to the adults, because they're the producers. Many parts of the world, life is hard and life is cheap.

This is the part of the blog where I either have to smart off about Billy Jack movies or declare a position. All right then, I'm pro-Frankenbug. It's a real risk, introducing an engineered species. The biosphere, despite what hippies like to think, is never static. The tiny Malaria parasite has a speck of the Eternal in it too, and a system exists possibly enabling it to launch an assymetrical response.

Humans were given brains for a reason. To use them while walking humbly before God is about the best we can manage. Many many thousands die every year from Malaria.
Observation leads to theory leads to experiment leads to sober decision.

Was it mine to say, I say a good chance to eradicate Malaria? Turn loose the Frankenbugs. History can damn me for what I didn't know. Whatever comes can't be worse than a Billy Jack movie, right?