Contagion: Nothing Spreads Like Fear

The film “Contagion” attempts to realistically display an epidemic that sweeps across the globe. Even though the act of spreading the disease began with a simple handshake in Hong Kong, within days it was international and affecting the lives of millions. While much of our recent lessons have been discussing nuclear weapons and how it affects the diplomacy between countries, we see in this case that the threat of an international epidemic encouraged many countries to work together for the protection of mankind.

I originally believed the epidemic to be a form of attack from an outside country. We later find out that the flu is caused by an animal interaction between a pig and a fly. However, I found this to be an important area to cover – if a country plots an epidemic to attack another country, can it truly be safe from the sickness returning to its homeland and hurting its own citizens? While the epidemic was the clear threat to American citizens, bigger cities eventually began to have rioting, murder and chaos in fear. This proved to be another problem that rooted from the epidemic.

Despite being a cinematic representation of the influence of serious epidemics, how realistic can we understand this movie to be? I questioned many aspects of the plot:

Do you think it is realistic that the government had the ability to track down social interactions to discover who originated the epidemic? Is it anywhere near possible to develop a new vaccine within months of the discovery of such a serious epidemic? — Taylor

15 thoughts on “Contagion: Nothing Spreads Like Fear

  1. Taylor, I think you are right to question many of the plot decisions in the movie Contagion. As a blockbuster film, they definitely had an interest in playing up the contagious disease as an attack from another country and not revealing the truth until the end. The actors I think were pretty well chosen for the film and was more impressed than the films previous counterpart, “Outbreak” with Dustin Hoffman.

    I found a few more discrepancies in the film that I’d like to add, but then conclude with some thoughts about the movie that I think were realistic and help to frame our class’ understanding of global bio risks.

    Discrepancies:
    -The movie claims that 1 in 4 people are susceptible to be affected by the outbreak. However even the most deadly of diseases, like the Spanish Flu in the early 1900s, had a 1 in 100 mortality rate.
    -The movie sent only one main disease coordinator to investigate the disease. The CDC definitely has the resources to send dozens of folks.
    -The Chief Epidemiologist who finds the disease cure, upon seeing the living monkey who received the vaccine, immediately injects herself with it. Several dozen of these monkey trials and hundreds of human trials would need to be conducted for verification given future the large scale use of the drug
    -The vaccine was given to those selected at random at different birth dates. Any treatment would be given out to the sickest, elderly and children first.

    Realistic elements:
    -Disease transmission between bat germs, to a pig to humans. Movie producers actually worked with an epidemiologist to model the disease off of an existing disease, the Nipah virus, transmitted from pigs to farmers.
    -Vaccine development and distribution. In the movie it takes about 6 months to develop the vaccine, which if given extraordinary resources, is plausible according the CDC website. Additionally the realities of the distribution of the drug, which in the movie takes about a year to mobilize the resources to generate millions of them, is quite true. Modern factories would not be equipped to produce a specific drug – governments would need to figure out how to convert thousands of them into vaccine producing facilities

    Given the advanced fast paced spread of the disease (also realistic if you look to SARS), one can see how truly catastrophic biological diseases can be. I think this risk is worth very much identifying as large, especially given that a person need only come into contact with mere nanograms of infected material to they themselves become infected. Enter in an actor with foul play intent, someone who purposely generates the beginning of the disease spread, and civilizations are much more lucky to be susceptible to this risk. The movie, though at times too “Hollywood-y” does enough of a realistic portrayal of the modern risk of the spread of a contagion, that I think it merits taking seriously in the context our class.

  2. I’d like to respond to the general questions you posed Taylor, but also to one of Max’s points.

    First, I think that if the government were to focus all of its resources on one issue, it would be truly astounding what they were able to do. While there have been instances where the government completely dropped the ball and let thousands of people suffer, for example Hurricane Katrina, I think that if there was ever a crisis that truly threatened the existence of our country as we know it, like a massive pandemic, our government would respond with speed and efficiency. As to your other question regarding the discovery of a vaccine, I think Max did some legwork and figured out that it is in fact possible.

