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Scientific Research Is Crucial To Preventing, Controlling, Eradicating Infectious Diseases

The debate about two studies showing that, with few genetic mutations, H5N1 bird flu strains could become more easily transmissible among ferrets, a laboratory model for humans, “has become a debate about the role of science in society. Two questions should be addressed here: should this type of research be conducted at all; and if so, should all data generated by this research be published?” Ab Osterhaus, head of the Institute of Virology, at Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, writes in a Guardian opinion piece. A team from Erasmus conducted one of the two studies, he notes.

Osterhaus says such research is necessary to prevent, contain and possibly eradicate existing and emerging diseases, and publication of the experiments is important “so others can directly use them and advance the field … [as] part of an integrated and complex process that continuously leads towards a plethora of new knowledge.” He concludes, “True science is based on two things: verifiable facts and the desire to apply knowledge for the benefit of humankind. Science must never be impeded by fiction or fear” (3/28).