Bird flu was bad enough. What if it came back worse? Way more deadly. Super-lethal. Government-funded research into just that question found an answer. With just a few mutations, it could be far worse. A global killer. Scientists proved the point by creating a sample of that killer.
Now, for the first time ever, the U.S. government is asking that this non-classified scientific research be buttoned up. Locked away. Put in a new category of secret science. This is new.
From Tom’s Reading List
The New York Times “For the first time ever, a government advisory board is asking scientific journals not to publish details of certain biomedical experiments, for fear that the information could be used by terrorists to create deadly viruses and touch off epidemics. ”
The Guardian “The chicken cull took place after the deadly H5N1 virus was discovered in birds at Hong Kong’s biggest poultry wholesale market. The virus was found in a dead chicken and in two wild birds. The Hong Kong government suspended trade in live chickens for 21 days and banned live imports from mainland China in a bid to prevent the disease from spreading.”
BBC “In a darkened conference room in Malta in September, a Dutch scientist announced to a virology meeting that he had created a mutated strain of H5N1 bird flu which had the potential to spread between humans.”
With his expert witness guests, including a Science publisher, a bio-ethicist and another scientist, Ashbrook explored some very penetrating and provoking questions:
- Should such science be conducted and publicly disclosed, even though the purpose of the research is to "get out ahead" of the potential for such a virus being used against the U.S.?
- How much public disclosure is ethical? How much unethical?
- Is the scientific potential of a dealy virus, spread through a form of aerosol making it possible to kill millions, the appropriate subject for scientific research, even from a defensive perspective?
- Are we living on the cusp of the ultimate terrorist weapon, potentially defenceless against its horrors?
Living, for the most part, in a bubble of innocence and ignorance, one tends not to bring such subjects and their potential impacts into the front range of consciousness. Perhaps that is a good thing; daily focus on such issues could render one somewhat if not completely paralyzed.
We can all expect much more information and public debate as this issue receives more public coverage, starting in the middle of January 2011, when Science magazine is expected to publish its first venture into the file.
Stay tuned! We certainly will!