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The Problem of Biological Weapons: Next Steps for the Nation

Tara O'Toole
Date posted:
July 15, 2001
Publication type:

Public Health Rep 2001;116(Suppl 2):108-111

Association of Schools of Public Health
Available on publisher's website
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Full article as PDF


In this presentation I discuss proposals regarding where the nation needs to go and list the top actions that I believe are necessary in the next two years to deal with the problems of bioweapons and bioterrorism. First, however, I will consider the larger context of the bioweapons problem.

Where do we stand at this point, at this moment in history? This question is, of course, much on the minds of Americans of voting age these days. The future is not yet written. The votes may or may not be counted. They may or may not count. However, at least to some degree, the future is ours to compose. Some of the major struggles before us are clear. Among the principal challenges of our generation is the imperative to manage the adverse consequences of the powerful technologies we have created. Among the most dangerous of such technologies are nuclear and biological weapons.

Biological weapons are in the world. Let us be clear: the efficacy of these weapons and their ability to kill large populations have been known for decades and demonstrated persuasively by all possible means short of their use in war or an actual bioterrorism attack. What has been largely overlooked in the complaints about the lack of a quantitative threat analysis, and in arguments about how many microbiologists a terrorist must know to build a truly scary weapon,is the trajectory of biological science in our time. To reiterate what George Poste said, we are on the threshold of the age of “big biology.” The momentum and pace of this Cambrian explosion of biological knowledge are prodigious.

Full article as PDF



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