Guest author: Lisa von Biela on science in her technothrillers

ScienceThrillers welcomes author Lisa von Biela, who creates science-themed “dark fiction.” Ideas for Lisa’s thrillers originate in her science/technical legal work. She resides in Seattle but went to school in Minnesota–always a bonus with me!


Technothriller plots based on real science

by Lisa von Biela

Thank you, Amy, for inviting me and to those of you reading this!

I have a confession to make.  Scientific advances amaze me—and they also terrify me.  We can achieve so much good, yet we also have the power to either deliberately misuse science, or create havoc with an innocent error.  And this is precisely what drives me to write the novels I do.  I try to both entertain and explore the more serious “what if” issues raised by various scientific advances.

I base my novels on real science, though I admit to taking some liberties for plot purposes.  I believe it’s crucial to have at least the underpinnings of real science to explore the issues I do with some degree of authenticity.  Despite the liberties I take, some of the technologies in my books have either become reality, or are threatening to do so!

For example, I completed the manuscript for my debut novel, The Genesis Code, back in 2006.  The novel focused on the development and secret implementation of a tiny subcutaneous chip implanted close to the brain.  Ostensibly, the device would be used to download benign items such as training manuals and technical documents.  But…Dr. Josh Tyler intended to make it capable of two-way transmission and alteration of memories.  The novel was published in 2013, and in the intervening time, DARPA has begun experimenting with a similar device in the brains of soldiers to try to alter memories contributing to PTSD.

I take a few more liberties with current real science in The Janus Legacy, in which Dr. Jeremy Magnusson inherits SomaGene, his estranged father’s biotech business.  SomaGene cultivates individual autologous transplant organs in vitro for its clients, and then performs the transplant surgery in its rather high-tech facility.  This technology might not be that far off.  But before his death, Jeremy’s father had also developed a full human clone in the hopes that Jeremy could harvest the intestines to cure his severe Crohn’s disease.  Jeremy faces all manner of ethical issues in deciding what to do with the sentient clone.  Notably, several of my readers who actually have Crohn’s have commented that I captured life with the disease quite realistically.

My next novel, Blockbuster, is due out in January.  For this one, the real-life timeline for drug development created a tremendous hurdle for the plot.  So I set it 10 years in the future and “invented” various items of lab equipment that speed up the drug development process and eliminate the need for human studies.  I also “created” new versions of everyday technologies, like phones and portable computers, as well as special hospital equipment like disposable standalone isolation units.  In Blockbuster’s world, the MRSA  (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a deadly infection) we know is a thing of the past, and considered to be pretty mild.  BigPharma companies are doing whatever it takes to capture market share—including creating a bacteria far worse and more contagious than MRSA—as well as the antibiotic that cures it.  This is Denali Labs’ business model, and when its main competitor, Horton Drugs, tries to follow in the same path, things get out of control.  Way out of control.  I hope this isn’t really happening.

I’m not a practicing scientist, though I do have a scientific background.  I majored in Biology at UCLA (I was pre-vet then).  My life took a different turn, landing me in IT for 25 years before I dropped out to attend law school.  I became active in the American Bar Association’s SciTech section and published a weekly newsletter on scientific/legal developments called the BioBlurb while I was in school.  After graduation, I joined the editorial board of The SciTech Lawyer, a quarterly ABA publication.  I still serve on the board and co-edit issues in rotation.  When I was publishing the BioBlurb, I couldn’t resist making editorial remarks about the articles I’d cited (readers loved my snarky comments!)—and also thinking of all the novel fodder that was passing before my eyes.  I had no time to write during law school, but am making up for that now.

You can check out more of my background and work at www.lisavonbiela.com.  Thanks for reading!

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Best science gifts of 2014 (part 2)

Last chance to get your science-y gifts for Christmas. Click to see my part 1 suggestions for best science gifts of this season. Here I present to you an abundance of cool stuff from the catalog and online retailer Uncommon Goods.

mathglasses

Math glasses, set of four $38

pi bowl

Pi stainless steel basket $118

To view other math items from Uncommon Goods, click here.

earthglasses

Earth science glasses, set of four $38

tableblocks

geekblocksPeriodic table wooden blocks ($31), or super nerdy ABC wooden blocks ($50)

pillows

Chromosome pillows, $35 each

More science-themed items from Uncommon Goods here.


Got a reader on your list? If they like Michael Crichton, Robin Cook, or Michael Palmer, give them a copy of one of my science-themed thrillers Petroplague or Reversion. Visit AmyRogers.com/books for details and purchase links.

