That seems to be the logic behind the very regrettable and dangerous decision by two journals, Science and Nature, to publish research done in ferrets, that shows exactly what steps are needed for the H5N1 subtype of Influenza A to mutate into a virus that has the ability to cause a pandemic.
I do realize that there was much discussion about whether to publish or not, but I am somewhat astonished that it has actually been done.
Next up, some Nuclear Physics journal will publish a helpful tutorial on how to produce weapons-grade Plutonium. Because the mere fact of the publication will deter rogue states from reading through it, taking notes and going to work on using the information. The logic behind this argument entirely escapes me, I have to say.
If you want the data from this H5N1 research to do good, and if you want to work on preventing a pandemic or gain more knowledge about ways of transmission, why not phone or email the authors and ask for a copy ? I just can not for the life of me see why we have to publish a Howto on creating a killer virus in a public and widely-read journal (or two). Might as well put it on Wikipedia.
The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) in the USA discussed this matter and advised the government in the end that the research should be published. I am not aware that any other country’s biosecurity agencies were involved in the decision, but maybe I just don’t know about it. If they weren’t, and this was indeed a decision by US agencies alone, I think that in itself is another big problem.
One of the arguments in support of publishing seems to have been that the research was done in ferrets and not humans, and that it is not certain that the knowledge gained is 100% applicable to mechanisms of transmission in humans. Well, I have to tell you, then why didn’t we take the time to investigate that first, before potentially putting a recipe for how to create a doomsday virus out onto the Internet ?
I think this is madness.