Thursday, May 14, 2009

New Homeland Security Science Chief Nominee Exaggerates BioTerrorism Threat Using Smallpox

-C. Paula de los Angeles

Tara O'Toole may be the new undersecretary for the science and technology development, the primary research and development arm of the Department of Homeland Security. Many are concerned because they believe that her overstatement of the bioterror threat has lead to a more than necessary and greater risk of bioterrorist agents getting released into society by the increase of the number of researchers and research labs handling them.

In one of her simulations, "Dark Winter" O'Toole described a smallpox outbreak that could endanger millions of people in 15 countries. Many other scientists say that she tripled the normal transmission rate for the disease, always guaranteeing a "disastrous outcome".

Is she the right choice? Overly cautious? I guess the debate over her nomination reflects the all-time debate on whether it's worth it to keep dangerous bioterrorist agents around, like stocks of smallpox.

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