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Developing Story Science Clashes with National Security

Robert Heiny

Research Scientist of Learning and Education
Flight Instructor
For the first time, the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSAB8) has recommended that research done by two separate groups be redacted. They assert their research has dual use, one good, one bad. Here's NSABB's concern.

The avian influenza virus H5N1 is not easily transmitted from human to human. But a high mortality rate exists among those who have been infected with H5N1 viruses. This has raised fears of possible naturally occurring mutations that would increase transmissibility.

Researchers have examined how these mutations of transmissibility occur.

The NSABB found sufficient cause for concern over potential use of this research by terrorists looking to unleash, rather than prevent, a lethal influenza pandemic to warrant restrictions on access to critical technical details.

This unprecedented caution has unleashed debate over the proper balance of global security, public health, and the integrity of science.

So I ask, "What research does not have dual use, depending on the motivation of the researchers and users of that research?"

At this point, the funding of research into the trainsmission of the avian influenza virus ultimately rests with the President of the United States. Is that appropriate?

What do you think is the proper role of government in science? Should government funding have strings that allow stopping any aspect of something it funded? If so, who in government should have that authority and with what power?