US Scientists Explain Censor on Bird Flu Researches

March 7, 2012

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

1. censor (v.) – to remove parts of a document (and other media) which may be harmful
Example: The school censored the movie because of its violent scenes.

2. pertinent (adj.) – having importance or relevance to a specific matter
Example: The contestants’ name and age are pertinent details in the tournament.

3.  transmissible (adj.) – can easily spread to other people
Example: Flu is a highly transmissible disease.

4. mutant (adj.) – describes an organism that has changed its original form, thus exhibiting different characteristics from normal
ExampleMutant organisms are produced by changing their genes in the laboratory.

5. suspension (n.) – to postpone or pause an activity
Example: The CEO called for a suspension of activities to allow renovation of company facilities.

Read the text below.

Despite criticism from scientists, the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) defended its decision to censor two studies about new mutant forms of the bird flu virus.

The board, headed by Paul Keim, stopped the studies from being published in the journals “Nature” and “Science,” because pertinent information about the virus may be used by terrorists to create a biological weapon. NSABB also wants to prevent such virus from accidentally escaping the laboratory and affecting human populations.

The mutant forms of the H5N1 virus were created by scientists at the Erasmus Medical College in the Netherlands and the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US.  Both studies used ferrets as test animals.

In the tests of Dr. Ron Fouchier from the Erasmus Medical Center, the mutant virus proved to be deadly and highly transmissible. However, in the experiment of Yoshihiro Kawaoka from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Tokyo, results showed that the virus is highly transmissible, but is not as deadly.

As such, scientists wonder why both studies need to be censored if only one study showed the virus can be extremely dangerous. Keim said that although one study’s results were not as deadly, the NSABB must still observe safety measures.

Vincent Racaniello of Columbia University also argued that results for ferrets may not be the same as those for humans. For him, there is no reason to censor the works, because the researches do not say that the virus can harm people.  According to Keim, however, ferrets are the best models for showing how transmissible the mutant bird flu virus can be among humans.

Other scientists disagree with the decision to censor the studies, because it may delay researchers from finding a treatment for bird flu.

Meanwhile, the scientists who performed the studies have agreed to a 60-day suspension of their research. They hope that this would give governments and public health agencies enough time to decide on the best solution for the issue.

Viewpoint Discussion
Enjoy a discussion with your tutor. 

Discussion A

·         Should the journal publish the results of the H5N1 experiment? Why or why not?
·         Besides censorship of the research, how else can the spread of bird flu virus be prevented? Please explain.

Discussion B

·         Should scientists continue studying the virus despite its risks? Please explain your answer.
·         Can you think of ways to protect ourselves from virus attacks?


March 7, 2012