Virologists fire back at U.S. for H5N1 censorship request

Leading virologists recently fired back at the U.S. government for trying to stop scientific journals from publishing the details of laboratory work that created a strain of H5N1 avian influenza that can easily be contracted by humans.

The U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity asked the journals Nature and Science to omit key details in how the mutant strain was derived. The government board cited an “extremely serious global health threat,” as the reason behind the unprecedented request, according to

As the U.S.-based Science and the U.K.-based Nature consider the request, some experts have accused the NSABB of over-reacting. Others worry that such requests could proliferate and stifle a free flow of information.

"It's going to sully scientific communication if, for spurious concern about biological warfare, little groups of self-appointed people start censoring," John Oxford, a professor at London Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry, said, reports. "I know they call it 'redacted' or some such, but it's pure censorship. It's censorship of a high level, and if that starts coming into the scientific arena, we will not know where we are."

The U.S. National Institutes of Health, which helped to fund a portion of the research, recently said that public health officials are concerned about the implications of such research.

"While the public health benefits of such research can be important, certain information obtained through such studies has the potential to be misused for harmful purposes," the NIH said, The Independent reports.

Organizations in this story

National Institutes of Health 9000 Rockville Pike Bethesda, MD 20892

Get notified the next time we write about National Institutes of Health!