Author Archives: Georgia

About Georgia

Research and writing on effective altruism, risk, humans, animals, and microbes. Blog @ eukaryotewritesblog.com. I also write at globalriskresearch.org.

Internet Harvest (2020, 2)

Internet Harvest is a selection of the most succulent links on the internet that I’ve recently plucked from its fruitful boughs. Feel free to discuss the links in the comments.

Also, semi-intentionally, none of the links in this harvest are COVID-19-related. If you want some interesting distractions, you might like this post.


First, an eternal recommendation for the SCP Foundation’s Antimemetics Division series. (“Antimemes” are information that resists sharing.) It’s smart, creepy, mind-bending fiction in which a variety of clever protagonists try to save the world from an enemy who they can’t remember exists. The final story in the series is being posted very soon, and you’ll have a lot to work through before then.

“Negative ion” products on Amazon: not only do they not work, many of them are literally impregnated with thorium powder. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA. h/t Lorelei.

“Dreamy labyrinthine architecture that is somehow both crushingly oppressive and unimaginably vast” alert: These man-made caverns in New York State.

Relatedly, you should be following BLDGBLOG, a blog about buildings and so much more.

If you can’t find dreamy labyrinthine architecture in real life, you can make your own. Artbreeder.com is a wonder and free to use. If you’ve tried it before, check again, because in addition to the table-deer-mop hybrids of your dreams, it now allows you to make landscapes and disturbingly realistic human portraits to your desired specifications. Wondering where I got the cover image for this post? I’ve picked up oil painting during self-isolation, I call this one “Lost Carcosa” – just kidding, an AI and I made it in five minutes.

John J Audubon recorded a species of giant eagle he’d occasionally seen in the American midwest. To date, nobody else has found that bird.

Here’s a species of fungus that is found in a little region in Japan, a little region in Texas, and literally nowhere else on earth.

First major use of deepfakes in an election was surprisingly not terrible (“translating” a video of an Indian politician into another language, as though the politician were speaking it himself.)

I’ve harbored a longtime fascination with domestic life, housekeeping, cooking, etcetera – both modern and past. This surprises a lot of people. It was actually a large part of my interest in working on The Funnel of Human Experience – so much of human history was spent by people, mostly women, keeping the home running and the fires hot and the children clothed. In the late 1800s, Ellen Swallow Richards turned the art of home economics into a science – people studying the most time-effective way to make a bed, the best nutrition for a family, sanitation and food safety at home and standardization. There was the 1870’s MIT Women’s Laboratory, and later there were universities with actual living orphan “practice” babies, who the students practiced caretaking on. There are whole books’ worth of history here. (And if you know any good ones about anything on this topic, please let me know.) Anyway, Efficiency is Everything – Industrial engineering applied to life is a re-discovery of the topic for the modern age.

Explorable.es: Some delightful interactive scientific/technical concept-explainers.

We’ve had sci-fi. There’s worldbuilding fiction, of whole planets and cultures and sentient species. Some of my friends are interested in “soc-fi”, fictional plausible societies. There are con-langs and alternate histories and speculative biology. There’s even time-fi. And now, finally, we have food fiction – fun recipes with beautiful results that don’t work! Unfortunately, it’s masquerading as those short viral videos from Blossom, Five Minute Crafts, So Yummy, etc, that you see all over facebook and youtube, and it’s also known as “lying for profit.”

Trees that harvest high amounts of metals from the soil, so much that e.g. nickel trees exude green sap. BLDGBLOG calls this “metallurgical druidry.”

Sandy Island, New Caledonia: an island near Australia that was discovered not to exist in 2012. This is part of a phenomenon known as “phantom islands.”

A wholesome online retail store that sells zoo animal toys.

Why does a tiny spot in rural Maine produce as much light at night as some cities? Identification of unexpected light sources from a global map of light pollution. (Fun game: try to guess each source before you learn what the answer is.)

A very intense online “game”: Look at videos of lifeguard rescues in swimming pools. See if you can find and click on the drowning kid before the lifeguard rescues them. May be good if you spend a lot of time around kids (or adults?) in water.

Do you know about David Goodsell’s biology art? He makes gorgeous drawings of cells, molecular mechanisms, etcetera, that are also considered good representations of how much stuff there actually is in a cell. A lot more than the sort of sterile, structured drawings you saw in intro biology textbooks.

This Dutch company trains eagles to take down drones. A news article notes:

“What I find fascinating is that birds can hit the drone in such a way that they don’t get injured by the rotors,” said LeBaron [of the Audubon society]. “They seem to be whacking the drone right in the centre so they don’t get hit; they have incredible visual acuity and they can probably actually see the rotors.”

Humans, of course, only see rotors as a blur – LeBaron suspects that the eagles can make out the complete movement and thus have no trouble avoiding injury. It doesn’t hurt, either, that attacking a drone the way a bird might attack another bird is usually effective. “Their method of attack is always going to be to hit it in the middle of the back; with the drones they perceive the rotors on the side and so they just go for the rear.”

This is fascinating and also checks out with the observation that smaller animals, notably birds, seem to have a much faster perception than humans.

It seems like smart speakers, bluetooth headsets, and the like can be hacked to produce harmful levels of sound. Great! That’s another entry for the bestiary.

Do not open this book.

COVID-19 FAQ

(featured image is from Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 live tracker map on 3-12-2020.)

A lot of people have been asking me questions about the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) outbreak, in my informal capacity as “local biodefense person”. I’m not an expert in this. I’m just a grad student with a blog. But I have been trying to keep up on the news and research, and in the interests of sharing what I know and saving my emotional energy for more specific responses (and also the rest of my life), I thought I’d share what I’m thinking about the situation right now.

This is an emerging situation. I’m writing this on March 12th, 2020, I expect any specific information or recommendations to be valid for at least the next few days, but after that, they may change a lot. Also, this post is based on the situation in the US, where most of my readers are. Check recent information (especially in your area) and think carefully about what kinds of precautions you should take.


Q: Are you worried about COVID-19?

A: Hell yes I’m worried.

Q: Why are you worried?

A: The death rate is high, the disease is spreading very rapidly and quietly, and we don’t have medical countermeasures. There were a priori reasons to think this was a bad situation as well – novel respiratory viruses are known to be uniquely bad. SARS and MERS were famous high-lethality coronaviruses well before the current outbreak – if I’d made a list of predictions about what kind of new disease outbreaks we should be worrying about (something I’ll probably do now), I almost certainly would have written down “a SARS-like coronavirus”.

