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National Science Advisory Board Explains Decision To Censor Bird Flu Research

“Details of a genetically altered strain of the deadly avian flu virus are ‘a grave concern’ to public safety and should be kept under wraps,” the 23-member National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity declared Tuesday “[i]n a letter released by the journals Science (.pdf) and Nature,” CNN reports (1/31). “The board explains that its main concern was that publishing the experiments in detail could help someone to develop viruses for harmful purposes,” BBC News writes, adding, “But it acknowledges the work holds ‘clear benefits’ in alerting humanity to the potential H5N1 threat, and that it could lead to greater preparation and potential development of novel strategies for disease control” (Walsh, 1/31).

“The experts on the panel wrote that while the H5N1 situation is unprecedented, scientists have been concerned for years about the potential for deliberate misuse of biological research to cause harm — especially research into dangerous microbial pathogens like the avian flu,” the Los Angeles Times’ “Booster Shots” blog writes. “The goal now will be for scientists, government and others to forge a way forward, the authors wrote,” the blog notes, adding, “‘Now that this information is known, society can take steps globally to prepare for when nature might generate such a virus spontaneously,’ they said” (Brown, 1/31). Paul Keim, acting chair of the NSABB, “explained his personal decision to support censorship in this case in a commentary published on Tuesday in mBio, the journal of the American Society for Microbiology,” Reuters notes (Steenhuysen, 1/31).