Advertisement

Are We Gearing up for Biological Warfare?

Thank you for Seth Shulman's useful article on military funding for research on biological warfare (BW) (The Scientist, December 15, pp. 1, 8). It is highly significant that between 1981 and 1987—the Reagan years—Department of Defense funding for BW has gone up by a factor of five. Let us recall also that in his status as President of the Senate, Vice President George Bush twice broke a tie vote on the production of binary nerve gases, both times in favor of producing them. One of th

By | February 9, 1987

Thank you for Seth Shulman's useful article on military funding for research on biological warfare (BW) (The Scientist, December 15, pp. 1, 8). It is highly significant that between 1981 and 1987—the Reagan years—Department of Defense funding for BW has gone up by a factor of five. Let us recall also that in his status as President of the Senate, Vice President George Bush twice broke a tie vote on the production of binary nerve gases, both times in favor of producing them.

One of the most frequent ploys in encouraging public acceptance of weapons programs is to present them as defensive. Shulman's article states that "most of this research focuses on the development of vaccines against some of the most deadly and exotic diseases known—diseases that could be unleashed as part of a biological warfare (BW) campaign."

In this field, defense and offense go hand in hand. No nation would dare unleash such disease without first taking the precaution to immunize its own population. A few years ago, the Federation of American Scientists published a Public Interest Report discussing the possibility of recombinant DNA's contributing to BW. The article noted that if any nation proceeded to immunize its population against some disease, that action could be taken as a warning that it was about to launch a BW attack.

At the time I wondered whether this concept reflected our own attempt in the 1970s to immunize the entire American population against swine flu. It seemed strange to me at the time (and it still does) to have done this with such small provocation: a total of four cases of swine flu among army recruits at Fort Dix, N.J. One of the four died after an exhausting forced march while carrying heavy equipment. Obviously, we were not getting ready then to launch a BW attack. But could that have been a trial immunization run through, just to see how it would go?

—George Wald
The Biological Laboratories
Harvard University
16 Divinity Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138


Editor's note: In 1967, Wald shared the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with Ragnar Granit of Sweden and Haldan Keffer Hartline of the United States.
Advertisement
Advertisement

Popular Now

  1. Opinion: Too Many Mitochondrial Genome Papers
  2. Antibiotics and the Gut Microbiome
  3. Sex Differences in Pain Pathway
  4. The Sum of Our Parts
    Features The Sum of Our Parts

    Putting the microbiome front and center in health care, in preventive strategies, and in health-risk assessments could stem the epidemic of noncommunicable diseases.

Advertisement
The Scientist