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Biotech Security Science

Avian Flu Researcher Plans to Defy Dutch Ban On Publishing Paper 118

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the coming-to-a-news-stand-near-year dept.
scibri writes "Ron Fouchier, one of the researchers involved in the controversy over whether to publish research on mutant versions of H5N1 bird flu, has said he plans to submit his paper to Science without applying for an export control license as demanded by the Dutch government. Failing to get the license means he could face penalties including up to six years in prison. Whether the paper falls under export-control laws is unclear. The Netherlands implements European Union (EU) legislation on export controls, which require an export permit for 'dual-use' materials and information — those that could have both legitimate and malicious uses — including those relating to dangerous pathogens. But the EU law allows an exception for 'basic scientific research' that is 'not primarily directed towards a specific practical aim or objective,' which Fouchier says should cover his work."
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Avian Flu Researcher Plans to Defy Dutch Ban On Publishing Paper

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  • Good for him (Score:3, Insightful)

    by AdrianKemp (1988748) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @11:05AM (#39723663)

    I salute him for risking prison, he's doing the right thing. Censorship is evil, research perhaps most of all.

    • Agreed (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Government will try to paint a picture where the consequences of free association are worse than the consequences of oppression (yes, I said oppression) -- but those of us who think for ourselves already know the truth.

      I'm guessing this respectable man (the scientist) thinks for himself. We need more of his type in this world, and less of the government type. MUCH less of the government type.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DJRumpy (1345787)

      And if a terrorist group uses that research to kill thousands or millions? Will you still feel its justified?

      • Re:Good for him (Score:5, Insightful)

        by digitig (1056110) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @11:21AM (#39723845)

        And if a terrorist group uses that research to kill thousands or millions? Will you still feel its justified?

        Do you hold the Wright Brothers, Dr Hans Von Ohain and Sir Frank Whittle responsible for 9/11?

        • by X0563511 (793323) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @11:24AM (#39723877) Homepage Journal

          He would, but he probably doesn't know who they are.

        • by ohms (728912)
          Your argument is a bit of a strawman. Nowhere did AdrianKemp imply that the flight pioneers were responsible for 9/11. Also, last time I heard, I thought they were trying to develop the vaccine for it before considering releasing it to the masses. In this case, the cost of releasing it without having any safeguards against its misuse in my opinion greatly outweighs the benefits of having this research in the public domain, You cannot say the same for airplanes; the CBA for each innovation is quite different
          • Re:Good for him (Score:4, Insightful)

            by digitig (1056110) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @11:44AM (#39724177)
            Pretty much any research (beyond that which puts the blindingly obvious on a formal scientific basis) has potential uses for terrorists -- look at the way bodies such as the USA and the EU include basic medicines in export bans because they might be used to heal the baddies. If this information is released worldwide then it could help a whole lot of other people working on a vaccine, not just the Dutch pharmaceutical companies, and so it could lead to earlier development of a vaccine and a resulting saving of lives.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by DJRumpy (1345787)

          The invention of flight had obvious benefits to the scientific community and the general population. Mutating a virus to be more deadly isn't quite the same. Although research could evolve from it that proves to be beneficial, the immediate result of this research is not. This is also potentially far more deadly than a plane flying into a building. It could have global consequences if misused with the potential to kill far more than 9/11.

          They are not the same.

        • by MiniMike (234881)

          He would probably hold Elisha Otis, Daniel Burnham, and John Root responsible too, and would be more than willing to fly somewhere and meet in a tall building to explain why he thinks they all should be exhumed, tried, shot, and reburied.

      • Yes I would. You could say the same about any technology, but I have more likely worries than some terrorist plot.
        • by DJRumpy (1345787)

          And if said virus killed your family? It's easy to make off the cuff statements that 'censorship' is bad, when researchers also have a responsibility to think of the ramifications of their research.

          • Re:Good for him (Score:5, Insightful)

            by martas (1439879) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @11:49AM (#39724221)

            And if said virus killed your family?

            I will never take anyone seriously who brings up the possibility of personal loss in a discussion like this. That is an argument that can be used in many contexts, to argue both sides of the issue. It is non-informative, and intellectually dishonest. Stop it.

