Q: How Much Federally-Funded Viral-Related Research Should Be Disclosed — To/In The Wide Open Public Journals?

This topic has been a concern for decades, pre-dating Ebola, and Marburgs. . . but it is especially timely — as false rumors circulate that the latest flu outbreak in Asia is of a kind that ‘lept’ from snakes — to humans.

Even so, the question [for me, at least] is balanced against — away from, that is — too much public disclosure — given the real possibility of malevolent actors weaponizing the research to create bio-toxins — ones without any currently known counter-measures. Here is much more, from NPR, on it all:

. . .[O]fficials are to hold a meeting in Bethesda, Md., to debate how much information to openly share about this kind of controversial work and how much to reveal about the reasoning behind decisions to pursue or forgo it.

The meeting comes as the high stakes of this research are coincidentally being highlighted by events in China, where public health workers are grappling with an outbreak of a new coronavirus. The virus likely first arose in animals and seems to have acquired the ability to be transmitted from person to person.

How animal viruses can acquire the ability to jump into humans and become contagious is exactly the question that some researchers are trying to answer by manipulating pathogens in the lab to explore what genetic changes alter their virulence and transmissibility.

Scientists have argued for years over whether it’s ever justifiable to do experiments that might create “potential pandemic pathogens” — viruses or other germs that are likely to be highly contagious from person to person and capable of causing a significant number of illnesses and deaths.

Some think that if this research is to be done, it requires an unusual degree of transparency because it involves deliberately making a pathogen more risky.

“It seems to me that the review process should be very much weighted toward making sure that as many people as possible are satisfied that that risk is justified by some very large benefit to health and welfare of people,” says Marc Lipsitch, a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who has been critical of past efforts to create genetically-altered bird flu viruses. . . .

We will, as we have with Ebola — for a decade now — report what ever comes of this latest Chinese iteration. It is of real concern — but should not at this point engender any panic-driven overly reactive measures, from most sober scientists. Onward.


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