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Secret Science

Laboratory-bred bird flu. The government says the research has to stay under wraps and away from terrorists. We’ll look at secret science.

FILE - In this Friday, Feb. 18, 2011 file photo, Indian health workers carry killed ducks to burry them at the R.K. Nagar Government Duck Farm in Agartala in the remote northeastern state of Tripura, India. An official says around 4.000 birds have been culled at a government-run duck farm in the state after some poultry tested positive for a deadly strain of bird flu that can potentially be fatal for humans. (AP) Photo/Sushanta Das, File)

In this Friday, Feb. 18, 2011 file photo, Indian health workers carry killed ducks to burry them at the R.K. Nagar Government Duck Farm in Agartala in the remote northeastern state of Tripura, India. An official says around 4.000 birds have been culled at a government-run duck farm in the state after some poultry tested positive for a deadly strain of bird flu that can potentially be fatal for humans. (AP)

Bird flu was bad enough. What if it came back worse? Way more deadly. Super-lethal. Government-funded research into just that question found an answer. With just a few mutations, it could be far worse. A global killer. Scientists proved the point by creating a sample of that killer.

Now, for the first time ever, the U.S. government is asking that this non-classified scientific research be buttoned up. Locked away. Put in a new category of secret science. This is new.

This hour, On Point: deadly understandings, fear of bio-terrorism, secret science.

-Tom Ashbrook


Donald Henderson, Resident Scholar at the Center for Biosecurity of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Professor in the School of Medicine the School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh. Immediately after the 9/11 attack, Dr. Henderson was appointed as the government’s first Director of the Office of Public Health Emergency Preparedness.

Robert Bazell, chief Science and Health Correspondent for NBC News.

Bruce Alberts, editor-in-chief of Science.

Hank Greely, director of the Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford University .

From Tom’s Reading List

The New York Times “For the first time ever, a government advisory board is asking scientific journals not to publish details of certain biomedical experiments, for fear that the information could be used by terrorists to create deadly viruses and touch off epidemics. ”

The Guardian “The chicken cull took place after the deadly H5N1 virus was discovered in birds at Hong Kong’s biggest poultry wholesale market. The virus was found in a dead chicken and in two wild birds. The Hong Kong government suspended trade in live chickens for 21 days and banned live imports from mainland China in a bid to prevent the disease from spreading.”

BBC “In a darkened conference room in Malta in September, a Dutch scientist announced to a virology meeting that he had created a mutated strain of H5N1 bird flu which had the potential to spread between humans.”

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  • Yar

    By spending this hour on a quarantined report you only give power to fear. 
    I read Gina Kolata’s Flu about ten years ago.  It is a fascinating book. My Grandmother took care of several members of her community who contracted the flu in 1918 as a teenager.  Instead of fear, she faced the problem in her community with courage and a commitment to her neighbors.Contrast then with now.  We live in fear of everything, fear that somebody might manipulate a virus, fear that somebody will put explosives in their shoes or underwear.  The only thing we ask of people to do is to report their neighbor’s questionable activity.  How much does all this fear cost? Our efforts to save every individual from everything may destroy our communities.  A cell phone is much more likely to kill you than a terrorist, so hang up and drive. Put fear into proper perspective.  

    • Terry Tree Tree

      Good Points!! 
          If you prepare for the worst, and hope for the best, you can live a good life!
          Living in fear of EVERYTHING, is not much of a life!
          The freedoms that have been taken, in the past ten years, with bogus ‘reasons’, may never be back!

  • Pingback: 9/11 dilemma for science – Calcutta Telegraph | 9/11 Threat

  • Terry Tree Tree

    What possible reason is there to publish this information?  Those that WANT it, will work to get it!
        Will those that would use this kind of information, use it before the Mayan Calendar prediction?


    I love the juxtaposition of the environmental suits and the wooden cart full of dead ducks.  Gotta love India!


    Since On Point will soon be rolling out a week or so of rebroadcasts, I wanted to take this live opportunity to wish you all a happy holiday season.  Even those of you whose perspectives I abhore serve to make my mind churn and work on a daily basis.  See you next year, when we’ll do it all again. 


