Experts Delay Release of H5N1 Research

March 4, 2012

Unlocking Word Meanings
Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

1. circulate (v.) – to distribute or transfer from one place to another
Example: Every employee received the announcement after it circulated in the office.

2. mutate (v.) – to change from the original form
Example:  Body cells that have mutated change their form.

3. trample (v.) –  to disregard or push aside something as if it is not important
Example: Being careful about what you say prevents you from trampling on someone’s feelings.

4. pandemic (n.) – a disease that quickly spreads to a large population
Example: Medical researchers produced large quantities of drugs to stop the pandemic.

5. context (n.) – the overall situation that gives meaning to specific details
Example: Some words can be misunderstood without their context.

Read the text below.

The release of a new research on the H5N1 virus has been delayed due to fears that terrorists will use the information to make a biological weapon. As scientists argue against the delay, the World Health Organization (WHO) is studying how the information can still be properly circulated.

The research, which two leading science journals hope to publish, describes how the H5N1 or bird flu virus can mutate into a form that easily spreads among humans.

But governments are worried that the research will fall into the hands of terrorists, who may create and use such a virus as a weapon. Last November, the US National Security Advisory Board for Biotechnology (NSABB) requested the journals to edit out "sensitive" parts of the report before publication.

Some scientists, however, disagree with NSABB's request, believing that it tramples on academic freedom. Scientists say that in order to stop the H5N1 pandemic, the way the virus mutates must be understood by as many experts and researchers as possible. The virus has so far killed 60% of the people infected by it, and with the research’s information, scientists may be able to develop a vaccine.  

In addition, removing parts of the report may be too late, as scientists have already talked about their complete research in lectures and conferences.

To resolve the issue, 22 scientists and journal representatives met at the WHO office in Geneva, Switzerland. They concluded that the report would lose its context and become useless without some of its parts.

However, they will still have to study what details are already known to the public, before they can decide how and to whom the full information will be shared.

Experts will be having more discussions in the coming months, and until then, science journals will be putting the publication of the research on hold.

Viewpoint Discussion
Enjoy a discussion with your tutor. 

Discussion A
      Do you think the government should control information that gets to the public? Please explain.
      What could be the advantages of government control on information?

Discussion B

      Why do you think biological weapons are threatening?
      What can governments do to prevent them from spreading?


March 4, 2012