    On aspect of the hypothetical situation that I didn’t feel like the movie covered very well was what happened to government institutions. We saw the news media and the CDC continue to function as they do now but what happened in the executive branch and in Washington DC? Conspiracy theorists love to point to Executive Order 11003 (http://www.disastercenter.com/laworder/11003.htm) as a document that lays a somewhat scary plan for the continuation of government in a state of true crisis. Some have read 11003 as the sanctioning of a complete FEMA takeover of every part of society, a reading that may be alarmist, but the document does warrant a look.

    The last thing I want to respond to is Max’s comment that the “sickest, elderly, and children” would receive potential vaccines or treatment first. While I think we would like to believe this would always be the case, I think that such a value would only hold up to a point. At some point it is likely that our country, and maybe the entire globe, will be more concerned the continuation of humanity than in saving those who are most vulnerable. That being said, I don’t think we would abandon our principles early. I like to think humanity would have to be facing destruction before we consider neglecting the weak but maybe I’m wrong.

  3. It is interesting that in your response you wrote “the threat of an international epidemic encouraged many countries to work together for the protection of mankind.” While we did see conferences between different governmental bodies, what Sun Feng — the Chinese man who abducted Marion Cotillard’s character — said was very true, that his village was at “the end of the line.” Throughout the movie, the Western countries are the ones in control, the ones responding to the crisis together. China is suspicious of the WHO because it treats Hong Kong and Macao poorly by shutting down the cities without adequate explanation. There is also a rumor in the movie that the French and Americans created a vaccine and wouldn’t share it with other countries. While this turns out not to be true, there is clearly the feeling that the West is acting in its own self-interest.

    You also posed a question about the possible repercussions of biological weapons. While the end of the movie portrayed a kind of return to normalcy after the development of a vaccine, it did not address the lingering effects of the “rioting, murder and chaos.” I agree with you that these other disasters came about as a result of the breakdown in law and order because of the epidemic. I think that these problems would take longer to fix and it might take a long time to completely return to normal. These are the problems that might rebound on countries that attack with biological weapons, even if they have given all of their citizens vaccines. A large-scale crisis like that shown in Contagion would likely shut down world trade, which for many countries would mean the loss of valuable food sources. In today’s globalized world, very few countries are completely self-sufficient and would be able to survive if the countries around them devolved into chaos. In addition, there is always the possibility that the disease they sent out would mutate in such a way that the original vaccine would no longer be effective. This is happening with many diseases today, such as in the resurgence of TB, and it did happen in Contagion, showing how scientists were forced to start from scratch in finding a vaccine.

  4. First off, thank you, Taylor, for posing such interesting and thought provoking discussion questions.

    I believe that some governments, given current technological data collections, have the ability to track human interactions to the point of detecting the source of an epidemic. Domestic surveillance has reached a point where no personal information is safe. However, this in-depth surveillance does not take place in all countries. So, if the contraction of said contagion happened in a country that did not have sophisticated domestic surveillance operations, it would be much harder to detect. Therefore, I imagine a government could track who initially contracted the disease, but it would be extremely difficult and unlikely.

    In consonance with the movie, a vaccine could be developed within months of an epidemic. I believe this to be true especially if there was a global demand and human life was dependent on the development of this vaccine. A global epidemic would certainly motivate researchers and drug companies to operate at an accelerated rate. The development of a successful vaccine is largely dependent on numerous unknown circumstances, but I believe that an effective vaccine would take at most one year to develop. –MICHAEL

  5. When first watching the film Contagion, I too had my mind set to the idea that the deadly virus that was quickly becoming a global pandemic was a product of human performed chemistry designed with the specific intent of causing deaths worldwide. As we learned, the virus was instead something that occurred in a more natural setting, however despite this we are still left in awe of the extreme effects a virus can have on the entire world and are enlightened to the global pandemic that would ensue if a country did in fact design a virus like this. As a result, there are several key questions we need to address as a global community, many of which you asked in your blog.

    I believe that if a country were to plot an epidemic to attack another country, there is absolutely no way that it would truly be safe from the sickness returning to the homeland and affecting its own citizens. As we saw from the film, a deadly virus can be spread rapidly in numerous amounts of ways, and while a nation could generally target another area of the world, it would only be a matter of time before the virus found its way back home. The only way around this would be to have all citizens immune to the virus by creating a separate anti-body.

    With regards to your question about the government’s ability to track down social interactions to help discover who originated the epidemic, I find that while it is fairly unrealistic for a government to be able to piece together a specific chain of events leading them to the source, I do trust the intelligence in many world governments to be able to get down to the bottom of an epidemic eventually. Returning to the idea of developing an anti-body vaccine to combat such a powerful virus, I believe that scientifically it can be done, however we would first need to know just what the virus entails, which could result in some delay in getting the vaccine to the people. All in all, I believe this movie shows us the danger of a global virus and helps us realize that while perhaps unlikely, a country releasing a terrible virus on the rest of the world would be a catastrophic global epidemic.

  6. Thanks for your post, Taylor! I found the movie to be frighteningly realistic, although I do agree with some of the discrepancies that Max listed above. In particular, I thought that his point about there needing to be more monkey and human trials before the CDC would green light mass production of a potential vaccine. Even if the vaccine happened to work on a particular scientist, this wouldn’t confirm its effectiveness on the global population.

    I really appreciated the film’s attempt to capture aspects of the group psychology and mass hysteria that would have followed from such a terrible outbreak. Especially as the online community continues to grow and thrive, I thought that it was important to include the bit about the conspiracy theory about forsythia being propagated by an online blogger. Increasingly it seems that when people have fear or questions or doubts, they’ll turn to the Internet and believe whatever it is that they read if they believe that it can be used as an answer. This modern take on Internet-born hysteria was chilling and very relevant to our day and age.

    You posed a question that I was wondering about as well – whether or not the government would be able to track down patient zero. I believe that they would have this capability, particularly with people working around the clock. However, what I was also wondering about throughout the film was how accurately the world’s governments would be able to predict where the virus was moving and who it would afflict next. It seemed that, especially early on, there was a huge effort to try and get a step ahead of the virus. Especially as it continued to spread, was it even possible to try and keep up with it?

  7. I definitely agree with Max that the spread of the virus is one of the most unrealistic aspects of the movie. The characters even remark that the virus’s ability to spread is completed unprecedented so any actual epidemic, although very potentially dangerous, would not have the same unbelievably fast rate of infection as in “Contagion”. Taylor is absolutely right to point out that any biological attack has the potential to spread globally and infect those who initially used it. A bioattack, particularly bioterrorism, would most likely use a pathogen that doesn’t spread as easily and can be accurately targeted. For example, anthrax isn’t contagious so even though the anthrax attacks didn’t reach a large scale, they could still be easily targeted.

    When discussing a wide-scale bio attack along the lines of the “Contagion” virus, Kyle is correct in pointing out that civilians can never truly be safe. In fact, this is why bioweapons are considered only useful in total war; the civilian toll of a bioattack seems only necessary if waging war against an entire society and not just its military.

    I think the movie does a great job at showing both the importance but also the logistical difficulties involved with vaccine production. The vaccine is completely necessary to stop the epidemic, but the random process of selecting who gets the vaccine seems almost cruel and is one of the contributing factors to the chaos and rioting. As for tracking the initial origin of the epidemic, in the case of “Contagion” it makes sense since the disease has a very specific set of symptoms and effect on the body. For other diseases, sometimes it’s extremely difficult to diagnose because of overlapping symptoms. The CDC’s website even mentions that diseases like Ebola can be easily confused with other infectious diseases. This would make both initially diagnosing the virus and determining the initial case hard to do before the epidemic reaches substantial proportions.

  8. I agree with many of the commenters above me that Contagion may have taken some creative liberties with the facts regarding a global pandemic, but overall I would argue that a number of fundamentally important realities are truthfully portrayed.

    Echoing what Max said, it’s essentially impossible for a CDC investigator to be injecting themselves with an experimental vaccine. My parents run a clinical trial site doing phase III trials (on large groups of people) for Alzheimer’s medications, most significantly a potential vaccine for Alzheimer’s. My mother is the research administrator, and I know that she has a master’s degree in clinical effectiveness which has taught her to navigate the myriad FDA regulations that surround clinical trials. I’m positive that one of those rules forbids experimenting on yourself. Furthermore, the logic behind experimenting on yourself is weak at best, because you would have to determine the long-term effects of the vaccine – something that is hard to do when you are your own subject. A Huffington Post article cited a CDC researcher saying: “”we don’t inject ourselves with (experimental) vaccines,” which seems about right.

