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Plausibility issues for a near-future thriller

  1. Jul 29, 2015 #1
    Okay here is the scenario:

    A character, we'll call him Joe, is sitting in a college somewhere in America today and studying two disciplines; neurology and virology. He is going to become accomplished in both in the next ten years. What he is studying is the rabies virus. He is trying to figure out a form of gene therapy where he uses specially bred viruses to implant the new genetic material in human beings. He is interested in the rabies virus because he needs an agent to destroy parts of the nervous system and brain so that the new genetic material can be deposited in both.

    Joe goes on to become the darling of the scientific and medical communities. Because of his needs Joe discovers a method to treat rabies in the final stages of the disease. From there he goes on to produce successful treatments for Alzheimer and Parkinson's disease. These accomplishments grant Joe accolades and frankly cash, but that is not what really interests Joe.

    You have to understand Joe's childhood and politics. Joe is the product of two college professors who teach in the upper Midwest, but whose spiritual home is Berkeley. Joe grows up in a household of radical-left politics; virtually every weekend is spent in some sort of demonstration. Young Joe quickly figures out that this is what his parents live for. Teaching pays the bills. Joe is never really sure how important he is to his parents; he tries everything he can to ingratiate himself to them. In high school he is given Doris Lessing's The Good Terrorist to read. It hits for too close to home. He comes to view his parents as buffoons. It energizes him to do better. He's spent his whole life on campuses and knows he has the tools at hand to help him discover what he's good at, that turns out to be biology.

    Which brings us to Joe's master plan. Joe has watched his parents spend their whole lives trying to change peoples' minds through rhetoric; Joe wants to do the same thing using bio-chemistry. He develops a technique for removing and replacing memories and altering the personalities of his patients to anything Joe wants. I don't have all the hows worked out in my head yet--and this post is already too long.

    Too sum up, the political situation becomes such that Joe is authorized to treat fellow citizens who are deemed a threat to society. He starts with potential school shooters and moves on to Tea Party members. Shooters and Tea Partists are not given a choice in the matter.

    Would this sort of permanent brain-washing really work? I have no idea, as a writer I'm for more interested in whether we have the will than whether we have the technology.

    What I'm interested is what stumbling blocks Joe would face. Where I can see him getting tripped up is in the early days when his research is peer reviewed. I would assume that peer review is the bane of mad scientists everywhere. I don't have the in-your-bones feel for college life that many of you have, do you have any thoughts on what problems Joe would face?
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  3. Jul 29, 2015 #2


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    A few issues, in no particular order:

    1) Rabies, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's are all very different conditions. One scientist developing treatments for all three is unlikely.

    2) Implanting new genetic material into the brain won't create new memories. Memories are stored in a distributed manner across the brain in neural networks.

    3) Why does Joe have patients? Doctors have patients, scientists develop treatments for doctors to use.

    4) Joe seems to work alone in creating these things which is unbelievable. Modern science, particularly biomedical, requires teams of people working together over long periods. Whilst Joe might seek to use the technology for his own uses there would be plenty of people to say "hold on, why do you want the team to spend a month investigating how to rewrite memories? We aren't funded for this"

    5) Funders, peer-review, the university all will require some form of oversight preventing Joe from toiling away for ages on something unrelated to his field.

    Given all those how do you feel about this instead: just make Joe a neuroscientist investigating memory loss in neurodegenerative diseases. Have him as part of a team that develops a treatment to strengthen memories, you can wave a hand over this and say that they develop a drug that increases the effect of strengthening memories by remembering them. So the treatment would consist of a patient taking the drug and then having a doctor ask them questions in order to get them to remember important things and not forget them. Flip side, Joe is part of the team that figures out a way of doing the opposite and weakening memories. He leaves the team and gets funding under the idea of developing this treatment for PTSD survivors. In the process he becomes a Dexter like character, he smuggles samples of his work out of the lab and finds ways of meeting with political opponents (if he's still an activist this might happen from time to time). He then drugs them with the memory weakening drug and engages them in conversations about politics. All the while their memories, arguments and beliefs are being weakened the more they try to think of them. Of course there would be side effects, a politician who keeps using his daughter as an example in an argument might forget her which would bring up alarm bells. But then it is a thriller.
  4. Jul 29, 2015 #3

    1) Joe uses the rabies virus as part of a viral cocktail. The rabies virus is bred to attack parts of the central nervous system in which another virus attaches the new DNA that will counter Alzheimer or Parkinson's disease. A third virus implants the genetic code for the antibodies that will dispose of all three viruses. It is the reason why Joe's first contribution to the world was a therapy for curing rabies.

    2) Joe works with a psychiatric team that deals with the implanting of memories. The woman who leads that time is as much a genius in her way as Joe is in his. When you're looking for school shooters and such folk you enter the world of the pre-crime. This woman, we'll call her Nancy, started her career studying subliminal messaging. She figured out a way to agitate potential shooters in such a way that they give themselves away to the surveillance system that covers much of the country. Potential shooters then go through a Commitment Hearing, and when they lose (and they always lose) they are handed over to Joe & Nancy. Nancy does the re-education. What Joe can do is prime the brain to learn quickly. Joe's regimen could actually make you smarter than you are now. The other thing that Joe and Nancy do in tandem is tie the moral teachings they prefer to the pleasure centers of their patients.

    3) The early part of Joe's career is involved in nothing but development. He doesn't actually see patients until the days when he and Nancy are finally making people moral once-and-for-all.

    4) In addition to Nancy and her people Joe does have a crew. I haven't given them much thought yet. The sense I have is that in the early days they were friends who were like minded. As time went on some of them rebelled, the feeling I have is that Joe would take steps to insure loyalty. Those steps would probably be cruder than they are with Nancy on board.

    5) Peer-review. This one you got me on. This is the part I've got to figure out. It's the reason I wrote this thread in the first place.
  5. Jul 29, 2015 #4
    Lots and lots of good ideas here. I should mention that rabies is part of this story because it's a disease that is going to make the reader go "Eeek!" It also induces hallucinations, which is the sort of writing I do well. Still I will reread this a couple of times and see what develops.
  6. Jul 29, 2015 #5
    I have been given an award for my hundredth post? Awww it tweren't nothin'. I like it here. What worries me is how much your all going to like me after dealing with Joe and Nancy for a couple of days.
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