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Live debate airs major divisions in H5N1 research battle

The controversy over research about potentially dangerous H5N1 viruses heated up last night in a New York City debate that featured some of the leading voices exchanging blunt comments on the alleged risks and benefits of publishing or withholding the full details of the studies.

The debate, sponsored by the New York Academy of Sciences, involved two members of the biosecurity advisory board that called for "redacting" the two studies in question to delete details, along with scientists who want the full studies published and representatives of Science and Nature, the two journals involved.

The 2-hour session, which was live-streamed on the Web, left no clear impression of how the current controversy or future dilemmas over conduct and publication of "dual use" research might be resolved. One of very few points on which the panelists were unanimous was the hope that the current battle won't be repeated.

"I hope that this redaction, which I do feel has some very valuable things associated with it, is a onetime event," said Barbara Jasny, PhD, deputy editor for commentary at Science. "I hope this is not something that'll become institutionalized as a way of dealing with the problem."

The two studies involved the generation of an H5N1 virus and an H5N1-H1N1 reassortant that spread among ferrets via respiratory droplets. In December the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), which advises the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), recommended that the details be deleted from the two reports before they are published. HHS agreed and passed the recommendation to Science and Nature.
 
 

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