The full details of recent experiments that made a deadly flu virus more contagious will be published, probably within a few months, despite recommendations by the United States that some information be kept secret for fear that terrorists could use it to start epidemics.The announcement, made on Friday by the World Health Organization, follows two months of heated debate about the flu research. The recommendation to publish the work in full came from a meeting of 22 experts in flu and public health from various countries who met on Thursday and Friday in Geneva at the organization’s headquarters to discuss “urgent issues” raised by the research.Most of the group felt that any theoretical risk of the virus’s being used by terrorists was far outweighed by the “real and present danger” of similar flu viruses in the wild, and by the need to study them and freely share information that could help identify the exact changes that might signal that a virus is developing the ability to cause a pandemic, said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who represented the United States at the meeting.The natural form of the virus being studied has infected millions of birds, mostly in poor countries in Asia, and although it does not often infect people, it has a high death rate when it does. If the virus were to develop the ability to infect humans more easily, and to spread from person to person — which it almost never does now — it could kill millions of people.“The group consensus was that it was much more important to get this information to scientists in an easy way to allow them to work on the problem for the good of public health,” Dr. Fauci said. “It was not unanimous, but a very strong consensus.”
Obviously, intelligence and education do not equal wisdom or common sense.
But the United States was not part of that consensus, Dr. Fauci said. He said he still agreed with the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, which recommended in December that the research be published only in a redacted form, for safety reasons.Research on the viruses was voluntarily suspended by the researchers last month because of the uproar it provoked. News of the experiments, which were conducted last year, set off public fears that the virus could accidentally leak out of a laboratory, or be stolen by terrorists, and result in a devastating pandemic. Scientists have been divided, with some urging that the results be published in full, and others saying the research is so dangerous that it should never even have been done, much less published. [...]
I won't go quite that far. I can understand the need for the research, to better determine the workings of the flu virus, in this case the H5N1 virus. But they have basically created a virus with pandemic potential -- and a potential WMD. Publishing this without redaction is akin to Oppenheimer publishing the design for the atomic bomb. To put it bluntly, this is incredibly stupid.
Bruce Alberts, editor of the journal Science, said his journal and another one, Nature, had been planning to publish redacted versions of the research in mid-March. Now, Dr. Alberts said, they will wait until it is considered appropriate to publish the full versions. He said he was surprised that the group meeting in Geneva had reached a decision so promptly.
That strongly suggests to me that the group did not seriously consider the objections or the possibility of limiting publication. They were blinded with science.
As you may have noticed, I'm not exactly in awe of scientists or engineers. I will grant their generally high level of education, intelligence and technical ability, but I have spent more than a little time around such people and have noticed that for all their training, all their brain cells, a good many of them seem to have traded away almost all of their common sense.
Want an example? I've probably told you this story before. I once got into an argument with an engineer from Microsoft at a game shop about the XBox 360. I mentioned to him the problems with the console overheating, which often resulted in the so-called "Red Ring of Death" that signaled the XBox had become inoperable. I asked him about what design issue could have caused that problem. He insisted it was not a design issue, but user error. They were putting the XBox in entertainment centers, he said, and "[y]ou can't put this kind of computing power in an entertainment center."
I responded, "Well, where exactly did you expect them to put this entertainment device? People have to put it somewhere. Did you expect the customer to built an altar in the middle of the family room to hold this thing?"
He had no answer. He seemed completely puzzled, like he could not conceive of an issue like where is the customer supposed to put the product.
Having worked with highways a lot, I see it a lot on roads, so much so that I long ago came to the conclusion that most road designers don't actually drive on the roads they design, or even drive anywhere near them. Oh, they have pictures, traffic counts, blah blah blah. But they don't actually drive on them.
This (along with feckless city government) is how you end up with a bike lane on Broad Ripple Avenue that reduces this busy street to one lane each way and forces traffic to constantly zig zag between Keystone and College. This is how you end up with highway ramps so badly banked that trucks repeatedly tip over. This is how you end up with badly-timed traffic lights, nonsensical lane markings and surface crowns that cause your car to scrape the pavement.
In the hands of people like this is a highly-contagious version of the H5N1 virus. Which they want to share with the world.