"Not Science Fiction"

Interesting editorial on bioterrorism over at The Washington Post. I find the article's language more interesting than its specific claims (yes, bioterrorism is complex and we are woefully underprepared, and yes I agree that the Senate committee hearings for Chertoff should probably raise the issue more explicitly). But the way that the author(s) choose to express the urgency is by using a quotation from one of the organizers of a mock bioterrorism exercise:

"This is not science fiction…The age of bioterror is now."

Think about that for a second. The sentiment seems to be that policy should deal with the realm of facts, not of speculative possibilities. But isn't every disastrous event a mere possibility before it happens? Indeed, aren't many of them "impossible" (or the close relative of impossibility, "so unlikely as to be practically impossible") up to the moment before they occur? The disintegration of the Soviet Union was "science fiction" (meaning, in this context, a speculative possibility rather than a present fact) up until the time when it actually took place. Chernobyl? SARS? Ditto.

In fact, in a further irony, policymakers trying to think through how bioterrorism might be effectively combatted might profitably examine the examinations that serious novelists have made of this issue. The beginning of Stephen King's The Stand comes to mind; I'm sure that there are others but I'm brain-dead from book manuscript revisions. Feel free to make comments to this post suggesting other authors and titles, and make me feel like an idiot for having forgotten them in the first place.

Perhaps policymakers should pay more attention to science fiction, not less.

[Posted with ecto]

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