REVERSIONfrontcoverCover

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It’s “Take your child to a bookstore” day!

ScienceThrillers.com advocates for science literacy and science education, but basic literacy must come first. The best way to get kids to read is to expose them to a wide variety of books, and let them choose. Libraries: YES! And today, how about taking them to a bookstore to choose a present for themselves or others?

Guest post by thriller author Jenny Milchman, who came up with the idea of designating the first Saturday in December as “Take your child to a bookstore” day.


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Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day

a.k.a.

How to Build Literacy, Support Community, & Make Magic Happen All in One Day

 In 2010 I had two young children whom I was bringing to story hour at our local bookstore almost every week. After all, what better activity to do with kids? It was enriching, fun, even relaxing. I didn’t have to feel guilty when I drank that 700 calorie butterscotch latte from the coffee bar. I was running back and forth between adult fiction and the flower-flocked children’s section—working off the calories for sure.

My kids probably didn’t realize it was as much of a treat for me as for them. Which started me thinking—were other parents in on this secret? How many children knew the pleasure of spending time in a bookstore?

I frequent the mystery listserv DorothyL, and a more avid group of readers you couldn’t hope to find. When I floated the idea for Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, bloggers on the listserv spread the word. My husband designed a poster, a website, and bookmarks, and we designated the first Saturday in December as Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day. This would coincide with holiday gift giving, hopefully giving people the idea that books make great presents. Just two weeks later, 80 bookstores were celebrating.

That summer my husband and I loaded the kids into the car and drove cross-country, visiting more than fifty bookstores. (You can tell he’s a supportive guy). In 2011, the second annual Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day found over 350 bookstores celebrating in all 50 states. Some planned special celebrations—children’s book authors, puppet makers, singers, even a baker who led kids in a gingerbread cookie decorating activity—while others simply hung a poster in the window. When 2013 came around, and the number had risen to over 600 independent bookstores, and one major chain, we knew that word was getting out. Kids + bookstores = magic.

And maybe something even more than that.

There’s a cultural wave behind Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day. The word locavore isn’t just for a Dr. Seuss story anymore. Supporting your local community and the resurgence of Main Street are goals that more and more people recognize as important to build strong citizens as well as strong readers.

You know that old ad campaign, “Orange juice isn’t just for breakfast anymore”? I hear that now as, “Bookstores aren’t just for reading anymore.”

And by that I mean more than the fact that you can also buy toys, cards, gifts, or have your butterscotch latte at a bookstore. Bookstores are places where people come together over ideas and engage in a cultural conversation. That concept is so important I have to say it again. They are places where people come together. And booksellers are a group who know how to zig while others are zagging, so impassioned are they by their life’s pursuit. Their stores are places of physical interaction in an increasingly virtual world.

When you take a child to a bookstore, you stimulate his mind and all five senses. (If taste seems a stretch, just let her have the whipped cream on your latte). There’s a tactile dimension to the experience that seems rare these days. You also make that child a crucial part of the place where he lives, supporting it and helping it grow.

Best of all, these things happen in a guise that to the child is sheer magic. On the shelves of a bookstore sit gateways into whole new worlds. Children go into bookstores—but they come back out having journeyed somewhere else entirely.

This Saturday, December 6, 2014 is the fifth annual Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day. Whether you take your own child, a child you know, or the child inside yourself to a bookstore, together let’s build literacy, support community, and make magic happen.


 Jenny Milchman is a suspense novelist and mom from the Hudson River Valley who once drove past Disney with her children en route to the nearest bookstore.

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Engineering thriller is a rare delight: Guest post on THE JACKHAMMER ELEGIES

Today ScienceThrillers welcomes Stefan Jaeger to tell us about a rare literary delight: a thriller novel starring an engineer, set in the world of professional civil engineering. No, “engineering thriller” is not an oxymoron. Stefan will tell you why as he discusses his award-winning novel THE JACKHAMMER ELEGIES.

An Engineering Thriller Breaks New Ground in Popular Entertainment
By Stefan Jaeger

Author of The Jackhammer Elegies

If you try to count the number of movies that feature an engineer as a major character, you will probably not get off the fingers of one hand before you start Googling for hints. Just to get started, there is Arlington Road (the engineer, played by Tim Robbins, is a terrorist), Falling Down (the engineer, Michael Douglas, goes berserk), Mr. & Mrs. Smith (the cover profession of the assassin, Brad Pitt, is an engineer), and Law Abiding Citizen (the engineer cracks and goes on a rampage of revenge). The problem with these is that terrorist, wacko, assassin, and out-of-control vigilante are not exactly positive role models that you want to invite home for dinner and introduce to your kids.

