Saturday, May 12, 2012

Publication of avian flu virus research?

CNN reported today that a science journal is poised to publish a study that some experts believe could give a recipe to bioterrorists. This takes the responsibility of peer reviewers to a whole new level.

I don't think such research results should be published. An argument can be made that humanity faces a threat in an "arms race" between human ingenuity and viral adaptations that may cause pandemics. But our existing method of sharing most scientific knowledge through publication does not limit the scope of knowledge distribution. The usual defense of publishing such information is that no bioterrorist is irrational enough to unleash a deadly virus that could destroy the very people whose interests motivate the terrorist. To trust the fate of mankind upon a belief in the sanity and rationality of every potential bioterrorist in the world who may have the skills and resources to design a deadly virus is to trust a very thin thread. Who, if anyone, will be legally responsible if the information published is used by bioterrorists to unleash a pandemic, assuming enough people survive to consider possible litigation?

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