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Scientists Release Statement on Publication of Dangerous Science

NEW YORK, Feb. 15 - Today 32 journal authors and scientists released a collective statement on the publication of potentially dangerous science in the era of bioterrorism, at the annual meeting of the AmericanAcademy for the Advancement of Science in Denver.


The statement, which is to be published next week in the journals Science, Nature, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, comes out of a one-day workshop at the National Academy of Sciences January 9 to discuss the issue of how to address "the possibility that new information published in research journals might give aid to those with malevolent ends."


The statement contains four sub-statements that must be considered in deciding when the interests of security outweigh the interests of science. They outline a view "shared by nearly all, that there is information that, although we cannot now capture it with lists or definitions, presents enough risk of use by terrorists that it should not be published," but that


In the first statement, they noted the crucial need to maintain the quality of manuscripts. "Without independent verification-a requirement for scientific progress-we can neither advance biomedical research nor provide the knowledge base for building a strong biodefense system," the authors wrote.


The second statement discusses the need to balance the potential for abuse of published information with the need to publish research in order to further biodefense. "We are committed to dealing responsibly and effectively with safety and security issues that may be raised by papers submitted for publication, and to increasing our capacity to identify such issues as they arise," the authors wrote.


Thirdly, the authors discussed how "scientists and their journals should consider the appropriate level and design of processes to accomplish effective review of papers" that raise security issues, and the need to look to journals in disciplines that have already raised such issues-such as microbiology, infectious disease, public health, and plant and agricultural systems-as models for designing these processes.


Lastly, the statement said that when the potential for harm of publication outweighs the benefits, "the paper should be modified, or not be published."


The journals publishing this statement are also planning to run accompanying commentary.


  In the PNAS article discusses the journal's own ongoing development of a procedure for dealing with publication of potentially dangerous science. The journal has asked for the editorial board to flag articles for diseases and agents from the Category A list of the Centers for Disease Control.  


In the Science commentary, Editor Donald Kennedy discussed how the "two cultures of" science and security must bridge the chasm that exists between them in order to address the issues surrounding scientific publication of sensitive information.


In the Nature editorial, NIAID director Anthony Fauci discusses the institute's increased commitment to biodefense research and the need for "non-traditional collaborations with industry" to ensure that this research produces practical results. "In pursuing basic research, we must never lose sight of the goal of the development of safe and effective countermeasures to protect the public against the threat of bioterrorism," Fauci wrote.


The statement's 32 signatories include one genomic researcher: Steven Salzberg, of the Institute for Genomic Research.

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