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Pandora’s box 

It’s hard to disagree with Nicholas Kristof’s argument in The New York Times that “cookbooks” for weapons of mass destruction should be banned. “We need to confront the consequences of our own information proliferation. Our small presses could end up helping terrorists much more than Saddam ever has.”

I’m not an absolutist on civil liberties. There’s no reason why people should be allowed to publish and disseminate information solely designed to help people kill other people.

Kristof notes that the cookbooks are getting more and more accurate. But he misses the point that the widespread availability of this kind of information is inevitable as science and technology progress. Students in university biology labs routinely do procedures now that were on the absolute limit of possibility not many years ago. Drawing a linear extrapolation is always dangerous, but it won’t take much in the way of technological development for undergraduates or even high schoolers to have ready access to the equipment that could fashion bioweapons.

The same equipment is used legitimately for understanding viruses and genetics. It’s not as though one path leads to benign uses of technology and another to malign ones. Kristof’s desire to stem proliferation of loathsome weapons is right, but limiting information is a losing battle.

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