Acabo de leer una noticia breve en Nature que me ha dejado altamente perplejo. Os la pego aquí:
Nature 421, 197 (2003); doi:10.1038/421197a
US officials urge biologists to vet publications for bioterror risk
[WASHINGTON] Biologists need to devise a better process for handling the publication of unclassified research that bioterrorists could use, senior US government officials said last week.
The warning came at a meeting of scientific leaders, national-security professionals and government aides at the National Academies of Science (NAS) on 9 January. Scientific and security groups organized the gathering in response to fears that life-science research could be misused by terrorists.
John Marburger, head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), said that the Bush administration believes that most research should be kept unclassified. But he said the administration is searching for ideas about how best to deal with unclassified, 'dual-use' research that seems to aid the cause of terrorists and other would-be makers of bioweapons.
"Society expects its government to take reasonable steps to reduce the risk of bioterrorism, and the question before us is the nature of those steps," Marburger said.
Many of the 200 senior scientists, publishers and officials at the meeting argued anxiously that scientists must be free to publish all unclassified work. But others acknowledged that the community needs to reassure the public and the government that it is acting responsibly — even if they seemed unsure what steps they should take. Editors of journals, including Nature, who attended the meeting said afterwards that they hoped to release a joint statement shortly.
Parney Albright, an OSTP official now on secondment to the newly formed Department of Homeland Security, said that biologists need to think harder about the peer-review process. "There's a trade-off between the risks and benefits of efficient and open publication of scientific research, and the community needs to understand that better," Albright said.
He reminded the meeting that public distress over several controversial papers in the past two years has led to calls for restraint or regulation. One example arose in February 2001, when Australian researchers showed that altering a mousepox protein enabled it to kill animals that had been vaccinated against the virus. Last June, medical researchers showed how a smallpox protein disables a key element of the human immune system. And last August, Eckard Wimmer and colleagues at the University of New York at Stony Brook published a method for synthesizing poliovirus from scratch.
Albright said these papers had inspired unease among politicians and the public. "The science community ought to come up with a process before the public demands the government do it for them, and that will be driven by the rate at which controversial papers hit the streets," Albright said.
Two of the researchers whose papers were mentioned said they were not sure how this process should work. But neither regretted publishing their studies.
Immunologist Ariella Rosengard of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine said that she felt conflicted about publishing her work on smallpox proteins, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last June. But keeping such results locked up would only slow down the biodefence effort, she said. "I'm worried that if we eliminate our ability to freely express our research results, we will end up saying it's just not worth it," Rosengard said.
Journal editors said they could think of few examples of papers that they would absolutely refuse to publish for security reasons. But some have begun including security concerns as a factor in peer review.
For instance, reviewers at the American Society of Microbiology's (ASM) 11 journals can flag a paper that appears to involve a "misuse of microbiology", said Sam Kaplan, chair of the ASM's Publications Board. Editors then review the paper and decide whether to reject it for security reasons.
ASM editors reviewed two papers for security reasons last year, said Kaplan. One is still under review; the other will be published in March. He urged government participants in the meeting not to put new burdens on reviewers. "I hope you all will realize the fragility of this process," Kaplan said.
Some participants pointed out the difficulties of implementing any changes that the United States may wish for in the international world of science. Sam Kaplan noted that 15% of the ASM's editorial board members are from abroad — as are some 60% of papers submitted to the journals.
"Other countries are moving slower on this," said NAS president Bruce Alberts. "We're going to have to have some international effort here or we don't have anything." He plans to raise the matter at a meeting of academy presidents in Amsterdam next week.