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Censoring Research Results

Science Policy: Federal advisory board urges heavy redaction of H5N1 avian flu papers

by William G. Schulz
February 6, 2012 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 90, ISSUE 6

Credit: AP
Recent outbreaks of avian flu in Southeast Asia have prompted concerns about potential airborne human-to-human transmission.
Credit: AP
Recent outbreaks of avian flu in Southeast Asia have prompted concerns about potential airborne human-to-human transmission.

The methods and results should be redacted from two research papers describing controversial experiments on the H5N1 avian flu virus, concludes a federal biosecurity advisory board (Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1217994).

To support its conclusion, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) cites the “dual use” nature of the research—meaning that it can be used for good or ill purposes—and the resulting threat to global human health, in the event that more dangerous forms of the virus somehow escape research laboratories or fall into the hands of evildoers.

The two papers describe pathbreaking work on H5N1 by two independent groups, one in Wisconsin and the other in the Netherlands, and they have been accepted for publication in Science and Nature. Both journals, however, agreed to withhold publication because of widespread biosecurity concerns over the experiments to direct mutations of the H5N1 virus. These experiments resulted in airborne transmission between mammals and, in one case, a more virulent strain.

“Our [unanimous] concern is that publishing these experiments in detail would provide information to some person, organization, or government that would help them to develop similar mammal-adapted influenza A/H5N1 viruses for harmful purposes,” NSABB members write in their communiqué.

Science has not decided on a publication plan, but Editor-in-Chief Bruce M. Alberts “has repeatedly said he strongly supports the work of the NSABB,” according to a spokeswoman. Alberts is also “concerned about ensuring that responsible influenza researchers who need the information can get appropriate access to the unredacted papers,” the spokeswoman adds.

The White House Office of Science & Technology Policy and NIH are developing such a data-sharing plan, says NSABB Acting Chair Paul Keim, a microbiology professor at Northern Arizona University. “NSABB is an advisory board, and we only address questions brought to us by the U.S. government,” he explains.

Nature declined to comment to C&EN about its plans to publish the research. Both journals have published extensive commentary on the issue.



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Elizabeth Hart (February 6, 2012 4:46 PM)
It is incredible that the industry-funded Erasmus laboratory is actually involved in creating a supposedly 'lethal flu virus', in cahoots with the US National Institutes of Health.

How do we know this virus is actually deadly to humans? Of course this cannot be ethically tested...

But now we have the threat of the deadly virus. So what now after this fear-mongering? Is their intention to insist the entire world population be vaccinated against this lab-created virus? The Swine Flu pandemic was a flop, so they want to do a really good job next time and artificially engineer a more effective deadly virus and sell billions of vaccines? Really, you could not make this stuff up... (And have another look at the movie Contagion - pure fear-mongering propaganda for the CDC.)

What if this supposedly deadly virus escapes the lab and sickness and death ensue? Who will bear the moral and financial responsibility? The US/NIH? The scientists concerned? How does this lab created 'deadly virus' figure with the Biological Weapons Convention?

I have forwarded an open letter to the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) outlining my concerns about this matter, providing my perspective as a 'layperson'. My open letter can be accessed via this link:

I have also forwarded an email to Mr Peter Woolcott, Australia's Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations and to the Conference on Disarmament, Geneva to query what position the Australian government is taking on this matter.

Elizabeth Hart
Keith Korthals (February 6, 2012 4:53 PM)
I can not agree with censorship............ every thing in science could be thought of as "dangerous"
Andrew Sun (February 13, 2012 2:10 AM)
All research results can be used for ill purposes. But is censorship helpful in preventing ill use before the use emerges? And all research results can also be used for good purposes. May censorship prevent the potential good use? Anyhow the idea of censorship cannot fit into a sound logic.

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