US health official claims bird flu limits not ‘censorship’
WASHINGTON - Agence France-PresseLeading US health official Anthony Fauci on Dec. 21 rejected claims that the United States is censoring science by seeking to limit potentially dangerous bird flu information in major journals.
The controversy arose when two separate research teams, one in the Netherlands and the other in the United States, separately found ways to alter the H5N1 avian influenza so it could pass easily between mammals.
Based on fears that a deadly global pandemic could result if the mutant flu escaped a lab or if a terror group were to find out how to make it, a US advisory panel on Dec. 20 urged scientific journals to hold back key details.
The data “clearly has public health benefit but it has the potential to be used in nefarious ways by some people,” said Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), made up of 23 non-governmental experts, voted unanimously that studies should be published in the journals Science and Nature, but with limited information.
Fauci said that any “legitimate” researchers would be able to seek the full details for their own study.
“If their credentials are appropriate they will have access to that information. So it’s not like classified information,” he told AFP.
“It’s only for those people who have a need to know and have a legitimate purpose for it, as opposed to just throwing it out there so that anybody can do whatever they want,” he added.
“It’s absolutely not censorship because if you are a scientist and you have the need to know... you will definitely get that information.”