    In that vein, developing a vaccine can take several months but the movie may not have been totally off-base (with the exception of the methods that the clinical trial would take). The WHO estimates that a new influenza vaccine in a situation like H1N1 would take 4-6 months to develop and produce. However, the quantities produced would obviously not cover the entire population even by the end of those six months. It would also probably take longer to develop a vaccine for a disease based on something less well-researched than influenza.

    To answer the other part of the second question, I think it’s believable that patient zero would be identified. I know that having lived through SARS in Toronto in the early 2000s (where it hit particularly harshly given our strong relationship with Hong Kong and our large Chinese immigrant population), they were both able to identify the original patient zero in China and also the individual who carried the disease to Canada. Given that this was in 2003, with increased technology use and surveillance, I would argue that their job will have only become easier.

  9. It seems strange that in the movie the government, as well as some of the posts above, would immediately jump to the conclusion that it was an attack by another nation, rather than a new outbreak of a natural disease. And as this has not yet been questioned, I take it that it may very well be one of the more realistic parts of the movie. However it is not as if new outbreaks are entirely uncommon, we only would need to think back to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa from the summer of 2014 to remember a devastating disease brought about naturally. Albeit the prospect of a newly engineered disease suggests a malicious attack, it still seems like the portrayal of governments at the beginning is very suspicious of other nations and pretty realistic in regards to how national security would actually act.

    I think this suspicion is very important, because it makes the multilateral actions between different nations at the end significantly less realistic. If nations were worried that their enemies launched this, why would they bother to help track down patient zero? Even once they discovered it came from interaction between a bat and a pig, it still seems very likely that this could have happened artificially, and nations would probably be hesitant to allow their researchers to travel abroad as they could contract something even worse that the “enemy” is already immune too.

    Furthermore, this could very well hinder the development of a global vaccine, as nations would not trust each other. Take for example the polio vaccine developed by Albert Sabin in 1958, a few years after Salk’s more famous vaccine, which was denied and doubted by the U.S. and branded as a “communist vaccine” solely because he tested in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, even though it actually proved more effective (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aso/databank/entries/dm52sa.html). Nationalism like this can really hurt progress and if nations start with the assumption that diseases are due to malicious biological attacks, a counter-attack of the virus could really be devastating and start something much worse than saw inside “Contagion.”

  10. Many other commentators on this blog post have already pointed out many glaring inconsistencies within the film. I agree that an investigator would not have been able to test their vaccine on themselves and that discovering a vaccine for the disease would likely have taken much more time in reality. Moreover, the movie focuses heavily on video footage from one casino, which seems like an unrealistically narrow scope for such an investigation.

    However, I think that the film does highlight realistic consequences of a pandemic that people might ordinarily not consider. After the disease begins to spread, individuals and governments come up with conspiracy theories and search for people to blame. The blogosphere initially blames greedy corporations and then suspects that the disease could be a biological weapon. Eventually the United States military even comes to believe that the latter claim is true.

    Because so many governments are already worried about the possibilities of biological weapons, when a very dangerous outbreak occurs, there is a significant chance that they will assume that a particular pathogen has been weaponized- even if the real cause of the pandemic was not man-made. This movie does a good job showing how pandemics could turn governments and societies against each other. Throughout the film, governments are kidnapping each other’s scientists, researchers, and investigators instead of working together to develop a cure.

    Also, as people struggle to survive, the disease tears apart the fabric of society. The film shows a realistic portrayal of how society might unravel in the face of such a pandemic. People break and burn stores, charge at pharmacists, and leave trash to pile up on the sides of streets. In one scene, tanks begin to roll down the streets of Minneapolis. While unnerving, these scenes demonstrate how even an accidental spread of disease could result in a militaristic response.

  11. Thanks for kickstarting this insightful discussion, Taylor! I want to jump off of Kennedy’s earlier point about government capability during a pandemic. After interning in D.C. for the past two summers, I am less optimistic about the speed and efficiency with which the government would mobilize resources toward developing and manufacturing a vaccine. Specifically, I think this is unlikely for three reasons: partisan politics, CDC credibility, and industry first-movers.

    With the current partisan warfare, I worry that politicians would seek a “national conversation” on how to react to an epidemic, rather than immediately taking action. If one branch took proactive steps, they would be endlessly critiqued by the opposite party’s key spokespeople and media pundits for reckless and irrational endangerment of the American people and the federal budget.

