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Archive for the ‘existential risks’ category: Page 110

May 4, 2007

US flu control strategy flaws and suggested improvements

Posted by in categories: biological, defense, existential risks

In a report to be published in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS Computational Biology and currently available online, Sally Blower, a professor at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, and Romulus Breban and Raffaele Vardavas, postdoctoral fellows in Blower’s research group, used novel mathematical modeling techniques to predict that current health policy — based on voluntary vaccinations — is not adequate to control severe flu epidemics and pandemics unless vaccination programs offer incentives to individuals.

According to the researchers, the severity of such a health crisis could be reduced if programs were to provide several years of free vaccinations to individuals who pay for only one year. Interestingly, however, some incentive programs could have the opposite effect. Providing free vaccinations for entire families, for example, could actually increase the frequency of severe epidemics. This is because when the head of the household makes a choice — flu shots or no flu shots — on behalf of all the other household members, there is no individual decision-making, and adaptability is decreased.

While other models have determined what proportion of the population would need to be vaccinated in order to prevent a pandemic, none of these models have shown whether this critical coverage can actually be reached. What has been missing, according to Blower, a mathematical and evolutionary biologist, is the human factor.

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Apr 10, 2007

More advice on best actions to survive a nearby nuclear blast

Posted by in categories: existential risks, military, nuclear weapons

Carnegie Mellon researchers Keith Florig and Baruch Fischhoff offer simple, practical advice: on whether it is worth citizens’ time to stock supplies needed for a home shelter, how urgently should one seek shelter following a nearby nuclear detonation, and how long should survivors remain in a shelter after the radioactive dust settles.


“A number of emergency-management organizations recommend that people stock their homes with a couple dozen categories of emergency supplies,” said Florig of Carnegie Mellon’s engineering and public policy department. “We calculated that it would cost about $240 per year for a typical family to maintain such a stock, including the value of storage space and the time needed to tend to it.”

Their research also suggests that many families who could afford to follow the stocking guidelines might think twice about whether the investment was really worth it, given the low probability that stocked supplies would actually be used in a nuclear emergency.

They advocate simple rules for minimizing risk based on how far people are from the blast. If you are within several miles of the blast, there will be no time to flee and you will have only minutes to seek shelter. If you are 10 miles [downwind] from the blast, you will have 15 to 60 minutes to find shelter, but not enough time to reliably flee the area before the fallout arrives,” said Florig.

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Apr 2, 2007

Decisive, immediate action can reduce Pandemic Deaths

Posted by in categories: biological, defense, existential risks, lifeboat

Cities that quickly closed schools and discouraged public gatherings had fewer deaths from the great flu pandemic in 1918 than cities that did not, researchers reported on Monday. Experts agree that a pandemic of some virus, most likely influenza, is almost 100 percent certain. What is not certain is when it will strike and which virus it will be.

In Kansas City, no more than 20 people could attend weddings or funerals. New York mandated staggered shifts at factories. In Seattle, the mayor told people to wear face masks.

No single action worked on its own, the researchers found, it was the combination of measures that saved lives. Peak death rates can be 50% to eight times lower. St. Louis authorities introduced “a broad series of measures designed to promote social distancing” as soon as flu showed up. Philadelphia downplayed the 1918 flu.

Philadelphia ended up with a peak death rate of 257 people per 100,000 population per week. St. Louis had just 31 per 100,000 at the peak.

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Mar 27, 2007

China, Indonesia, India, Japan and the US most vulnerable to asteroids

Posted by in categories: asteroid/comet impacts, defense, existential risks, lifeboat, space

Using maps of population density, the researchers charted the places likely to suffer the most casualties from asteroids. As might be expected, countries with large coastal populations turned out to be most vulnerable, with China, Indonesia, India, Japan and the US in the top five spots.

The team focused on smaller asteroids because they hit the Earth more frequently. An asteroid a few hundred metres across hits the planet about once every 10,000 years, on average, while those larger than 1 kilometre hit only every 100,000 years or so. Small asteroids are also harder to spot. They considered a range of impact energies corresponding to asteroids between 100 and 500 metres across, striking with typical solar system speeds of about 20,000 kilometres per second.


Simulations show the asteroid impact locations that would produce the most casualties in red. The Pacific coast of Asia is a particularly deadly place for an asteroid to strike because of tsunamis, while a direct strike on some densely populated inland areas could also cause a heavy toll (Illustration: Nick Bailey et al/University of Southampton)

The US faced the worst potential economic losses, since it has a lot of infrastructure on coastlines facing two different oceans. China was second, followed by Sweden, Canada, and Japan.

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Mar 20, 2007

Reducing nuclear bomb casualties

Posted by in categories: defense, existential risks, nuclear weapons

Some information on how to reduce nuclear bomb casualties

If you are downwind of the blast, look at tree tops to see direction of wind and then flee perpendicular to the wind. Because the plumes are significantly longer than they are wide, moving as little as one to five miles perpendicular to the plume can mean the difference between life and death. People in areas upwind of the detonation site, on the other hand, are safest staying where they are.