Amid this sporadic history, including the slim pickings on TV, the most repeated refrain I have heard from engineers in my twenty-eight years of working with engineering associations—the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) and now the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)—is “Why can’t we have a TV show L.A. Engineer?” (For those of a younger generation, L.A. Law was a popular TV series in the late ’80s and early ’90s that featured a cast of characters from a law firm in Los Angeles.)

That refrain of L.A. Engineer stayed with me, and given my ongoing interest in writing fiction, I began to wonder whether I could create something to address the popular entertainment void for engineers. After a long and interrupted road, that speculation resulted in my thriller The Jackhammer Elegies, which features a civil/structural engineer as the main character and hero. The novel won a 2013 SET Award from the Entertainment Industries Council, which honors film, television and other genres that inspire “interest in science, engineering, technology and math through media and entertainment.” Additional 2013 winners included the TV shows The Big Bang Theory, NCIS, and Grey’s Anatomy –“Idle Hands,” and the movies Iron Man 3, Star Trek: Into Darkness, and World War Z, among others.

The effort is not without precedent. A number of other novelists have written on engineer-related topics, and a number of those authors have been engineers themselves. One example from the late ’90s is Engineered for Murder, by consulting engineer Aileen Schumacher. This mystery features a structural engineer heroine who helps solve a puzzling murder. Schumacher followed up by giving her protagonist additional starring roles in a mystery series. In his 1984 novel Skyscraper, civil engineer Robert Byrne paints a picture of corruption and questionable design choices that threaten structural failure for a New York City skyscraper. Going back to the Cold War ’50s, aeronautical engineer Nevil Shute (a pen name) wove scientific and engineering principles into his stories. His novel On the Beach looks at life after a nuclear holocaust.

As for my novel The Jackhammer Elegies, the full genesis from concept to publishing spanned about two decades, interspersed with other fiction projects and undergoing some widely spaced revisions. I started planning my novel in the ’90s, getting my initial plot hook from a story I heard about a New York City professional engineer who had been caught in an elevator after the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and his ordeal in getting out. A fictionalized version of his experience became the opening scene in The Jackhammer Elegies, where the location is transported to Rosslyn, Virginia (across the river from Washington, D.C.), and the man trapped is Scott Carter, a structural engineer who had designed the steel frame to the building.

In the novel, a powerful basement blast rocks Carter from his everyday life into the media limelight—and ultimately into the crosshairs of a technically cunning terrorist. Carter’s knowledge of the building’s structural framework helps him alert the city about potential collapse, but that turns him into the conduit of threats from the mastermind of the attack, alias Jackhammer. Carter becomes a consultant to the FBI as it investigates the engineering angles to the case, teaming up with Special Agent Michelle Taylor, whose striking presence pulls Carter into the complications of a growing love. The partners soon find themselves matching wits with an elusive mastermind targeting the lifelines of a city’s public works.

In the same way that a John Grisham novel provides insights into the legal profession, I hoped to create an exciting plot while portraying the world of civil and professional engineering through Carter’s character and the world in which he travels, weaving in aspects such as engineered technology, private practice firms, engineering licensure, and promoting engineering careers to students during Engineers Week.

In these sidelights to the overall plot of the book, I did not want to whitewash the profession and portray Carter as an idealized figure. He fights self-doubts about his move into management to achieve a higher salary when his true passion is design, and health issues can at times undermine his confidence as he faces the stresses of his hunt for the terrorist. As one professional engineer reviewer of the novel said, “The book . . . portray[s] the engineering profession with all of its strengths, weaknesses, and foibles.”

My goal was to produce a thriller that offers an engaging story for all audiences while shining a spotlight on a profession rarely seen in entertainment.


Stefan Jaeger, CAE, serves as Managing Director of Member and Corporate Communications at the American Society of Civil Engineers in Reston, Virginia. His thriller The Jackhammer Elegies (www.TheJackhammerElegies.com) is available on Amazon.com (paperback and Kindle) and BN.com (Nook Book).

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Best science gifts of 2014

Every year at this time, ScienceThrillers.com posts a curated selection of gifts for the science/engineering/math/medicine enthusiasts on your list. (Click here for a peek at previous years’ suggestions.) Welcome and let us put some science in your shopping!