Q: Is this really worse than the seasonal flu?

A: Yes. It spreads faster and the death rate is higher.

Q: Should I be worried?

A: Yes. It depends on where you are – you’re in more active danger if you live in a city and live with or come in contact with a lot of people every day, or you’re older or have one of a few pre-existing conditions (e.g. heart disease, lung disease, diabetes). You should also be more careful if you work with elderly people or in a healthcare setting. In any case, you should almost certainly be taking some kind of precaution.

Q: How bad is this going to get?

A: Ha ha ha ha ha. I have no idea.

At the least, based on where we are now and its recent trajectory, it’s going to get worse. I see a couple plausible trajectories for this:

1) Humanity gets our collective $@%& together and contains it. Perhaps a vaccine or effective countermeasure eases the way. COVID-19 is beaten back and eventually vanishes from the human species. This is a notable outbreak for academic purposes, but in a few decades, most people barely remember it.

2) This gets very big. I’ve heard some guesses that everybody will end up getting infected. It may become endemic, meaning that it’s a constant ongoing infection rather than a one-off spillover from an animal. It may stay as deadly as it is, or attenuate, meaning it becomes less harmful but still spreads around. Or maybe literally everyone doesn’t get it, but many, many people do, and this becomes our generation’s version of the 1918 flu. Or worse.

Q: If everyone’s going to get COVID-19, maybe I should just get it now and get it out of the way?

A: You are actively trying to give me a migraine.

Q: I promise I will still try not to get it. Theoretically, though, wouldn’t it still be better to get it early?

A: Okay, so there is something to this. I’ve seen some elegant little charts going around that look like this:

This suggests that yes, there’s something to spreading out infections over a longer period of time, so that in case you need to get hospitalized, hospitals will be kept under maximum capacity, and this will save lives in the long run.

First, however, these graphs assume that we are capable of getting the infection peak to below the point where hospitals are overwhelmed. I have my doubts.

Second, if you can get the disease later rather than earlier, you’ve bought the healthcare system more time to prepare, and perhaps for the market to provide more supplies.

Third, there’s at least some amount of evidence that the virus is not immunizing in all cases – that there’s some chance you could get the virus, recover, and then get it again. Most people I’ve talked to think that this is probably not actually true and that it’s a mistake with the earlier tests (that is, the tests that showed the person no longer had the virus were wrong, and they did still have it.) But in case it’s not a mistake, it’s horrifying, so maybe don’t get it.

Fourth, if the model that “everyone will get it” is wrong, you’ve just gotten the virus and maybe helped spread it for no good reason at all.

If for some reason you still that this is a good idea, note that if you get the disease, you put everyone you live with and interact with at risk. If you think you have it, you need to stay quarantined and avoid interacting with people face-to-face for at least fourteen days + the duration of any symptoms. Otherwise, you are putting people at unnecessary risk.

Just do your best to avoid getting it. Gosh.

Q: How should I be preparing?

A: If the virus is in your area, you should prepare for:

1) Avoiding transmission via social distancing

Avoid large groups. The degree to which you should do this is dependent on how bad the threat is where you are. In the DC area, I would strongly consider not attending even small parties or meetups at this point. As a reference point, Oregon, Maryland, New York, Seattle, and Santa Clara governments have all banned gatherings of more than a certain number of people (250-500).

Avoid crowded areas. Stock up on shelf-stable groceries now so that you have to go to the store less.

Can you work from home, either full or part-time? If so, figure out how to now.

Elderly and immunocompromised people, as well as people with certain pre-existing conditions (e.g. heart disease, lung disease, diabetes) , are at particular risk. Figure out who these people in your life are. Help them figure out plans for reducing risk. And note that these people will be existing and interacting in public, as always, even if you don’t know who they are.

2) Supply chain disruptions

If the disease gets worse, we may see disruptions in supply chains. We are already seeing shortages of e.g. masks and hand sanitizer in grocery stores. Extra stockpiled food and supplies will be helpful if this happens. (I think “at least two weeks” is a good guideline, but do more if you can. I think I have at least a month of food in my house now.)

If you need medication, try to get a larger supply from your doctor now. (You may try asking for a ninety-day or six-month supply, lots of doctors can do this for travelling patients.) China produces a lot of medication precursor ingredients. This FDA list contains an updated list of which meds are in short supply.

Q: How do I tell when to start doing social distancing?

A: If you’re in the US, the US government has been reacting kind of slowly, so you should be planning to do it before official recommendations say to. I would say: start doing some social distancing as soon as there are reports of community transmission in your area. (That is, someone who did not travel to an infected country gets the disease.) Amp up your distancing efforts as more people get it.

Q: I was about to travel. Should I cancel my plans?

A: I would not take a plane or greyhound-type bus anywhere at this point. If you are very sure you are not sick (no cold- or flu-like symptoms for at least the past 14 days, and no close contact with a sick person), and you’re travelling to a place without community transmission, this is less risky. If you’re planning on driving, it’s even less risky. …But I’d still be careful, and if there’s a lot of community transmission where you are, I think it’s best to stay home.

Q: Actually, I was going on a cruise ship –

A: Do not go on a cruise ship.

Q: What should I be stockpiling?

A: My suggestions:

  • At least two weeks’ worth of shelf-stable food (ideally a month’s worth).
    • Including coffee or tea if you caffeinate (it’s cheap and will make your life much better should you need it).
    • Including food that’s easy to prepare and eat, like canned soup and powdered drink mix, in case you get sick.
    • Including protein and vegetables.
    • Potentially: a multivitamin. In particular, there is some evidence that Vitamin D supplements help prevent respiratory infections.
  • Plenty of hand soap (wash your hands a lot, especially when in public or coming home).
  • Plenty of hand sanitizer (start using this now).
  • Other consumables you need to live – laundry detergent, dish soap, toilet paper, etc.
  • Disinfectant wipes (start using these now. They are largely safe for phone screens).
  • Things you like when you have the cold or flu (painkillers, cough drops, honey, etc) in case you get sick.
  • Extra supplies of essential medication and supplements.
  • Things to do so you won’t get bored out of your mind if you have to start spending most of your days (or spare time) inside – craft supplies, books, whatever. I also got a yoga mat so I could exercise (via youtube videos) indoors.
  • Extra pet food and supplies, if you have a pet.
  • A digital thermometer. COVID-19 infections often come with a fever. If you get a fever, stay home.