Today’s hospital burn units provide exemplary but time consuming care to burn victims, who typically arrive sporadically and in small numbers. A nuclear attack would bring a sudden surge of patients, but the medical system could dramatically minimize fatalities by training staff and equipping non-medical people to treat second-degree burn victims in much larger numbers. The focus must be on cleaning the wounds to avoid fatal infections, administering painkillers and then moving on to the next patient. And all of this must occur in the field, since thousands of victims would not make it to a hospital.

Mar 16, 2007

The Psychology of Security

Posted by in category: existential risks

An excellent article by Bruce Schneier on the psychology of security is available here. It starts as follows:

Security is both a feeling and a reality. And they’re not the same.

The reality of security is mathematical, based on the probability of different risks and the effectiveness of different countermeasures. We can calculate how secure your home is from burglary, based on such factors as the crime rate in the neighborhood you live in and your door-locking habits. We can calculate how likely it is for you to be murdered, either on the streets by a stranger or in your home by a family member. Or how likely you are to be the victim of identity theft. Given a large enough set of statistics on criminal acts, it’s not even hard; insurance companies do it all the time.

We can also calculate how much more secure a burglar alarm will make your home, or how well a credit freeze will protect you from identity theft. Again, given enough data, it’s easy.

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Mar 13, 2007

Reducing the Risk of Human Extinction

Posted by in category: existential risks

A valuable paper by Jason Matheny of the University of Maryland is “Reducing the Risk of Human Extinction”. The abstract is as follows:

In this century a number of events could extinguish humanity. The probability of these events may be very low, but the expected value of preventing them could be high, as it represents the value of all future lives. We review the challenges to studying human extinction risks and, by way of example, estimate the cost-effectiveness of preventing extinction-level asteroid impacts.

Continue reading it here.

Mar 5, 2007

United States unwilling to spend $300 million for asteroid location

Posted by in categories: asteroid/comet impacts, defense, existential risks, lifeboat, space

NASA estimates the cost to find at least 90 percent of the 20,000 potentially hazardous asteroids and comets by 2020 would be about $1 billion, according to a report NASA will release later this week. It would cost $300 million if a asteroid locating telescope was piggybacked on another vehicle. The report was previewed Monday at a Planetary Defense Conference in Washington.

The agency is already tracking bigger objects, at least 3,300 feet in diameter, that could wipe out most life on Earth, much like what is theorized to have happened to dinosaurs 65 million years ago. But even that search, which has spotted 769 asteroids and comets — none of which is on course to hit Earth — is behind schedule. It’s supposed to be complete by the end of next year.

A cheaper option would be to simply piggyback on other agencies’ telescopes, a cost of about $300 million, also rejected, Johnson said.

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Feb 28, 2007

Lasers to detect and deflect asteroids

Posted by in categories: asteroid/comet impacts, defense, existential risks, lifeboat, space

Graduate student (University of Alabama Huntsville) Blake Anderton wrote his master’s thesis on “Application of Mode-locked lasers to asteroid characterization and mitigation.” Undergraduate Gordon Aiken won a prize at a recent student conference for his poster and presentation “Space positioned LIDAR system for characterization and mitigation of Near Earth Objects.” And members of the group are building a laser system “that is the grandfather of the laser that will push the asteroids,” Fork said.

Anderton’s mode locked lasers could characterize asteroids up to 1 AU away (1.5 × 10 to the 11 meters). Arecibo and other radar observatories can only detect objects up to 0.1 AU away, so in theory a laser would represent a vast improvement over radar.

A one page powerpoint describes their asteroid detection and deflection approach About 12 of the 1AU detection volumes (around the sun in the asteroid belt) would be needed to cover the main areas for near earth asteroids.

40KW femtosecond lasers could deflect an asteroid the size of Apophis (320meters, would hit with 880 megaton force) given one year of illumination and an early start in the trajectory.

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Feb 18, 2007

Asteroid shield related: deflection mission and other proposals

Posted by in categories: asteroid/comet impacts, existential risks, lifeboat, space

A giant asteroid named Apophis has a one in 45,000 chance of hitting the Earth in 2036. If it did hit the earth it could destroy a city or a region. A slate of new proposals for addressing the asteroid menace was presented today at a recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco.

One of the Lifeboat Foundation projects is an Asteroid Shield and the issues and points discussed are in direct alignment with Lifeboat. The specific detection and deflection projects are in the Lifeboat Asteroid Shield project.

Edward Lu of NASA has proposed “gravitational tractor” is a spacecraft—up to 20 tons (18 metric tons)—that it could divert an asteroid’s path just by thrusting its engines in a specific direction while in the asteroid’s vicinity.

Scientists also described two massive new survey-telescope projects to detect would-be killer asteroids.

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