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Feb 18, 2012

Despite Safety Worries, Work on Deadly Flu to Be Released

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, existential risks

Our possible future.

The full details of recent experiments that made a deadly flu virus more contagious will be published, probably within a few months, despite recommendations by the United States that some information be kept secret for fear that terrorists could use it to start epidemics.

The announcement, made on Friday by the World Health Organization, follows two months of heated debate about the flu research. The recommendation to publish the work in full came from a meeting of 22 experts in flu and public health from various countries who met on Thursday and Friday in Geneva at the organization’s headquarters to discuss “urgent issues” raised by the research.

Learn more.

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Comments — comments are now closed.

  • Richard on February 18, 2012 6:00 pm

    Who gave these scientists the right to decide whether or not this research should be released? This is not their decision to make. Scientists have no special right to decide how the results of their research are to be used. This is a decision that should be made by government.

  • robl on February 18, 2012 6:20 pm

    Behold the bastard child of the singularity and the endarkenment…

  • Corky Boyd on February 18, 2012 6:27 pm

    The most important information about this swine flu is unfortunately already in the public domain. It is that it can be made more deadly and transmittable. Like the news that an atomic bomb in 1945, everyone doing research on the weapon knew at that point it wasn’t a dead end.

    I certainly hope the the released data is general in nature and doesn’t give a complete blueprint to the enemies of civilization.

  • Paul McGlothin on February 18, 2012 6:43 pm

    Thanks for letting us know about this terribly misguided research project. I have many valuable research projects pending that may extend healthy lifespan. It makes me shudder that research like this gets funding.

  • Derek Jacoby on February 18, 2012 6:52 pm

    Absolutely in favor of this being published. Those who would use the knowledge for nefarious purposes could find the information anyway and a scientist’s inability to get their work published would lead to a chilling of the entire research area. If we don’t understand how increased infectivity occurs then we are powerless to stop it.

  • Richard on February 18, 2012 6:52 pm

    I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.

  • TMLutas on February 18, 2012 7:05 pm

    The very moment that the censorship request was made public, and quite possibly before, the networks holding these research results were put high on the target list of high quality hackers and low-tech espionage. The chances that these results are not already distributed is distressingly low. Academic networks are not known for their security.

  • Mike H. on February 18, 2012 7:05 pm

    Who was it that wanted population capped at 1.5 billion worldwide? Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren (who is part of the current administration.)

    “Optimum Human Population Size
    Gretchen C. Daily University of California (Berkeley) Anne H. Ehrlich and Paul R. Ehrlich Stanford University (July 1994)”

  • Dougger on February 18, 2012 7:24 pm

    The NIH paid for the research, so we can assume they own the results.
    The President of the Unites States is the authority for declaring information classified. At the very least, the President can make the results classified, and the University of Wisconsin — Madison would be prohibited from releasing it.

  • Dantes on February 18, 2012 7:33 pm

    Would the scientists doing this research agree that a lab should be able to do smallpox virus research?

    I don’t trust scientists when they talk about odds events being unlikely. Read Leonard Mlodinow’s book, The Drunken walk…How Randomness Rules Our LIves.

    These guys don’t have a clue as to the nature of black swan events.
    No, this research should not be published in its entirety.

  • tanstaafl on February 18, 2012 7:40 pm

    one of the saddest answers to the fermi paradox is that , sooner or later, some lunatic infects the whole world with a terminal disease

  • Mike H. on February 18, 2012 7:42 pm

    The work, on the virus, was done at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the Nederland under the auspices of the National institutes of Health.

  • Stephen on February 18, 2012 8:03 pm

    All those in favor of censoring this research should consider this: The scientists working on this are very concerned with threat posed by the greatest terrorist of all — Nature. In case you missed it, the same research groups several weeks ago, noted that several existing strains under study differ by 1(!) to 3 mutations from the highly transmissible form they created. These strains already exist in the wild. We already live in a world one natural mutation away from a pandemic virus. Personally, I’d like more, not fewer, scientists working to understand this monster about to born a natural birth. To put a fine point on it: Gaia doesn’t give a damn about any of you.

