[ExI] 23andME - Company issues: privacy

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Mon Oct 20 08:50:43 UTC 2014

Mike Dougherty <msd001 at gmail.com> , 20/10/2014 12:32 AM:

Sure,  I could do the research myself. Why aren't these facts given after every update on Ebola? Because the public wouldn't be capable of understanding facts? Or because the government agencies involved have so little experience disseminating fact that they just don't know how?A lot has to do with the fact that Ebola was until very recently treated as a remote, exotic problem "they" had in Darkest Africa. Relevant for the world of biosecurity specialists and virologists, maybe for the heroic do-gooders who went over "there", but not relevant to normal healthcare people or government agencies "here". In many ways it still is a remote problem when viewed rationally. But making the shift from remote to near makes many people and agencies very confused (just consider how they handle mentions of radioactivity - few people have any sense of scale). Expect confusion.

By the way, airborne transmission is very little about droplet size. Viruses are generally small enough to aerosolize well. The real issue is how they handle dessication or humidity: airborne viruses tend to have special coatings that protect them in the external environment, and this is what allows surface fomites to transmit them. 
If you want to get nervous, check out this study of Reston:http://www.nature.com/srep/2012/121115/srep00811/full/srep00811.htmlWhether it is a rational reason to worry is another matter. I think PHAC is right in their fact sheet http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/lab-bio/res/psds-ftss/ebola-eng.phpwhen they point out that we have not observed any air transmission between primates. Given the experience with influenza (I am on the outskirts of the gain-of-function debate), this is very relevant: a virus needs to jump through a bunch of hoops before it can be air-transmitted between members of a new species, even if it can infect the species from another reservoir species. Would it be easy for Ebola to make that jump? I suspect not, at least compared to bird flu which after all *starts* airborne (and has a *huge* wild reservoir).

Anders Sandberg, Future of Humanity Institute Philosophy Faculty of Oxford University
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