Q: I don’t have enough space to stockpile supplies.

A: I live in a studio apartment and still have a couple boxes of calorie-dense dried and canned food and cleaning supplies tucked away. You can probably figure it out. (If you are my friend who lives in a car, you can still do a little but yeah, okay, that kind of blows. Ask a friend if you can keep supplies in their shed.)

Q: What about masks?

A: For preventing you from getting sick, I’m confused about masks. I think they must be beneficial, but also that mask production doesn’t seem to be ramping up quickly and there are already shortages for groups in need. Some groups are saying not to use them to protect yourself, but I think that’s a response to the shortage, and the fact that healthcare workers and immunocompromised people and sick people need them more than you. If you have a mask already, it will probably help you avoid getting sick.

If you are sick, masks will definitely help prevent you from infecting other people. But if you’re sick, try and avoid other people anyway.

I hear that there are DIY masks out there and think it makes sense that there should be some effective ways to make them with common materials, but I haven’t looked into this and have no idea how to assess this. 

A few relevant studies are summarized here, with equivocal results. Note that just slapping e.g. a t-shirt over your face will not help much. Either way, look up how to make sure your mask is fitted properly, and how to take it off safely.

Q: I get my groceries or [INSERT IMPORTANT THING HERE] delivered. Does that work?

A: I wouldn’t count on it. Your deliveryperson or anybody who interacts with your products beforehand might be sick. Stockpile anyway, and if the situation gets really dire, either shut down deliveries or think of ways to disinfect sealed packages first. If you rely on deliveries, I’d order those deliveries in bulk now and reduce deliveries later.

Some of my friends are thinking about ways to disinfect normal postal mail. I don’t know enough to say if this is important yet. I think it’s worth considering. The virus potentially survives for up to 9 days on surfaces (but this likely depends on the surface.) Bleach, alcohol, and quaternary ammonia all seem to kill the virus.

Q: Do I need to stockpile water, or prepare for power outages?

A: Probably not. Utilities, especially water, tend to be relatively easy to keep running even if many people become sick. (In Wuhan, for instance, the power and water supplies never shut off.) That said, it’s never a bad idea to have a few days’ worth of water on hand for disasters, or a backup system for an electronics you absolutely need. Or if you rely on fuel or deliveries for water or power, you may want to store extra. (Note that the US Department of Homeland Security recommends having a 2-week supply of water on hand in pandemics.)

Q: What about people who can’t work from home, or afford to social-distance themselves, or afford to stockpile supplies?

A: They are at higher risk. This just sucks and there’s no great answer. Broadly, these people will still be better off if other people decide to stay at home, stockpile food from the grocery store rather than going every week, etc. If you can do social distancing, keep in mind that you’re not just reducing risk to yourself, but also to everyone else you come in contact with.

Q: Isn’t stockpiling bad because it will deplete supplies for other people?

A: If you stockpile early, you send a signal to the market that they need to provide more food and supplies. If you stockpile too late, yyyesss. I’m not sure what to do about this, aside from noting that you’re probably not the only one doing it. If you’re worried, just stockpile earlier.

Q: We’ve already been seeing xenophobic/racist attitudes towards Chinese people emerge as a result of this. Is it possible this is the real danger?

A: It is a danger, but the stance that stoking racism is “the real danger” is misguided. In the aftermath shortly after 9/11, I think it would have been fair to say that “the social ramifications that this incites will be worse than the attack itself.” But this is not 9/11. This is a lethal disease that has spread worldwide. It has already killed more people than 9/11 and may well kill many, many, many more in the coming months, including in the United States (where most of my readers are). People are afraid and they are right to be fearful.

This does not excuse xenophobia. People should be afraid of the disease – we owe all the compassion we can muster and more to other people. You ought to combat racism where you see it, think about your own attitudes, and certainly not uphold racist ideas like “maybe I should avoid Chinese people” – but you should also be preparing and treating the disease itself as a real threat.

Q: I’m young and have no no pre-existing conditions. I don’t need to be worried, right?

A: You don’t need to be as worried as other groups. But COVID-19 might still have a ~0.2% mortality rate for young, healthy adults. If you were offered the chance to do something really cool for free (hang-gliding, an amusement park) but it came with a 1-in-500 chance you’d be killed, you wouldn’t do it, and you shouldn’t.

Arguably, you should be more scared for other people with worse conditions, but you’re allowed to be scared for yourself too. Do you, personally, need permission to be selfishly afraid? Here it is. I am young and healthy and afraid for my own health. Death is really, really bad, and a 1-in-500 chance of dying is awful, even if other people have it worse. This is a horrible situation.

Also: The worst is yet to come. Pneumonia and hospitalization are deeply unpleasant and still fairly probable outcomes. If hospitals become overloaded, your chance of surviving severe pneumonia goes way down. 

Q: Are there reasons for hope?

A: Yes. At least a couple different groups are now doing human trials on candidate vaccines. After a ~3 month span, this is literally unprecedented in vaccine development.

The virus’ genome was also sequenced faster than any other novel disease.

Also, while the media has been spreading a lot of misinformation and undirected panic, the modern media environment also means that more people can be informed and prepared than ever before.

We’re in this together. Stay strong, readers. ❤

(Thanks to friends for reviewing this piece, especially Glenn Willen / @gwillen.)

A point of clarification on infohazard terminology

TL;DR: “Infohazard” means any kind of information that could be harmful in some fashion. Let’s use “cognitohazard” to describe information that could specifically harm the person who knows it.

Some people in my circle like to talk about the idea of information hazards or infohazards, which are dangerous information. This isn’t a fictional concept – Nick Bostrom characterizes a number of different types of infohazards in his 2011 paper that introduces the term (PDF available here). Lots of kinds of information can be dangerous or harmful in some fashion – detailed instructions for making a nuclear bomb. A signal or hint that a person is a member of a marginalized group. An extremist ideology. A spoiler for your favorite TV show. (Listen, an infohazard is a kind of hazard, not a measure of intensity. A papercut is still a kind of injury!)

I’ve been in places where “infohazard” is used in the Bostromian sense casually – to talk about, say, dual-use research of concern in the biological sciences, and describe the specific dangers that might come from publishing procedures of results.