            • by DJRumpy (1345787)

              It doesn't get much more personal if the consequences had such real world ramifications. Researchers need to be responsible with research. There will always be a human element that should be considered. As I said, it's easy to make off he cuff decisions without looking at the potential risks or taking responsibility. I think it's irresponsible to do so until they have a vaccine.

              • by martas (1439879)
                My point was general, not about this virus story specifically. And I wasn't saying I think publishing this is a good idea (haven't completely made up my mind either way, yet).
            • Would you still be so "intellectually honest"?

              • by martas (1439879)
                I was about to write a long-winded, detailed reply, then suddenly... Iseewhatyoudidthere.
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Then at least they didn't die in abject fear of an unlikely bogeyman.

            And my daughter wouldn't have her tits groped on the off chance that the TSA agent will feel something other than her tits.

          • I'd still feel the same about releasing the knowledge. Granted I would probably want to string the individuals who released the virus by their own entrails (this is one of my less creative ideas), or pick them off at 400+ meters with my deer rifle. Your argument seems specious at best, it is akin to asking if I would be mad at some car company if a drunk plowed into my family killing them.
          • Re:Good for him (Score:5, Insightful)

            by tommituura (1346233) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @12:10PM (#39724437)

            And if said virus killed your family? It's easy to make off the cuff statements that 'censorship' is bad, when researchers also have a responsibility to think of the ramifications of their research.

            Wrong question.

            I'd be much, much more concerned if the scientists will discover a working vaccine before this mutation happens in the wild, and to that end, SCIENCE needs to be done. Suppression of research is clearly harmful to this goal. So, I'd be asking the question: "And if said virus, having mutated in wild, killed your family, and the vaccine wasn't ready in time thanks to idiots who wanted to make it harder to discover with their security theater?"

            And honestly, the way I see it, the harmful info is already out there. If the terrorists have a grasp of biology, and the resources at the level they would be able to actually do these things, the information that H5N1 can actually mutate into something this dangerous is enough. Suppressing this research is doing nothing else but letting the bad guys have all the weapons.

            • Great post. Security through obscurity has NEVER worked.

              • by adamchou (993073)

                Security through obscurity has NEVER worked

                If that's such a bad practice, show me an organization that publishes all their internal IP addresses and network infrastructure to the public.

            • Yes, exactly. Anyone with access to the right equipment can now figure out how to do this, paper published or not. What would be really clever is to change a key aspect in the news reports to lead these bio-terrorists down the wrong path.

            • by adamchou (993073)

              "And if said virus, having mutated in wild, killed your family, and the vaccine wasn't ready in time thanks to idiots who wanted to make it harder to discover with their security theater?"

              We can't even figure out a vaccine effective against all strains of the seasonal flu. What makes you think that the strain that the researchers developed is going to be the same strain that occurs in nature?

              If the terrorists have a grasp of biology, and the resources at the level they would be able to actually do these things

              Its not the smart terrorists that are of concern. I don't think groups like the Taliban, Al Qaida, etc would be crazy enough to do something like this. Its the at home ecoterrorist or crazy Christian that wants to start the second coming of Christ that scares me. This type of research previously required

          • And if said virus killed your family?

            And if said car killed your family?
            And if said electricity killed your family?
            And if said gunpowder killed your family?
            And if said theory of relativity killed your family?

            I'm not sure you've considered the logical extension of your argument...

      • by hrvatska (790627)
        Thank goodness the possibility of someone flying commercial aircraft into a building and killing thousands wasn't used as a reason for killing flight as a common means of transportation.
      • Re:Good for him (Score:4, Insightful)

        by bmo (77928) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @11:43AM (#39724159)

        "And if a terrorist group uses that research to kill thousands or millions? Will you still feel its justified?"

        Fuck you and everyone like you.

        Yes it's justified.

        The benefits of scientific exchange by studying contagions outweigh whatever risks there are due to mythical terrorists behind every tree. Terrorists, I must add, who set fire to their shoes and underwear. We're not exactly talking about fucking genius. If they thought for one fucking second about what they were doing, they wouldn't try to fucking blow themselves up, would they?

        People like you would drag us back to the fucking dark ages because "technology can be used by terrorists" and there would be no fucking benefit to anyone except your fucking megalomania.

