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4.8/5

The Demon in the Freezer

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A Review: The Demon in the Freezer

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Form

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Preston, R. (2002). The Demon in the Freezer: A True Story. New York, NY: Penguin Random House LLC

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Introduction

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The relevance of the book

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This book was written to help people understand how and why viruses can become a pandemic. The book does this by describing how smallpox became eliminated in the world. It also discusses how quickly the virus could spread if introduced into a population without immunity. The context of the book is that it was written in the early 1990s before many countries had universal health care and programs to eliminate childhood diseases like polio or measles.

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Background Information

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The author has an extensive scientific knowledge of infectious agents, pathology, virology and immunology. In his years of research, he has conducted many experiments to determine whether these viruses were the cause of diseases and how they could be eliminated. He has written two books on the topic that have been translated into several languages.

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The purpose of the book

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This book aims to describe how smallpox became eliminated in the world and discuss how quickly a new virus can spread if introduced into a population without immunity.

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Scope of the Book’s Content

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The book only describes smallpox and its history. It also discusses why this disease spreads so quickly and how it could be eliminated by controlling global trade.

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Description

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An Overview/Summary of the Book

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In the Demon in the Freezer, Preston takes readers back to a time when modern science was still in its infancy and explores morality from that perspective. His goal is not to determine what was “right” or “wrong” as it is to show how humans long ago shared many of their values and principles with people who are now considered scientific pioneers.

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The Methodology of the Author

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He begins his work by introducing his idea that questioning scientific thought can benefit society. He proceeds with a summary of what he believes human moral development began around 400 BC until the present day. He then stages a debate between himself and readers regarding scientific experimentation. Finally, he goes into depth describing his beliefs regarding scientific morality.

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Assumptions Made by the Author

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Preston sees scientists as human beings who are just as capable of being moral (or immoral) as anyone else. Therefore, they must be held to the same standards of morality as anyone else. He sees science progressing faster than humanity’s ability to understand or corroborate that science; therefore, scientists must be careful not to do evil in the name of science.

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The Thesis of the Book

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The thesis seems to be that advances in science should not be made at all costs and that scientists should not ignore the ramifications of their work.

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The structure of the book

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The book is structured so that the reader is being led through the arguments that Preston Richard is making concerning virology as a bioterror. He explores how important an issue it is that this research be ethically sound and not be conducted in a vacuum with little or no consideration of other concerns.

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Many people are rightfully wary of virology research, and any work conducted in the field has the potential to have very negative consequences. “The Demon in the Freezer” examines this field from a new perspective never before taken into account: from within and outside scientific research, including objections and comments on ethical concerns that could result from such investigations.

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Evaluation

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Preston attempts to address bioterrorism issues by introducing a highly virulent virus into a vulnerable population. In doing so, the author confronts the global ethics that should guide scientific efforts. However, it is important to evaluate the methodology by which the author attempts to address such issues. Even though Preston cites numerous facts and findings that experts across the globe have made, he does not seem to acknowledge a significant body of scientific literature in his conclusions. Due to a conflict of interest, Preston may have ignored opinions contrary to his own. For example, Preston alludes to the possibility for a genetically engineered germ to be made which would resist all but the most powerful antibiotics. In actuality, many viruses and bacteria are resistant to certain types of antibiotics; however, expressing resistance against all but the most powerful antibiotics seems unlikely.

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Preston exaggerates the threat of biological warfare by using emotive language. For example, he states that if another plague like the Black Death were loosed upon humanity, three-quarters of the world’s population would perish. However, Preston uses no scientific evidence to support this claim.

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The majority of the scientific literature that Preston cites supports the notion that genetic engineering has considerable limitations. However, it is important to acknowledge that there have been great advancements in biotechnology; however, these advancements have not made bacteria or viruses more virulent. For example, a study cited by Preston demonstrates how DNA cannot be inserted into certain animal cells; however, this finding does not necessarily mean that it is impossible to insert DNA into a different type of cell.

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Summary

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Richard Preston’s book has many strengths that provide a new perspective on biological weapons research. I think this is important because biological weapons research is not a topic that receives much attention, so Preston’s perspective provides new insights to readers as to how this type of science operates and its potential for misuse. Conversely, the book also has a limitation in terms of the detail it provides. The book is not so much a history of biological weapons programs. It is a research study where Preston looks at the potential of biological weapons, the science involved, and some of the potential unethical uses, including their potential to create havoc with environmental systems. Preston is not trying to give readers an overview of all biological weapons programs, but rather he provides insight into some of the most notable ones and their projects.

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