THE AUTHORS REPLY: Our article focused solely on current, and probable future, illicit manufacturers of counterfeit BoNT products. Nowhere in the article do we even hint that legitimate manufacturers, or their products, pose a security threat. As we wrote, referring specifically to the market for illegal BoNT and to its makers and distributors: “From a security perspective, this booming market is troubling because for manufacturer-distributors it is only a small step from selling counterfeit BoNT products for cosmetic uses to selling the botulinum toxin itself in bulk quantities directly to subversive interests.” To reiterate, our concern is that anyone with a credit card and access to the Internet, including criminals and terrorists, can contact illicit manufacturers of BoNT, purchase gram quantities of it and have the purchase delivered to an address of their choice. This is a new proliferation development that we have found is not being addressed by security agencies or international law and therefore needs to be publicized.
One Body, Many Problems
In “Asteroid Collision” [“12 Events That Will Change Everything”], Robin Lloyd discusses how to realistically prevent an asteroid or comet from impacting a high-value target on Earth. She cites the idea of slightly altering the path of the incoming object, using either a kinetic impactor or a nuclear charge. The menace might thus be diverted from, say, a megalopolis, or made to miss Earth altogether. But there’s a catch: the farther the object, the smaller the necessary nudge, yet the greater the uncertainty in predicting the point of impact. Given the notorious chaotic nature of the long-term gravitational many-body problem, a far enough slight nudge calculated to save a city might inadvertently end up turning a would-be comfortable miss into an actual bull’s-eye, might it not?
LLOYD REPLIES: In the general many-body problem, it is indeed hard to make predictions. Here, however, the near-Earth object is too small to affect the orbits of the planets. Thus, it is just one body moving in a predictable environment. The hard part is to know how much of a nudge to give an object, because its properties, such as its mass, are difficult to measure from afar.
Gossip vs. Science
I am a longtime subscriber to Scientific American and enjoyed your June issue. But political satire as exemplified by Steve Mirsky’s “Presidential Harrisment” [Anti Gravity] seems out of place in the magazine. Mirsky usually makes an effort to have at least a tenuous tie-in to science, but even that is missing this month. You might as legitimately have a gossip column, sports results, wine comparison or travel log. Perhaps Mirsky should seek a position in one of the many fine publications devoted to politics.
William S. Haney
MIRSKY REPLIES: The column was not about politics. It was about rationality, a necessary part of scientific thinking.