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Censoring 'Dual-Use' Scientific Research Not An Effective Strategy To Mitigate Security Risks

“It’s easy to get the impression that [recent controversy over research into mutated versions of the H5N1 flu virus] has created a clear split between a scientific community that wants the research to proceed and the results to be published and a biosecurity community that doesn’t,” biological-weapons expert Tim Trevan writes in this Nature opinion piece. But “[a]s a member of this biosecurity community for more than 30 years — I was special adviser to the chairman of the United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq and covered chemical and biological disarmament with the U.K. Foreign Office in both London and Geneva, Switzerland — I believe this to be a false dichotomy,” he states.

“In fact, I will go further and say that the whole concept of dual-use biological research that is ‘of concern’ is flawed,” he continues, adding, “It is a dangerous distraction, an inappropriate hangover from nuclear-threat analysis.” He notes, “Those concerned about publishing full details of the mutant-flu work say that they fear the research will be misused to develop more-effective biological weapons,” and writes, “The best strategy to stop biological attacks is to make biological weapons unattractive by making preparedness and responses so effective that the consequences are no worse than those of a train wreck.” He concludes, “Increased understanding of transmissibility and pathogenicity will enable countries to identify threats earlier, develop better vaccines, produce them more quickly and develop broad-spectrum defenses to diseases” (6/20).