Re: What could stop the singularity? ( was Interesting Quotation)

From: Mike Lorrey (
Date: Mon Jan 07 2002 - 18:13:28 MST

Geraint Rees wrote:
> On 1/7/02 4:00 PM, "John Clark" <> wrote:
> > How about a simple virus mutation? Something as deadly as Ebola
> How about a repeat of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which killed 20-50
> million worldwide, mostly young adults. More Americans were killed than in
> all the wars of the 20th century.

Which is not a meaningful statement. Somewhere around 500,000 to 750,000
Americans were killed in "all the wars of the 20th century", or
approximately the same number of Americans killed in driving accidents
over a period of about 15 years, and the number of Americans killed by
medical malpractice in 5-7 years, and far less than the number of
Americans killed by things like heart disease, cancer, and drug and
alcohol addiction.

The Spanish flu, in fact, did not target mostly young adults, it
targeted mostly children and old people. The Spanish flu was different
from other flus in that a higher than normal incidence of death among
young adult vicims did occur.

> The problem here, as the CDC point out, is that vaccine production (which is
> now available) typically takes 6 months, more than the likely warning of a
> pandemic.

Depending on how close the pandemic's genetic markers are to known
strains. For instance, the CDC had been shivering in their shorts about
the potential of avian flu crossing over to humans as a great pandemic,
with no way to treat it since there had never been any known cases to
date. Finally, in the mid 90's, though, 6 cases showed up in Hong Kong
which were not particularly contagious, but they got samples and are now
able to make avian flu vaccines.

> On the optimistic side, although a pandemic on this scale would be bad it's
> not likely to be an extinction event.

Pandemics generally aren't extinction events. Victim species always have
enough genetic diversity, it seems, that some percentage is always going
to be immune or sufficiently resistant to the disease that they do not
die of it. Furthermore, diseases which kill every victim are poor
designs on an evolutionary basis, it seems. A disease needs survivors to
carry virus on to new regions to survive. Even Ebola has a 20-60%
survival rate, based on how well victims are treated. Additionally, when
a pandemic occurs, it seems that successive generations of virus grow
succeedingly less virulent and deadly, and the surviving target
population increasingly able to resist.

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