Federation of American Scientists Case Studies in Dual Use Biological Research Module 4.0: Mousepox Case Study
Topic: Implications and Public Reaction

The results of the IL-4 mousepox experiments were publicized in January 2001 and received tremendous media attention, which reignited after the October 2001 anthrax letter attacks. The experiments were widely portrayed in the media as significant to bioweapons development. Concerns ranging from biosafety issues to accusations that the research provided a roadmap for potential bioterrorists to overpower smallpox vaccines were also raised within the scientific community.

Shortly before publication, Ian Ramshaw gave an interview to The New Scientist magazine on a different topic and mentioned the upcoming mousepox article, including its obvious implications to the smallpox vaccine. The New Scientist then prepared an article to coincide with the paper’s publication. Ron Jackson believes the news piece sensationalized the results of the mousepox work and its link to bioweapons, thus sparking considerable public reaction, particularly in Europe. The scientific community also had its concerns. Ken Alibek, a former Soviet bioweapons leader, commented that " …any vaccine could be overcome by one or another genetically engineered virus or bacterium." A spokesman for the UK’s Porton Down biodefense facility noted that, "making scientists aware of the full potential of their discoveries is important, but inevitably it carries the same risk in bringing possibilities to the attention of the unscrupulous."

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