Scientists in the U.S. and the Netherlands have created in a lab a "highly transmissible" form of the A(H5N1) bird flu virus—a deadly bug that normally doesn't spread from person to person. But don't worry, the army of the twelve monkeys aren't bringing a dark dystopia to us just yet. The Government is doing its best to have scientific journals not publish crucial information about the experiments that created the virus. And, despite fears of censorship, it sounds like the journals are seriously considering withholding the info.
"This finding shows it’s much easier to evolve this virus to an extremely dangerous state where it can be transmitted in aerosols than anybody had recognized," says Science editor Bruce Alberts (Science and Nature have both been asked to withhold information when publishing about the experiments). Regarding what to publish on the research he says, "It’s a precedent-setting moment, and we need to be careful about the precedent we set."
Government officials (and some scientists and, well, regular folk) are worried that the information in the studies could help terrorists bent on biological warfare create superbugs of their own. "Everyone involved in this matter wants to do the proper thing," Amy Patterson of the NIH says. Meanwhile, it's worth noting that the point of the research into the virus was done as much to figure out better ways to treat and prevent possible outbreaks as it was to see if a superbug could be made.
So, are the journals going to publish all of the data or self-censor? Still unclear. "I wouldn’t call this censorship," Alberts said. "This is trying to avoid inappropriate censorship. It’s the scientific community trying to step out front and be responsible." He says Science will "probably withhold some information — but only if the government creates a system to provide the missing information to legitimate scientists worldwide who need it."