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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 @05:22AM (#38446336)
    ... at several conferences. Anyone who wants the information can get it. This is RIDICULOUS (coming from a biochemist.)
    • by sociocapitalist (2471722) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @05:35AM (#38446392)

      From TFA: The panel said conclusions should be published, but not “experimental details and mutation data that would enable replication of the experiments.”

      Have the "experimental details and mutation data" already been presented at these conferences, or only the conclusions?

      • by acidfast7 (551610) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @05:39AM (#38446404)
        As far as I understand it, the soon-to-be-redacted information has already been publicly (wow, my spelling sucks) presented. I haven't seen it live, but everything could easily be cobbled together by someone with standard virology knowledge and the publicly presented information (mutational data with associated details.) Maybe someone who attended the actual conferences could speak up.
        • by muon-catalyzed (2483394) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @08:00AM (#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.
          • Yes, exactly. If it wasn't for all the hype around the subject, I would never even have come up with the idea of making those viruses in my basement. And I would never have contracted that nasty cough that I don't seem to be able to get rid of. Well, at least I'll have some great results to publish.
          • by timeOday (582209)
            Hits are irrelevant unless they contain the information in question. Nobody is trying to suppress the fact that the virus exists.
      • by bmo (77928) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @05:39AM (#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 sociocapitalist (2471722) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @05:52AM (#38446488)

          There is arguably some science that we don't want in the public domain. Weapons tech comes to mind, of which this is an excellent example - particularly if the methods involved (and I am completely ignorant on this subject but generally speaking) don't require much to duplicate (ie easier to replicate than a nuclear bomb).

          • by acidfast7 (551610) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @05:58AM (#38446520)
            then why fund it with public money (NIH funded this) which usually dictates that the information is placed into public domain.
            • by sociocapitalist (2471722) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @07:09AM (#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 Marc Madness (2205586) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @08:06AM (#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).

                • Arguable, indeed. I think there's a pretty clear difference between a potentially enabling technology and one which has direct and immediate usage as a weapon. Arguing otherwise - whether you agree with GP or not - is disingenuous at best.

                  • by Hydian (904114)

                    Better baseball bat technology has direct and immediate usage as a weapon. Where do you draw the line? How about at the point where the research has no other viable purposes? As I understand it (and I could be way off) this research has a very important use in preventing such things, natural and man-made.

                • by LWATCDR (28044)

                  One does wonder.
                  If some research created a super deadly easy to spread virus would it be wise to release that information to the public. This does remind me of nuclear weapons in many ways. the scientists told the military that their was no way to keep them a secret because their are no secrets in physics. The Universe allows for nuclear weapons so they are their for anyone to find if they look. The same is probably true for biomedical research as well. The question is then what do you do about knowledge

                • Yes and no...there is also a question of scale. How much damage can be done, and how difficult it is to realize that damage if you have reasonably well educated people who can take the information in question and use it.

                  Think zero day vulnerabilities. If you are aware of a zero day vuln you generally don't advertise it to the entire net before letting the vendor have a chance to patch it (whether they actually do so or not is a different question).

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

                All research has a military application.

            • by phayes (202222) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @07:20AM (#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 golden age villain (1607173) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @06:10AM (#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.
            • by sociocapitalist (2471722) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @07:03AM (#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 onyxruby (118189) <.onyxruby. .at. .comcast.net.> on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @07:29AM (#38446930)

              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 kiwix (1810960)

              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 threat we are currently worried about is not a modern army, it's a bunch of crazy terrorists. They don't need to control the propagation.

              Note: I'm not saying that we should be worried about terrorists plots, I'm just saying that, as a society, we are.

            • by geekmux (1040042)

              ...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

              I can think of quite a few leaders who are about as unstable as any mutated form of virus. That instability didn't die with Kim Jong-Il. I certainly wouldn't take that bet.

            • by LWATCDR (28044)

              Actually you are off about Gas.
              Gas was used in WWII. The Italians used it in Africa and the Japanese used it in China. What stopped the use of gas in WWII was the fear of retaliation in kind. Both sides kept large supplies on hand just in case and the Germans developed the first nerve gas agents. They didn't use them in large part because Hitler hated gas for good reason. He as gassed in WWI.

              As to this virus making a good weapon? Well it depends on one detail. Can you create a vacine for it. If so it is abo

            • 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...

              This is not necessarily the case. The original poster of the comment that the information had been publicly disseminated later said that he had not witnessed this himself and asked anyone who went to the presentations to comment on what exactly has already been made public and what has not. (I'm paraphrasing because I'm too lazy to scroll up).

