From the Washington Post comes the news that the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) has asked two science journals to censor the potentially apocalyptical information I mentioned last month:
The federal government on Tuesday asked two science journals to censor parts of two papers describing how researchers produced what appears to be a far more dangerous version of the “bird flu” virus that has circulated in Asia for more than a decade.
After weeks of reviewing the manuscripts the board recommended their “general conclusions” be published but “not include the methodological and other details that could enable replication of the experiments by those who would seek to do harm.”
The board — 23 scientists and public-health experts from outside the government, and 18 from within — cannot stop publication. Its advice goes to the Department of Health and Human Services, whose leaders will ask the journals — Science, published in Washington, and Nature, published in London — to comply.
The research was paid for by the National Institutes of Health as part of a large portfolio of research aimed at “pandemic preparedness.” The NSABB recommendation, however, puts the federal government in a distinctly controversial and embarrassing position. It calls for a limit on the free exchange of information — something viewed as anathema by many scientists. It also suggests there was not sufficient forethought about what might happen if the government-funded experiments actually worked.
“This has been a total public relations nightmare,” said one person familiar with the board’s workings during the past month.
Public relations. We’re talking about the creation of a virus that could kill tens or hundreds of millions of people (unlike most forms of flu, H5N1 has a very high mortality rate, on the order of 60%, and the form that’s been developed is air-borne, rather than dependent on physical contact for transmission), and they’re worried about public relations.
It’s bad enough that the world has been informed that it is possible to create such a virus with a relatively small amount of genetic tweaking. To lay out the details and make it easier for rogue regimes or state sponsors of terrorism to do it just seems insane. There’s no doubt that once the genie of such knowledge is out of the bottle, there’s no putting it back in, but that doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be prudent to delay putting the blueprints on the information superhighway until a counter-measure can be developed.
In the meantime, how about if they at least put the product of the research in a secure location? According to The Independent of the UK:
Some scientists are questioning whether the research should ever have been undertaken in a university laboratory, instead of at a military facility.
The study was carried out by a Dutch team of scientists led by Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, where the mutated virus is stored under lock and key, but without armed guards, in a basement building.
Somehow, I don’t think bad “public relations” is the biggest nightmare that could come out of this insanity.