I’ve also been in more esoteric conversations where people use the word “infohazard” to talk about a specific kind of Bostromian information hazard: information that may harm the person who knows it. This is a stranger concept, but there are still lots of apparent examples – a catchy earworm. “You just lost the game.” More seriously, an easy method of committing suicide for a suicidal person. A prototypical fictional example is the “basilisk” fractal from David Langford’s 1988 short story BLIT, which kills you if you see it.

This is a subset of the original definition because it is harmful information, but it’s expected to harm the person who knows it in particular. For instance, detailed schematics for a nuclear weapon aren’t really expected to bring harm to a potential weaponeer – the danger is that the weaponeer will use them to harm others. But fully internalizing the information that Amazon will deliver you a 5-pound bag of Swedish Fish whenever you want is specifically a danger to you. (…Me.)

This disparate use of terms is confusing. I think Bostrom and his intellectual kith get the broader definition of “infohazard”, since they coined the word and are actually using it professionally.*

I propose we call the second thing – information that harms the knower – a cognitohazard.

Pictured: Instantiation of a cognitohazard. Something something red herrings.

This term is shamelessly borrowed from the SCP Foundation, which uses it in a similar way in fiction. I figure the usage can’t make the concept sound any more weird and sci-fi than it already does.

(Cognitohazards don’t have to be hazardous to everybody. Someone who hates Swedish Fish is not going to spend all their money buying bags of Swedish Fish off of Amazon and diving into them like Scrooge McDuck. For someone who loves Swedish Fish – well, no comment. I’d call this “a potential cognitohazard” if you were to yell it into a crowd with unknown opinions on Swedish Fish.)

Anyways, hope that clears things up.


* For a published track record of this usage, see: an academic paper from Future of Humanity Institute and Center for Health Security staff, another piece by Bostrom, an opinion piece by esteemed synthetic biologist Kevin Esvelt, a piece on synthetic biology by FHI researcher Cassidy Nelson, a piece by Phil Torres.

(UPDATE: The version I initially published proposed the term “memetic hazard” rather than “cognitohazard.” LessWrong commentor MichaelA kindly pointed out that “memetic hazard” already meant a different concept that better suited that name. Since I had only just put out the post, I decided to quickly backpeddle and switch out the word for another one with similar provinence. I hate having to do this, but it sure beats not doing it. Thank you, MichaelA!)

Internet Harvest (2020, 1)

First, a quick note and call for aid. For my final semester in George Mason’s biodefense program, I’m working on a capstone project. I’ll be researching and writing about list-based biosecurity in the US – places where biodefense systems identify risks based on a list of known pathogens.

I see why the systems work this way, and this was probably sufficient in the past – yet as far as I’m aware, it’s all but an unspoken consensus in the field that these won’t protect against engineered organisms – recombinant or genetically altered pathogens that are either totally novel, or “resemble” a harmless organism in most ways while posing significant danger to humans. I want to explore where list-based biosecurity shows up, what the risks are, and possible alternative systems. Ideally, this’ll eventually be published.

If you have thoughts on any of the above, or you know things that I should know, I’d love to chat. My email, as always, is eukaryotewritesblog (at) gmail.com.


Alright, on to the bounty. Internet Harvest is a selection of the most succulent links on the internet that I’ve recently plucked from its fruitful boughs.

I’m interested in feedback on what you think of the section, or the links therein. Feel free to discuss the links in the comments.


Are you following the Wuhan coronavirus/nCoV outbreak? Yeah, me too. This is the first major world event that I actually know anything about that I’m watching unfold live on Twitter, and the misinformation situation on a lot of the hashtags is so much worse than I thought. The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security is publishing regular updates on the outbreak’s progress, and they know what they’re talking about.

Mystery drone swarms above US cities! Welcome to 2020. This is a thing that happens now, I guess.

An update to the colorful visual Euclid textbook in the last internet harvest: A gorgeous web version.

A confusing Youtube project: “meaningwave”, which features glitchy visuals, soft electronic music, and clips from motivational speakers. Notably Jordan Peterson, but also Alan Watts and Mr Rogers. Dozens of videos, all made by the same person. I don’t like Jordan Peterson but I can recognize when the universe drops something bizarre and beautiful into my lap. This one is my favorite, featuring Naval Ravikant on habits and clips from the Moomin TV show.

The website of, and videos from, a practicing professional Voodoo magician.

My views on gendered pronouns as a mainstay of language are well-exemplified by this classic Douglas Hofstadter essay (yes, the Gödel, Escher, Bach guy), Person Paper on Purity in Language. (Content warning: Lots of ironic racism.)

Speaking of racism, a horrific aspect of it in the US that I didn’t know much about: Sundown Towns. The linked research project includes maps and how to identify if a town was one. (Content warning: Discussion of intense racism, mostly anti-black, and antisemitism.)

Escape a frankly soul-sucking social media ecosystem, and make 2020 the renaissance of the personal website. If anyone wants to set up an unironic webring with me, hit me up.

(Indieweb looks like a decent place to start.)

This month’s podcast recommendation is The Dream, on multi-level marketing schemes. It’s compassionate and cutting at the same time, as well as interesting and informative. I don’t come from an environment where these are common, so it’s boggling to see the scope of these – though I expect if you’re already more familiar with MLMs, you’ll still get something out of this.

You know about moon snails, right? Look ye upon moon snails. (If you live on the west coast of the USA, you can go find these guys on sandy beaches at low tide.)

Algorithmic horror

There’s a particular emotion that I felt a lot over 2019, much more than any other year. I expect it to continue in future years. That emotion is what I’m calling “algorithmic horror”.

It’s confusion at a targeted ad on Twitter for a product you were just talking about.

It’s seeing a “recommended friend” on facebook, but who you haven’t seen in years and don’t have any contact with.

It’s skimming a tumblr post with a banal take and not really registering it, and then realizing it was written by a bot.

It’s those baffling Lovecraftian kid’s videos on Youtube.

It’s a disturbing image from ArtBreeder, dreamed up by a computer.

PIctured: a normal dog. Don’t worry about it. It’s fine.

I see this as an outgrowth of ancient, evolution-calibrated emotions. Back in the day, our lives depended on quick recognition of the signs of other animals – predator, prey, or other humans. There’s a moment I remember from animal tracking where disparate details of the environment suddenly align – the way the twigs are snapped and the impressions in the dirt suddenly resolve themselves into the idea of deer.

