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Finding Solutions To Global Health Problems Might Mean Creating More Risk

“Scientists are aware that their interventions in the natural world will have unintended effects, and in order to behave ethically, these potential risks must be considered,” Maggie Koerth-Baker, science editor at, writes in a New York Times opinion piece, adding, “Even something as innocuous as a mosquito net may carry a considerable downside.” She uses the example of mosquitoes adapting to feed during the day and outside, versus at night and inside, as an example of how they are skirting the protective effects of mosquito nets and continuing to transmit malaria. She discusses the work of several research teams looking for ways to reduce the incidence of malaria and dengue, including genetically modifying mosquitoes.

“[A]ll solutions, whether as simple as a net or as complicated as splicing genes, come with risks,” she writes, adding, “Today we know how to take precautions to prevent malaria transmissions and fight the disease with antimalarial drugs. But in the future, some version of malaria could surge through a population of humans without the cultural knowledge or pharmaceuticals necessary to defend themselves against it.” As researchers continue to discover “at least partial solutions to many natural risks,” “[s]o science must change the way it engages with the world as it both reduces and creates risk” (2/19).