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Medicine Science

Mutant Flu Researchers Declare a Time Out 224

Posted by Soulskill
from the it-worked-on-saved-by-the-bell dept.
New submitter scibri writes "Researchers working on highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza have said they will stop work on the virus for 60 days, to allow them to explain the importance of their work to politicians and the public. Quoting: 'Despite the positive public-health benefits these studies sought to provide, a perceived fear that the ferret-transmissible H5 HA viruses may escape from the laboratories has generated intense public debate in the media on the benefits and potential harm of this type of research. We would like to assure the public that these experiments have been conducted with appropriate regulatory oversight in secure containment facilities by highly trained and responsible personnel to minimize any risk of accidental release.'" Reader Harperdog sends in a related article arguing that we shouldn't be having a debate about the censorship of research, but rather a debate over whether the research should have been allowed in the first place.
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Mutant Flu Researchers Declare a Time Out

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  • by russotto (537200) on Friday January 20, 2012 @02:55PM (#38765294) Journal

    And this is the way the new Dark Ages will begin. Not from where you'd expect, religious fundamentalists who are offended by the challenge reality presents to their mythology. But from easily-frightened handwringing "ethicists", who had they been around in the time of the caveman would have taken away Ugh's flint for fear he'd burn down the forest were he to succeed in starting a fire.

  • I would rather.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Brannoncyll (894648) on Friday January 20, 2012 @03:01PM (#38765432)
    ...have someone studying it now rather than having them start when its already too late. It can take months or years to create a vaccine, then more time to manufacture/distribute it to the public. By this time a large proportion of the world's population could be infected.
  • by HockeyPuck (141947) on Friday January 20, 2012 @03:02PM (#38765440)

    We would like to assure the public that these experiments have been conducted with appropriate regulatory oversight in secure containment facilities by highly trained and responsible personnel to minimize any risk of accidental release.

    Why does this remind me of all the stories where some contractor walked out of a "secure $organization facility" with highly sensitive data/source code/credit_card numbers etc...?

    Should we be surprised when we read a story one day that says that some Chinese researcher walked out the door with a container of some highly contagious strain of Ferret Flu...

  • by m.ducharme (1082683) on Friday January 20, 2012 @03:23PM (#38765844)

    One could argue that setting humanity back a few centuries and wiping out half the population would be good for the planet (and perhaps ultimately save the species). It's not an argument I'd be prepared to make, but it's one I'd take seriously, if someone else were to make it.

  • by Gotung (571984) on Friday January 20, 2012 @03:24PM (#38765866)
    Newsflash: SOMEONE is already doing it on a scale so massive that human beings can't even come close to competing with. That someone is called The Universe, or more specifically in this case the Planet Earth.

    Flu virii are replicating and recombining on their own. They do it all day every day in billions of organisms around the planet. By doing a tiny tiny tiny version of the same thing in a controlled manner in a lab, we can learn a whole lot about that natural process that will provide wonderful insights to help combat the really bad stuff that the evolution of these virii WILL produce at some point.

    In all likelihood all of the combinations that these scientists come up with already exist somewhere.
  • by tomhath (637240) on Friday January 20, 2012 @03:38PM (#38766108)
    From the linked article questioning whether the research should be done

    The seven experiments of concern are those that would:

    1. demonstrate how to make a vaccine ineffective

    2. confer resistance to antibiotics or antiviral agents

    3. enhance a pathogen's virulence or make a non-virulent microbe virulent

    4. increase transmissibility of a pathogen

    5. alter the host range of a pathogen

    6. enable a pathogen's ability to evade diagnostic or detection modalities

    7. enable the weaponization of a biological agent or toxin

    .

    I see your point, especially related to #7. However, I'd prefer to know that we understand pathogens, antibiotic actions, and immunization before we really, really need that knowledge. Bubonic Plague wiped out about 1/3 of Europe's population because they didn't have antibiotics.

  • Adult Supervision (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 20, 2012 @04:00PM (#38766468)

    It seems to me that these researchers need adult supervision. Forgetting about 'terrorism' for the moment, the consequences of a small mistake or small misunderstanding are far too large. They appear to be thinking like little children playing with cap guns than like adults working with technologies that could possibly lead to either another human population bottleneck or, indeed, extinction.

  • by glodime (1015179) <eric@glodime.com> on Friday January 20, 2012 @05:18PM (#38767614) Homepage

    It is a risk/reward analysis; to me the risk of killing billions of people is much heavier on my scale of importance than any reward from the research.

    The risk of research: Billions of people could die if containment fails or if natural strains evolve and spread before an effective vaccine is developed.
    Reward of research: Eliminate risk of Billions of people dying if natural strains evolve and spread or containment fails.

    Risk of NO research: Billions of people could die if natural strains evolve and spread.
    Reward of NO research: eliminate risk of Billions of people dying from containment failure.

    Which is better? There is no action that creates zero risk of Billions of people dying.

There are worse things in life than death. Have you ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman? -- Woody Allen

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