In the built environment of today, we know that most objects are built by human hands. Still, it can be surprising to walk in an apparently remote natural environment and find a trail or structure, evidence that someone has come this way before you. Skeptic author Michael Shermer calls this “agenticity”, the human bias towards seeing intention and agency in all sorts of patterns.

Or, as argumate puts it:

the trouble is humans are literally structured to find “a wizard did it” a more plausible explanation than things just happening by accident for no reason.

I see algorithmic horror as an extension of this, built objects masquerading as human-generated. I looked up oarfish merchandise on Amazon, to see if I could buy anything commemorating the world’s best fish, and found this hat.

If you look at the seller’s listing, you can confirm that all of their products are like this.

It’s a bit incredible. Presumably, no #oarfish hat has ever existed. No human ever created an #oarfish hat or decided that somebody would like to buy them. Possibly, nobody had ever even viewed the #oarfish hat listing until I stumbled onto it.

In a sense this is just an outgrowth of custom-printing services that have been around for decades, but… it’s weird, right? It’s a weird ecosystem.

But human involvement can be even worse. All of those weird Youtube kid’s videos were made by real people. Many of them are acted out by real people. But they were certainly done to market to children, on Youtube, and named and designed in order to fit into a thoughtless algorithm. You can’t tell me that an adult human was ever like “you know what a good artistic work would be?” and then made “Learn Colors Game with Disney Frozen, PJ Masks Paw Patrol Mystery – Spin the Wheel Get Slimed” without financial incentives created by an automated program.

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a faceless adult hand pulling a pony figurine out of a plastic egg, while taking a break between cutting glittered balls of playdoh in half, silent while a prerecorded version of Skip To My Lou plays in the background, forever.

Everything discussed so far is relatively inconsequential, foreshadowing rather than the shade itself. But algorithms are still affecting the world and harming people now – setting racially-biased bail in Kentucky, potentially-biased hiring decisions, facilitating companies recording what goes on in your home, even career Youtubers forced to scramble and pivot as their videos become more or less recommended.

To be clear, algorithms also do a great deal of good – increasing convenience and efficiency, decreasing resource consumption, probably saving lives a well. I don’t mean to write this to say “algorithms are all-around bad”, or even “algorithms are net bad”. Sometimes it’s solely with good intentions, but it still sounds incredibly creepy, like how Facebook is judging how suicidal all of its users are.

This is an elegant instance of Goodhart’s Law. Goodhart’s Law says that if you want a certain result and issue rewards for a metric related to the result, you’ll start getting optimization for the metric rather than the result.

The Youtube algorithm – and other algorithms across the web – are created to connect people with content (in order to sell to advertisers, etc.) Producers of content want to attract as much attention as possible to sell their products.

But the algorithms just aren’t good enough to perfectly offer people the online content they want. They’re simplified, relies on keywords, can be duped, etcetera. And everyone knows that potential customers aren’t going to trawl through the hundreds of pages of online content themselves for the best “novelty mug” or “kid’s video”. So a lot of content exists, and decisions are made, that fulfill the algorithm’s criteria rather than our own.

In a sense, when we look at the semi-coherent output of algorithms, we’re looking into the uncanny valley between the algorithm’s values and our own.

We live in strange times. Good luck to us all for 2020.


Aside from its numerous forays into real life, algorithmic horror has also been at the center of some stellar fiction. See:

Internet Harvest (2019, 1)

Inspired by some other favorite bloggers, I’m trying a new post type: a selection of the most succulent links on the internet that I’ve recently plucked from its fruitful boughs.

I’m interested in feedback on what you think of the section, or the links therein. Feel free to discuss the links in the comments.

Biology

Best youtube videos of the month: Dubstep video of a sub-antarctic “brinicle” of super-cold saltwater. Zero narration. The drop hits perfectly.

Instead of a video loop of a crackling fire, why not put on BBC Earth’s “Deep Ocean: 10 Hours of Relaxing Oceanscapes” in the background of your winter party? Zero narration, just faint water sounds and lovely footage of spectacular seascapes and bizarre animals. (There are other videos for Open Ocean and other ocean environments.)

Possible method for assessing animal welfare, either in the wild or, in this case, in farms: If you give them antidepressants, do they get better? A Russian factory farm has tried giving antidepressants (lithium) to their pigs.

Culture

A journal specifically for works in the public domain.

Ethnography of an online roleplay based on the Warriors Cat series, which took place entirely on book reviews for the Nook e-reader. Humans will build culture in a handful of dust.

A timeline of when food and specific dishes came into being!

Art

Uncomfortable ASMR

A mid-1700’s series of etchings of cavernous fantasy prisons. I think I’ve had nightmares about this place before.

A colorful, visual version of Euclid’s proofs.

Assorted

“She sells sea shells by the sea shore” is frequently held to refer to Mary Anning, a major figure in palaeontology who found dinosaur and other fossils in Lyme Regis on the southern coast of England. I hold that it would also make sense if it referred to the Seychelles.

Semi-relatedly, the Seychelles are generally a matriarchal society.

I very much enjoyed the Bellingcat Podcast. If you like investigative journalism and careful analysis of fraught political situations, you may as well.

“Privacy-conscious” and open-source alternatives to apps and software you probably use regularly.

UrracaWatch: A biodefense twitter mystery

This is is an internet mystery that is now mostly defunct. I’m going to write it down here anyways in case someone can tell me what was going on, or will be able to in the future.

In July 2019, a few people on Professional Biodefense Twitter noted that they were getting follows or likes from some very idiosyncratic twitter accounts. (Some more screenshots are available at that link.)

The posts on these accounts had a few things in common:

  • Links to apparently random web pages related to chemical weapons, biological weapons, or health care
  • These links are routed through “UrracaWatch.com” before leading to the final link
  • No commentary

The accounts also have a few other properties:

  • Real-sounding usernames and display names
  • No other posts on the account
  • I tried reverse-image-searching a couple account-related images and didn’t see anything. James Diggans on Twitter tried doing the same for account profile photos (of people) and also didn’t find results.

The choice of websites linked were very strange. They looked like someone searched for various chem/bioweapon/health-related words, then chose random websites from the first page or two of search results. Definition pages, scholarly articles, products (but all from very different websites.)

Tweets from one of the UrracaWatch Twitter accounts.
Tweets from one of the UrracaWatch Twitter accounts.

