Nov. 9, 2023

"Rare events can still cause catastrophic accidents. The concern that has been raised by experts going back over time, is that really, the more of these experiments, the more labs, the more opportunities there are for a rare event to occur — that the right pathogen is involved and infects somebody in one of these labs, or is released in some way from these labs. And what I chronicle in Pandora's Gamble is that there have been these previous outbreaks that have been associated with various kinds of lab accidents. So this is not a theoretical thing that can happen: it has happened in the past." — Alison Young

In today’s episode, host Luisa Rodriguez interviews award-winning investigative journalist Alison Young on the surprising frequency of lab leaks and what needs to be done to prevent them in the future.

Links to learn more, summary, and full transcript.

They cover:

  • The most egregious biosafety mistakes made by the CDC, and how Alison uncovered them through her investigative reporting
  • The Dugway life science test facility case, where live anthrax was accidentally sent to labs across the US and several other countries over a period of many years
  • The time the Soviets had a major anthrax leak, and then hid it for over a decade
  • The 1977 influenza pandemic caused by vaccine trial gone wrong in China
  • The last death from smallpox, caused not by the virus spreading in the wild, but by a lab leak in the UK 
  • Ways we could get more reliable oversight and accountability for these labs
  • And the investigative work Alison’s most proud of

Producer and editor: Keiran Harris
Audio Engineering Lead: Ben Cordell
Technical editing: Simon Monsour and Milo McGuire
Additional content editing: Katy Moore and Luisa Rodriguez
Transcriptions: Katy Moore

This episode is from 80,000 Hours Podcast whose proprietor has full ownership and responsibility on its contents and artworks. It was shared using Castamatic, a podcast app for iPhone and iPad.