TWiV 177: Live in Dublin

April 1, 2012

twiv dublin 2012Hosts: Vincent Racaniello, Connor Bamford, Wendy Barclay, Richard Elliott, and Ron Fouchier

A discussion of avian influenza H5N1 transmission experiments in ferrets and novel bunyaviruses at the 2012 Spring Conference of the Society for General Microbiology in Dublin, Ireland.

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ConnorWellcome Trust Science Writing Prize 2012
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  • gsgs

    1-42min H5N1 then Bunyavirus

    no discussion at all about the potential dangers !

    How likely can it be abused ? How much would the disclosed information help

    How likely are lab-escapes ?

    You can’t really decide this issue by leaving those questions aside.


    Ron Fouchier suggests that prepandemic vaccine makes no sense since, we
    don’t know H5N1

    will be the next pandemic strain (else it would)

    But even if the likelyhood is only 1%, (or 10% ?) wouldn’t that justify to

    prepandemic H5N1-vaccine in masses ?

    Somewhere there must be a percentage threshold where we would change our
    mind (by logic),

    so where is that threshold ? I’d really like to here some subjective
    expert-thresholds here,

    and I think it’s important to discuss this. But all that I get since 2005
    are “noone knows” s !


    So, should I trust those scientists on their responsible judgement ?


    When they are just _ignoring_ the important questions and trying to avoid
    speaking about them ?!


    And the NSABB, did they evaluate those questions ? noone knows ….






  • Wladimir J. Alonso

    “it is really important to publish everything”. Really Vincent? So, if I happen to discover how to synthesize in the kitchen a deadly and transmissible virus that can wipe out the civilization, then I should just go and publish it, right?

  • profvrr

    Yes, really, everything should be published. Think about your scenario (assuming it could ever happen – very unlikely, especially in a kitchen). If a terrorist makes such a deadly virus, they are not going to publish it of course. A bona fide scientist would not undertake to make such a virus. If one were made accidentally, it should be published so we can study it and know how to deal with it. Keep it secret and nobody wins.

  • gsgs

    you are obviously in conflict with the longstanding policy of your country

    In fact, I’m not aware of any considerable political movement in USA,

    now or in the past, that would have supported this attitude.

    It has always been the strategy to keep such things secret, just see

    the current discussions about Iranian nukes.

  • profvrr

    I’m a scientist – we want science to be published. Most scientists I know support this attitude. Secrecy in science benefits no one.

  • profvrr

    I wonder if a reputable journal would publish kitchen-science, not done in an academic or industrial laboratory. When I say it is important to publish everything, I am talking about science done in traditional venues. done properly and well controlled. I don’t believe kitchen science would qualify.

  • gsgs

     I know. I’d been fighting against secrecy in science as well (e.g.

    But you can’t decide this issue by just ignoring the counterarguments.

    We have to estimate the magnitude of the threat, there is no way around
    it.It can’t be independent from that estimate.I haven’t even made up my mind yet, how could I,I have no access to the details. But the way how this is being handled worries me. Compare with swineflu 1976.

  • gsgs

    depends on the result, not the room.The kitchen is just less
    likely to find a result, but when it does, it should be published,IMO.
    Provided it passes scientific and NSABB  reviews.
    After all it’s the public that funds the research by taxes, and the
     public doesn’t care from where it gets the results.

  • Wladimir J. Alonso


    I am afraid bona fide scientists just did that. The virus
    might not be so nasty yet (we really don’t know it), and the place to
    synthesize it might still need to be something more sophisticated than a
    kitchen, but those are technical details that a rough state or wealthy
    terrorist group probably can get around with the cues already given by those
    studies and a few more twisting.


    Let me clarify something first: I am all for freedom of
    speech and I do think that science, art, innovation and business thrills when
    governments, restrictions, prejudices, etc are not meddling in these areas. But I
    do believe that all fields of human enterprise should be limited by some
    constraints that are reasonably agreed upon by the society – and science should
    not be an exception to this rule. It is easy to find examples to support this (so
    let me give you another one: imagine that an English scientist during WWII discovered
    a means of making radars inoperative. Should he/she, following your categorical
    affirmation, publish it leaving England
    without one of its more critical defenses against the Nazis? Eventually the
    enemies would probably discover such technique by themselves, but the advantage
    given by the time edge can be critical – both at that time against Hitler, and
    nowadays against similar dangerous jerks that are around) 


    But to be honest, I don’t even think the discussion on whether
    the H5N1 papers should be published or not is relevant any longer. I think that
    what has been done is already irreversible. My concern now is that we have a
    whole new situation (perhaps not so new, but made more prominent now), which is
    that we now live in a world where epidemics can no longer come only from wildlife,
    or from our contact with domestic animals, or from natural mutations in
    circulating pathogens. Now there is another real source of potentially
    devastating pathogens that can spread in few weeks around the globe and for
    which no vaccines or medicines could be developed and distributed on time.


    I think this is a new situation for which governments and
    scientists have to be very aware of, and need to urgently start upsetting up
    multilateral talks, collaborations and mechanisms for being as much prepared as
    possible. This is a really, really serious matter.


  • Rohan24

    What if this whole H5N1 episode was not let out to the public at all?  All discussions regarding the Fouchier experiment should have been kept within the NSABB and other concerned  Health organizations and a suitable decision made within these closed walls. Anyways the media and public don’t play much role in the final decision to publish the work or not.

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