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Blackberry's avatar

Bioscience jellies (and all jellies), can you help us understand the implications of this new research (details)?

Asked by Blackberry (31878points) November 28th, 2011

Apparently, Dutch researchers have created a Super-influenza virus with the potential to kill millions.

Now, there is a debate whether the work should be published, potentially giving people the opportunity to recreate their own super-influenza.

What does Fluther think? Also, I am not worried about this much from a fear stand point. I am inquiring about the ethical concerns about releasing such information and the pros and cons of doing research such as this.

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13 Answers

HungryGuy's avatar

Although it seems scary, I think the best defense against anything is complete public knowledge of all the details.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Fucking Dutch… they can’t even publish without someone’s permission.

linguaphile's avatar

Isn’t that what H1N1 was? an experimental epidemic? so my conspiracy theorist friend says

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

I believe that is the popular conspiracy theory on H1N1… Created specifically to instigate panic and thereby sell cure for big pharm profits. True or no… I know knots.

But I do know that humanity is not smart enough to succeed in completely annihilating itself. Nature outsmarts us, and redeems us every time.

Coloma's avatar

I’m sure this flu strain is the least of our worries when it comes to bio-warfare concerns.

Just one more in an already overflowing arsenal.

Ring around the rosy…..

mazingerz88's avatar

The first question I had in mind was why do it in the first place? I found my answer at the very last paragraph where it mentioned it may help other researchers to deal with the old virus if it evolves naturally and became more dangerous.

So that’s it? A forward looking scientist trying to get ahead of a virus by creating what it is that he was afraid of it becoming into in the first place? < My head hurts >

I’m guessing the procedures he went through could give new dramatic and useful insights on how to develop a vaccine quickly if the virus did mutate in the future on its own?

linguaphile's avatar

I had H1N1 with complications—took just over 11 months to recover. My reward? Apparently, I also got immunity to all the other influenzas, including the super-influenza and the H1N1 vaccine also does work against all other influenzas (source online somewhere… sorry…). Sort of feeds into the popular conspiracy theory, testing reactions and all. Not that I believe it, just find it to be an interesting possible correlation.

All it did for me was prove to me I could still teach quality Brit Lit from behind a serious mono-like fog.

cazzie's avatar

Creating a super flu isn’t like building a bomb from the instructions on the internet, but that being said:

I think the findings can be publicly published but in a redacted form.

I wonder what the real reasons are for wanting publication. Usually, experiments and their findings are published for peer review and for others to recreate the experiment and see if they come up with the same findings. After all, that is what the scientific method is. Seeing as how there are probably only a small handful of labs and scientist in this specialised virology field that would use this power for good, I would suggest the complete findings not be published, but kept within the confines of the virology labs that are at the forefront and with people who have that type of security clearance. (Think what Hitler would have done with this knowledge.)

Perhaps I have more of a ‘mad scientist’ brain and can think of the evil uses for such things.

But back to the reasons for publication; the scientists involved get loads of kudos and invited to speak at conferences and such. Their research is examined by other labs that do similar work and they try to replicate the results. This isn’t like physics experiments, where all you are left with is a bunch of math to do at the end. The process of replicating the results is creating a super-flu. Nah, I would publish, but I would leave out certain key things. There is no denying that they ended up with what they ended up with and that can be confirmed by experts in the field from other labs without public publication.

Meanwhile, I would work with the CDC and the ECDC at what ever clearance level you need to be playing with these sorts of things.

Lightlyseared's avatar

Back in the 90’s some one demonstrated that you could recreate small pox in you living room with nothing more than stuff you could mail order for a couple of grand. You will notice that, 15 years later, we have not had a small pox outbreak. Just because something is possible doesn’t mean people will actually go out and do it and any info on influenza will potentially help others to understand how better to treat it.

cazzie's avatar

@Lightlyseared that is because it simply wasn’t true. Can provide a link to the information from ‘back in the ‘90’s’. I don’t buy it.

Mariah's avatar

“All’s fair in love and war”? Fuck that. I hope that biological warfare gets treated with the same mindset as nuclear mutually assured destruction: the results of using it are so horrible that hopefully all sides will have the sense to withhold.

But because I don’t trust people to have that much sense I’d rather make it harder for them to accomplish. No, let’s not give anybody an instruction manual on how to infect the world.

CWOTUS's avatar

I believe the paper should be published. Disregarding whether it is “a bad thing” (as most believe) or even “a good thing” (as some might believe) that a virus could be created in a lab and be potentially the most lethal infectious agent ever experienced by humans, let’s assume that “it’s a real thing”. That is, let’s suppose that this is true.

Again, whether it’s good or bad depends on value judgments that we each make – and for now those judgments are irrelevant. If this is indeed “a real thing”, then it’s good for us to know that, even if we think that it would be a bad thing for some people to know. The only way to counteract it is to know all about it first, in order to develop and have in place countermeasures and procedures.

I agree with most everyone else that “it would be a bad thing” for such knowledge to be used for the intent of harming large populations, or mankind (or ferret-kind) as a whole. But the knowledge, that’s not a bad thing. That’s a good thing.

This is, in fact, where so many of us disagree with priests and popes and other “authorities” of all sort: we believe in acquiring knowledge, without respect to its capabilities. Priests from time immemorial have sought to quash knowledge, questioning, experimentation – science in all its forms. This is how knowledge is gotten. Sometimes the knowledge is dangerous when it’s used for “bad intent”. (It’s why we have the Nobel Prize, after all, Alfred Nobel invented dynamite, which was a useful tool for mining and the demolition that precedes construction. But dynamite was also used as a purely destructive military tool, as well. Having made his fortune in the production of dynamite for “good uses”, Nobel wanted to apologize to the world for the “other uses” to which it had been put.)

mazingerz88's avatar

@CWOTUS Hmm, I understand your position but I just don’t trust humanity as a whole, meaning, there are more good people out there yes, but all it takes is one despicable soul ( and there will always be one ) who could inflict great damage. Not publishing it to spread all over the internet I believe is not curtailing sound reason, logic and knowledge, just betting on whatever measure of safety we could muster.

And limiting its dissemination to a somewhat controlled group of scientists feels rationally compromising and wise yet there is no guarantee it would be foolproof. Recall the guy who mailed anthrax to Capitol Hill? He had grievances and used his expertise to inflict harm! What a scumbag.

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