Some example UrracaWatch bot account handles: DeterNoBoom, fumeFume31, ChemOrRiley, ChristoBerk, BioWeaP0n, ScienceGina, chempower2112, ChemistWannabe. All of these looked exactly like the Mark Davis @ChemPower2112. (Sidenote: I really wish I had archived these more properly. If you find an internet mystery you might want to investigate later, save all the pages right away. You’re just going to have to take me on faith. Alternatively, if you have more screenshots of any of these websites or accounts, please send them to me.)

if this actually is weird psy-op propaganda, I think “Holly England @VaxyourKid” represents a rare example of pro-vaccination English propaganda, as opposed to the more common anti-vaccination propaganda. Also, not to side with the weird maybe-psy-op, but vaccinate your kids.

And here are some facts about the (now-defunct) website UrracaWatch:

  • The website had a very simple format – a list of links (the same kinds of bio/chem/health links that end up on the twitter pages), and a text bar at the top for entering new links.
  • (I tried using it to submit a link and didn’t see an immediate new entry on the page.)
  • There were no advertisements, information on the creators, other pages, etc.
  • According to the page source code and the tracker- and cross-request-detecting Firefox app Ghostery, there were no trackers, counters, advertisers, or any other complexity on the site.
  • According to the ICANN registry, the domain UrracaWatch.com was registered 9-17-2018 via GoDaddy. The domain has now expired as of 9-17-2019, probably as part of a 12-month domain purchase.
  • Urraca is a spanish word for magpie, which was a messenger of death in the view of the Anasazi people. (The messenger of death part probably isn’t relevant here, but they mention the word as part of a real-life spooky historical site in The Black Tapes Podcast, and this added an unavoidable sinister flavor.) (Urraca is also a woman’s name.)

(I don’t have a screenshot of the website. A March 2019 Internet Archive snapshot is blank, but I’m not sure if that’s an error or was an accurate reflection at the time.)

As far as I can tell, nobody aside from these twitterbots have ever linked to or used UrracaWatch.com for anything at all, anywhere on the web.

By and large, the twitterbots – and I think they must be bots – have been banned. The website is down.

But come on, what on earth was UrracaWatch?

Some possibilities:

  • Advertisement scheme
  • Test of some kind of Twitter-scraping link- or ad-bot that happened to focus on the biodefense community on twitter for some reason
  • Weird psy-op

I’m dubious of the advertisement angle. I’ve been enjoying a lot of the podcast Reply All lately, especially their episodes on weird scams. There’s an interesting point made in my favorite episode (The Case of the Phantom Caller) in dissecting a weird communication, which I asked myself here – I just can’t see how anyone is making money off of this. Again, there were occasional product links, but they were to all different websites that looked like legitimate stores, and I don’t think I ever saw multiple links to the same store.

That leaves “bot test” and “weird psy-op”, or something I haven’t thought of yet. If it was propaganda, it wasn’t very good. If you have a guess about what was going on, let me know.

The Germy Paradox – Filters: A taboo

This is the fifth post in a sequence of blog posts on state biological weapons programs. (“A taboo” was originally going to be the second-to-last post, but has been switched with “The shadow of nuclear weapons”. The index has been rearranged in past posts accordingly.) Others will be linked here as they come out:

1.0 Introduction
2.1 The empty sky: A history of state biological weapons programs
2.2 The empty sky: How close did we get to BW usage?
3.1 Filters: Hard and soft skills
3.2 Filters: A taboo
3.3 Filters: The shadow of nuclear weapons
4.0 Conclusion: Open questions and the future of state BW   

In 3.1: Hard and soft skills, we discussed the possibility that the Germy Paradox exists because bioweapons aren’t actually easy to make. Today, we go into the past and discuss another possibility – that whether or not they’re effective, there’s some kind of taboo or cultural reason they aren’t used.

This is not a new idea, although there’s no real consensus. I separate scholarly explanations for the Taboo Filter into two schools: the humaneness hypothesis and the treachery hypothesis. In the humaneness hypothesis, people reject BW because they are unnecessarily cruel. The treachery hypothesis asserts that the taboo is an outgrowth of the ancient beliefs about poison and disease in warfare – that they are secretive, unfair, inexplicable, and fundamentally evil. This hypothesis has many facets and intermingles with evolutionary revulsion to poison and contamination.  

But first, how do weapons taboos break?

The reason this filter explanation is particularly interesting is that taboos exist at the whim of the culture, and don’t have particular concrete reasons for existence. If we are protected by a taboo against BW usage, how resilient is that protection?

Trying to assess the strength of a taboo is difficult. We cannot reliably predict the future or the vicissitudes of future policy decisions, particularly when it comes to rare events like BW development or usage.

This is especially true when we are not even certain of the origin of the taboo. But we can perhaps compare it to another event: the chemical weapons taboo. Chemical and biological weapons are, while not terribly similar, often treated similarly in policy (Smith 2014), and are often seen lumped under the categories of “biochemical weapons”, “CBW” (Chemical and Biological Weapons), “CBRN” (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons), or “WMD” (weapons of mass destruction), so it is appropriate to compare policy decisions. 

Chemical weapons have been used much more frequently than BW, and hence, the taboo has been broken on multiple occasions. The Hague Convention was broken by the use of poison gas in WW1; and the Geneva Protocol was broken by chemical and biological weapons use by, among others, Japan, Iraq, and Syria. (Jefferson 2014) Weapon usage is subject to “popularity”, and the up to 161 usages of chemical weapons in Syria have probably built upon each other and reduced psychological and political barriers to future attacks.(Revill 2017) This taboo may already be on unsteady ground. 

More directly, the USSR created the largest biological weapons program of all time after signing the Biological Weapons Convention treaty, and Iraq operated an enormous program secretly until 1991. (Wheelis and Rózsa, 2009) In addition to a handful of bioterror efforts in modern times, several states are currently suspected of having biological weapons programs. (A list and sources can be found in Aftergood, 2000.) The BW taboo, as well, may not be as resilient as it appears. That said, it seems likely that an outright declaration or usage of biological weapons by a state would both provoke a stronger response, and erode the taboo severely. The likelihood of this last possibility is what seems most concerning. However, to understand it, we must understand what factors are behind the apparent taboo today. 