  • Kevin R.C. O'Brien on February 18, 2012 8:35 pm

    Key points: Corky at 18:27 and Stephen at 20:03. That this was discovered at all was the key piece of information, and understanding it is vital to those who plan to defend against both manmade pathogens and natural ones. Every time the flu virus infects a new individual, it mutates in literally thousands of ways. Most of these new mutations are nonviable. More are not as well adapted as the original, which usually remains the dominant type. But some can be better adapted than the original. This high rate of mutation is how flu makes the species jumps it’s so well known for.

    The 1918 flu killed more people than the 1914–18 Great War. And it was engineered by Nature alone.

    Obscurity is not security here. Information made public enables those scientists who work for pariah states and terrorists, sure, but it also enables those scientists who do not — a greater number, and greater talents. Sure, to release the information is to take a risk. To try to hide it also is to take a risk.

  • Mark on February 18, 2012 9:04 pm

    “Absolutely in favor of this being published. Those who would use the knowledge for nefarious purposes could find the information anyway and a scientist’s inability to get their work published would lead to a chilling of the entire research area. If we don’t understand how increased infectivity occurs then we are powerless to stop it.”

    Well said. I agree entirely.

    It’s better that white-hat researchers have access to the information to help protect against the threat that would inevitably end up in the wrong hands either way.

  • Richard on February 18, 2012 9:29 pm

    Those who would use the knowledge for nefarious purposes could find the information anyway.

    Would you also advocate that we publish nuclear weapons research in the open literature? What these researchers have done is come up with a way to weaponize the H1N1 virus. That is not the type of information I want out in the open. Are you willing to gamble with the lives of millions or, if it is as virulent as they claim, billions of people in the hope that one can develop a vaccine before someone makes and releases the virus? That is not a gamble a sane person should take.

  • Otto E. Rössler on February 19, 2012 1:25 am

    Medicine is the most advanced invention of humankind.
    War is the least advanced invention of humankind.
    Allowing the United Nations to be the world police, as tactically elaborated by my friend Edward Fredkin, is the solution to all political problems like this one.

  • Lina Inverse on February 19, 2012 5:35 am

    Kevin R.C. O’Brien: Agreed; the idea that researchers are unknowingly working with a? strain that’s 1 (!) mutation away from being transmissible is terrifying, although I believe it’s a legitimate question whether this project’s work (the creation of the fully transmissible strain and proving it with ferrets) should be done (or continued) in BL3 vs. BL4 labs (these are levels of isolation that are aimed to prevent pathogens from infecting researchers (BL3) or the general public (BL4)).

    Problem is, there are very few BL4 facilities in the world, its questionable if this research would have happened if they’d held themselves to that standard. On the other hand, they’re taking a great risk; for example, we’re pretty sure the H1N1 strain that became predominate starting in 1977 escaped a Soviet laboratory.

  • nadadhimmi on February 19, 2012 5:43 am

    The United Nations is a completely incompetent, criminal organization. It’s field members rape and murder native peoples worldwide and it’s administrators steal both donated and seized money designated to help those peoples. The United Nations was telling people as late as last year that Iran did not have a nuclear weapons program. This organization should be shut down and it’s administrators imprisoned as the criminals they have demonstrated themselves to be.

  • Don on February 19, 2012 6:56 am

    Surely this information can be made available to appropriate people on a highly restricted basis and not just published for all to read, yes?

  • Tom Kerwick on February 19, 2012 1:21 pm

    Don — I wholeheartedly agree with a restricted access solution — making such information public is irresponsible, and I cannot fathom how such a decision can be made by such a select few — was any on that panel an expert on the challenges of counter-terrorism? However, another point made, that is unfortunate, is that information gets around, and I believe initially funding such dangerous research as to make a deadly flu virus more contagious is highly unethical, almost criminal. Perhaps the question that needs to be asked is how such research is patrolled, not just the results.