        There are far easier and effective ways of killing people than trying to weaponize a virus. Take your "doctor evil" bad movie script, print it out until it is all sharp corners, and shove it up your ass.

        Go confiscate someone else's nail clippers.

        --
        BMO

        • I think I love you BMO.
        • by adamchou (993073)

          There are far easier and effective ways of killing people than trying to weaponize a virus

          really? how is it far easier to kill millions of people than to weaponize a deadly and highly contagious virus?

          • by dargaud (518470)

            really? how is it far easier to kill millions of people than to weaponize a deadly and highly contagious virus?

            Start a religion, or use one effectively.

        • and not self-righteous slashdot posters.

          BTW: The governments involved know a thing or two about science. They've sponsored >90% of the science done in the world. You know where all those vaccines come from? government labs. There are thousands of people who work their asses off everyday in an endless war against disease. Those people *will* have access to any and all information necessary to do their jobs, because if they don't then people die. But those people also understand that you need to keep the c

      • I pity you for the ignorant belief that people that hold extremist views are in any way less intelligent or capable than supposedly-non-political research scientists.

      • by X.25 (255792)

        And if a terrorist group uses that research to kill thousands or millions? Will you still feel its justified?

        First, it's government of the "developed world" that go most of the killing (or turn blind eye when their 'strategic allies' do it). Not the terrorists.

        Second, do you hold inventors of gun powder responsible for deaths of thousands or millions?

        I am more scared of governments than terrorists. I really am.

      • Yes: fear is a fucking idiotic reason to silence our scientists.

        Anyway, the terrorists won't know what to do with it.
    • by PPH (736903)

      I'm on the fence on this one. On one hand, I'm worried about the technology and knowledge to manufacture bio-weapons falling into the wrong hands. Nuclear research is one thing, as the cost barrier to entry is pretty high, even if you have the blueprints. But biological/chemical stuff is cheap. Nevertheless, knowledge will eventually spread, so blocking it is just buying time. My main support of Fouchier is that the whole dual use export control system is all too often used as a tool for economic or market

      • by bmo (77928)

        >But biological/chemical stuff is cheap.

        No, it's not. It's not because it's bloody difficult to get it to work effectively.

        It's not like walking into Walgreens and walking out with the ingredients for meth.

        --
        BMO

        • But it is cheap compared to a nuclear weapons program. A couple of smart & fanatical people with a modest payroll can go a long way. I have read scenarios (sorry, can’t cite them off the top of my head) that one could do really interesting stuff with 100k worth of equipment and supplies. 500k is well within the range of smaller states and larger criminal organizations.

          • by bmo (77928)

            And you've been reading conspiracy websites if that's what you've been reading.

            It is so far more difficult to weaponize Anthrax without the necessary knowledge *and* equipment that you're far better off trying to figure out, for example, how to synthesize certain organic compounds that cost 18-20 dollars/gram that only reveal themselves when it's too late and there's no trail to follow like with polonium, but have nearly as horrific effects on the human body.

            --
            BMO

  • I'm amazed that it's taken this long for someone to do the right thing... and that the paper didn't end up on Wikileaks or similar a couple days after this controversy started.

  • Seems to me that the grant supporting the research came from the US so submission for publication in a US journal is pretty normal. I got some telescope time on a UK telescope and published in a UK journal as a result. It is hard to say I was exporting science to the UK when they built the telescope and instrument I used. And, if the journal Science is available in The Netherlands, as it is, how can it be said that the science has even left that country. Seems a little murky. At the least, it would be
    • By that logic Apple doesn't import any of their hardware into the US. After all, it's a US company paying the bills right?

    • Seems to me that the grant supporting the research came from the US so submission for publication in a US journal is pretty normal. I got some telescope time on a UK telescope and published in a UK journal as a result.

      I don't think that normally holds. I published in US and EU journals while on a UK grant and will likely publish in both now I am on a US grant - the location of the journal rarely factors into where I publish, only the suitability of the subject matter and the reputation. Location only matters for conferences, and then it's a question of whether my interest in the conference plus my interest in visiting the location is greater than the effort involved in going there and justifying the expenses.