    After seeing mankind’s limitations of containing potent technology (Japanese nuclear catastrophe), I get nervous when I hear we are engineering super potent bird flu viruses.  Anybody ever see the movie 12 Monkeys?

    • Terry Tree Tree

      “Outbreak”?  ‘The Andromeda Strain’?  ‘Prey’? 
         Some authors have the vision to imagine the worst that could happen, either due to mankind, or natural events.  Too bad ‘leaders’ cannot see!

  • JustSayin

    In my grandmothers family of 12 children, only three survived the 1918 pandemic. It has happened before when people were few in number (1.8 billion), but the world population has exploded since 1918, and evolution will find a way past the gates of technology and security to once again harvest an immense crop of humanity.

    The H1N1 strain grew out of the commingling of poor people and livestock due to WW1, and flourished in the filth and weakened immune systems of stressed and malnourished people… stopping a war.

    Today’s income inequality worldwide and the top one percent’s need to grind the middle class and poor into abject poverty on their anvil of ideology, will set the table for a new round of pandemic flu that will ravage the immunity of wealth with typically greater vigor. 

    Dispersion of intellectual DYI for nuclear weapons and explosives are safeguarded for a reason. Should the worlds viral and bacteriological cookbooks deserve less? Humanity’s existence dances on the edge of extinction from any number of events.

    Lets be practical and safeguard ourselves from additional threats whenever possible.

  • Hidan

    fear,fear,fear and more fear.

    sooner or later it be illegal to criticize the government cause it embodied the enemy. Can’t criticize the police cause it embodied the criminals. Can’t know about virus or flu’s cause the terrorist could find out. Can’t Criticize the military cause it will hurt troop moral and embodied the terrorist. 

    So it goes little by little rights are taken away to keep us safe.

  • Anonymous

    What are the medical ethics of tailoring diseases to make them worse?

  • Anonymous

    Apocalyptic futures envisioned in the works of science fiction and horror should not be explored. I would really like to understand why any scientist would be willing to risk ending the human race?

    Nothing is foolproof because fools are so ingenious. With so many suicidal, delusional people and religious zealots more than willing to bring about the end of days if they had the power, is not sharing such information akin to leaving a loaded gun with a chambered round in a kindergarten.

    Is sharing knowledge that can wipe out the entire human race an issue of Free Speech?

  • Sam, Buffalo, NY

    Uhm, how about the point that the scientists are trying to find a cure/know what to do IF something like that happens?
    They are trying to prepare for the “what-if” scenario?

    And there are way too many movies made on the subject to mention the Apocalypse scenario. Most of them are terrifying to the bone and hope-less inducing.

  • Anonymous

    Consider the vast amount of human Endeavour spent (wasted?) in the nuclear arms race once the atomic bomb was demonstrated.

    Uttering “Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds…” J. Robert Oppenheimer commented on the frightening prospect of nuclear war. Why should virus technolgy not be secret given that it might be far easier to build a ‘viral bullet’ than a nuclear bomb. If this information gets out, imagine how hard this might be to contain?

  • Anonymous

    I wish there were a better way for scientists to deal with their disappointment with the disappointment over not getting their global pandemic. This seems to be why seventh graders make dynamite.

  • Darryl

    In 2009, Austrian journalist Jane Burgermeister brought this issue to the world’s attention by filing a lawsuit against Baxter International and the World Health Organization for illegally transporting 
    72 kilos of material contaminated with live virus vaccines for avian influenza to sixteen laboratories, which triggered an investigation by the Austrian police. Without her actions, this issue never would have seen the light of day. The version of these events being presented here is a white wash.

    Hear the real story here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PelTWCUmTsU

  • JustSaying

    At the airport: 

    TSA: “Dr. what’s in this bottle?”
    Dr: “Highly contagious pandemic flu singlets.”
    TSA: “Are you caring anything dangerous or lethal on your person, such as a pen knife or shampoo?”
    Dr: “No.”
    TSA: “You are free to board now.”

  • JustSayin

    I hate to think such dark thoughts here, but does weaponizing a influenza virus have a purpose other than research into vaccination? Nice to have on hand if you are a recipient of the vaccination, and most others do not.

  • Angela

    Is anything being done to protect the scientists themselves? It seems that if their names are published, they will be at risk even if the methods are not.

