October 18, 2005

A Ray of Hope?

I can catastrophize as well as the next guy and better than most. A little known fact: most of what RB and I discuss on the phone revolves around our shared conspriacy theories. And while I haven't quite come to terms with the "singularity" prophecies of genius Ray Kurzweil, I do have the book -- the very big book -- just waiting for a moment when I'm not afraid to begin reading it.

And so, it was with interest that I read today's opinion piece by Ray on the Bird Flu genome project, which he says has resulted in the dangerous proposition of an online RX for viral destruction. With the published genetic structure of the bird flu available in the GenBank database, Kurzweil wonders how wise it is to release the complete genetic code for such a deadly virus.

Proponents of publishing this data point out that valuable insights have been gained from the virus's recreation. These insights could help scientists across the world detect and defend against future pandemics, including avian flu.

There are other approaches, however, to sharing the scientifically useful information. Specific insights - for example, that a key mutation noted in one gene may in part explain the virus's unusual virulence - could be published without disclosing the complete genetic recipe.

The online publication of the bird flu's genetic viral recipe is likely to stir up the freedom of speech debate with passion on both the pro and con sides. I'm hopeful that the right people are paying atention to Ray's concerns.

Why? Because before I'm a writer, a net-head, a freedom-of-speech zealot or a creative commonsist, I'm a mom.