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US Asks Journals to Censor Articles on Flu Virus: Can it be a precedent? [Copy link] 中文

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Post time 2011-12-22 20:31:53 |Display all floors
This post was edited by aa@edward at 2011-12-23 12:13

1/ How & who to be trusted?

2/ What if NATO uses this modified bio_flu_virus as its deadly secret weapon?

US Asks Journals to Censor Articles onFlu Virus: Can it be a dangerous precedent?

Ref. cnbc (This story originally appeared in The NewYork Times)

For the first time ever, a government advisory board is askingscientific journals not to publish details of certain biomedical experiments,for fear that the information could be used by terrorists to create deadlyviruses and touch off epidemics.

In the experiments, conducted in the United States and theNetherlands, scientists created a highly transmissible form of a deadly fluvirus that does not normally spread from person to person. It was an ominousstep, because easy transmission can lead the virus to spread all over theworld. The work was done in ferrets,which are considered a good model for predicting what flu viruses will do inpeople.

The virus, A(H5N1), causes bird flu, which rarely infects people but hasan extraordinarily high death rate when it does. Since the virus was firstdetected in 1997, about 600 people have contracted it, and more than half havedied. Nearly all have caught it from birds, and most cases have been in Asia. Scientistshave watched the virus, worrying that if it developed the ability to spreadeasily from person to person, it could create one of the deadliest pandemicsever.

A government advisory panel, the National Science Advisory Board forBiosecurity, overseen by the National Institutes of Health, has asked twojournals, Science and Nature, to keep certain details out of reports that theyintend to publish on the research. The panel said conclusions should bepublished, but not “experimental details and mutation data that would enablereplication of the experiments.”

The panel cannot force the journals to censor their articles, but theeditor of Science, Bruce Alberts, said the journal was taking therecommendations seriously and would probably withhold some information — butonly if the government creates a system to provide the missing information tolegitimate scientists worldwide who need it.

The journals, the panel, researchers and government officials have beengrappling with the findings for several months. The Dutch researchers presentedtheir work at a virology conference in Malta in September.

Scientists and journal editors are generally adamant about protectingthe free flow of ideas and information, and ready to fight anything that hintsat censorship.

I wouldn’t call this censorship,” Dr. Alberts said. “This is trying toavoid inappropriate censorship. It’s the scientific community trying to stepout front and be responsible.”

He said there was legitimate cause for the concern about theresearchers’ techniques falling into the wrong hands.

“This finding shows it’s much easier to evolve this virus to anextremely dangerous state where it can be transmitted in aerosols than anybodyhad recognized,” he said. Transmission by aerosols means the virus can bespread through the air via coughing or sneezing.   … … …. …. …… ……..

The lead researcher at the Erasmus center, Ron Fouchier, did not respondto requests for an interview. The center issued a statement saying thatresearchers there had reservations about the panel’s recommendation, but wouldobserve it.

The Wisconsin researcher, Yoshihiro Kawaoka, was out of the country and“not responding to queries,” according to a spokesman for the university. Butthe school said its researchers would “respect” the panel’s recommendations.

David R. Franz, a biologist who formerly headed the Army defensivebiological lab at Fort Detrick, Md., is on the board and said its decision tointervene, made in the fall, was quite reasonable.

“My concern is that we don’t give amateurs — or terrorists — informationthat might let them do something that could really cause a lot a harm,” he saidin an interview.

“It’s a wake-up call,” Dr. Franz added. “We need to make sure that ourbest and most responsible scientists have the information they need to prepareus for whatever we might face.”

Amy Patterson, director of the office of biotechnology activities at theNational Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Md., said the recommendations werea first.

“The board in the past has reviewed manuscripts but .. … … …  . The government, Dr. Atlas added, “is going to struggle with how to getthe information out to the right people and still have a barrier” to widesharing and inadvertently aiding a terrorist. “That’s going to be hard.”  Given that some of the information has already been presented openly atscientific meetings, and that articles about it have been sent out to otherresearchers for review, experts acknowledged that it may not be possible tokeep a lid on the potentially dangerous details.

“But I think there will be a culture of responsibility here,” Dr. Faucisaid. “At least I hope there will.”

The establishment of the board grew out of widespread fears stemmingfrom the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States and the ensuing strikeswith deadly anthrax germs that killed or sickened 22 Americans.

The Bush administration called for wide controls on biologicalinformation that could potentially help terrorists. And the scientificcommunity firmly resisted, arguing that the best defenses came with the openflow of information.  …… ... ......federal officials said, the board wrestled with the contentof H5N1 papers to Science and Nature, and in late November contacted thejournals about its recommendation to restrict information on the methods thatthe scientists used to modify the deadly virus.

“The ability of this virus to cross species lines in this manner has notpreviously been appreciated,” said Dr. Patterson of the National Institutes ofHealth. “Everyone involved in this matter wants to do the proper thing.”

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