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Saturday, November 13, 2004

Do germs "cause" disease?

Suppose you have a fortress. Inside this fortress is your kingdom's most prized possessions. Every day, armies, liars, thieves and vandals come and try to steal your treasure. But your fortress is ancient and powerful, and these thieves stand no chance against such a fortress.

Then one day, you realize that the kingdom is spending a lot of effort defending itself from these invaders. Instead, it tries to "kill off" all the people who would try to steal its treasure. The problem is, it's hard to tell which sorts of people would try to steal it. First, they kill off all the people of different races. Then they kill off all the people who were seen wearing black. Still, the thievery persists. What's more, the new thieves can hardly be identified! They are now, always, the same race, and they dress like commoners.

In a similar way, we fight disease. Rather than bolster our immune system (our fortress), we have decided to wage a preemptive war on germs. The problem is that there are two culprits in any crime. The germ (bacteria or viruses), surely is required to be present - but there will always be germs because there are an infinite variety of them. By killing off the obvious ones, we strengthen the germs that look like our own cells and are harder to identify.

A new way of thinking is in order. Rather than designing new ways to kill off germs, science could be working to foster powerful, healthy bodies. Check out the WTA for more of this kind of thinking.

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