The U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity has asked the scientific journals Nature and Science to censor data on a laboratory-made version of bird flu that could spread more easily to humans, claiming that it may be used as a potential weapon, writes Reuters.
The government has asked the journals to publish heavily edited versions of the studies, which, in their original form, showed the works of two research groups that created forms of the H5N1 avian flu that could easily jump between ferrets.
Some worry that this research implies that the virus could spread quickly among humans.
“NSABB has never before recommended to restrict communications on research that NSABB has reviewed that has potential dual use implications,” said Dr Amy Patterson, director of the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Biotechnology Activities.
The journals are rejecting this, however – saying restricting access to information that might advance the cause of public health.
“It is essential for public health that the full details of any scientific analysis of flu viruses be available to researchers,” the editor in chief of Nature, Dr Philip Campbell, said in a statement.
“We are discussing with interested parties how, within the scenario recommended by NSABB, appropriate access to the scientific methods and data could be enabled.”
Dr Bruce Alberts, editor in chief of Science points out that academics who study any strand of influenza need to know the details of the research to protect the public. Closing off avenues of study won’t protect the public.
He said Science was evaluating how best to proceed.
“The NSABB has emphasized the need to prevent the details of the research from falling into the wrong hands.
“Our response will be heavily dependent upon the further steps taken by the US government to set forth a written, transparent plan to ensure that any information that is omitted from the publication will be provided to all those responsible scientists who request it, as part of their legitimate efforts to improve public health and safety.”
Other academics have come out to voiced concern over government censorship of science.
“It is a very worrying idea that information from this type of work may be restricted to those that ‘qualify’ in some way to be allowed to share it,” Professor Wendy Barclay, chair of influenza virology at Imperial College London, said.
“Who will qualify? How will this be decided? In the end is the likelihood of misuse outweighed by the danger of beginning a Big Brother society?”