One of the scariest stories to emerge late last year was the attempted suppression of two studies done on bird flu, which basically amounted to research done by two teams in the US and the Netherlands that essentially could have led to very dangerous, weaponized strains of the worrying pathogen.
Another interesting bit of this story is that this time, the censorship wasn’t the scary part. In late November, news emerged that government agencies including the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) were urging two scientific journals, Science and Nature, not to publish research that detailed how bird flu strains could be more efficiently spread- basically a scenario that totally ends in a disaster movie. The journals complied, and noted that the pressure was not “strong arming” to prevent the research from being published and that reasonable concern existed to keep the information under wraps.
It’s interesting that all parties involved are in agreement about how to handle the bird flu studies, and all refer to the results of the research as presenting unprecedented risk. After the requests from federal security and science agencies that the studies be handled differently, Science released a statement explaining the decision, as did Nature.
In Nature’s statement, the journal explains:
At the same time, these scientific results also represent a grave concern for global biosecurity, biosafety and public health. Could this knowledge, in the hands of malevolent individuals, organizations or governments, allow construction of a genetically altered influenza virus capable of causing a pandemic with mortality exceeding that of the ‘Spanish flu’ epidemic of 1918?
The statement continues:
The research teams that performed this work did so in a well-intended effort to discover evolutionary routes by which avian influenza A/H5N1 viruses might adapt to humans. Such knowledge may be valuable for improving the public-health response to a looming natural threat. And, to their credit and that of the peer reviewers selected by the journals Science and Nature, the journals themselves, as well as the US government, it was recognized before their publication that these experiments had dual use of concern potential.
Do you worry about the weaponization of viruses like bird flu?