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Surprising Science

Censoring Flu Research to Prevent a Pandemic

US officials have asked the nation's premier scientific journals not to publish new research that discusses how the H5N1 bird flu virus was engineered to carry from human to human.

What’s the Latest Development?

The nation’s premier scientific journals, Nature and Science, have agreed to temporarily withhold publication of new research which government officials say could aid bioterrorists. The research in question reports on how a team of scientists were able to mutate the H5N1 bird flu virus such that it became communicable through the air between humans. After researchers passed the virus ten times between ferrets (which are good simulations for humans), it mutated naturally to become communicable through the air.

What’s the Big Idea?

The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, a government department created after 9/11, has asked that publication be withheld until a solution can be found where important scientific information can be shared confidentially between scientists. Knowledge about the new virus, “could well be essential for speeding the development of new treatments to combat this lethal form of influenza.,” said Dr. Bruce Alberts, the editor of Science. Blunt censorship would be counterproductive.

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