Humaneness

The first school of thought I consider holds that a taboo exists because biological and chemical weapons are seen as unacceptably inhumane compared to conventional weapons. This seems to have been the motivation of one of the earliest modern explicit taboos against chemical and biological weapons usage, the 1863 Lieber Code (Jefferson 2014). This set of guidelines for humane warfare in the US Army included the following: 

Article 16: “Military necessity does not admit of cruelty – that is, the infliction of suffering for the sake of suffering or for revenge, nor of maiming or wounding except in fight, nor of torture to extort confessions. It does not admit of the use of poison in any way, nor of the wanton devastation of a district. It admits of deception, but disclaims acts of perfidy; and, in general, military necessity does not include any act of hostility which makes the return to peace unnecessarily difficult.”

Article 70: “The use of poison in any manner, be it to poison wells, or food, or arms, is wholly excluded from modern warfare. He that uses it puts himself out of the pale of the law and usages of war.”

Leiber, 1863

This code influenced other guidelines for warfare, leading to the forbidding of use of chemical and bacteriological weapons in the Hague Conventions and later the Geneva Protocol. 

As a principle, the humaneness taboo relies implicitly on at least one of two assumptions – first, that death or injury from BW is worse than the same from conventional weapons. Second, that BW are more likely to be used against civilian populations, or otherwise inflicting harm on people who would not be affected by conventional weapons. It is easy to imagine that the days-long struggle of a lethal case of smallpox is less humane than an instantaneous death from a bomb, or that biological weapons are frequently targeted at civilians. But these assumptions should be assessed. 

There is some evidence that soldiers affected by chemical weapons during World War 1 had higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (Jefferson 2014), and diseases are obviously capable of causing protracted suffering. Still, objections have been raised to the notion that biological weapons harm targets more than conventional weapons. Early US responses to the Lieber Code, quoted above, point out that effects from “poison” weapons are not necessarily worse than sinking ships and causing enemy soldiers to drown. (Zander 2003) BW may even be better – many pathogens give infected enemies “a fighting chance” to recover completely, rather than a kinetic attack that maims or kills outright. (Rappert 2003) A minority objection is that since war-makers are motivated to end wars quickly, it may be inhumane to ban any kind of battlefield weapon, on the grounds that removing a country’s best strategy will cause the war to go on longer, and thus extend the suffering that goes along with it. (Rappert 2003) These utilitarian frameworks are important to consider, although when understanding the route of norms, it is important to note that the actual tradeoffs involved are less important than the perception of what the tradeoffs are. Either way, it seems as though neither academia nor military decision-makers have considered these points in detail when making choices about BW, suggesting that this kind of reasoned analysis is not being done anywhere. 

The second assumption that the humaneness hypothesis may rely upon is that biological weapons are more likely than conventional to be used on civilians. There is some evidence for this, in that Japanese BW were extensively used against civilians (Barenblatt 2004) and targets of later BW programs during the Cold War included cities and agriculture. (Wheelis and Rózsa 2009) But the far larger and more influential nuclear war plans during the Cold War included the destruction of cities and billions of civilian lives (Ellsberg 2017), even after both Soviet and American governments agreed to give up their BW programs. Sparing civilian lives in worst-case scenarios cannot have been a military priority. 

If the humaneness hypothesis is true, we should expect states to be more comfortable with facing and wielding nonlethal BW. For chemical weapons and perhaps biological weapons as well, this seems to be true. (Pearson 2006, Martin 2016) The American, Soviet, and Japanese BW programs had vast programs to develop agricultural weapons, damaging crops or livestock without affecting humans. (Wheelis and Rózsa 2009) Nonlethal anti-personnel weapons were major component of the American BW program (Alastair 1999) as well as an end goal of the South African BW program. (Wheelis and Rózsa 2009) As far as chemical weapons go, the nonlethality of defoliants is considered to have been a major reason those weapons in particular were used by Kennedy during the Vietnam War (Martin 2016) (although other explanations have been proposed as well, as described later in this piece). It is less clear that revelations of a nonlethal BW program today would provoke less fear than revelations of a lethal program – recent literature has not discussed this question. 

Disconcertingly, Susan Pearson suggests that the promise of incapacitating nonlethal BW may inspire development of other BW tactics. (Pearson 2006) While nonlethal weapons were an eventual goal of the South African weapons program (Wheelis and Rózsa 2009), they planned on developing anthrax weapons first, so there is precedent for this claim. Any erosion of this norm may open the door for more overall use of BW, humane or not. (Ilchmann and Revill 2014)

Powerful and invisible: The treachery hypothesis

A separate body of thought holds that biological warfare exists in the public mind in a category that can be described as “treacherous”. This is related to what Jessica Stern calls the “dreaded” nature of BW: it is invisible, unfamiliar, and triggers a disproportionately degree of disgust and fear. (Stern 2003) In explaining this nature, proponents generally refer to the history of revulsion to poison and disease. This would have begun in the evolution of the species, creating an intuitive revulsion of sickness and contamination that kept our ancestors alive. (Cole, 1998)

 This trend can be observed in a huge variety of cultures: in Hindu laws of war from 600 AD (Cole 1998), to poison’s association in Christianity with the devil and witchcraft (van Courtland Moon 2008), to South American tribes that allowed warriors to poison their arrows when hunting but not for war. (Cole 1998) Poison and disease are often seen as acceptable tools against subhumans, but not against equals. (Zanders 2003)

It’s important not to overstate it – the taboo is not a human universal. Both the Bible and the Quran contain provisions on how to wage war, but do not forbid poison, disease, or the like as weapons. (Zanders 2003) In Europe, despite official prohibitions beginning in the Renaissance era, their use was defended until 1737. (Price 1995) Nonetheless, the taboo is still notably common in human culture. It is hard to imagine early taboos existing for humanitarian reasons, when conventional warfare before guns and modern medical treatment was so disabling. Instead, it may be because toxic weapons were seen as unbalanced – hard to detect, difficult to explain, and near-impossible to treat. 

Proponents of this view rarely address an apparent contradiction this presents – that poison weapons are taboo because they are too powerful. This seems, on its face, absurd. Richard Price addresses this and suggests that despite the conception of poison as a “woman’s weapon” and a treacherous “equalizer” between forces, it is not actually very effective as a weapon. (Price 1995) Similarly, in modern settings, Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley makes a compelling case that the threat of biological weapons programs has been overstated and underwhelming compared to their actual accomplishments. (Ben Ouagrham-Gormley 2014)

Additionally, the persistence of these taboos throughout the modern age has not been fully explained. In the treachery lens, poison and disease are thought of as “the unknown” and often associated with magic. (Price 1995) Today, we understand much more about biology. Does this imply that the taboo is weaker now than it has been? If not, why has the taboo on biological weapons remained constant throughout recent history, but not, for instance, one against bullets, fire, and explosions? This theory does seem generally robust, and the comparisons to historical taboos are compelling indeed, but existing research does not explain why the taboo persists and is so specific to biology.

