DOJ’s Hiring Spree of Immigration Judges | A New Paradigm for U.S. Industrial Policy | Telling Biodefense from Offensive Bioweapons, and more

a simultaneous rise in global cooperation. As tensions spiked in the midst of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, for instance, Moscow falsely accused the United States of constructing and running a series of biological weapons labs in Ukraine. Longstanding research facilities dedicated to public health research on endemic diseases were, according to Moscow, a cover for US-sponsored efforts to weaponize pathogens and even send infected animals like bats and insects into Russia.
This devastating combination of disease, conflict, and blatant misinformation makes biodefense—global efforts to counter biological threats, reduce biological risks, and prepare and respond to natural or artificial biological incidents—more vital than ever. Without effective policies, the United States and others stand exposed to numerous catastrophic threats, including everything from the next COVID-19 variant to biological weapons developed by violent non-state actors. Articulating a cohesive strategy is only half the battle. Because militaries may fund and be involved in biodefense efforts—which can require work on dangerous pathogens with partners in the far-flung locales—such programs are uniquely vulnerable to being misconstrued as bioweapons research, as recent Russian behavior demonstrates. Because of an exponential growth in disinformation efforts worldwide and increasing geopolitical tensions, it is more important than ever for governments to be crystal clear about what defensive biological programs look like, in contrast to offensive actions banned under international law.

There’s a ‘ChatGPT’ for Biology. What Could Go Wrong?  (By Sean Ekins, Filippa Lentzos, Max Brackmann, and Cédric Invernizzi, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists)
In recent months ChatGPT and other AI chatbots with uncanny abilities to respond to prompts with fluid, human-like writing have unleashed torrents of angst flowing from different quarters of society; the chatbots could help students cheat, encroach on jobs, or mass produce disinformation. Outside of the spotlight shining on the chatbots, researchers in the life sciences have also been rolling out similar artificial intelligence-driven technology, but to much less fanfare. That’s concerning, because new algorithms for protein design, while potentially advancing the ability to fight disease, may also create significant opportunities for misuse.
As biotech production processes are evolving to make it easier for creators to make the synthetic DNA and other products they’ve designed, new AI models like ProtGPT2 and ProGen will allow researchers to conceive of a far greater range of molecules and proteins than ever. Nature took millions of years to design proteins. AI can generate meaningful protein sequences in seconds. While there are good reasons to develop AI technology for biological design, there are also risks to such efforts that scientists in the field don’t appear to have weighed. AI could be used to design new bioweapons or toxins that can’t be detected. As these systems develop alongside new easier, cheaper, and faster production capabilities, scientists should talk to and learn from peers who focus on biosecurity risks.

Why Is Arizona Using Precious Water to Grow Alfalfa for Saudi Arabia?  (Noah Gordon, New Republic)
To appreciate the complicated links between water, energy, and food, consider the many possible careers for a single water droplet. Humans could choose to burn coal in a power plant to heat the water into steam and spin a generator. Or we could take the water from a reservoir or underground aquifer and dump it on thirsty crops, which we then feed to ourselves or our livestock—or turn into biofuels. We could inject the water deep into the earth to cause cracks in shale rock, allowing natural gas to escape to the surface, where we capture that gas and use it to power tractors or water desalination plants, or turn the gas into fertilizer to help grow more crops.

Tribalism in an Age of School Shootings  (Tim Miller, The Bulwark)
The answer to the “why” of these atrocities is frustratingly simple: As long as people with hate in their hearts have easy access to powerful and deadly weapons, the massacres will continue.
We can work to reduce the hate on the edges. Invest in mental health programs. Try to minimize the exacerbating traumas. Beef up our school safety precautions. Be more generous to one another.
But we will never eradicate it. We are human; we are fallen; we ate from the forbidden tree.
We could accept this reality, try to offer kindness to one another, and advocate for meaningful action on guns. Instead, though, many of us feel compelled to conduct a forensic study of each new case of deadly gun violence to find a way to blame the opposing political tribe.
We go round and round on “door control.” We assess whether the weapons were acquired in a manner that was preventable. We scour the shooter’s social media feed to see whom they voted for in the fateful 2016 election.