          • by Ihmhi (1206036)

            B-b-but information wants to be free!

            Seriously though, it's really almost impossible to keep something like this locked up, especially when it's in a public research field. Okay, so let's say we start censoring scientific reports. What's to stop someone with "terrorist" leanings from becoming a biologist and learning how to do it firsthand? What's to stop, say, China, Russia, etc. selling secrets that they stole from another country on the black market?

            Once something is discovered, it's almost impossible to

          • by u38cg (607297)
            If it's not in the public domain, it is almost by definition not science. And nukes are not that hard to do for a seriously committed organisation with a bit of cash to spend.
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by bmo (77928)

            >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

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by shiftless (410350)

            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 sociocapitalist (2471722) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @07:17AM (#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 fearofcarpet (654438) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @06:42AM (#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

            • I understand your very well presented point. I'll focus on one bit, if you don't mind: "...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."

              The problem comes in when you have people are are extensively trained in biochemistry/virology who might be able to do something with the information under discussion.

              Similarly, it's not beyond believe to think that the organizations (in Mexico for examp

              • Fair enough, though I think the argument then boils down to the open-source vs closed-source security argument. In this particular case, I would wager that there are a lot more "white hats" (e.g., academic scientists) than "black hats" (e.g., terrorists with the know-how to engineer a virus) looking at the source code. Also, a pay-walled scientific journal further inhibiting access to publicly-funded research by redacting experimental protocols, particularly just to avoid bad publicity from layman/journalis
            • by Dr_Barnowl (709838) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @08:14AM (#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 Hatta (162192)

              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.

              You would not go to jail. It's entirely legal to publish easy to follow step by step instructions to do anything, including meth [scribd.com].

            • by KlomDark (6370)

              > you cannot build a nuclear bomb knowing only the nuclear physics/chemistry of fission

              LOL, WUT? What do you think the Manhattan Project was? All they had was the physics and theory, and that's all they needed.

              People are not as stupid as you assume.

          • by sFurbo (1361249)
            No, no there isn't. Weapons aren't normally very dangerous, at most you can kill tens of people before the authorities get to you. That is a sacrifice I am willing to make in order to live in a free society. More dangerous weapons will either get yourself killed (nerve gas), or demands quite some investments (nuclear bombs). And such censorship isn't going to be succesful anyway, if there were an easy way to kill thousands of people, that knowledge would seep out no matter what. By far the best ways to avoi
          • by Hatta (162192)

            The Streisand effect will ensure that the censored results are among the most widely read.

            • by GrpA (691294)

              This is all about 9/11. Back then, the US declared a war on irony. If the US ask scientists to self-censor so as not to assist terrorists and the scientists ignore them and publish dangerous details, then a terrorist group take up their invention and the scientists are killed in the attack, then the US will finally win that war...

              Besides, I've read many published research articles that I'd really *not* want to see in terrorist hands... Most of them published by the US military.
              So maybe the US already won th

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

            Indeed, imagine the damage that might be caused if research on how different types of plastics behave under heavy stress were to fall into the wrong hands. Terrorists might figure out how to turn plastic bottles into knives and then use those knives to hijack an airplane!

            How do you decide what sort of research should be censored or hidden from the public? Terrorists are creative and can find ways to weaponize just about anything. Perhaps we should require people to get licenses before allowing them

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

              Indeed, imagine the damage that might be caused if research on how different types of plastics behave under heavy stress were to fall into the wrong hands. Terrorists might figure out how to turn plastic bottles into knives and then use those knives to hijack an airplane!

              There's a small difference between hijacking an airplane and a weaponized virus with high transmission and mortality rates but I certainly understand your point nonetheless.

              How do you decide what sort of research should be censored or hidden from the public? Terrorists are creative and can find ways to weaponize just about anything. Perhaps we should require people to get licenses before allowing them to read scientific papers?

              Are you suggesting that everything should be shared with the general public, such as the names and photographs of spies that we have in enemy societies, for example? Or is it just the idea of research that should be shared with everyone regardless of the risks associated with that research falling into 'the wrong hands'?

          • by KlomDark (6370)

            No, there's not, ever. All knowledge of humankind belongs to everyone. Nearly all people will use it for good, a fraction of a percent will use it for evil. That fraction of a percent is no reason to abandon all hope and cower in your storm shelter because some boogeyman might get you.

            Nuclear bombs are pretty simple - it's getting the fissionable radioactive material that's the hard part.

            They've overplayed their "terrorism" card, people are starting to snicker.

