Debate raised about limits of scientific freedom for dual-use research

Ron Fouchier, a virologist at Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, and his team have created an extremely dangerous H5N1 avian influenza strain that has triggered a debate about the limits of scientific freedom in the way researchers handle dual-use research.
Dual-use research involves studies that have a potential benefit to public health but could also be used for nefarious purposes like biowarfare or bioterrorism, Science Magazine reports.
Both Fouchier's study and another study on H5N1 done by a team at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Tokyo have been submitted for publication and are under review by the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity.
Michael Osterholm, a biodefense and flu expert and a member of NSABB, said that these studies are very important and that the researchers have the influenza community's support, according to Science Magazine. He also said that it should be possible to omit certain key details from controversial papers, making them available to people who really need to know.
"We don't want to give bad guys a road map on how to make bad bugs really bad," Osterholm said, Science Magazine reports.
Scientists have been debating for years whether or not to have mandatory reviews of dual-use studies before they even start.
"The process of identifying dual use of concern is something that should start at the very first glimmer of an experiment," Paul Keim, the chair of the NSABB, said, according to Science Magazine. "You shouldn't wait until you have submitted a paper before you decide it's dangerous. Scientists and institutions and funding agencies should be looking at this. The journals and the journals' reviewers should be the last resort."