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Modes of UncertaintyAnthropological Cases$
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Limor Samimian-Darash and Paul Rabinow

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226257075

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226257242.001.0001

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The Malicious and the Uncertain

The Malicious and the Uncertain

Biosecurity, Self-Justification, and the Arts of Living

(p.123) Chapter Seven The Malicious and the Uncertain
Modes of Uncertainty

Gaymon Bennett

University of Chicago Press

In 2011, virologists in Europe and the US used simple but powerful methods to make H5N1 influenza—bird flu—transmissible by air between mammals. They justified their work in the name of global health preparedness: by identifying the genetic bases of transmissibility, they would help public health officials anticipate potential pandemics. Officials in the US responded critically in the name of biosecurity and “dual-use”: by identifying these genetic bases researchers also equipped potential malicious actors to engineer a pandemic. A future of biological terrorism was set against a future of biotechnical salvation. This chapter chronicles how the H5N1 affair unfolded and tells the story of the political uncertainties it generated for scientists and policy makers. It explains how these uncertainties were ultimately managed by appeal to tacit moral certainties underlying the notion of “dual-use”—the assumption that the under-determined potentials of technology can be dealt with through attributions of good and bad intentions. It argues that this turn to dual-use reactivated an older moral posture toward dangerous futures—malice—which presumes that evil is only in the world and not also in oneself. Tracing a genealogy of malice, it shows how contemporary biosecurity policy operationalizes an idealized view of science, decoupling the problem of uncertainty.

Keywords:   biosecurity, avian influenza, global health, malice, ethics, salvation

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