The Overconfidence Effect

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The Confidence of Committee

Remember, they were confident the Titanic was unsinkable.

‟The virus is simply that: A virus. We know it is not airborne and can live outside the body for some time. This virus hazard time is in days, before it becomes inactive. But it is not airborne or dust-borne. We can handle this.”

Doctor Azrae Calnau, head of the Biosafety labs in the government. A dark agency within the CDC, not only charged with finding treatments, preventions and cures of a particular pathogen, but to find a way to treat such illnesses for soldiers. Whether enemy or ally, Dr. Calnau cared not. It was information that the ,government would choose to share.

But he was confident that the reports of this new pathogen that was moving through the communities of the poor, but highly populated planets were accurate. The crushing poverty since the collapse of the economy of the Gliese had come suddenly and left those that were heavily invested in the worlds with no funds to leave for new lives.

The result of crowding of families with poor ventilation and non-existent medical care.

****

The planet Sapphire, once the most violent planet in the outer systems enjoyed a resurgence in prosperity and peace. The government’s need to find an effective vaccinations against such a lethal illness quickly before it spread to Sapphire was a serious and growing threat .

Laymen called it red-sweat. Infected victims began to perspire heavily, the sweat turning crimson as the red blood cells broke down and hemoglobin leaked from the smallest of blood vessels— the capillaries— and flowed out of the sweat glands. The sheets of the bed turned red, while the patient turned the color of a sheet. Death followed quickly with organ failure on a catastrophic level.

After the patient began to perspire, even clear sweat, contaminated everything by contact or touch. Clammy hands typing spread the disease from a keyboard or mouse being touched by someone else,  from touch screen menus at restaurants to the handles on doors of transport systems to call buttons on elevators.

Even the air could be contaminated with aerosols of an innocuous sneeze or cough. Even the filters of the ventilation systems of Gliese were inadequate for the task since the failure of the economy.

Teams of scientists volunteered, fully aware of Gliese’s limitations with sanitation and ventilation filter systems that dated back hundreds of years.

They were talking of two MD’s. Now infected, the illness was far more virulent than they ever expected.

A meeting, the best minds of the commitee of infection control.

‟We have the technology, we know how to control this. We can bring the two doctors here, under our controls in a class 3-I underground facility. There is no exposure to our open atmosphere, they would live or die on their home soil.” Paige Brach MD, Ph.D, D.Sc., president of the southern hemisphere research station. Located in a desert, the one area of the water planet where the perpetual high pressure system remained stationary in the last four-centuries. The desiccated land where the facility sat was billiard-table flat and no measurable water content in the soil until they drilled through bedrock more than a thousand meters deep, it was the only source of water for the facility.

‟We can treat them here.”

Raffe T’mbua, MD, Ph.D spoke up.

‟And if either one of them does not live? The bodies remain a vector, even if you mummify them. Do you have a plan?” He spoke softly.

‟We have two proposals, one is absolutely safe for the planet, even if the family may object.” Doctor Brach said.

‟Care to elaborate?”

‟Incineration, on the lab floor of three-eye, the ‟I” stands for incinerate. The body would be cremated in a fire so hot that the remaining ash would be melted into a glass.”

‟You would do this to the body of one of our own?”

‟It is an option, it would be sterile, to say the least. The plasma torch used, reaches temperatures in excess of twenty-thousand Celsius at its center to reduce the body to ash and then to a glass slag approximately five to ten-percent of the original mass, perhaps less.”

‟That’s…” Tsing Mao-Smith shook her head. ‟Wrong. That is no way to treat a human body. What is the other option?”

‟High-energy ionizing radiation, we would irradiate the body for a period of time to sterilize it.” Paige described the procedure. ‟We are fairly certain that this would prevent spread of the virus to the population at large.”

Fletcher Steel Ph.D. coughed and spoke up. Professor emeritus at the Northern University of the biological studies and research school.

‟That is not a zero-percent chance. It is impossible to irradiate and say with absolute conviction that nothing will live.”

‟No, the math is not absolutely zero. There is always a small chance.”

‟Even if the chance is vanishingly small, I am not willing to introduce a virulent life form into this planet that is already an artificial biosphere, we have not addressed everything yet. Our oxygen event is still happening. The planetary systems are showing signs of cooling down, this in turn will tend to cluster our people closely— a prime setting for a plague to wipe us out.” Professor Steel said softly. ‟We would not have time to develop a defense to fight back.”

‟So you support incineration?” Doctor Mao-Smith said, incredibly. ‟Fletch, I would have never thought you would support that.”

‟I’m not, I oppose either of these people brought back to our planet. One mistake, one leak, a single aerosolized droplet on a worker that goes home, it will spread in this world like wildfire.” The Professor said. ‟It is safer to send our equipment there.”

‟And expose more of our people to the illness?” Paige shook her head. ‟How do you justify that? We have the technology here, ready. There is nothing we cannot handle.”

‟They stay underground until they are clear of the viral bodies.” Tsing said. ‟We will not use any of the equipment again. Everything is incinerated in the plasma furnace, gurneys, bedding. Anything that has direct contact with the patient.”

‟That would be a challenge, Doctor Mao-Smith.” Paige said formally. ‟We can irradiate with UV-c and gas with Cyto-tox. And non of the equipment would ever be brought to the surface.”

‟You are confident in your assessment of containment, then.” Mariko Wong, Ph.D looked directly at Paige.

‟Yes, there is nothing that can go wrong. We have quadruple redundancies.” Paige smiled softly. ‟Nothing can go wrong.”

Quietly watching the circle of highly educated minds grapple with the issue, Doctor Calnau tapped on his PDA, spoke to Paige.

‟Explain this to me as if I were a child, I have confidence in you— but convince me anyway.”

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