Click to see more science gift ideas in part 2

1. Science plush toys

The Particle Zoo

The Particle Zoo

Biochemies

Giant Microbes

I-Heart-Guts heart & kidney

2. Science jewelry

 
DNA Reversible Winter Scarf

3. Kitchen & Beverage

4. Biology of the self

5. Books published in 2014 by ScienceThrillers Media

  • Reversion by Amy Rogers ($14.95 paperback; $5.99 ebook). Superb medical thriller with real science. Great gift for Michael Crichton fans.
  • The Neanderthal’s Aunt by Gina DeMarco ($12.95 paperback; $4.99 ebook). Brilliant satire with heart. Perfect gift for women in science.
  • Amoeba Hugs and Other Nonsense by Katie McKissick ($14.99 paper; $2.99 Kindle ebook). Collection of science-themed cartoons. Appeals to anyone with an interest in science.

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Science proves it’s impossible to roast a perfect turkey

During this week of Thanksgiving, a little scientific stress relief from ScienceThrillers.com (originally written for my “Science in the Neighborhood” column at Inside Publications). At least, I took it as a relief that roast turkey perfection is an unreasonable goal. But maybe this news will only freak out some holiday chefs…

Are you wondering how to roast a whole turkey?

Science says, good luck with that.


 

The science of a perfect turkey

By Dr. Amy Rogers

Science and cooking go together.

Much of what happens in a chemistry lab resembles cooking. Chemists measure volumes and weights, they mix, heat, and transform one substance into another. Much of what happens in the kitchen is chemistry: salt crystals dissolve, water changes phase from liquid to gas, runny clear egg white stiffens into meringue.

I love the science-y aspects of cooking. I like knowing that olive oil has a lower smoke point than peanut oil, and that enzymes in fresh pineapple (but not canned) will prevent Jell-O from gelling.

So this month, when I’m faced with one of the toughest culinary challenges—cooking a whole turkey that’s done, but not dry—I sought advice from Harold McGee’s classic book, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen.

McGee explains everything a kitchen scientist could want to know about cooking meat. He reveals that meat gets juicy at about 140 degrees, when shrinking protein fibers release water. He tells me that denaturation of myoglobin pigment explains the bleaching of fresh red meat when it’s cooked, and that the honeycomb structure of bones makes them insulators that slow the transfer of heat.

I’m enjoying all this until I get to a section titled “The Challenge of Whole Birds.”

In case you had any doubt, science has proven that roasting the perfect turkey is hard. The problem is, breast meat and leg meat are chemically very different and have different ideal cooking conditions.

In general, turkeys don’t fly much. They walk. So in life, the turkey’s leg muscles get a lot more exercise than the breast. The more a muscle is worked, the more connective tissue it has. Connective tissue, made mostly of the proteins collagen and elastin, is like a scaffold for the muscle. It provides support for the muscle fibers to pull against. Turkey breast doesn’t need much connective tissue. Turkey legs have quite a bit: two to four times more collagen than breast meat.

You can easily tell a high-collagen meat from a low-collagen one by cutting or chewing it. Collagen protein is solid and tough. Meats with little collagen in the muscle are naturally tender. A tough cut of meat can be made tender by cooking. If you heat collagen long enough, it dissolves into gelatin, which is tender and tasty. That’s why cheap, fibrous meats are delicious when stewed.

(Incidentally, this is a separate issue from “white” and “dark” meat, which is related not to how much a muscle gets used, but the way it is used. White muscle fibers are adapted for fast, brief spurts of activity. Red muscle fibers specialize in sustained activity. Ducks, which use their breast muscles to fly for hours at a time, have “red” breast meat.)

So the chef’s solution to tough turkey legs should be to cook the meat a long time. Unfortunately, muscle fibers respond to cooking the opposite of connective tissue. Collagen gets softer; muscle gets tougher. (Think of what happens to a low-collagen meat like beef tenderloin when it’s overcooked.)

This creates a dilemma for the cook who is preparing a whole turkey. Leg meat needs to be roasted to 165 degrees to get rid of the collagen. But above 155 degrees, breast meat dries out and loses its natural tenderness.

What to do?

One option is to cut the bird up and roast the legs and breasts separately. Another is to try to physically slow down the cooking of the breast. McGee suggests covering the breast with foil, or draping it with strips of pork fat, or before cooking to chill the breast with an ice pack while bringing the rest of the bird to room temperature.