        • by sFurbo (1361249)
          From TFA:

          the editor of Science, Bruce Alberts, said the journal was taking the recommendations seriously and would probably withhold some information — but only if the government creates a system to provide the missing information to legitimate scientists worldwide who need it.

          (emphasis mine). How that would be accomplished is left as a problem for the reader, though.

          This is, of course, from the same man who later says

          “I wouldn’t call this censorship,” Dr. Alberts said. “This is trying to avoid inappropriate censorship.”

          So it isn't censorship, because they do it to avoid repercussions. That man is in serious need of a dictionary.

      • by DarkOx (621550)

        that would enable replication of the experiments.

        So the government is banning good science then.

    • by Darfeld (1147131)

      Keep it quiet! If we say it don't exist, maybe reality can be fooled.

    • Also from what I've heard, anyone who might have the education and resources to create such a virus can already get enough information from the little hints that have been dropped early on, so attempting to cover up the information at this point is just whipping up the Streisand Effect.

    • Not only that, but if this research was performed at a university, the original manuscripts and experiment designs will probably not be hard to obtain. My department just got a new building, with fancy locks on the doors, but it is common to just let people in if they are standing outside -- no questions asked. I have seen server rooms locked with a cheap padlock at another university, or even left unlocked.

      If a terrorist wanted information from a university, they could just walk in and grab it, at lea
    • by g0bshiTe (596213)
      Is anyone else sick of the US Government trying to censor everything now?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @05:26AM (#38446362)

    Suppose our enemies used the research to develop a vaccine? Then the research will have been wasted.

  • by msobkow (48369) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @05:44AM (#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 CAPSLOCK2000 (27149) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @05:55AM (#38446502) Homepage

      From what I've read about it the work they did was not very hard (for an experienced scientist). It is a rather classic case of evolutionary improvement. Take a bunch of ferrets, infect them with the flu, take the most effective strain of the virus and feed it to the next group of ferrets. Repeat until you get a virus with the desired properties.

      It takes some time and some experience but it is well within the reach of any sufficiently funded and properly motivated organisation.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bky1701 (979071)
      "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."

      No, not really. We were cowards pretty much since the Civil War. We only ended up joining the two world wars when we thought they might go a way that would hurt us, but in both cases after they had already been largely decided by others. The cold war saw the red scare, which was actually far worse than "the war on terror," with the government shamelessly locking up people for sayi
    • by adamchou (993073)
      Its absolutely wrong to censor the entire study to the whole world. However, that's not what the article is talking about. There is no reason that you, or I, need to get my hands on this information, regardless of how interesting it is. They are talking about making sure that the experiment in full can be shared with other scientists that would be able to find this information useful.
  • by MRe_nl (306212) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @05:44AM (#38446440)

    Grow a pair.

    • by jovius (974690)

      But the terrorists already got a pair too :(

    • by cbope (130292)

      Except that the "war on terror" can never be "won".

      • by Overzeetop (214511) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @07:57AM (#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.

      • Nor is it supposed to be won. The purpose of the "war on terror" is to keep our defense industry booming and to keep people afraid of the faceless enemy hiding in the shadows.
      • That's a feature, not a bug.

        Extraordinary actions are easily justified in times of war.

  • by SeaFox (739806) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @05:50AM (#38446470)

    After all, there's no way a terrorist organization could have their own scientists doing research for them into these things.

  • Buy some ferrets and then keep an eye open for the agent assigned to tail you and observe your behaviour.

  • Osama did not crash a plane against the twin towers, he sent other people to do it for him. People running terrorist organisations are not crazy, just power hungry. Blow up a dirty bomb in the middle of NYC? Sure, they are not going to be anywhere near NYC when it happens and they can watch it on TV. Releasing a deadly flu virus which will wipe out 60% of mankind? When you are yourself an ageing man living in a vastly agricultural region with little to no modern infrastructures? No thanks.
    • You've got to be careful when you're assuming about their reasoning, though. They might not know or realize the speed with which a virus could potentially spread. They might think that if it is released in the USA, it will stay in the USA, somehow magically obeying country borders. This might be because they do not know or care there are other countries in America, or because they think that human deceases can be contained by border control, because of the existence of such control designed for animal patho

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...about the US Government getting dangerous information.

  • So far, we've had policy-makers acting ignorantly (or worse) in response to- (or, in my opinion, in the manufacture and perpetuation of-) "terrorism."

    Now we have an example of a directive that seeks to spread ignorance among those of us who have the lowest tolerance for ignorance; i.e., geeks, nerds, scientists, engineers, researchers, students and teachers, et al.