      It is hard to say I was exporting science to the UK when they built the telescope and instrument I used

      Would it

      • by mdsolar (1045926)
        It is true that there are journals all over the world and suitability does matter. I'm not sure those that a US grant to study flu strains academically is the same as NK commissioning a bomb design. There is an expectation of publication in the former case.
  • by tlhIngan (30335) <.slashdot. .at. .worf.net.> on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @11:31AM (#39723973)

    Wouldn't that be most technology out there?

    I mean, take anything and there's always a malicious use for it. A car can serve as transportation for someone (good), or as a quick getaway after committing a crime (bad).

    The computer can be used to educate and communicate, or to create misery for others and steal (real cybercrime here). And that doesn't even involve the murkiness of copyright.

    A camera can be used to document a crime, or to commit one (e.g., pedophillia creation).

    A book can be used to educate, inform or provide entertainment, or to spread ugly rumors and how to make say, bombs to kill people.

    Really - where's the line? This research can be used to spur new advances in medicine, or be used to create a mass plague.

    Practically everything has a malicious use to it.

    • by bmo (77928)

      "I mean, take anything and there's always a malicious use for it"

      The keyboard to an old IBM 5150 can be used to bludgeon someone to death.

      --
      BMO

      • by plover (150551) *

        The keyboard to an old IBM 5150 can be used to bludgeon someone to death.

        Pics or it didn't happen!

    • Practically everything has a malicious use to it.

      Which is perhaps why they wrote the law like that.

  • This "dual use" clause is scrary and definitely highly ambiguous.

    Where to put the line? Before you know it we can't export iron! After all you can make cars with it, but also guns. Or trucks: can be used for transporting both civilian or military goods. Or mobile phones: aren't they used to set off bombs?

    And this example of raw materials is not far fetched, it is from direct personal experience: I'm in the business of trading plastic recycling materials out of Europe, and currently we basically can not ship

  • Limited distribution (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jamesl (106902) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @11:47AM (#39724209)

    " ... he plans to submit his paper to Science ... "

    Where it will be hidden behind a paywall

    • Where it will be hidden behind a paywall

      ...for the next 70 years or so. Plenty of time for a cure to be found! Win-win!

      On a serious note: why not on PLoS ONE? Impact factor of ~10 not good enough for him?

  • Democracy
  • nowhere is it stated that the MS will pass peer review and be accepted.

    As a PI, I know that submission does NOT equal public dissemination, not by a long shot.

  • The truth is, that AQ or other terrorists, are very likely to use Avian flu in an attack. The reason is that it can easily be converted to a weapon and then run around and spread it all through the west. And yes, AQ DOES know this. The last thing that needs to be done is give them more information that can be used to make it more effective.
    • by MiniMike (234881)

      The truth is, that AQ or other terrorists, are very likely to use Avian flu in an attack. The reason is that it can easily be converted to a weapon and then run around and spread it all through the west. And yes, AQ DOES know this.

      Then they should also know that the virus would not be confined to the West, and would rampage through their homes as well. The only thing that would be confined to the West would be the vaccines. And while the terrorists get plenty of stupid and gullible people to do their work, the people in charge (usually) aren't so suicidal as to attack with biological weapons. IANABWE, so I don't know if this would be beyond the capability of a 'lone wolf' type of attacker.

      • I have a bit of experience in this. And like the anthrax attack that we had, this would not be a lone wolf attack (in spite of what the FBI claims). In fact, the production of this would actually require the loss of human life by no less than 4 ppl, though less than 20. However, it would be VERY effective. Probably about 20-33% mortality rate. In addition, it could be spread all over EU and USA in a matter of a week.

        Now, as to confining it to the west, well, they would not care about that. They attack Chi
  • I just can repeat what our boss (who is quite high in the scientific establishment in States) said about this guy.

    "He is an idiot".

  • Isn't this the prequel to 'The Stand'? Folks create nasty super bug for research, then it gets loose. I doubt this would rise to the level of a 'Captain Tripps', but it sounds like it could be nasty.

    I'd be more worried about some dumb bastard making a version of smallpox that acts like the GM'd Australian mousepox. 100% lethal in unvaccinated population and around 50% lethal in the vaccinated one.

  • Knowledge should not be locked up in some government office but free to the world.

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