  • Guest

    On the one hand, researchers need to share information and take credit for their, often underpaid, work. On the other, many research findings are government classified, especially if they are government funded. This is one project that needs to be highly classified for obvious national and global security reasons. Even the mention of the fact that this can be done already poses a threat since it encourages other researchers to pursue a similar course of action. Now that it’s out, the threat is very real. Even if details are not published, a skilled researcher in the field can glean lots of information from even a limited report. What is to prevent underpaid researchers and their lab assistants from selling the details to the highest bidder in a time of economic instability. What about disgruntled workers who would do it for free? The cat is out of the bag and there will be repercussions. Of what use is this information to virus researchers when there is still no vaccine or cure for the common cold?

  • M.Mac

    What gives, Tom just admitted that he interupted someone ? Is there somthing wrong, is he having a mini-stroke ?

  • blueShock

    Some people spend their time making destructive devices for research or to kill and some people spend their time in the face of the sun. It is important to learn humility and to not give in to the levels of others. Fear is a tool used by some to control others… and worrying is like a rocking chair, it gets you no where. Humans will facing extinction sooner or later, which makes life that much more unique. 

  • L.lakefield

    We worry about some countries’ developing nuclear weapons. Would we deliver these weapons to them so they could use them against us? Would we deliver biological information to them to use against us? It may be useful to us in a top secret environment to have this information, in order to learn how to counteract these and other agents should they appear.

  • Wnica001

    I see this recent anguish brought on by several recent scientific development in popular media and is strikes me as tragically funny.  Many industries have private proprietery technologies (particularly in Genetics/Biochem/Molecbiology) which are decades ahead of what is publicly known, and the I’ve observed this recent anguish brought on by scientific developments reported in our popular media, and it strikes me as tragically funny.  Many industries and private foundations currently hold proprietery technologies (particularly in Genetics/Biochem/Molecbiology) which are decades ahead of what is publicly known, and the world public and governments are completely ignorant about.  There are already many technologies out there that can dwarf your worst fears and yet life goes on, so please keep your panties on.

  • Anonymous

    I am a Permaculture Designer and teacher.  I tend to “Systems Think”.  There is the possibility that if this bug gets out into the environnmet, it will kill much moire than humans.  Other mammals could be killed en mass.  Entire bird populations could be wiped out.  Birds are pollinators and vitally important in insect control.  We could wind up starving as well as getting sick.  Then there is the fact that the virus could mutate from host to host, and there could be a lot of host species in different kingdoms.  This might be far more serious than nuclear weapons.

  • Mfredlich

    I think this entire thing is all about the pharmaceutical companies making huge money on new vaccines.  I bet if you followed the research money trail deeply buried is big Pharma funding.  You are all doing a beaufiful  job planting the seeds to scare the world so when the vaccine comes out we will all drink the koolaide and keep the pockets of the drug companies not just filled but overflowing as always.  There are many others along the way who stand to make money on this and thus all the fuss about it now.  It is a brilliant strategy.

  • Todd Zimardo

    Is anthrax an openly published item

  • Wnica001

    I’ve observed this recent anguish brought on by scientific developments reported in our popular media, and it strikes me as tragically funny.  Many industries and private foundations currently hold proprietery technologies (particularly in Genetics/Biochem/Molecbiology) which are decades ahead of what is publicly known, and the world public and governments are completely ignorant about.  There are already many technologies out there that can dwarf your worst fears and yet life goes on, so please keep your panties on.

  • Anonymous

    Ideas as bad as this shouldn’t get beyond the vugraph stage. How about turning the grad students loose on flu variants that transmit flu immunity, cure the cold, or prevent cells from growing uncontrollably?

  • Richard

    This topic needs to also be approached from a public policy standpoint. Our limited and often scarce research resources need to be evaluated for their immediate quality of life potential. An example, we have thousands of our citizens and children suffering and dieing from the many forms of cancer, tragic to our quality of life and which stresses our national ecomonic ability to treat. Who decides what research programs are in fact in our national interest? Now that we do not know what to do with this flu research, how much and who paid for it, and who decided that it was in the best interest of people in our country?

  • Quadraticus

    I like how Tom was about to say, “So clearly you know… what you’re talking about.” :-)

  • Magelian91

    Worst Ideia ever!!!! And then publicize it, BAd ideia x2!!!

