Federation of American Scientists Case Studies in Dual Use Biological Research Module 5.0: Antibiotic Resistance Case Study
Topic: History of Antibiotics

The publication of the reconstruction of the 1918 influenza virus sparked widespread debate in the public and throughout the science community. In the issue containing the research article, Science also published an editorial by MIT professor and Nobel Laureate, Phillip Sharp. The editorial was an attempt to explain the review process, justify publication, and highlight the benefits of the work in order to temper the impending response. Dr. Sharp asserted that “people may be reassured that the system is working, because agencies representing the public, the scientific community, and the publishing journals were involved in the decision.”

A follow-up editorial by Science magazine Editor-in-Chief Donald Kennedy detailed the events leading up to the publication of the article. Science had consulted with the directors of the CDC, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, and the Office of Biotechnology Activities and all “felt that the benefits of the study far outweighed any biosecurity risks.” At the last minute Michael Leavitt, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, insisted that the NSABB examine the work prior to publication. They approved the paper, but Kennedy maintained that regardless of their decision, under NSDD-189 (which states that research should be published unless it was classified) it could and would be published.

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