Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Publish and Perish

A group of scientists is pushing to publish research about how they created a man-made flu virus that could potentially wipe out civilisation. The deadly virus is a genetically tweaked version of the H5N1 bird flu strain, but is far more infectious and could pass easily between millions of people at a time. The research has caused a storm of controversy and divided scientists, with some saying it should never have been carried out.
Yeah, I'd say so.  I know there's all kinds of protection, and most likely the bug won't escape confinement.  But nothing has ever been made entirely fool proof (fools turn out to be remarkably ingenious). And worse, the guy wants to get this on his CV:
Fouchier admitted the strain is 'one of the most dangerous viruses you can make' but is still adamant he wants to publish a paper describing how it was done.

The study is one of two which has caused serious debate about scientific freedom and about regulating research which might have potential public health benefits but at the same time could also be useful for bio-terrorism.
That's right, put the instructions out there in the literature.  I mean, it was tough to do, correct, so what are the chances of someone being able to duplicate it?
Virologist Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus Medical Centre in the Netherlands lead a team of scientists who discovered that a mere five mutations to the avian virus was sufficient to make it spread far more easily.
Sure, and knowing what those changes should be would make it almost infinitely easier to achieve the second time.  And there really are people out there who think the world would be a better place with 95% fewer people (I know some, don't you?), and have the necessary biotech training to do the work.  I've got news for you.  Not all scientist are sane.  I know the "mad scientist" is a common stereotype, but that doesn't mean it's entirely wrong.

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