    This political mindset gives me the same sickness in my stomach that the DMCA's anti-research/anti-publish provisions caused.

    My admiration and th

  • by Frans Faase (648933) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @07:08AM (#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 Kythe (4779) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @08:31AM (#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.
    • it could decimate human population on earth.

      Sounds good.

  • I can see some discussions which kind of mention the recent virus experiment, or the weapon technology, as a way to partly agree with what TFA is about. How I see all this is under a different light though. Scientific research is science. It is not something which necessarily has to do with weapon, or war, or terrorism and such. Technology is simply technology and it remains such no matter how one puts it into use. It is like withholding information on how to produce high quality steel because it will be u
    • by adosch (1397357)

      It is like withholding information on how to produce high quality steel because it will be used to make very sharp swords, or nuclear energy and research is bad and information about it should be restricted because such knowledge is involved in producing bombs.

      I was onboard until your argument produced holes in it. I agree with what I quoted, but tell me the benefit of making a deadly flu virus that doesn't spread over it's natural means? That doesn't provide a barrier to improve anything in my world. If anything someone funded it to do just that: Have scientific evidence for a terrorism report. Should we censor ourselves from providing information like this? Totally.

      There are many other ways to massage a scientist's ego than let them do a dog-and-pony show

      • by RogerWilco (99615)

        I understood that the research was done to better understand how these types of viruses work. I'm not an expert, so I can't explain it any better.

        It is supposed to help scientists understand how to combat viruses like this. Preferably before something like this appears in the wild. (viruses tend to do that).

        By publishing, they share it with others trying to do the same. And maybe with someone with a death wish who wants to use it as a weapon. But that's a risk for far more research.

        And even then, maybe some

  • Umm. Is it just me, but even ignorant terrorists must be able to work out that creating and releasing a highly transmissible lethal flu virus is a bit stupid. Judging by most recent flu pandemics, they travel everywhere, not just the country/people/religion you hate. Not very targeted. How about a nuke instead?
    • by RogerWilco (99615)

      That assumes the terrorist wants to live. There might be people around who want to wipe out humanity entirely if they could.

  • Aside to the main topic, is there actually any data on how many people were infected with H5N1. Around the time of the last big scare (late 2009 in the UK IIRC) it seemed to me that a lot of people (myself and my wife and a lot of people we knew, and anecdotally in the population at large) got unusually bad colds and chest infections and what-not, that took a long time to shake off. FTA, "The virus, A(H5N1), causes bird flu, which rarely infects people but has an extraordinarily high death rate when it does
  • Funny how US legislators slavishly chant the National Rifle Association mantra that if guns are made illegal, only criminals will have guns. Yet for something like this, refereed scientific journals are supposed to censor themselves, lest terrorists get hold of information they could probably find on-line with a 15-minute Google search.

    It's so nice to know they actually understand the problem and are cynically ignoring it. The alternative is even MORE frightening.

  • As I am sure many people are aware, the US government is a sprawling organization so it might be useful to know which department this comes from.

    The request was made by the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity which falls under the umbrella of the National Institute of Health, which is an agency for the US Department of Health and Human Services. According to wikipedia the USDHHS is the biomedical and health related agency like how the National Science Foundation is the science and engineering re

  • In this particular case, the gist of the method is widely known, understood, and, frankly, obvious to anyone that cared. They simply applied artificial selection on the population to select for strains with a higher virulence -- no genetic engineering or manipulation involved.This is already an obvious inexpensive and simple approach to anyone that wanted to try it, provided that they had an inkling of biology knowledge and a desire to do so. Further, it highlights that there's a series of natural mutations

  • by JDG1980 (2438906) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @09:26AM (#38448008)

    When I first read that the government wanted a scientific journal to bowdlerize their findings, I was naturally appalled. Then I read the article further and I was even more appalled – at the scientists.

    Deliberately researching how to spread lethal bird flu to humans and make it more infectious? What the hell were they thinking? How could this possibly be a good idea? Even as a weapon, it's far too dangerous to ever use – once unleashed, it can and probably will spread back to whoever initiated it.

    To quote Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park: "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could that they didn't stop to think if they should."

    • by compro01 (777531)

      Deliberately researching how to spread lethal bird flu to humans and make it more infectious? What the hell were they thinking? How could this possibly be a good idea?

      Because the probability of said mutation sequence happening in nature is non-trivial and this research allows us to have information to be prepared for if/when it does happen on its own.

    • by RogerWilco (99615) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @10:28AM (#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.

  • So... People complain that slashdotters don't RTFA but then they post an article you can't access without registering on a site (paywall too?)

    This is not good.

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