White House Science Adviser Responds To Inquiry Regarding Handling Of H5N1 Research Controversy

“White House science adviser John Holdren has replied [.pdf] to questions asked last month by Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) about how the Obama Administration has handled the controversy surrounding two studies that showed how to make the H5N1 avian influenza virus transmissible between mammals,” ScienceInsider reports. On March 1, “Sensenbrenner — a former head of the House of Representatives committees on science and the judiciary, and currently vice chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, sent a ‘fact-finding letter‘ [.pdf] to Holdren” asking a “number of questions about how the government reviews potential ‘dual-use research of concern’ (DURC) that might be used for good or evil,” the news service writes.

In his April 9 response, “Holdren wrote that ‘the circumstances surrounding the recent review of H5N1 manuscripts are unprecedented. … Thus, the (U.S. government) until now had not needed to have a system in place specifically for restricting dissemination of the results of DURC,'” the news service notes, adding, “The government has issued a new policy for reviewing taxpayer-funded research for DURC potential, he noted.” The news service continues, “In a statement, Sensenbrenner said he was only partly satisfied,” writing, “I believe the Administration needs to be more proactive than that and prepare for possible threats before they occur. The new policy is a good, if belated, first step, and I will be watching its implementation closely” (Malakoff, 4/17).