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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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  • Fuck you, Science (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @06:21AM (#38446330)
    Fuck you, Science, I'll send my papers to Nature now!
  • by bmo (77928) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @06:39AM (#38446408)

    âoeexperimental details and mutation data that would enable replication of the experiments.â

    But the whole point of science is to see if results can be replicated or not. This is anti-science and pro-stupid and if taken to its logical conclusion means a drastic slowdown in research since people have to reinvent wheels for no reason except for bad movie plots.

    Fuck this government-by-fear bullshit. Publish.

    --
    BMO

  • by msobkow (48369) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @06:44AM (#38446438) Homepage Journal

    Was this something that they were able to do in a day after getting the idea?

    A week?

    A year?

    I got my original idea of inverting a LALR parser in late 1986 in a 400-series compiler course. I remember discussing it with my lab partner, who's now a professor with Queen's University, specializing in (what else) compiler theory.

    That was the inception, the spark, the egg-gets-knocked-up moment.

    Gestation lasted 25 years for it to grow into something worthy of being turned into a product or service.

    Ideas cannot be stopped or prevented; the risk of an idea being used by a terrorist depends on how much effort and luck is required to go from idea to implementation.

    Just because the drug cartels are building custom narco-subs and fielding entire cell phone networks doesn't mean even they have the funding and tenacity to do bioweapons research on this scale or level of complexity, so I don't feel at ALL threatened by terrorists because of this research or it's publication.

    Just another case of patriotic fervour and artificial fear being used to paint the world as a scarier and more dangerous place than I believe it is.

    Perhaps most importantly, I believe their is risk to everything you choose to do, including the risk of your work being abused. No amount of legislation, threat, or outrage will prevent it, so I believe the benefits of open R&D far outweigh the risks of "terrorists might figure it out."

    The United States of Dumberica: Home of Chicken Little Security Politics since 9/11

    You fools -- you let the terrorists win. You let them change you at the heart and soul of what the country used to be about.

  • by MRe_nl (306212) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @06:44AM (#38446440)

    Grow a pair.

  • by Forty Two Tenfold (1134125) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @06:46AM (#38446452)
    How the fuck is this a troll?
  • by acidfast7 (551610) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @06:58AM (#38446520)
    then why fund it with public money (NIH funded this) which usually dictates that the information is placed into public domain.
  • by bmo (77928) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @07:27AM (#38446652)

    >arguably

    This is a weasel word and to start a sentence with it means that the sentence is mealy-mouthed bullshit.

    If you're going to censor, you need some evidence to justify it, not bad movie plots.

    --
    BMO

  • by shiftless (410350) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @07:30AM (#38446666) Homepage

    There is arguably some science that we don't want in the public domain.

    Bullshit. All information ends up in the public domain regardless. Excessive attempts to control it only result in the common man getting screwed over. We are eventually going to figure out how to make a super flu anyway, same as anyone today who was determined enough could build a nuclear weapon if they wanted, despite many years of secrecy. There is no point trying to hold this back.

  • by fearofcarpet (654438) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @07:42AM (#38446702)

    There is a huge difference between engineering plans for a weapon and the scientific research that underlies the technology; you cannot build a nuclear bomb knowing only the nuclear physics/chemistry of fission. Granted, in this particular case, the scientific discovery also contains the blueprints for creating the virus, but the authors are certainly not disclosing plans for making a biological weapon. In fact, you can construct a nuclear weapon without knowing any of the underlying science, but someone lacking extensive training in biochemistry/virology would not be able to reproduce the virus from this work from the experimental section of the their paper. And a nuclear weapon won't make itself. In this case, the authors have discovered that relatively small mutations can convert a benign virus into a deadly, pandemic-ready beast of a virus. Disclosing this information publicly will not change the probability of it occurring naturally through random mutation, will not enable your average terrorist to produce a weaponized virus, but it will spur the pro-active research of cures or preventative methods.

    Think of it this way; I am a chemist. If I published a new and simple synthetic route to methamphetamine in Science, and then put photocopies of that paper under the windshield wipers of cars parked in front of every meth lab in the country, I would get sued by AAAS and exactly zero people in those labs would be able to utilize that information. If, however, I instead placed detailed, step-by-step instructions for how to perform that synthesis in a kitchen sink under those windshield wipers, then I would go to jail and make a lot of meth heads very happy. Science != Engineering

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @07:47AM (#38446732)

    ...about the US Government getting dangerous information.

