The U.S. is funding dangerous experiments it doesn’t want you to know about
Marc Lipsitch is a professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Tom Inglesby is director of the Center for Health Security and an environmental health and engineering professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
In 2014, U.S. officials imposed a moratorium on experiments to enhance some of the world’s most lethal viruses by making them transmissible by air, responding to widespread concerns that a lab accident could spark a global pandemic. Most infectious-disease studies pose modest safety risks, but given that these proposed experiments intended to create a highly contagious flu virus that could spread among humans, the government concluded the work should not go on until it could be approved through a specially created, rigorous review process that considered the dangers.
Apparently, the government has decided the research should now move ahead. In the past year, the U.S. government quietly greenlighted funding for two groups of researchers, one in the United States and the other in the Netherlands, to conduct transmission-enhancing experiments on the bird flu virus as they were originally proposed before the moratorium. Amazingly, despite the potential public-health consequences of such work, neither the approval nor the deliberations or judgments that supported it were announced publicly. The government confirmed them only when a reporter learned about them through non-official channels.
This lack of transparency is unacceptable. Making decisions to approve potentially dangerous research in secret betrays the government’s responsibility to inform and involve the public when approving endeavors, whether scientific or otherwise, that could put health and :