On Slate–Contagion: A dialogue about movies, viruses, and reasonable fear

Last year, while I was working on a profile for the New York Times of a virus hunter named Ian Lipkin, he told me he was consulting on a Hollywood movie about the outbreak of a new pathogen. Kate Winslet would be an epidemiologist. Lawrence Fishburne would work at the Centers for Disease Control. He was hanging out with Gwyneth Paltrow. The director was Steven Soderbergh.

I had a hard time picturing all this.

In fact, he was not blowing a single puff of smoke my way. It was all true. A couple weeks ago, I got a chance to see the movie–called Contagion–which will be released tomorrow. I liked it very much, but, of course, I have a thing for viruses (and for scary movies). So be sure to delicately place a grain of salt on top of my upturned thumb. I’ve embedded the trailer below.

On the occasion of the release, Slate asked me to join in a written dialogue with Arthur Allen, the author of the book Vaccine and frequent contributor to Slate. We’ve each contributed a piece today, and tomorrow we’ll each contribute another. Allen opens, I return…and we continue tomorrow to talk about the issues that the movie raises, such as how much we should worry about (and direct resources towards) the next big virus.

WARNING: While the trailer below gives away little, in my Slate pieces I give away all!

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