One of the big questions emerging from the death (or alleged death, if you prefer) of Osama Bin Laden is this: “How could they have done a DNA test so quickly?” with the implied answer of “They couldn’t, ergo it must have been a conspiracy and a lie.”
I’m not so sure about that. It isn’t 1985 any more for one thing. Our cell phones are several orders of magnitude more powerful than the computing power required to land on the moon, but we still think it takes several weeks to run a DNA test? DNA testing is not exactly something I could do in my bathroom with a cotton swab and digital camera, but a properly equipped facility can certainly do it in a matter of hours. If the operation in Pakistan was planned ahead of time (it obviously was), it is very likely that such personnel and such equipment would have been on hand at SEAL Team 6’s operating base in Afghanistan.
What happened (or allegedly happened, if you prefer) was something like this: Raid was a success minus one modified (stealth?) Blackhawk that went down, the body of Bin Laden was brought back to that operating base in Afghanistan, some blood or saliva was taken from the corpse, the corpse was then sent off to the USS Carl Vincent to be buried at sea while the DNA test was simultaneously being run back in Afghanistan. Within an hour or two of Bin Laden being dumped overboard (as predicted by me several hours in advance 😛 ), the test results came back.
It may not have happened exactly like that, but that is certainly a plausible scenario. Seeing the news report on Monday with all of that having already been done before the sun came up in the States on Monday may have felt fast and fishy (excuse the pun) to some, but those folks may be underestimating the resources available to the United States Department of Defense, and the amount of contingency planning that has been going into “what if we actually do get him?” since well before September 11, 2001.
Want proof that, if money is not a factor, a DNA test can be done in a few hours? Well, for $99 you can have a DNA paternity test done overnight. There are many websites like that, and many scientists are publicly stating that it is entirely possible for DNA testing to be done in about as much time as it takes to watch the first two Godfather movies. I haven’t seen a single knowledgeable scientist come out and say that DNA testing must take several days – in fact, more scientists have come out and said that Global Warming is a myth than have claimed that the several hour DNA test in 2011 is a myth.
I’m not a scientist, and I’m assuming you aren’t either if you are checking the blogosphere instead of a scientific journal for information on this. So, we laymen must rely on our own judgment and what scientists are saying. We must do the best we can to account for biases some scientists may have (such as those employed by Tobacco or Oil corporations) but otherwise assume the vast majority of them are acting in good faith. Based on that, the inescapable conclusion is that DNA testing can indeed certainly be done in a handful of hours. And, we are more certain of that than we are about global warming (alleged global warming, if you prefer) or the negative health effects of tobacco (alleged negative effects, if you prefer).
This doesn’t prove that Bin Laden is dead, but it does shoot down that one conspiracy argument that centers around the false notion that rapid DNA testing is impossible.