Posts

“One Bird-flu Over the Coockoo’s Nest”

On 21 December 2011 the world became a more dangerous place.
My co-author, Dr. Frank Malinoski has this to say: On that date we learned that a science article was to be censored (see NYTimes article here). Historic and unprecedented, yes. And Tony Fauci, head of the US NIH is quoted as saying that some would ask why the research, to create a form of Bird Flu that would be highly contagious, was done in the first place. Now THAT should have been the headline and THAT is why we are in more danger today.
We could debate the ethics of censorship and the well intentioned efforts of the NIH staff who funded the research and the scientific prowess of the investigators in the Netherlands and at the University of Wisconsin but the bottom line is this: As a result of this work the US is now in possession of the means to make a biological weapon more deadly than nature itself has done thusfar. I’m not saying that somewhere in the bowels of government there is a secret organization that wants such weapons, but remember it was not long ago that Vice President Dick Cheney convinced the government to hang on to its stocks of smallpox virus “just in case” we needed to study smallpox again (even though it’s been absent from the general population for 40 years). To me, the only thing that distinguishes this work from the illegal biological weapons activity of the former Soviet Union (and many other clandestine programs around the world by the way) is the “openness” of the disclosure, at least until the work was censored….
And the real question for scientists and their conscience is why there is a need to do this type of research? It is not sufficient to say “because we can”. It is not sufficient to say “because nature may do it some time in the future and we need to know what nature will do.” There are so many other important and deadly diseases causing harm NOW. What we need are solutions to treatment and prevention of those diseases, not “improvements” in any bug’s ability to cause disease.
And I’m afraid these scientists will now be faced with reflecting on what Einstein said a few months before his death as he contemplated his contributions to the construction of the atomic bomb, “Perhaps I can be forgiven”.