    The movie also gives tremendous credibility to the resources and cultural power of the CDC. The anti-vaccination movement was largely encouraged by the bumbling and slow response of the CDC to scientifically discredit the claims of vaccinations leading to childhood autism. Though it got there eventually, too much time had passed. Whooping cough, measles and other once-vanquished diseases are coming back because an increasing subset of children do not receive shots to prevent them. Additionally, the CDC has a limited budget.

    Which brings me to my third point: No U.S. or international government agency has the means to develop, test, and manufacture a vaccine for a global pandemic within this short of a time span. This movie underestimates the power and necessity of the corporate world, particularly with Big Pharma and industry first-movers. Since when has global panic discounted the power of profitability? Particularly with an ingrained market and no competition? Though it would have been more realistic to bring in corporate partners for vaccine development (as has been done in past epidemics), I understand why the movie may have wanted to avoid politicizing the epidemic in the context of profit.

  12. Personally, the possibility that the disease in Contagion was man-made did not come to mind, neither accidental release nor attack by another country. This could be due to the film’s seemingly innocuous setup. It begins with the man in Hong Kong and Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) becoming sick in a seemingly natural manner, and this matches my idea of the start of a global epidemic. But the possibility of a man-made virus is quite interesting to think about for me. From a global security perspective, I believe, at this point, that the accidental release of a devastating disease is more likely than the use of such a disease as a form of bioterrorism, but neither are as likely as a natural formation like the one portrayed in the film. That being said though, none of these possibilities should be overlooked by policy makers. The most beneficial part of the movie for me was the film’s inclusion of confounding factors, such as Alan Krumweide’s (Jude Law) conspiracy campaign and Ellis Cheever’s (Laurence Fishburne) moral dilemmas. Such factors were not things I considered before watching the film, and it weaved them neatly into the plot.

    I thought the movie itself was the most realistic portrayal of a global epidemic that we can see. For me, it seemed like the film was heavy on science policy, more so than I was expecting. This was refreshing, and to me, actually seem to reduce, as some other posts have said, the dramatization of such events by the filmmakers. Indeed, there were still several unrealistic aspects when looking at the fine details, such as the points Max identifies. To address the questions Taylor proposes, tracking down the social interactions and patient zero seems fairly reasonable. With the large amount of available resources, I think it would be possible to investigate the first reported cases of the disease and pinpoint the time and location at which these people had interacted with each other. At the same time, it was coincidental that this location was in a place with heavy surveillance in the film, though not unreasonable today for many locations. As for the development of a vaccine in the film, it seemed to be realistic, though possibly on the optimistically short side given the complete unknown nature and severity of the disease. But I think it is more likely that the more time-consuming task, assuming that governments are focusing solely on the development of the vaccine, would be reproducing and distributing the vaccine after its creation, as Sebastian points out.

  13. Thanks Taylor for provoking an interesting discussion! I personally found Contagion to be a generally well conceived and executed movie, though it certainly dramatized or fictionalized elements of a pandemic outbreak. Following up with what Max and some others wrote, the main qualm I had with the movie would be the overly high–and highly unlikely–mortality rate/transmission rate combination. There certainly are infectious diseases that have mortality rates of 25% or more (Ebola and MERS come to mind) but as I understand it, it is exceedingly unlikely that a disease would have such a high mortality rate while simultaneously possessing such a high R-naught. This is because high-mortality diseases would naturally tend to kill their carriers before they would’ve had a chance to spread the disease further, and so germs might evolve to be less deadly such that they can spread further. Still, this got me thinking about the potential for bioterrorism: it seems to me that the greatest danger of bioterrorism comes not from its potential to create super-deadly germs–these already pop up in nature–but perhaps to calibrate such a disease to be able to spread widely before incapacitating its victims. Though the MeV-1 virus from Contagion seems unlikely to exist in nature, it seems plausible that one might be able to engineer it, which is a terrifying prospect indeed.

