How is "The Stolen Bacillus" by H.G. Wells a chilling satire on the dangers of science?

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poetrymfa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

H.G. Well's short story "The Stolen Bacillus" is not so much a chilling satire of the dangers of science but rather a chilling satire of the way in which future scientists may serve as the enablers of bioterrorism and scientific disaster. 

The story follows a bacteriologist who introduces a mysterious visitor to a living cholera bacteria in his home laboratory. The bacteriologist explains in keen detail how deadly this bacteria is and what would happen if a drop of it was to reach the water supply for London. When a chance presents itself, the visitor steals the vial of the bacteria and takes off, leading a wild chase in horse-drawn cabs through the streets of London--the bacteriologist following the visitor and the bacteriologist's wife following her husband.

When the visitor accidentally breaks the vial on the ride, he drinks the remainder of its contents and proclaims his intentions to infect the entire city. Rather than react with horror as the reader may expect, the bacteriologist reveals that the vial does not actually contain cholera; instead, it is merely a disease that turns monkeys blue.

This is a startling turn of events; we realize that the bacteriologist has deliberately misled the visitor. Yet in his attempt to show off, he manages to hand over the power of information to the anarchist visitor and plant the seed of using disease as a weapon for destruction--even if the visitor couldn't truly commit such an act with this particular vial.

In knowing that the vial contained a relatively harmless substance, the bacteriologist still chose to reveal crucial information about the cholera strain's power; if it has not been procured at this particular point, it certainly could be found elsewhere. This indicates something about his unstable, arrogant, and reckless attitude. His disregard for the ethics of his profession suggest that he himself is some kind of anarchist. Science itself is, thus, not the problem; the danger lies with those who may abuse or misuse the information that it provides.

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