Rep. Sensenbrenner Sends ‘Fact-Finding Letter’ To White House Science Adviser About Bird Flu Studies

“Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), a former head of the House committees on science and the judiciary, and currently vice chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, last week sent a ‘fact-finding letter’ to White House science adviser John Holdren, asking pointed questions about how the U.S. government has handled the controversy” surrounding two studies that showed how H5N1 bird flu virus could be manipulated to become transmissible among ferrets, a model for humans, “and questioning whether it should have funded the two flu studies,” ScienceInsider reports. “The [Obama] Administration’s response has appeared ad hoc, delayed, and inadequate,” Sensenbrenner writes, adding, “An ad hoc approach is inadequate to balance the priorities of public health and the free flow of academic ideas,” according to the article, which includes the full text of the letter.

“Washington insiders have been somewhat surprised by the lack of a public congressional reaction to the H5N1 controversy,” the blog writes, adding that some observers “have also noted that Holdren has not played a prominent role in public discussion of the issue,” with Anthony Fauci, head of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and HHS official Amy Patterson taking the lead roles. “By addressing his letter to Holdren, however, Sensenbrenner may put the spotlight on the president’s science adviser,” ScienceInsider writes (Malakoff, 3/4).

The Washington Post and TIME’s “Healthland” recently published articles summarizing the history of the debate.