Details of lab-made bird flu won't be revealed [link]
post by Kevin
score: 8 (11 votes) ·
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comment by MinibearRex
· score: 7 (11 votes) · LW
"There is clearly a public health threat that has been lingering and smoldering with regard to H5N1 for several years," said Fauci, who adds that a naturally occurring flu pandemic is much more likely than any man-made one.
"Nature is the worst bioterrorist. We know that through history," he said.
comment by Nymogenous
· score: 1 (3 votes) · LW
This seems like a sensible decision to me, comparable to the practice of withholding certain details about the technology used to make nuclear weaponry. No sense making it easy to duplicate hazardous research!
comment by CarlShulman
· score: 0 (0 votes) · LW
Apparently the airborne virus was not lethal, and the lethal version only killed when injected in high doses into the ferrets. The paranoid might imagine this is an effort to deceive so as to "put the genie back in the bottle," but given the priors on the claimed findings, this looks like it was a false alarm.
Even with this added evidence, Keim suspects that if the NSABB would have voted against publishing the papers if they had returned in their original form. As it is, they had been revised. They do not contain any new data, but they have been rephrased to clarify some ambiguities. Fouchier said that he was granted more space by Science to explain the public health benefits of the research.
Critically, while the original paper focused on the virus’s transmissibility, the new version clarifies the fact that the airborne mutants do not kill the ferrets they infect. “There was a misconception within the NSABB about the lethality of our virus,” says Fouchier. “The information was in the original but it was not as clear or explicit as it could have been.” Keim joked, “I suspect Ron will write papers differently for the rest of his life.”
But that information also took its time to emerge into the public sphere. For months, the media and the public were labouring under the impression that the airborne mutants were just as deadly as their wild counterparts. This mistaken belief was only corrected in March.
Other details may also be incorrect. It was widely reported that Fouchier’s virus is five mutations away from its wild cousins, but at the end of the press conference, he noted that he never said that. He only described a “handful” of mutations. Presumably, the actual details will emerge when the paper does.
This raises an obvious question: why didn’t Fouchier, or anyone else in the know, correct the misconceptions as they were spreading? Fouchier says that he did not feel able to comment on the details while it was under review by Science, and then later by the NSABB. “We have to be really careful about how we communicate the details of the studies,” he says. “Only when I had permission to talk about this, and was encouraged to do so by the journal and the NIH, did we do so.”