Bird flu 'censorship' decision

H5N1 under the microscope H5N1 under the microscope

A group which advises the US government on biosecurity has explained why it wants two research papers on H5N1 bird flu to be censored.

Two scientific research teams have modified influenza strains to create mutant avian influenza viruses that can be transmitted efficiently between mammals. In one case, the virus remained highly pathogenic.

The US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) said publishing the work in full holds significant potential for harm.

The board explains that its main concern was that publishing the experiments in detail could help someone to develop viruses for harmful purposes.

But it acknowledges the work holds "clear benefits" in alerting humanity to the potential H5N1 threat, and that it could lead to greater preparation and potential development of novel strategies for disease control.

The board states that by recommending that the basic results be communicated without methods or details, the benefits to society will be maximised and the risks minimised.

Together with the release of this official statement, the journal Nature has also published a Q&A with the acting chair of the NSABB.

In it, he explains in more detail why they have recommended redaction for the paper in press at Nature even though the modified H5N1 virus that it describes is not highly pathogenic.

A copy of the NSABB Comment can be viewed on the Nature press site, and at: Policy Adaptations of avian flu virus are a cause for concern.

Nature's Q&A article is also on the Nature press site and is available here: Q&A Reasons for proposed redaction of flu paper Nature Nature Publishing Group.

Fergus Walsh Article written by Fergus Walsh Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Despite a lot of wishful thinking by some eco-nutters I doubt that anyone outside the research labs could produce a virus weapon, the real danger is an eco-nutter, or any other kind of nutter for that matter, working within the system.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    An eco-terrorism virus is an intriguing idea & one that has been considered many times before, it would of course be indiscriminate & possibly unstoppable but some in the movement are prepared to sacrifice themselves in order to remove mankind from the world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    For the life of me, I cannot understand why scientists would want to develop any strain that might blow-back to endanger the human species. Surely they have better things to work on.
    Doing this sort of thing should be criminal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Unacceptable... Nature should be ashamed of itself for even contemplating pandering to such a request from a bunch of scaremongers. Knowledge, not ignorance, is the best tool to deal with any threat.

    The authors of the papers concerned ought to submit them to another peer-reviewed journal with a higher standard of scientific ethics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Although unlikely to happen, deliberately creating & releasing a deadly human virus is increasingly looking like the only way to stop man made climate change, halt biodiversity loss & save the earth from the plague species that is humanity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    The media in general, the entertainment industry, even BBC, positively revel in consistently stereotyping scientists as having no concern for the consequences of their work, and yet, when responsible researchers suggest not publishing potentially deadly results they are accused, by the very same media, of "censorship". Yes, Virginia, there really is a need for secrecy in some cases.



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