By Laura Shin
Posting in Government
A government advisory board asked scientific journals not to publish information from studies on a deadly bird flu virus due to fear that biomedical terrorists could use it to set off epidemics.
A government advisory board, fearful of the potential for biomedical terrorism, asked the journals Science and Nature not to publish details of studies on a highly transmissible, deadly bird flu virus.
The experiments, in which scientists created the virus, A(H5N1), were initially conceived as a way to find out what genetic changes in the virus would make it more transmissible. It was thought the information would help in monitoring naturally occurring mutations and predicting when the virus could become a pandemic.
But now that the scientists have succeeded in making an easily transmissible form of the virus, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity has requested that details of the studies not be released in order to prevent the information from falling into the wrong hands. For instance, terrorists could use the information to create deadly viruses that could be transmitted by coughing or sneezing, thereby setting off epidemics.
“I’m sure there will be some people who say these experiments never should have been done,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told The New York Times.
Although the panel cannot force the journals to cut the details of these studies, the editor of Science, Bruce Alberts, said the journal was seriously considering withholding some information as long as the government established a system that would release the missing information to legitimate scientists who need it.
Bird flu rarely infects humans, but when it does, it is usually fatal. Since 1997, when it was first detected, half of the nearly 600 people who have had it have died. Most of the cases have been in Asia, and most of them caught it directly from birds. However, scientists have always worried that if bird flu became easily transmissible between humans, it could spark one of the deadliest pandemics ever.
The National Institutes of Health paid for both studies, which were conducted in ferrets, animals considered a good model for showing how flu viruses will behave in people.
via: The New York Times
photo: A H5N1 viruses, in gold, grown in cells, in green. (Cynthia Goldsmith/Centers for Disease Control)
Dec 20, 2011
To use your example, the Soviets would not have developed nuclear weapons for years, maybe a decade or two, if it had not been for U.S. traitors. (Or, since they were secretly Communists, maybe it's fairer to call them highly effective moles.) The point is, holding back critical data DOES slow the spread of technology. There are countless examples. Yes, terrorists may eventually figure out the missing bits, but hopefully not until we've used those missing bits to figure out a way to protect ourselves.
As mentioned above, evildoers given enough time and resources will always find ways to do evil. We might be able to slow them down, but we will not be able to stop them. And secrets like gunpowder got out eventually. The Soviets became a nuclear power mere months after we did. The list is endless. You can't stop it. On the other hand, most of the worlds greatest breakthroughs have happened by near happenstance; when one open-minded individual put a couple of ideas together to create something entirely new. I wonder how many future breakthroughs we may be denying ourselves and future generations by tightening up such knowledge.
This lab created organism is the deadliest pathogen currently on the planet. There is no way to control the spread of this highly contagious virus and there is no vaccine. The film "12 Monkeys" explored the hypothetical outcome of such a contagion. The only deterrent to releasing this beast is that it will keep going as long as it can. I think there are those who would release it without a second thought.
I favor holding critical data back so that it would slow the transfer of knowledge to militant types. Avian flu is bad enough as it is, having a designer flu would be too tempting for some regimes to use against their enemies. Keeping this information back will only slow the weaponization of viruses for a time but the knowledge that someone did create a new flu will lead to experiments by other scientists. My guess is that a designer virus would be a double edged sword in that unless a counter agent is also developed then the virus would attack enemies and friends alike.
Almost all revolutionary jumps in science & technology throughout history have been the result of open communications between thinkers. A discovery in one field triggers discovery in another, and so on, simply because someone read something and put it together with something they were thinking about. (There was a wonderful series of books and a BBC series entirely about this phenomenon 30 years ago called "Connections") In recent history, and especially since 911 there has been a tendency in the opposite direction to close up communications on discovery because of the fear that some enemy could and would use that information for nefarious purposes. The threat and fear are real, no doubt. But what does this mean for our future? How many world changing discoveries (both good and bad) will not happen because of this?
Once it becomes known that a thing can be done, those with the expertise to make use of the details can work out their own solution to the problem. I am not in any way advocating censorship, but to be successful, the very existence of the experiment - let alone its success - would have to have been kept an absolute secret. Frankly, the only certain way to assure secrecy would have been to execute any and all with knowledge of the experiment, and to have all their papers and records destroyed. Let us hope they are equally prompt and successful in developing a means of protecting us, both before and after an infection.
...then WikiLeaks would be a pointless website. Since the powers-that-be don't have the balls to adequately punish traitors anymore, there hardly seems to be a point in keeping them. My point stands.
There are beneficial advancements that help everyone. There are technologies that may help solve current problems that are an insight away from becoming reality. I support keeping the information out of public view for the same reason I lock my car. Locking my car only slows the thief and hopefully make the thief choose a different car to break into. Keeping the information out of public view will slow most organizations but not deter the more determined. I don't mind the theory becoming public, so many people don't believe in theories anyway.
Your observation is a bit short-sighted: 1) Information security is much older than 911. The secrets of making steel and gunpowder were highly guarded at one time. 2) It has only been in more recent decades that we have had the technology for a small group of people to destroy the entire human race. I think increased information security is warranted. 3) If you think discovery just for the sake of discovery is more valuable than human life, then you should volunteer to have this new flu tested on yourself.
I remember the program and recently got the first season first disc. The first episode is about power (electrical) and what would happen if we lost it. He used real world situations like being in an elevator, an operating room and a few other things. The point was that low tech candles would work in most places but not the operating room because of combustable anesthesia gases. Steven King's "The Stand" is based on a man made disease that was over 90% fatal and easily spread. The survivors gather in a couple of places and try to restore some of the technology that shut down during the outbreak.