Bioweapons expert decries censorship of H5N1 research

Bioweapons expert Tim Trevan recently wrote an editorial in support of publishing the full research into a mutated form of H5N1 influenza that is transmissible in humans.

Trevan, a biosecurity expert with more than 30 years experience and former special advisor to the chairman of the United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq, said it is a mistake to believe that there is a clear divide between those who support the biosecurity community and those who support the scientific community on the issue, according to Nature.

The expert took aim at the recent emphasis placed on the concept of dual-use biological research. He called it a dangerous distraction that originated in the analysis of nuclear threats.

"Almost all biological knowledge can be either misused or applied for good," Trevan wrote, Nature reports. "Those concerned about publishing full details of the mutant-flu work say that they fear the research will be misused to develop more-effective biological weapons," he continued. "But who would want to use a live, highly transmissible, virulent organism as a weapon, and to what purpose? And would censorship stop them?"

Trevan said that while such a weapon would strike terror and perhaps damage economies, it would be relatively slow to take effect and could be treated with prompt vaccinations. Its uncontrollable nature would restrict its use to groups that a prone to believe humanity itself is a problem.

"Censorship of the H5N1 papers would not have kept the genie in the bottle," Trevan said, according to Nature. "Suppressing such papers or limiting access to their findings might even encourage proliferation by drawing attention to the risks and by provoking those researchers denied access to the results to seek to replicate them."