  • by sociocapitalist (2471722) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @08:03AM (#38446804)

    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.

    That is a valid point that you're making, perhaps without quite meaning to. Fear of a virus spreading uncontrollably would not deter people who are willing to blow themselves up to make a point or to get to their enemies.

  • by Frans Faase (648933) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @08:08AM (#38446832) Homepage
    The article explains how the N1H5 (bird) flu virus, which has a 95% mortality rate for humans, can be genetically modified into a version that would be transmittable from human to human. If such a virus would get out into the wild, it could decimate human population on earth.
  • by sociocapitalist (2471722) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @08:09AM (#38446836)

    All military research is funded with public money and is not going to put into the public domain. This is research that has a military application and as such should perhaps have been more restrictive to start with.

    I am not pro government and I am not at all against the sharing of information to further the good of human-kind.

    I am, however, fully against the spread of weapon technology be it nuclear, chemical or as in this case, biological.

  • by sociocapitalist (2471722) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @08:17AM (#38446872)

    1) All information does not end up in the public domain and to think so implies a level of naivete a bit beyond belief.
    2) 'The common man' does not need to know how to make nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. I'd just as soon that organizations that want to attack my society also not know how to make such weapons.
    3) Where some few governments have succeeded, with the help of other governments, I'm sure there are a lot of people and organizations, not to mention countries, who have been very determined to make a nuclear weapon who have obviously failed or we'd know about it.

  • by phayes (202222) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @08:20AM (#38446894) Homepage

    Stop beating that ridiculous straw man. Publicly funded does not automatically imply publication to the public at large. The Manhattan project was also publicly funded yet even independently researched theses that describe the implementation of an A-bomb cave been classified.

  • by Overzeetop (214511) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @08:57AM (#38447112) Journal

    Grow a pair and ignore them.

    I fixed that for the GP. The way to combat terror is to not be afraid of "them." That's the whole point of a terrorist - to create fear. They can't actually do much physical damage, as they're too small. Dropping all of the public security that was put in back in 2001, and funneling even half of that theater money into coordination of intelligence and PSAs about how safe a place the first world really is would do far, far more to combat "terror" than the entire government and media playing an unintentional, supporting role in the terror plan.

    More troops were killed - by an order of magnitude - and more foreign civilians were killed - by almost 3 orders of magnitude - than died on 9/1/2001 in both towers. Trillions of dollars - more than the entire Wall Street bailout and recovery stimulus - have been spent or lost in productivity due to the reaction to that "attack" - a third of which was foiled by average citizens on the third plane with no training and no advanced knowledge of the attack.. All as a result of our "reaction", the terrorists had their effort multiplied thousands of times.

    If you stop fearing a terrorist, you take most of their power away from them. So, yes - all we really need to do is grow a pair.

  • by muon-catalyzed (2483394) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @09:00AM (#38447144)
    Streisand effect -- somebody tried to ban the paper and now even the nerds on Slashdot knows about it. It has made multiple hits on Reddit, Digg, Fark, the social networks, TV channels and the blogosphere. The whole internet is aware of it and talking about it. Finally it is time to suppress and censor the journals with a scientific Patriot act of sorts. Face palm.
  • by Dr_Barnowl (709838) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @09:14AM (#38447240)

    Biological engineering is incredibly cheap compared to nuclear engineering.

    The main reason that nuclear weapons are not more of a threat is that uranium enrichment is such an expensive process. The economic and manufacturing activity associated with doing it is easy to spot. Chemical weapons require feedstocks that are often tracked. It's harder to control, because the level of activity required to produce a successful weapon is much lower.

    You could make a biological weapon in a lab with a few tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment, a small team or a lone worker, and sufficient patience. The base materials (biological samples) are available for a few hundred dollars from any number of lab supply companies. You don't need large scale manufacturing to make it effective - bacteria and viruses have this neat property that they will arrange to manufacture themselves. The main constraint on biological weapon manufacture is thus the availability of skills and knowledge, which are becoming much cheaper and easier to obtain.

