A patient receiving a flu shot.
In the not too distant future, the phrase “shooting up” could take on a whole new meaning. At least if the U.S. Army has its way. Wired‘s Danger Room blog reported a few days ago that the military is seeking bids for a high-tech form of vaccination that could be delivered quickly and efficiently to a large number of troops in the heat of battle. More specifically, the Pentagon wants a DNA vaccine that can be administered via a literal shot to the arm—and a jolt of electricity. All without causing too much “discomfort” to the patient, of course.
Suffice it to say that this futuristic-sounding vaccine would be a far cry from what you and I received as children. As last year’s swine flu epidemic made painfully clear, our current methods of vaccine development, which have remained essentially unchanged for decades, are woefully outdated. The vaccines take too long—upwards of seven months—to produce, are easily prone to failure if not prepared correctly and, in many cases, lose their potency after only a year. These failings have helped draw attention to DNA-based vaccines, cocktails of genetically engineered plasmids which offer the promise of inducing a stronger, and more targeted, immune response. Where regular vaccines are slow to develop and hard to combine, DNA vaccines can be made relatively quickly and mixed together to ward off multiple pathogens at once. They are also generally safer to produce and administer, more durable and can be scaled more easily.
We are teaming up with Jennifer Ouellette and the crew at the Science and Entertainment Exchange to produce a panel on “MAD SCIENCE,” i.e. Science as a double-edged sword, ethically and morally neutral in and of itself, but dependent upon who wields it, and how.
Beloved Internet Personality Phil Plait is lined up to moderate (after he gets his tattoo) and we’re expecting guests from Eureka, Battlestar Galactica, Fringe, Stargate: Universe and more. Watch this space for additional details.
This week’s travel advice from Fringe: When picking up the ladies at night clubs, avoid the ones with scary blue eyes who don’t talk. They tend to have shockingly pointy teeth, and are likely to eat you. Or at least, parts of you that you might wish you had later. More on the nutritional content of your parts after the jump, which contains mucho spoilers.
As we’ve mentioned before, though, this is sometimes problematic when it comes to J.J. Abrams’s Fringe. Still, we try not to critique.
By now, every sci-fi devotee and his grandmother has sounded off on Watchmen, Zack Snyder’s big-budget big-hoopla film version of the eponymous graphic novel. Love it or hate it (and most fans seemed to do one or the other) we can all admit that the movie remained faithful to the book, minus a few scenes and the absence of [spoiler alert] one giant alien squid.
We’ll leave the debates over the acting, direction, and overall adaptation to others (except to say that Jackie Earle Haley stole the show). But one aspect worthy of analysis is the story’s main conflict—the constant “looming” nuclear holocaust. Granted, we never actually see any evidence that the aforementioned holocaust is looming, save a few shots of Nixon upping Defcon levels—but we’ll address that later. When Alan Moore first published the book in 1986, the apocalypse on everyone’s mind was Cold War atomic bombs—which, as we’ve noted, no longer pack quite the same anxiety punch as, say, biological weapons. Today, gas masks and duct tape have replaced air raids and backyard shelters in the popular conscious, to the point where seeing mushroom clouds onscreen feels like you’re watching an ’80s homage.
Of course, none of this means that the nuclear threat is any smaller now than it was three decades ago: The danger of nuclear war is still present, and fear of missile attack still drives plenty of policy and military tech decisions worldwide. But, like Bird Flu, nukes seem to have a PR problem: Despite the fact that they could wipe us all out, the thought of them isn’t all that scary.
Terrorism pops up all over science fiction, and last night’s episode of Eleventh Hour was no exception with terrorism featuring VX gas. The plot focused on a group of white converts to Islam (thank you, Hollywood, for reinforcing that stereotype. We’re all painfully aware of the dangers of lunatic jihadists, but let’s not become so fixated on that that we blind ourselves to the fact that as, say, Oklahama and Belfast demonstrated, terrorists can have sorts of religious faiths, including agnostic and Christian, while simultaneously tarring all Muslims with the same brush). The terrorists plan to take over a theater full of kids and hold them hostage. The weapon they intend to hold over their heads is VX nerve gas, more or less considered the deadliest chemical weapon in the world’s arsenals. It’s the same stuff Ed Harris was smuggling in The Rock, and one of the weapons Saddam Hussein used on the Kurds. VX gas is, by most experts’ account, the most deadly chemical weapon yet invented. It’s so potent that when the British invented it in 1952, the Americans were willing to trade away nuclear secrets to learn how to make it.
Last night’s episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles centered on Skynet going after a non-Connor-clan target: an unborn child whose natural immunity would would one day provide a cure for a lethal bioweapon developed in the future. It would be easy to think that this would be overkill, even for Skynet — instead of going through all the trouble of sending a terminator back through time, why not just brew up a different bioweapon? The answer is that making militarily effective bioweapons is actually quite tough.