Taboos into the future

What kills a taboo? Susan Martin discusses the idea in the context of US chemical weapons usage in Vietnam. In this case, Martin argues, politicians were able to override one norm by asserting another – that usage of defoliant chemical weapons was acceptable because the viable alternative was use of nuclear weapons, also taboo. (Martin 2016) Kai Ilchman and James Revill assert that this is part of a string of incidents that have been eroding the biological and chemical weapons taboos over time. (Ilchman and Revill 2014) In addition, many believe that the Biological Weapons Convention is nearly or entirely useless, since it contains no provisions for verification and since it allows for “defensive research” that is practically indistinguishable from offensive research. (Zanders 2003, McCauley and Payne 2010, Koblentz 2016)

The two hypotheses presented here are not the only ones. Further research or thinking in this area might identify more solidly the source of the taboo, and otherwise help determine how it can be strengthened.

The upcoming section will discuss the idea that there is no taboo, or at least no functional taboo any more. If this is the case, then the lack of observed weapons programs or usage is a purely strategic decision.


References

Aftergood, Steven. “States Possessing, Pursuing or Capable of Acquiring Weapons of Mass Destruction.” Federation Of American Scientists, July 29, 2000. https://fas.org.

Barenblatt, Daniel. A plague upon humanity: The secret genocide of axis Japan’s germ warfare operation. New York: HarperCollins, 2004.

Ben Ouagrham-Gormley, Sonia Ben. Barriers to Bioweapons: The Challenges of Expertise and Organization for Weapons Development. Cornell University Press, 2014.

Cole, Leonard A. “The Poison Weapons Taboo: Biology, Culture, and Policy.” Politics and the Life Sciences 17 (September 1, 1998): 119–32. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0730938400012119.

Courtland Moon, John Ellis van. “The Development of the Norm against the Use of Poison: What Literature Tells Us.” Politics and the Life Sciences 27, no. 1 (2008): 55–77.

Ellsberg, Daniel. The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2017.

Hay, Alastair. “Simulants, stimulants and diseases: the evolution of the United States biological warfare programme, 1945–60.” Medicine, Conflict and Survival 15, no. 3 (1999): 198-214.

Ilchmann, Kai, and James Revill. “Chemical and Biological Weapons in the ‘New Wars.’” Science and Engineering Ethics 20, no. 3 (September 1, 2014): 753–67. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11948-013-9479-7.

Jefferson, Catherine. “Origins of the Norm against Chemical Weapons.” International Affairs 90, no. 3 (May 1, 2014): 647–61. https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-2346.12131.

Koblentz, Gregory D. “Quandaries in contemporary biodefense research.” In Biological Threats in the 21st Century: The Politics, People, Science and Historical Roots, pp. 303-328. 2016.

Martin, Susan B. “Norms, Military Utility, and the Use/Non-use of Weapons: The Case of Anti-plant and Irritant Agents in the Vietnam War.” Journal of Strategic Studies 39, no. 3 (2016): 321-364.

McCauley, Phillip M., and Rodger A. Payne. “The Illogic of the Biological Weapons Taboo.” Strategic Studies Quarterly 4, no. 1 (2010): 6-35.

Lieber, Francis. “INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE GOVERNMENT OF ARMIES OF THE UNITED STATES IN THE FIELD, ‘The Lieber Code.’” Government Printing Office, April 24, 1863. Lillian Goldman Law Library, The Avalon Project.

Pearson, Alan. “Incapacitating biochemical weapons: Science, technology, and policy for the 21st century.” Nonproliferation Review 13, no. 2 (2006): 151-188.

Price, Richard. “A Genealogy of the Chemical Weapons Taboo.” International Organization 49, no. 1 (1995): 73–103.

Rappert, Brian. “Coding ethical behaviour: The challenges of biological weapons.” Science and engineering ethics 9, no. 4 (2003): 453-470.

Revill, James. “Past as Prologue? The Risk of Adoption of Chemical and Biological Weapons by Non-State Actors in the EU.” European Journal of Risk Regulation 8, no. 4 (December 2017): 626–42. https://doi.org/10.1017/err.2017.35.

Smith, Frank. American biodefense: How dangerous ideas about biological weapons shape national security. Cornell University Press, 2014.

Stern, Jessica. “Dreaded risks and the control of biological weapons.” International Security 27, no. 3 (2003): 89-123.

Wheelis, Mark, and Lajos Rózsa. Deadly cultures: biological weapons since 1945. Harvard University Press, 2009.

Zanders, Jean Pascal. “International Norms Against Chemical and Biological Warfare: An Ambiguous Legacy.” Journal of Conflict and Security Law 8, no. 2 (October 1, 2003): 391–410. https://doi.org/10.1093/jcsl/8.2.391.

The Germy Paradox – Filters: Hard and soft skills

This is the fourth post in a sequence of blog posts on state biological weapons programs. Others will be linked here as they come out:

1.0 Introduction
2.1 The empty sky: A history of state biological weapons programs
2.2 The empty sky: How close did we get to BW usage?
3.1 Filters: Hard and soft skills
3.2 Filters: A taboo
3.3 Filters: The shadow of nuclear weapons
4.0 Conclusion: Open questions and the future of state BW 

Welcome to the second half of our series. (This is post 3.1.) I’ve established that despite extensive historical weapons programs, biological weapons haven’t really been used in a major way since WWII. We don’t ever seem to have been a “close call” away from biological warfare. Why not?

I don’t have a complete answer. I have some pieces of the answer, though. The first piece, and one very good answer, is that BW are not as cheap and deadly as commonly thought, and that substantial resources and expertise are needed to successfully create biological weapons. This argument is well-made by Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley in her book Barriers to Bioweapons – a combination between hard technical skills and soft skills like poor management. I’ve written a summary of the book on this blog before.

That post will act as Part 1 of this section.

References

Ben Ouagrham-Gormley, Sonia. Barriers to Bioweapons: The Challenges of Expertise and Organization for Weapons Development. Cornell University Press, 2014.