SCIENCE IN THE NEWS DAILY
Jail-bird Flu: The Saga over Research into Bird Flu Reaches a Climax
from the Economist
RON FOUCHIER, of the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, is the lead author of a controversial paper which lays out how deadly H5N1 avian influenza, or bird flu, can be made deadlier still. He believes this information should be widely disseminated, so that biologists can work on drugs or vaccines to combat the new strain---which Dr Fouchier and his team created by combining five flu mutations that are currently (and separately) circulating in the wild.
Others, however, disagree. The authorities in the Netherlands are pondering stopping the paper's publication because of fears its findings could be misused by hostile governments or terrorists. That pondering has been going on since December, and Dr Fouchier is growing restless. A decision is expected soon, but he recently went as far as saying that he would disregard it, if it went against him, and would publish regardless. He has now softened his stance, but defiance could see him in prison.
The contentious paper looks at how the new form of influenza passes between ferrets. Since, as flu goes, ferrets are good proxies for humans, and because H5N1 kills roughly half the people it infects---a mortality rate several times that of the "Spanish flu" that is reckoned to have claimed as many as 100m lives in 1918 and 1919---Dr Fouchier's work has touched a nerve.
Subscribe to Our Content!
Visit our RSS Feeds page to choose among 13 customized feeds, or create a free My AmSci account to request an email notice whenever a specified author, department or discipline appears online.
A free daily summary of the latest news in scientific research. Each story is summarized concisely and linked directly to the original source for further reading.
An early peek at each new issue, with descriptions of feature articles, columns,
and more. Every other issue contains links to everything in the latest issue's table of contents.
News of book reviews published in
and around the web, as well as other noteworthy happenings in the world of science books.
To sign up for automatic emails of the
Update and Scientists' Nightstand issues, create an
online profile, then sign up in the
My AmSci area.
Science in the Media
Magazines and Web Sites:
The Science-Media Intersection: