Before we got down to the business at hand, I had to ask: who came up with the title Germs Gone Wild?
“That was me,” he replied. “My editor came up with the rest,” referring to the book’s subtitle: How the Unchecked Development of Domestic Bio-Defense Threatens America.
I still think that Germs Gone Wild would make a great reality show. At the very least, they should put The Real World on Plum Island for a season.
Located off the coast of Connecticut, Plum Island is the home of the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, a DHS-funded facility that studies things like hog cholera and foot-and-mouth disease. The Department of Homeland Security is currently in the process of moving it inland, to Manhattan, Kansas.
Kenneth King isn’t the first person you’d expect to take on the biodefense industry. In fact, he was blissfully unaware that such a thing even existed until early 2006. It was then that a report on the local TV news highlighted opposition to the Department of Homeland Security's plan to build a research facility in Manhattan, Kansas, to study and develop countermeasures against animal, emerging, and zoonotic diseases. Zoonotic diseases, King learned, referred to those that could be transmitted from animals to humans.
His curiosity piqued, King started researching bioweapons and biodefense research. What he discovered was an industry run amok, flush with funding after 9/11 and the subsequent anthrax attacks. Instead of focusing on public policy and public health, the biodefense industry — which King refers to as the "Academic-Military-Industrial complex" — is playing on public fears and genuine concerns to make billions through risky and sometimes outright dangerous research into everything from anthrax and smallpox to hemorrhagic fever and the plague. The growth hasn’t stopped: by 2013, biodefense will be an estimated $5.54 billion business.
As King sees it, a lack of oversight has created a dangerous regime of unchecked expansion, one "almost certainly a greater danger to our country than any current would-be bioterrorists." As the biodefense industry grows in scope and power, so too does the chance that one day, someone somewhere will mess up, unleashing a deadly disease on the planet.
Pretty standard stuff, of course. At least until the internet gets a hold of it
One criticism leveled at King is that — the legitimate fears and concerns notwithstanding — he doesn’t believe in the necessity of some biodefense research. This is an important question, but with all the momentum behind biodefense, it’ll probably be some time before there is a serious discussion about whether the current approach is desired, or even justified. At least, this much is true for Washington, DC. But it’s not like that’s where the majority of the national conversation is taking place anyways.
Like Kenneth King, Laurie Garrett is devoted to battling deadly disease outbreaks. But where King is an outsider, Garrett has the bona fides to address these topics, including graduate school at UC Berkeley’s Department of Bacteriology and Immunology, and a string of awards for her medical journalism. Her published books include The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance, Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health, and I Heard the Sirens Scream: How Americans Responded to the 9/11 and Anthrax Attacks. As Senior Fellow for Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations, she deals with issues including SARS, avian flu, malaria, and the intersection of HIV/AIDS and national security.
Garrett is the person you’re likely to catch on C-SPAN. King’s more of a Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura kind of guy.
That is, until Contagion.
In Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 medical thriller, Gwyneth Paltrow picks up a deadly virus in China, bones an old boyfriend in Chicago, and proceeds to spark a pandemic.
Garrett served as a consultant on the film, and ended up doing quite a bit of media as a result.
Pretty standard stuff, of course. At least until the internet gets a hold of it.
Garrett’s credentials are immediate cause for concern (you know how conspiracy theorists just hate experts). And if you spend any time listening to Alex Jones, you’ll know that disease prevention is Newspeak for "genocide." As icing on the cake, Garrett works with the Council on Foreign Relations — in conspiracy circles, virtually synonymous with the New World Order.
Since conspiracy theorists speak a language all their own, their criticism of Garrett is almost completely lost on the layperson.
There’s a phrase you’ll see used in Internet World in conjunction with just about every movie ever released: "predictive programming." This is supposed to be a form of psychological warfare that the Illuminati or New World Order (or whoever) places in Hollywood films. One common definition reads in part:
Predictive programming is a subtle form of psychological conditioning provided by the media to acquaint the public with planned societal changes... thus lessening any possible public resistance and commotion. Predictive programming therefore may be considered as a veiled form of preemptive mass manipulation or mind control, courtesy of our puppet masters.
A rap session with Sanjay Gupta is one thing, but once the Truther Girls got involved, Garrett never had a chance.
Dr. Leonard G. Horowitz, D.M.D., M.A., M.P.H. is — like Kenneth King — an unlikely voice in this issue. But where King is a thoughtful, serious citizen-activist with serious questions related to public health policy and defense, to spend any time whatsoever looking into Horowitz’s work is to descend into a rabbit hole of man-made AIDS, government pedophile rings, murderous Wikipedia plots, and dentistry. In addition to providing a dizzying array of sham science and medicine, he has branched out into Internet Marketing, with products like C-CURE, guaranteed to "drop" skin cancers out of your body naturally, "or money back!"
Horowitz, who has apparently met Laurie Garrett once or twice in the past, calls her work "propaganda... protecting ‘biodefense’ and bioweapons contractors" and "pharmaceutical prostitution."
Of course, this is an extreme case. But how extreme? With internet conspiracy theorists like Horowitz, the obvious lunacy of their work as a whole isn’t taken into consideration. On the internet, narratives and histories get atomized. Like a wood chipper, individual ideas come flying out of the hopper to be reassembled into theories that then undergo the same process. Ultimately, it’s the amount of noise created by an idea that matters, not its pedigree.
In communication systems, noise degrades useful information signals. It is an error, an undesired random disturbance.
In computer science, noise is irrelevant or meaningless data.
On YouTube, noise is the endless repetition of "facts," cycled back and forth from one v-blogging pundit to the next. Once this happens enough times, lesser Steven Soderbergh flicks become transformed into cutting-edge psychological warfare, Angelina Jolie is promoting genocide under the auspices of the Council on Foreign Relations, and H1N1 is recast as a plot to kill baby boomers.
For all the noise, all the out-of-context facts, all the misunderstood science, and for all the fabrications and hoaxes, the main problem with conspiracy theories is that they oversimplify the world. Conjecture trumps knowledge, and the whole thing is driven by fear. None of which helps us tackle the real problems facing our country.
Even if it’s great for sales Endgame: Blueprint for Global Enslavement.