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Medicine Censorship United States Science

US Asks Scientists To Censor Reports To Prevent Terrorism 273

Posted by Soulskill
from the all-terrorists-are-like-the-bad-guys-in-mission-impossible dept.
Following up on a disturbing story we discussed in November, Meshach writes "The United States is asking scientific journals publishing details about biomedical research to censor articles out of fear that terrorists could acquire the information. 'In the experiments, conducted in the United States and the Netherlands, scientists created a highly transmissible form of a deadly flu virus that does not normally spread from person to person. It was an ominous step, because easy transmission can lead the virus to spread all over the world. The work was done in ferrets, which are considered a good model for predicting what flu viruses will do in people.' The panel cannot force the journals to censor their articles, but the editor of Science, Bruce Alberts, said the journal was taking the recommendations seriously and would most likely withhold some information. Are we heading for another Rorschach-style cheat sheet being developed?"
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US Asks Scientists To Censor Reports To Prevent Terrorism

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  • by acidfast7 (551610) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @06:22AM (#38446336)
    ... at several conferences. Anyone who wants the information can get it. This is RIDICULOUS (coming from a biochemist.)
  • by golden age villain (1607173) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @07:10AM (#38446576)
    Now that the whole world knows what it is about and since some of the results (if not all) have already been presented at public events, it seems likely that the information will anyway percolate to the scientific community at large in the years to come. Moreover, the virus does not seem like a very good weapon to me as it is simply impossible to control or contain its propagation once released. This is the reason why modern armies do not use gas for instance. The Germans tried it during the first world war and it proved to be rather unpredictable making it in effect useless.
  • The problem is that your assuming someone values control over the virus. Just as we once assumed that hijackers wanted to live after hijacking airplanes. It's a dangerous assumption to make.

    A virus that would be out of control and could kill half the population of the world. It's an Eco-terrorists wet dream. Think of the carbon reduction from reducing the population by half? With one release of this virus you topple almost every government in the world, end globalization and meet just about every eco goal in existance.

    Eco-terrorists are becoming increasingly radicalized, they already do things like break into research centers and release all of the animals into the wild without care for the fact that the animals will then all have to be euthanized. Assuming a bad guy is going to act rationally or have the same values as most people is a really good way to get screwed by the bad guys.

    That being said, censorship is something I find abhorrently wrong, one of societies great evils. I'm just saying that something that would allow the weaponization of a biological agent arguably does rank up there with the fine details of how to build a nuclear bomb. Biological weapons of mass destruction were widely used in WW2 and killed far more people than the atomic bombs ever did.

    I would have to imagine that the panel would have told them to go fish if there wasn't a reasonable basis for them asking to begin with. That being said I am far from qualified to know if this paper would raise that kind of concern. Their argument is valid, even if in this case they are wrong, I just don't know.

  • by Marc Madness (2205586) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @09:06AM (#38447184)

    This is research that has a military application and as such should perhaps have been more restrictive to start with.

    Arguably, most research can have military application. If we start asking all such projects to self sensor themselves, the scientific process gets cut off at the knees. The dividing line between civilian and military applications is vacuous at best (think Internet).

  • by cusco (717999) <brian.bixby@NoSPam.gmail.com> on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @10:59AM (#38448446)
    Actually, if I understand the project correctly the purpose was the OPPOSITE of "kill a metric f**kton of people". Two strains of influenza can often require two totally different methods of developing a vaccine, and two totally different methods to cure. When the two strains trade genes you may well end up with something that needs an entirely different method to prevent or kill it. The purpose of this was to find out if a third method was going to be needed if/when these two strains combine in the wild.

    What the found was that this third strain, if it developed in a certain way, was an order of magnitude worse than either one alone. Prevention and treatment regimens are going to need a new paradigm to attack a disease like this, and it was totally responsible of the researchers to warn the medical industry of this fact.

    This is not the US Army spiriting Ken Alibeck out of the Soviet Union so that he could recreate Black Pox (a smallpox/Marburg chimera) for them. These were actual scientists doing legitimate work.
  • by RogerWilco (99615) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @11:28AM (#38448880) Homepage Journal

    As I understand it, their intention is to figure out how to combat something like this when it will appear in the wild. Which it will do at some point, given how viruses work.

    To figure out how to combat it, they needed something to study and test.

    As I understood this is quite normal procedure.

  • Re:12 Monkeys (Score:4, Informative)

    by brit74 (831798) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @01:07PM (#38450250)
    Or to use an a real-world example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarin_gas_attack_on_the_Tokyo_subway [wikipedia.org]

Thufir's a Harkonnen now.

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