  • Larz

     There are already too many bio weapons plants springing up everywhere that have little or no real oversight. This is what I have heard. In fact lyme disease and west nile virus purportedly came from plum island bio weapons lab in long island just 9 miles across the water from lyme CT where migratory birds probably dropped it off. There is much info on that on the web, of course the media would not want to touch that one.

     It is also known that the anthrax attacks after 9/11 came from govt labs in Maryland which the FBI never was able to solve.

    The govt experimented on black men by injecting them with syphilus and injected people with STD’s in Guatemala. Do a google search for “the history of medical expirments on humans” and you will come up with quite a few results

    here’s a few links including one from ABC news ..





     This is just a few reason why our society needs checks and balances and why American’s should wake up to why we don’t need a secret govt and secret industries or bad things will happen probably sooner than later ..

    • revolve

      there will always b secret gov and secret industry as people will always work in secret and practice to deceive.  The thing we must do is actively seek them out and harshly punish them, and destroy their plans.  i have no doubt they will use this weapon against us–maybe in china.  People dont create things not to use them–there will be sb itching to see his work manifested.  just like all the pro-nuke idiots

  • Larz

    I recommend people who are interested in allegedly how lyme disease started from a weapons lab just 9 miles across the water on the migratory bird route from Lyme CT watch this 30 minute interview with the author who wrote a book on it. There was research using ticks at this facility for bio weapons purposes.


     Here is a link to a good documentary on AIDS. How did AIDS go from chimps to humans ? The claim was from hunters, but chimps where used to make polio vaccines. The British Royal society denies that, but there are eyewitnesses of people who worked at the lab that confirm this. This video may be somewhat shorter as u-tube has taken the other one down for “copyright violations” another tactic to limit access to info coming down the pike apparently.


  • Larz

    I seem to hear guests and scientists on the show shrugging off responsibility to the agencies or groups funding the research. Don’t individual scientists have ethical responsibilities themselves ?

     I disagree with the attitude that science must go on and has given us all these great things. It is science which has given us genetically modified foods which I believe are unhealthy to eat and support a system of monoculture which in the long run are destructive to the soil and are slowly turning vast areas of farmland into desert.

     We use uranium reactors because it has military applications when thorium reactors are much safer.

    The climate science is also greatly flawed and is designed so that an international body can levy carbon taxes and other draconian measures on all humans and nations and implement a carbon trading scheme. Look up the books on the UN agenda 21 and see what the actual plan to control and restrict all human activity including hunting, farming, cutting of trees and move humans into small urban centers and away from rural areas. The information is all public on this.

    Even the scientists who are involved in these things are pawns themselves because they don’t see the bigger picture. They are told what the threats are and why the research is needed, but the people higher up who make the decisions and control the policies the most people know little about.

    • revolve

      I totally follow you up to the point of Agenda 21 and climate science–that is absurd–you listen to too many absurd twisted fear-mongering neo-con talking heads.  What would be the great purpose for using global warming to tax people–they can up with any manner of simple practical reasons to tax people.  And what is wrong with taxing the rich or polluting corporations–undermining your health (as does GM)?  We must protect our ecosystems.  And we must find a way to impact our biosphere less i nan overpopulated world–that is a fact–it is not evil or conspiratorial–it is a fact–it is survival–it is human–and more pleasant, more aesthetic, more harmonious–if you have any conservative values–you should get behind this notion–as a better harmonious ecosystem and economy will foster healthier minds and bodies–less anxiety, less manufactured mental illnesses, less crime, less equality, more prosperity.  Get a grip.  You make no sense.

  • mikey

    I think the Dutch forget that A.Q. Khan got the material he needed to create nuclear warheads by working in a Dutch lab 
    Physics Dynamics Research Laboratory (FDO) . They are already responsible for three nuclear armed countries – Iran, Pakistan and North Korea.

  • Emjones

    The scientists belief that the recipe can remain secret is a wild absurdity. Have they not heard of Klaus Fuchs? My guess is that one of their lab assistants emailed the information ten minutes after its discovery. 

    Good luck to us all.

  • Me

    We have companies that MAKE viruses!! BAD!! All the way around!! For what? Population control!!

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