|Photo by Alphab.fr|
Earlier today the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a press release addressing a recent topic of hot debate: the genetically altered strain of the H5N1 avian flu virus.
It's the second statement from the WHO since information of the new research was released. On December 30, the WHO essentially said that they were concerned about the negative consequences and risks associated with such a discovery, but that they also understood the need to continue research.
In September two groups of scientists reportedly created a mutant airborne H5N1 variant that could easily be transmitted between ferrets. One group submitted their findings to Science magazine, the other to Nature. Shortly thereafter, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) requested that the two magazines withhold specific experimental information as it could be a terroristic threat.
Flash clips of the movie Contagion have been incessantly running through my mind since reading the press release... But why?
Well what most shocked me when I first read the Nature article back in December (linked above as "September"), was that this was the first I had even heard of the new development. Was I simply oblivious to what I thought should have been blaring, alarming headlines from September through November on the new findings? After reading the WHO statement today, I skimmed Google news archives to see if I had in fact been paying less attention than I thought. I was unable to find any stories on the new discovery from September, or October. In fact, the earliest articles I came across were from December.
It's the perfect science story; a combination of "breakthrough" developments and "scary" news. So why was the reaction NSABB news piece addressing concern behind the H5N1 mammal-transmitted virus the first to be published?
Just recently in class we were all readily able to describe the stereotypical science stories that we see running on the 5 o'clock news and even discussed that many of those stores are run prematurely, filled with misrepresented data and incomplete research that just a few months later are proved wrong.
That said, this story isn't going away. According to the WHO press release, a meeting will be held February 16 and 17 in Geneva and invites only those that are directly involved or knowledgeable of the two studies.
Why is then that a leader in global news such as the New York Times only has few short news pieces on the story, or stories on the scientists' most recently paused research and the rest editorials? Although the NCABB requested that experimental information be withheld from Science and Nature upon its release in September, nowhere does it state that the basic information regarding the studies' findings was to be withheld from general news sources, so why the silence?