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Medicine Science

Mutant Flu Researchers Declare a Time Out 224

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 Anonymous Coward on Friday January 20, 2012 @02:53PM (#38765258)

    If these guys don't do the research, someone else will. Probably some government, and then they'll spread it once they have a secret cure for themselves.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 20, 2012 @03:07PM (#38765506)

    Yeah, thats exactly right... tinkering with highly dangerous and highly contagious viruses is exactly the same as supressing all of science... Especially since we all know that outbreaks of viruses from such secure research facilities can never happen... Just a random search on ebola offers this.

    Not to say that it shouldn't be allowed, but the whole point is that this is not that simple an issue, that it requires debate and your comment is just plain dumb.

  • by Karmashock ( 2415832 ) on Friday January 20, 2012 @03:41PM (#38766172)

    I see no reason for an experimental virus to be both highly contagious and deadly at the same time. Couldn't you learn the same thing from two viruses. One that was very contagious but not dangerous and another that was very deadly but not contagious?

    Why put the warhead in the missile if you don't intend to kill people? if you want to test the missile, put a dummy warhead in it. If you want to test the warhead, then detonate without the delivery mechanism.

    Viral researchers do this sort of thing all the time. They test contagious viruses with harmless strains to watch how they get into the body. Deadly strains are typically injected. They're not airborne.

    Maybe I don't understand what they're doing but the whole thing smells like a germ warfare lab if they're combining the two and trying to make them more deadly. That's a weaponization program.

  • by siddesu ( 698447 ) on Friday January 20, 2012 @03:54PM (#38766388)

    Nah, it isn't some mythical "ethicists" that are the problem. Two things are at work here that have shaped this kind of attitude.

    First, there is a gradual and seemingly purposeful dumbing down of public education, especially in the "civilized" world. When I was growing up, I had boring math and physics books with theorem proofs and many problems in them. These days my kids have pictures, diagrams, bold colors and boxes with all sorts of historical and "cultural" references, but what was standard hardness in my book is now "optional" or "advanced" and "can be skipped without loss of continuity". The situation is the same in every field that teaches science. Teachers are poor, undereducated and not interested in teaching. Kids are "spared" the "psychological shock" of failure that low grades imply. The situation in higher education somewhat similar, except at the very top, which is accessible to the very few -- who turn out to be the researchers.

    Science is hard and getting harder, and to make sense of it, you need to be taught about the basics. There is no time anymore to figure it out for yourself. No education == fertile supply of "luddites". Incidentally, this also means a fertile supply of "consumers".

    Second, there is the media world, which has totally gone down the drain in terms of quality. Serious journalism, where reasonably educated people would research a topic and write about it in articles long enough to cover the subject in some depth and breadth has devolved into idiots spewing out 150-200 word articles, or "blog posts" or "twits" of 140 chars or less. They make money by try to make a sensation out of everything. More and more people seriously believe that the Wikipedia article and the top hits on google on any topic give them the full picture. So, you are undereducated and fair and competent coverage, that is filtering out manipulative interests is almost inaccessible to you. How are you not going to become a "luddite" in some fashion or other?

    Add to this the growing disconnect between politics, where more and more things is internationally and behind closed doors, and you can understand why people distrust the "official" line more and more, and turn to "the fringe" -- all these movements that we here usually laugh at. Unlike the "official" coverage, the fringe is cozy, warm, easy to understand, and sounds plausible to most in the audience. You can find friends who think like you and join your own misinformation bubble, deepening the problem above and adding psychological support and motivation that further solidifies your "luddite" attitude.

    This is your recipe for the dark ages, and, sadly, it starts with your government screwing up the public education and your corporations converting journalism in a platform for sales enhancement.

"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." -- Howard Aiken