    I also thought that the movie did a good job showing the fruitfulness of contact-tracing as a public health procedure (even if it simplified the process) and depicting how an infectious disease that pops up in one part of the world could go global and spread across continents before public health agencies have the chance to get their pants on, so to speak. It was striking to me how the Ebola epidemic spread across countries and even continents in fairly short order–and this beginning in rural Guinea, hardly a high-traffic locale! Undoubtedly, if such a disease began in a truly global city the spread would be alarmingly rapid. I also appreciated the way in which Contagion depicted the hysteria and breakdown of civic society that might occur during a pandemic. Indeed, one of the other notable things to me about the Ebola epidemic was the panic it produced in America, and the hysterical calls to close of travel to West Africa despite clear evidence that epidemic in America was nearly impossible. (There were even cases of people canceling travel or refusing to admit travelers from South Africa and East Africa, places very far removed indeed from the epidemic!) I have no doubt, then, that in a real pandemic situation the public mayhem would rival that depicted in the movie–as dim a prospect as that may seem.

  14. When Contagion first came out, I remember thinking that, beyond the impressive cast, the film wouldn’t have much more to offer than your typical doomsday (whether via natural disaster or zombie/alien/non-human attack) film. In watching it, I was pleasantly surprised to find that wasn’t the case. In fact, there seemed to be such a strong spirit of authenticity that I didn’t keep an eye out for many of the inconsistencies that previous commenters have highlighted. That said, I’m glad attention was brought to them, and, in that same vein, I think it’s worth addressing the limitations of two of the more realistic parts of the plot.

    One relates to the question that Taylor originally posed about our ability to track down a patient zero. I, like others before me, think it’s entirely possible for investigators to pinpoint the initial case of an infection. But one thing that hasn’t been mentioned in relation to this film is that the researchers never nailed down how Beth contracted the disease. While the filmmakers showed the audience the bat-to-pig-to-chef-to-Beth chain that led to the strange illness, I have to wonder whether researchers would be able to plausibly model such a specific series of interactions in order to understand where the disease came from. At some point in the film, Dr. Cheever and Dr. Hextall talk about how “somewhere in the world, the wrong pig met up with ‘the wrong bat,” but that line of reasoning is never seriously pursued – whether for reasons of impracticality or lack of information/interest. In the real world, how capable are we of tracing origins of a disease (even just to formulate a theory) to a sequence of events that specific, and is that something we even have an interest in doing? I ask simply because I think understanding the types of events that can introduce this kind of infection into the world would be immensely helpful in anticipation and maybe even prevention of epidemics like the one portrayed in the film. Of course, we can’t ensure that bats don’t drop banana pieces into pig pens, but maybe we can head off the spread at the level where humans become involved (the farmer picking up the pig for the restaurant) by knowing what possibilities exist. Perhaps this is something we already do and the sequence of events illustrated in the film is more unrealistic than I’m assuming, but a previous commenter mentioned how diligently the virus was modeled, and this is a corollary of that.

    Another subject in need of discussion relates (in a tangential way) to an earlier comment about the activities of government institutions beyond the CDC. Although the local government/MDoH scenes are basically played for comedy in the film, I think their inclusion served the important purpose of illustrating the non-scientific/non-technical side of bureaucracy, as well as the obstacles that exist at that level. When Dr. Mears convenes her forum of Minnesota Dept. of Health representatives, it’s clear that while she is concerned with the nature of the virus, the others are much more concerned with optics, logistics (the budget matter also arises later with the treatment centers), and public perception. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – someone has to worry about these things – but I feel like these kinds of internal conflicts are overlooked from our outsider’s perspective. I appreciate that the filmmakers thought to include this element, if only to add more ‘civilian reality’ to the ordeal.

  15. I would like to speak briefly to your point about the origin of the disease. I think that, in being modeled after many other apocalyptic movies that came before it, “Contagion” was very conscious of how to make the movie chilling in the reality of the situation. If the epidemic had come from a human source, like the government or a terrorist organization, I believe that more people would have written it of as a fantastical story. Having it come from animals, however, means there is an element of a lack of control. I firmly believe that most people going to see this movie would be more chilled by the idea that it’s something that could happen because we have no way of controlling it. It scares us like Malaria scares us…there is no way to know which mosquitos carry it.

    What’s interesting is that for the purposes of our class, we’re looking more closely at the shocking likelihood that a human organization could be the start of this. The concept that wouldn’t be believable to most moviegoers — the idea that a group of humans would have the technology and motive to cultivate and spread a disease like this — is exactly what we are concerned with. I think the idea of it strikes most people as implausible, while for the purposes of our class, we very much have to consider it. I think a great example of this is the fact that in class, most people held up their cards to indicate that it was very unlikely that this would happen, though we disagreed on how devastating the effects would be.

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