BY JAMIE CONDLIFFE
The US government has approached the scientific journals Nature and Science in order to censor data on a lab-made version of bird flu, because it could potentially be used as a weapon. That’s not cool.
According to the Guardian, the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) asked the journals to publish redacted versions of studies carried out by two research groups.
Back in November, we reported that researchers had created forms of the H5N1 avian flu virus that can easily spreadamongst ferrets. Apparently, and you’re going to have to believe us here, that is typically considered a sign it can spread quickly between humans, too. Now they’re trying to publish the work, and the US government isn’t very happy.
As you’d hope, Nature and Science are reluctant to bow to the request. Editor in chief of Nature, Dr Philip Campbell, told the Guardian:
“It is essential for public health that the full details of any scientific analysis of flu viruses be available to researchers.”
Damn straight — not publishing that information is damaging. Not just to the advancement of health care, but science generally. I admit that this is a tough situation, but censoring journals is a dangerous precedent to set.
H5N1 is deadly — but so far it hasn’t mutated into a form that can pass easily from person to person. This research, done by Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a University of Wisconsin-Madison scientist, and Dr Ron Fouchier and colleagues from the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, shows that might not be the case for long.
Apparently the NSABB asked the journal to delete details on the scientific methods and specific mutations of the virus before publishing.
In many respects, this goes against the nature of science. Science works because people announce their findings for others to question — allowing us to confirm or refute them. That’s how science progresses, and censoring it like this kills the process. It’s also a hugely dangerous precedent to set. I hope the journals win out. [The Guardian]