U.S. Government Asks Science Journals to Redact Flu Research

By Carlton Purvis

Bruce Alberts, the editor for Science told the Times that the journal is taking the recommendations seriously and will withhold some information only if the government creates a system to provide the information to scientists who need it.

Later, the Times published a Q & A session with Ron A. M. Fouchier, lead researcher at the Erasmus Center who said he had serious doubts about the U.S. government’s ability to limit the transmission of the information to a controlled list of people.

“We have made a list of experts that we could share this with, and that list adds up to well over 100 organizations around the globe, and probably 1,000 experts. As soon as you share information with more than 10 people, the information will be on the street,” he said.

And in fact, it already is, and has been since at least September when Scientific American writer Katherine Harmon wrote about a presentation of the research while covering the fourth European Scientific Working Group on Influenza conference in September.

In the lab, scientists found that H5N1 could become as virulent as the seasonal flu in less than five mutations. “…They put the mutated virus in the nose of one ferret; after that ferret got sick, they put infected material from the first ferret into the nose of a second. After repeating this 10 times, H5N1 became as easily transmissible as the seasonal flu,” she wrote.

An official statement from Erasmus Medical Center says researchers have reservations about the NSABB recommendation but plan to observe it.

“The NSABB has determined that the risks of publishing the research data outweigh the benefits and therefore call for certain data to be kept secret…Furthermore, academic and press freedom will be at stake as a result of the recommendation. This has never happened before,” the statement said.

photo by kyle simourd/flickr


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