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Another Bill of Rights Violation?
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Sethen
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Today I glanced at the newspaper, something I rarely do these days, and on the front page I saw an article that raised an old, but interesting question. Here's a ∞ LINK ∞ to an article. Basically, the US government asked a researcher not to include certain material in his research paper because the researcher created a human-human transmissible version of Bird Flu, which is very deadly.

The government is worried that someone could use that knowledge to create this virus and unleash it on a population. Over half the bird flu cases so far have been fatal. A virus that is already deadly + transmissible from person to person = bad news. There are certainly people out there who would like to see the world burn and this could be a tool for those people.

On the other hand, the researcher has a right and responsibility to publish his findings in it's entirety. His research cannot be repeated if the Materials and Methods section is censored. Plus, the findings can be used to better understand a deadly virus.

So my question to you is: should this paper publish its findings in its entirety?

My answer to this question is yes. As a budding researcher, I know how important every little detail is. Reproducibility is one of the most important parts of the scientific method. If an experiment can't even be reproduced and tested by other scientists, then other scientists have to disregard the results.
Plus, I think a lot more good than harm will come from these findings. The first step to defeating your enemy (Bird Flu in this case) is knowing your enemy. This article would be that first step.

*Tangent Warning*
I've noticed issues like these have been popping up in the US lately, hence the title. There's SOPA which I believe has been discussed elsewhere on the forums and a few weeks ago, Congress proposed a bill that would allow officials to detain US citizens indefinitely. Like a Gitmo for Americans. Including the issue that this thread is concerned with, that's two violations of the first amendment and one major violation of the fifth. None of the aforementioned have actually passed, but it still makes me a little uneasy.
*End Tangent Warning*
ThatGuySteve
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Unlike other cases of censorship, this isn't motivated by nefarious scheming. They have a legitimate concern for safety rather than some political motivation, like censoring climate change information and such. Even if the findings are not publicly published, I suspect that legitimate researchers would be able to contact the original researchers for the information to continue studying the disease.

Freedom of information is important but so is the responsibility about what information you provide.
php213
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I have to agree with thatguysteve; there's little point of publishing the exact details of how to concoct a biological weapon to the public to see.
After all, what use do most have for the details of a virulent strain of bird-flu? We don't go around releasing bomb-construction methods, after all. A relatively secure system for sharing research information among trusted groups who would need it for further research should not be too difficult to set up. I will say that it's hard to say for sure if the censorship is completely justified before we know what parts of the research is censored though.
Mehi
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If the government wants to censor it, and the scientist has no problem with it, I see no reason to publish the dangerous information, so my answer is *no*. However, if the scientist is wanting to publish his entire paper, I say let him, otherwise it would be a violation of his first amendment right; freedom of speech.

Sethen mentioned to know thine enemy, and that is important, I agree with ThatGuySteve, that other researchers would be able to contact him for the censored information, so they can go on with their studying.
DetroitLolcat
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The scientist has the right to publish his paper, but just because he can doesn't mean he should. The government did the right thing in asking the scientist not to publish it because of the extreme risk involved. The government was scared of possible bio-terrorists from being able to infect people with a deadly disease, and the benefits of censoring the article greatly outweigh the risks.

Now, the original post says "asked" not to, so I will assume the scientist still had the choice to publish the paper; the government just argued that he shouldn't. If that is the case, then the government did the right thing. The government doesn't have the right to censor the article, but it does have the right to ask him not to publish it and argue why he shouldn't. Honestly, the scientist shouldn't publish it either way, but technically COULD if he wanted to...
Sethen
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The reason many scientists work in the public domain is because it is the fastest way to share information. A scientist completes his research and publicly shares his results so that every other researcher has the same chance to make the next advancement. Suppose this research is not fully published and researchers have to jump through government hoops to get the full story. A researcher has to jump through yet another hoop which could take months to get through. Meanwhile, H5N1 (bird flu) found in nature is working towards the series of mutations that make it transmissible from human to human. By the time the researcher gets OK'd to do his study, xe has lost valuable time. Plus, many researchers who could find the solution to the next pandemic might not be willing to jump through these hoops so they spend their time and money on some other subject.

You say there is no reason to publish "the exact details of how to concoct a biology weapon", I say there is no reason not to. In order for a person to turn this information into a deadly weapon, they need:
1) The desire to commit the largest genocide ever
2) A great deal of knowledge about molecular biology and microbiology to even comprehend the paper
3) A DNA sequencer, PCR machines, and a myriad of extremely expensive molecular biology-grade reagents that are regulated and not sold to the general public
4) The ability to obtain the H5N1 strain which normally requires a BSL-3 lab to work with.
Unless you are a researcher, you simply do not have the means to recreate this pathogenic strain of H5N1.

The government has every reason to be concerned about H5N1, but not from terrorists. There's a good chance that sometime in the near future, H5N1 *found in nature* will become the next pandemic. When that happens, I want scientists to have the means to stop it.
php213
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Good points. However, I will say that having the ability to create biological weapons is not limited to those with good intentions. Terrorists/"villains" are not all incompetent/without resources. Part of the reason it was censored may also be us not wanting other countries, regardless of their current relationship with us, the knowledge/hints of how to possibly create a biological weapon as well (not that I'm saying that's justified).
yeroc
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As Sethen mentioned, if terrorists don't create this disease, Mother Nature will. We're essentially in a damned if you do, damned if you don't, but you might have a way to be not damned under one set of circumstances. However, I'd also question the severity of the problem. The thing about pandemics is that they need to spread to be dangerous. If a disease infects and kills three people, that's sad, but it's not a pandemic. If all cases of Bird Flu have killed the afflicted, then it is probably one of those diseases that kills its host before it can't spread. Granted, I'm not a biologist, so I don't know if this applies to bird flu, but I've heard scientists making that general point about diseases. To truly be a pandemic, a disease would have to let its host live long enough to spread to others, which sometimes means not killing the first host at all.
php213
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That was kind of the point of the research. The researchers have purportedly created a new strain of the virus which CAN spread easily across ferrets, which worries some who think it could also spread easily amongst humans.
yeroc
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My point is that it may just be needless worry. We can't know how dangerous this disease will be without releasing it on the public. Which would be immoral and ruin the point of doing research on it. It's easy to jump to the conclusion that this will be a major pandemic, but we have no guarantee of that, especially when there are reasons to doubt it will be a pandemic.
php213
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Bird flu is transferred to humans (rarely) and other birds (as of now, ignoring the research's strain) by secretions (saliva, nasal secretions, and feces). If the research's strain works the same way, fecal water contamination (which should be less of a problem in westernized countries, for the most part), bad hygiene, and generally unclean surfaces could very well easily spread the disease. The death of the host, if not instantaneous, is less relevant to the disease's chance to spread. Bird flu, as of now, is contagious in humans for about 5-7 days after symptoms appear. and is usually gone with the symptoms in 7 days. IT