Last December, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity aggravated people in the scientific community after it has decided to censor two bird fly studies. They haven’t made their reasons public, before just recently.
Reuters writes that almost two months ago, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) asked journals Nature and Science to censor two studies on the controversial subject of the bird flu, scientifically known as the H5N1 virus. It seems that the studies were looking at new strains of the virus that could make people more vulnerable to it.
Censoring the two studies was a first, but it has significantly fueled controversy and criticism from fellow researchers who claim that withholding such important information only holds scientists down.
The panel said that publishing the studies carried a high risk that could have ended into a catastrophe. The studies were the work of scientists who have altered the H5N1 virus to develop a much more contagious strain that is actually transmissible between ferrets.
As a result of the barring, scientists working on the studies have agreed to a temporary moratorium, on account of safety concerns. Basically, the scientists will suspend their work for the following 60 days so that governments and public health agencies would have enough time to come to a conclusion.
The NSABB feared that the mutant versions, that scientists at Erasmus Medical College in the Netherlands and the University of Wisconsin – Madison created, could leak from the lab or perhaps be used as a bioterrorism weapon of mass distruction.
This Tuesday, biosecurity official Paul Keim told Reuters through an email that “the potential of this pathogen, in theory, exceeds anything else I can imagine”. Keim is also the acting chair of NSABB and explained that he supports the panel’s decision to censor the two journals.
Keim stated: “To gamble that this model is wrong on this issue is very dangerous. Why would we risk a global pandemic saying that our best model is wrong?”
In other news, related to the subject of H5N1, scientists, publishers and legal experts will join on February 2 at the Emerging Infectious Diseases & Microbiology Discussion Group of the New York Academy of Sciences to debate on the matter of “Dual Use Research: H5N1 Influenza Virus and Beyond”.