I plan to use a chemical option. Brining can compensate for the tendency of the breast meat to dry out. To brine a turkey, soak it overnight (or longer) in a 3-6% solution of salt water. That’s about 2-4 tablespoons of salt per quart; you can add herbs, too.

Salt loosens the protein structure of muscle, tenderizing it, and allowing the fibers to absorb more water. (For you chemists out there, this is an effect of protein-salt interactions, not osmosis, which would do the opposite.) With that extra water on board, brined meat can tolerate some overcooking before it dries out. In the case of a whole turkey, this translates into moister breast meat and fully cooked legs.

Brining meat does leave a little salty taste, and the absorbed water dilutes the meat juices, making them less flavorful. But a proper Thanksgiving dinner ought to include other foods to balance this out.

That’s a task for the art of the kitchen, not the science.


Dr. Amy Rogers

Dr. Amy Rogers is a novelist, scientist, and educator. Learn more at her website AmyRogers.com

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STICK SLIP, an earthquake science thriller by Columbia geophysicist

Geology thriller! ScienceThrillers welcomes Christopher Scholz, geophysicist and author of  STICK-SLIP. I love the way this book explores the public’s reaction to scientific bad news (reminds me of Ebolanoia). Here’s a plot summary of his novel:

Deep beneath the Pacific Northwest lies the Cascadia subduction zone—an earthquake factory that is long overdue for a “big one.” Tensions have been building for over three centuries, and it’s not a matter of if but when and how big. Retired earthquake expert Carl Strega thinks he may know, and it’s much sooner than anyone would like to think. But he can’t rush his discovery to the scientific community or the media just yet because his data is based on a cutting edge, unproven branch of chaos theory. Avoiding the destruction of his reputation and mass hysteria is the order of the day.Carl secretly assembles a team of local university researchers to put his theory to the test, but they only have so much time. Before they’re finished, word gets out that a magnitude-nine earthquake is going to rock the Pacific Northwest in less than a year. Panic ensues, as does a backlash against the scientists—all of which slows their progress toward confirming if it’s even true.

An ever-present clock ticks down in this high-stakes thriller, as one cutting edge scientist desperately races to save countless lives, while many attempt to destroy his own.

Intrigued? Scroll down to enter giveaway!


ScienceThrillers guest post

Magnitude-nine earthquake in Japan and its subsequent tsunami inspired science fiction thriller Stick-Slip.
By Christopher Scholz

Stick-Slip is a science thriller about trying to predict the next devastating earthquake in the Pacific Northwest.

As a professor of geophysics at Columbia I have spent most of my career researching the physics of earthquakes: the how and why of them. The great magnitude 9 Tohoku, Japan, earthquake of March 11, 2011 and its attendant tsunami captured the attention of the world. Experts like me were equally shocked – no one expected such a huge earthquake in Japan, and the size of its tsunami also greatly exceeded expectations. No wonder, then, that such a developed, earthquake-prone country as Japan was so unprepared for it. (Although in hindsight, we should have seen it coming.)

These things were very much on my mind as I made a trip to Oregon that same summer. The reason for my trip was to visit my sister and her family in Medford, but along the way I spent a week driving down the coast. I couldn’t help thinking how the coastal towns I visited were so vulnerable to tsunamis. The tsunami evacuation sign that you see here and there did not reassure me as I envisioned great waves overwhelming the beaches and coastal resort towns. Just offshore, and running from Vancouver Island in British Columbia all the way south to Cape Mendocino in Northern California, lies the Cascadia subduction zone, the same type of tectonic feature that produced the great earthquake in Japan. In Cascadia the last great earthquake was a magnitude 9 in February of 1700, so the next one is about due, though just like the Tohoku case, the uncertainty in the time scale is longer than a human lifetime. So what is to be done?

I wanted to explore how society would react if it became aware of the certainty of the imminent occurrence of the next great Cascadia earthquake. To do this I devised a way that the earthquake could be scientifically predicted. As a professional I needed the science of the story to be plausible to the expert. I imagined that a scientist serendipitously observed a movement deep in the earth detected by high precision GPS stations. This observation is invented: the observed phenomenon has been observed in laboratory experiments and is part of established theoretical models but has never (yet) been observed in nature. However, once seen, this observation can be interpreted, using established theory of nonlinear dynamics (so called chaos theory) to predict the next great earthquake.

