The US Is Trying To Censor Scientific Journals

Illustration for article titled The US Is Trying To Censor Scientific Journals

The US government has approached the scientific journals Nature and Science in order to censor data on a lab-made version of bird flu, because it could potentially be used as a weapon. That's not cool.

According to the Guardian, the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) asked the journals to publish redacted versions of studies carried out by two research groups.

Back in November, we reported that researchers had created forms of the H5N1 avian flu virus that can easily spread amongst ferrets. Apparently, and you're going to have to believe us here, that is typically considered a sign it can spread quickly between humans, too. Now they're trying to publish the work, and the US government isn't very happy.

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As you'd hope, Nature and Science are reluctant to bow to the request. Editor in chief of Nature, Dr Philip Campbell, told the Guardian:

"It is essential for public health that the full details of any scientific analysis of flu viruses be available to researchers."

Damn straight — not publishing that information is damaging. Not just to the advancement of health care, but science generally. I admit that this is a tough situation, but censoring journals is a dangerous precedent to set.

H5N1 is deadly — but so far it hasn't mutated into a form that can pass easily from person to person. This research, done by Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a University of Wisconsin-Madison scientist, and Dr Ron Fouchier and colleagues from the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, shows that might not be the case for long.

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Apparently the NSABB asked the journal to delete details on the scientific methods and specific mutations of the virus before publishing.

In many respects, this goes against the nature of science. Science works because people announce their findings for others to question — allowing us to confirm or refute them. That's how science progresses, and censoring it like this kills the process. It's also a hugely dangerous precedent to set. I hope the journals win out. [The Guardian, Image: Y]

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DISCUSSION

Check your facts. A) The government cannot censor the results. They are asking the scientists to self-censor. It will ultimately be up to the journals as to what they publish. B) The scientists performed direct gene mutation to the viruses in such a way that sped up the natural mutation of the virus quite a bit. This more-advanced virus is unlikely to surface naturally any time soon unless it is the product of human tampering. Ergo C) The government is trying to prevent the publication from giving a very detailed explanation of how the virus was mutated so that it isn't so easily replicated by a group who pose a threat. They are not trying to stop the fact that the mutation is possible (or potentially likely) from being published. In other words, necessary information would not be left out of the publication. And D) Other governments would be made aware of the findings and the methods so that state-run disease control agencies could work to combat the virus if the mutation would happen naturally.