The full details of two controversial experiments on bird flu should be published openly, says a panel convened by the World Health Organization.
But information about the studies should remain secret a while longer so that there’s time to address public concerns, the group recommends. The experiments should stay on hold, too.
The research in question produced genetically altered bird flu viruses, and critics say these germs could be dangerous for people if they ever escaped the lab. A committee that advises the U. S. government on security issues related to biological research recently said that key details should be kept under wraps, so as not to give terrorists ideas.
The WHO panel, in contrast, held a closed-door session to consider the matter and concluded that full publication is preferable.
The panel, which was composed mostly of virologists, felt that it would be too difficult to set up some kind of secure system that would share redacted information only with legitimate scientists. They noted that much information about the two flu studies is already out there anyway, and that this is crucial science for helping to spot an emerging pandemic that might occur if bird flu mutates out in nature.
But they said publication should wait, possibly for a few months, until a public communication campaign could calm fears and explain the benefits of the work.