    I also abhor the censorship, but they do have a point. It's a shame they have the wrong response - if the knowledge is already out there (and from comments here, it is), then making a fuss about it will only draw attention from the kind of nutjobs they want to prevent using it. I wouldn't be surprised if radical organizations and individuals are already investigating the requirements to set up their own labs, in response to this.

    I'm not sure what the right response would be. Mostly to grow up as a society and stop alienating people to the point where they decide that the solution to their problems with the rest of society is to eliminate as much of it as possible. But I really have no idea how to achieve that.

  • by Kythe (4779) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @09:31AM (#38447394)
    This is one of the most relevant comments on this entire story (though Wikipedia puts the current human mortality figure at around 60%).

    No, we don't want to censor information. But we DO, in certain cases.

    No, in general it's not good for society if scientific information is withheld. But if this baby gets out, would we still HAVE a society? This is truly a nightmare scenario: a virus with mortality rates comparable to ebola, as transmissible as the common flu.

    I truly do understand the arguments for putting information out there. But think for a moment about what happens if a suicidal person gets ahold of this, or a religious zealot who thinks it won't affect him or his flock, or some other nut who believes it won't affect him or that society is too sick to go on, etc., etc. All it would take is one.

    We're not talking about someone grabbing a high powered rifle and gunning down a few people in a public square (as bad as that can be). We're talking potentially billions dead.
  • by Kythe (4779) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @09:48AM (#38447548)
    99% of people and researchers who saw this research would use it for good, or would try to. Unfortunately, the true ratio is irrelevant. Out of the billions of people on earth, all it would take is one competent person who wanted (for whatever reason) to wreak real havoc. If the virus in question maintained the lethality that H5N1 has displayed in bird-to-human transmission, you're literally looking at billions of lives at risk.
  • by DigiShaman (671371) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @10:03AM (#38447710) Homepage

    Throw in the religious Christian and Islamic radicals that believe in the rapture too and you've got a recipe for disaster. Or maybe a N. Korean that's all pissed off his Dear Leader kicked the bucket and realized his life was all a lie. Whatever. Censored or not, the information will get released or R&D will be thrown into making this with the full confidence that it can be done via announcement of this publication. Not to be Mr Doom & Gloom here, but this will get released sooner or later. I can only hope governments around the world start mass-producing a vaccine ASAP. This isn't a waste of time or money. It's exceedingly important that we treat this as an urgent matter.

    Now that I think about it, producing the vaccine requires making the original virus in the first place right? It's not looking good I think.

  • 12 Monkeys (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jbeaupre (752124) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @10:41AM (#38448210)

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0114746/ [imdb.com]

    From back when Hollywood bad guys weren't all from the Middle East.

  • by compro01 (777531) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @10:57AM (#38448420)

    yet even independently researched theses that describe the implementation of an A-bomb cave been classified.

    Yes, and it was pretty damn conclusively proven back in 1967 (Nth country experiment) that was pretty much completely pointless and it's hardly any less true today.

  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @11:00AM (#38448466) Homepage Journal

    "You assume that the eco-terrorists are the bad guys. Releasing a few research animals, or driving spikes into trees, or hell even committing their own 9/11 level terrorist attack is small potatos compared to what is going to happen to this world if "

    And that is the the true face of evil, justification.

  • by Weezul (52464) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @01:48PM (#38450778)

    Do you know what happens when real CIA agents get outed or academic cryptographers discover NSA breakthroughs? Absolutely nothing

    If any real security threat appears, the CIA or NSA quietly say "Oops, too bad they figured that out. Please nobody make this worse by confirming its importance."

    What does DHS do? "Oh hey, the media covered this biology paper. Let's get ourselves in the news by redacting it!"

    And later they argue over who gets dibs on starting the DHS subcontractor to review all biology research before publication. Imagine all those biologists who didn't get accepted into PhD programs being paid per word redacted. Joking, you think I am, mmm?

  • by houghi (78078) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @02:13PM (#38451026)

    Somebody said on Belgian Radio that the real enemy is not some terrorist who could abuse it but mother nature. She can trow much worse at us AND has the access of enough test subject to do so and already has.

    And I agree. Mother nature has more kills on her name then any terrorist group. Even if you combine them all and include indirect kills, like wars over the centuries.

    WWII had up to 80 million. That is over several years. Roughly the same amount of people dies of influenza in 1918 in one year. And that is only one example.

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