A U.S. government panel today unanimously recommended that scientists limit publication of their results relating to bird flu.
We found the potential risk of public harm to be of unusually high magnitude. In formulating our recommendations to the government, scientific journals and to the broader scientific community, we tried to balance the great risks against the benefits that could come from making the details of this research known. Because the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) found that there was significant potential for harm in fully publishing these results and that the harm exceeded the benefits of publication, we therefore recommended that the work not be fully communicated in an open forum. The NSABB was unanimous that communication of the results in the two manuscripts it reviewed should be greatly limited in terms of the experimental details and results.
As much as I am almost always in favor of the free flow of information, in this case this recommendation seems quite reasonable. The situation is in many ways identical to the government’s policy to routinely limit publication of the engineering details of its weaponry.