Time for a thought experiment
Suppose you're the head of a government agency who has publicly encouraged - and funded - dangerous research. Very dangerous research.
Your motives were pure. As pure as anything else in this impure world, anyway.
You genuinely feared an outbreak of a respiratory infectious disease. Never mind that for a century, respiratory infectious diseases have been on the wane. Never mind that we have considerable real-world and theoretical evidence that the research itself is more likely to lead to a dangerous outbreak than anything else.
I mean, you need a new challenge anyway. Life hasn’t been that interesting since you cured AIDS.
Just think about it. You cured AIDS! I mean, you helped cure it, you gave money to the scientists who found the drugs that actually cured it, pretty much the same thing.
You got lots of credit, too.
But you didn’t get the big one. The big N. And the clock is ticking. You’re in great shape, everyone says so, but you’re not as young as you used to be.
But you don’t think about that too often. Only every day.
Anyway, the research has come a long way since you were on the front lines, these folks have tools you couldn’t even have imagined, and okay now that you’re well into your eighth decade some details of how they work are a teeny tiny bit fuzzy - CRISPR? Zinc finger editing? Chimeric spike proteins? Who comes up with this stuff? - but you trust them. They have the right protocols and they understand the risk.
Plus, let’s be honest, if they aren’t gonna do it the Chinese will all by their lonesome, those PRC researchers have bought or stolen enough technology in the last 20 years to build their own labs and run their own research with or without our help, so we might as well at least keep an eye on them. Gain of function? Hah! We’re arguing about mouse cells and the Chinese are editing embryos in utero. Human embryos.
The quiet guys at Langley and Ft. Detrick agree too. This isn’t just biological research, it’s biological defense research.
So no, you aren’t afraid of a little Gain of Function/Potential Pandemic Pathogen work.
And then it happens.
A new SARS sticks up its ugly little head. Only it’s worse. Because it jumps human to human like Kendall Jenner at the All-Star Game. Exactly the kind of virus all these bright boys warned you about. Exactly the kind of virus they’d been chasing bats for a decade to find. Exactly the kind of virus they’d been talking about engineering -
Oh no no no, you don’t want want to think about that.
Only you have to, because this email from one of the bright boys just landed in your inbox. And it is screaming danger Will Robinson.
So here’s the thought experiment:
What do you do?