White House Weighs in on H5N1

Science adviser John Holdren speaks out about how the Presidential Administration is handling the controversial research that rendered avian flu transmissible between ferrets.

By | April 18, 2012

Susan Sterner" > White HouseWikimedia Commons, Susan Sterner

White HouseWIKIMEDIA COMMONS, SUSAN STERNER

Last month (March 1), Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) wrote to White House science adviser John Holdren asking about current policies on "dual-use research of concern" (DURC), or research that holds both good and potentially malicious implications. In his letter, Sensenbrenner said the government’s treatment of the ongoing H5N1 debacle "appeared ad hoc, delayed, and inadequate," ScienceInsider reported.

Last week (April 9), Holdren responded to Sensenbrenner’s concerns, stating that "the circumstances surrounding the recent review of H5N1 manuscripts are unprecedented." Indeed, while a US biosecurity board last week recommended the full publication of both manuscripts, its decision in December that certain details should be redacted was the first time a government advisory committee had ever made such a recommendation. In response to the continued discussions, the government last month issued a new policy for reviewing DURC research proposals.

But Sensenbrenner is not fully satisfied with Holdren’s answer. “I believe the Administration needs to be more proactive…and prepare for possible threats before they occur,” he wrote in a statement sent to ScienceInsider. “The new policy is a good, if belated, first step, and I will be watching its implementation closely.”

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