The story continues with a small group of scientists frantically trying to prove or disprove this interpretation and to improve the precision of the prediction. They do this in secrecy to avoid prematurely alarming the public. But the inevitable leak occurs, triggering a media frenzy and public outcry. Thus ensues the response of various elements of society to bad news from science. Humanity’s response to global climate change has so far been largely one of various shades of denial. In the face of the more immediate threat of a great earthquake and tsunami, will it be any different? There isn’t much time to prepare.


Christopher Scholz is an expert in earthquake physics and a professor of geophysics at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University. He is the author of the monograph The Mechanics of Earthquakes and Faulting, the memoir Fieldwork: A Geologist’s Memoir of the Kalahari, and over 250 scientific papers.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

If you like geology thrillers, ScienceThrillers recommends: BADWATER by Toni Dwiggins.

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Ebola: The end of the world as we know it? I hope so. (Part 2)

Aragorn: Are you frightened?
Frodo: Yes.
Aragorn: Not nearly frightened enough. I know what hunts you.

The worst infectious disease outbreaks in human history. (Figure does not include deaths due to endemic, or ongoing, infectious diseases like smallpox.) From National Geographic: Jason Treat and Edward Benfield

The worst infectious disease outbreaks in human history. (Figure does not include deaths due to endemic, or ongoing, infectious diseases like smallpox.) From National Geographic: Jason Treat and Edward Benfield

My fellow Americans:

It’s not a question of “if.” It’s a question of “when.”

I don’t mean an Ebola epidemic on our shores. I mean flu.

Got your knickers in a knot of Ebolanoia?

Yeah? So did you get your flu shot (or intranasal vaccine) this year? How about last year? And the year before that? And the year before that?

No?

Then quit whining. You clearly don’t understand. Natural selection is waiting for the opportunity to select you.

In its current form, Ebola is not going to sweep the country. Hospitals won’t be overrun. Mass graves won’t be dug in the suburbs. Stores won’t be stripped of basic supplies. People won’t panic (I wish)

That’s a job for influenza. Yes, flu. If you’re going to have plague nightmares, focus on flu.

The graphic at left from National Geographic shows (estimated) deaths from great infectious disease epidemics of history. Of the top ten, four were outbreaks of flu.

The 1918 influenza pandemic killed ten times as many Americans as the First World War, which ended that year.

Because flu viruses undergo constant and sometimes sudden, dramatic mutation, a new pandemic influenza virus will be born, probably in Asia. It will have the capacity to kill hundreds of millions of people. If it isn’t stopped, it will cause chaos and death even in rich countries.

Unlike Ebola, flu spreads through the air.

Unlike Ebola, you can catch flu from a person who is not yet having symptoms.

For these reasons, the R0 number for influenza, a measure of how many people an infected person is likely to infect, is much higher than R0 for Ebola. And a big R0 is what makes a plague.

The good news is we know how to stop a flu pandemic. Here’s how:

  1. Early detection
  2. Widespread vaccination

Both of these are achievable. We can buy early detection. Global monitoring of emerging influenza viruses is critical to prevent a pandemic. But monitoring costs money. How much are we willing to pay?

We know how to make flu vaccines. When the next Big One comes, we will be able to make a vaccine against it, which is the one good thing about flu (other emerging diseases, like HIV/AIDS, have proved difficult to immunize against). But a new flu vaccine takes time to design, manufacture, distribute. How much are we willing to spend now to make sure our vaccine infrastructure is able to do the job quickly in the unknown future? While vaccine production ramps up, people will be sick and dying. Hospitals will run out of respirators and masks. How much are we willing to spend now to make sure our health care system is ready?

As an individual, you can boost your chances against pandemic flu by getting the regular flu shot every year. Immunizing yourself against a variety of seasonal influenzas likely gives some cross-protection against future pandemic flus.

I hope that the world will change as a result of America’s encounter with Ebola. I hope people will wake up to the ongoing threat of new and emerging infectious diseases, and that our government will put money into public health and biomedical research to meet the microbial challenge which will never go away.

Because unless it mutates, Ebola doesn’t have what it takes to take down America. But a new influenza, or a virus that doesn’t exist today, might. Let’s be prepared.

(Click here to read Part 1 of Ebola: The end of the world as we know it)


If you’d like to imagine suburban life in America during a flu pandemic, read Carla Buckley’s The Things That Keep Us Here.

If you’d like to imagine a disruptive American plague that grows not in people but in gasoline, read Petroplague by Amy Rogers.

thingscoverpp1stEdcover

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