Bob Woodward on Cheney's folly The 9/11 decade and the lessons of Iraq have taught us that "it is essential to distinguish between hard facts and what is an assessment or judgment," writes Bob Woodward in The Washington Post. Vice President Dick Cheney's memoir demonstrates that he did not learn his lesson from the "slam-dunk evidence" that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. At an NSC session, Cheney writes that he was the "sole voice" arguing that America should bomb a suspected nuclear reactor in Syria. Bush ignored his advice. "He notes with some relish that two months later the Israelis took unilateral action and destroyed the reactor," Woodward writes. "The clear implication is that Bush and the others had lost their nerve, that they lacked the necessary spine to act as he had recommended." Other accounts portray the intelligence about the reactor differently. Then-CIA Director Michael V. Hayden told Bush, Cheney, and others he had "low confidence" the reactor was part of a weapons program, presenting his evidence so as to discourage a military strike. "Cheney said he wanted the United States to commit an act of war to send a message, demonstrate seriousness and enhance credibility--a frightening prospect given the doubts," he writes. For its part, the CIA was so happy to have avoided a strike that it issued a memorial coin with a map of Syria and the phrase "no core/no war."
W. Ian Lipkin on our vulnerability to new pandemics The true threat global disease outbreaks pose is often more "gripping" than any of the zombie movies Hollywood puts out. That's why, when director Steven Soderbergh decided to make the film Contagion, which "didn't distort reality but did convey the risks that we all face from emerging infectious diseases," epidemiologist W. Ian Lipkin signed on as a paid technical consultant to the film, he writes in The New York Times. Three quarters of new contagious diseases originate among animals before jumping to humans. Risk of their spread is increased with the rise of international travel, globalized food production, and the displacing of wildlife by deforestation and urbanization. Lipkin hopes the film, Contagion, which premiered this week, will awaken the world to our vulnerability to pandemics. Lipkin and his team designed a fictional disease for the film. "We used as our inspiration the Nipah virus, which in Malaysia in the late 1990s jumped from bats to pigs to humans, causing respiratory disease and encephalitis and resulting in more than 100 deaths before it was contained by quarantine," he writes. They determined how a new disease would spread, evolve, and be contained. In the film, it kills over 1 million people. There are ways we can prepare better by, for example, increasing investment in public health, Lipkin says. "We must invest in sensitive, inexpensive diagnostic tests and better ways of manufacturing and distributing drugs and vaccines. Although new technology now allows us to design many vaccines in days, manufacturing strategies for influenza vaccines have not changed in decades," he says. "Second, more and better coordination is needed among many local, federal and international agencies." A film like Contagion, makes heroes out of the scientists and professionals who fight disease, and he hopes the film will inspire more youth to choose those careers and support their efforts.