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2-Day Meeting Examining Issues Of Censorship Of Scientific Studies Leaves Questions Unanswered

A two-day Royal Society meeting held this week in London — which examined “whether scientific journals should occasionally publish censored versions of papers because the full ones might prove useful to terrorists” — “brought scientists no closer to resolving the question of whether there are any kinds of experiments whose results should be kept from the public,” the Washington Post reports. “The audience of about 200 scientists and ethicists considered numerous questions,” the newspaper writes, noting, “There was general agreement that some experiments are off limits, such as attempting to make the AIDS virus transmissible by air,” but “[t]here was less agreement about the experiments at hand, which changed the characteristics of H5N1 bird flu.”

The newspaper provides a brief history of the debate over publishing two controversial H5N1 studies, includes quotes from experts expressing their views the issue, and notes that Bruce Alberts, editor of the journal Science, said at the meeting that consensus “is likely to take multiple years.” Alberts expressed concern, saying, “‘[N]ow [that] this crisis is over, nobody will work on this’ problem of whether to publish the results of similar experiments in the future,” the Washington Post writes. The newspaper notes, “The issue touches on science’s culture of openness, the funding of research, global equity, cybersecurity and the effect of regulation on human behavior” (Brown, 4/4).