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Sunday, September 03, 2006

The view from the end of the world

Two articles that ran today in the Guardian's Sunday newspaper, the Observer, are worth considering together. I won't analyze them much, because the connection seems obvious enough. Below are two short excerpts from the articles that illuminate the relationship.
(1) Fears of 'extreme' TB strain:
"The strain - known as extreme drug-resistant TB - has horrified World Health Organisation doctors. In one outbreak in South Africa, 52 of 53 patients died within weeks of becoming infected.

'This new strain leaves us facing a nightmare,' said Paul Nunn, coordinator of the WHO's drug-resistance unit. 'It is resistant to nearly every drug in our arsenal. We are now on the threshold of the appearance of a strain of TB that is resistant to every medicine known to science.'"

(2) 'Ebola' bug wiped out the Aztecs:
"When a few hundred Spaniards landed in what would become Mexico in 1519, they marvelled at its bustling cities. But within four generations that thriving native population was reduced by two-thirds - a phenomenon usually blamed on European diseases to which the natives had no resistance. Now a researcher suggests that most of the damage was done by a local haemorrhagic fever not unlike the Ebola virus."

When I read articles like this, I am reminded of a question I heard posed recently in reference to something completely unrelated to this - sort of the flip side to the "pottery barn argument" ('you broke it, you bought it') made by liberal pragmatists defending continued US occupation of Iraq. Let's say a burglar breaks into your house and trashes the place. Do you hire him to repair the damage if it turns out he's also great at home repairs?

The supposed benefits of science should always be viewed within the context of the harm it creates.


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