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Deadly H5N1 Flu Studies To Stay Secret... For Now

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the those-birds-are-not-trustworthy dept.

Biotech 111

Edsj writes "A spokesman for the World Health Organization announced that an agreement had been reached, after a debate, to keep details secret of the controversial work about the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian flu virus until deeper risk analyses have been carried out. The scientists who made the study, led by Ron Fouchier, still want to release the full paper at some future date for public viewing, but for the time being, the NSABB got what it wanted." The moratorium will be extended "probably for several months."

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Wikipedia says (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39080045)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Influenza_A_virus_subtype_H5N1

On October 10, 2011 the WHO announced a total of 566 human cases which resulted in the deaths of 332 people since 2003

So it kills about 58% of the people it infects

Re:Wikipedia says (4, Insightful)

Hadlock (143607) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080219)

So which weapon has a higher long term mortality rate to the innocent? Land mines or biological warfare? Iran's research in nuclear weapons seems so passe at this point. As we approach 10 billion people on this blue marble, the chances that we'll cull our numbers by 20% or more using some novel new method seems to race towards 1 at a faster and faster rate.

Re:Wikipedia says (1)

crutchy (1949900) | more than 2 years ago | (#39081035)

As we approach 10 billion people on this blue marble, the chances that we'll cull our numbers by 20% or more using some novel new method seems to race towards 1 at a faster and faster rate.

+1

its just a pity that only a very small percentage of us will have access to antidotes for these man-made genocide weapons

unfortunately the only way to stop the madness is for everyone to stop spending all together, cutting off the lifeblood of the corporate oligarchy, and the chance of that ever happening is zero.

Re:Wikipedia says (3, Insightful)

LordLimecat (1103839) | more than 2 years ago | (#39081331)

Last I checked, there ISNT an "antidote" to the flu.

Re:Wikipedia says (0)

crutchy (1949900) | more than 2 years ago | (#39081355)

lol... then you obviously aren't meant to benefit from it

otoh, none of us common folk know what form these weapons will come in. it might be made to appear like a common cold except that you eventually drop dead from it after spreading it around (after all, many people still go to work with a cold), or it could be some disastrous infliction like the T-virus (doubt it though)

Re:Wikipedia says (2)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#39081359)

It is not the only solution, although it would be a very effective one if you could achieve it.

An alternative is to simply out-compete. In everything. Man--made islands are all very cute, but you're not going to build the next MIT on one, let alone the next Boeing, the next NASA, the next Volvo and the next farming community you're going to need (because if you want to out-compete in everything, you have got to DO everything).

The benefit in out-competing is that isolating all the corporations and military entities simultaneously would require something approaching 90% cooperation by the world's population, whereas simply finding a relatively isolated already-democratic nation of sufficient size and wealth then co-opting it merely requires 51% support of the locals. A considerably easier target to achieve. Oh, and then developing the intellectual, technological and biochemical industries to the point that the nation can survive any likely threat. Again, a much easier proposition than storming the Bastielle, since the US has already declared that it will use nuclear weapons in the event of being defeated even by a non-nuclear adversary and it is very unlikely in the extreme that any other nation would use less than total war if significantly threatened.

Re:Wikipedia says (1)

crutchy (1949900) | more than 2 years ago | (#39081465)

its funny you should mention that, because i believe we are soon to be (or already are) in the sort of global economic climate where an emerging mass-marketing not-for-profit (as in no shareholders at all - not even owned by employees) could leverage consumer mentality by really make the competing corporations look bad on TV a lot, to the point where they could gradually buy out their competitors.

the problem is a number of philanthropic idealists need to get together, develop a business plan, get loans and grants, and make it happen.

...or in the current global economic climate we may soon find the rise of the next Hitler

Re:Wikipedia says (1)

ShooterNeo (555040) | more than 2 years ago | (#39082945)

Reasonable speculation on what sentient AI or molecular manufacturing using nanotechnology suggests that this technology would make creating an isolated kingdom practical. Today, every sophisticated product depends on supply chains stretching thousands of miles, but nanotech printing machines would be capable of making any product at all, given the blueprints, and the needed time, energy, and raw elements.

Sentient AIs would be capable of the same feats that currently takes armies of engineers and workers to accomplish.

I've got a more clear idea than I can explain in one post, I've thought of writing a science fiction novel where the only human survivors live in isolated bunkers because the biosphere has been contaminated with various rogue devices.

Re:Wikipedia says (2)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 2 years ago | (#39083739)

It won't help and here's why: You have people packed like rats in the megacities like LA and NYC which will be a breeding ground for any new nasty. With the rate of travel if a new nasty does get loose which if anything we have seen when you have lots of poor (like now) with little access to medicine and healthcare (again like now) and who don't see a doctor until they are practically dead (ditto) you have a perfect storm for some new nasty. And finally you have the antibiotics being ruined by big ranching using it to fatten up the animals, again adding to the risk.

In the end that bit in the Matrix about humans and viruses is both true and false. true we do outbreed our environment but then mother nature seems to come up with its own answer and that is some bug that thins the herd and basically hits the reset button. With the speed of travel and borders that leak like sieves the bug that would have just wiped out an area a hundred and fifty years ago can easily wipe out a continent or more. its just a matter of when and where. personally my money is on some idiot cutting down trees in the rainforest running across some bug man hasn't been exposed to yet and giving us another black death.

Re:Wikipedia says (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39082019)

Well, land mines at least have the virtue of staying where you put them

Re:Wikipedia says (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39082281)

I think that certain nations' interference in Iran's nuclear program is what has kept it from becoming dangerous.

Re:Wikipedia says (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39082573)

Iran's research in nuclear weapons seems so passe at this point

And why the name of Iran pops up there? Let's see

1- It has not proved that Iran is doing research on Nuke weapons.

2- During Iran-Iraq war, Iranian civilians and army were targeted by Iraqi chemicals (incidentally provided by western countries) but Iran never retaliated by chemicals (despite having them).

3- US, Israel and most European countries have USED chemical weapons in past.

4- Iran has not attacked any country in centuries.

Now you say which country should not have WMDs?

Re:Wikipedia says (1)

izomiac (815208) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080249)

Yes, and the fear is that it isn't all that different from H1N1, which likes to cause pandemics. The 1918 flu was a H1N1 subtype, and "only" had 10% - 20% mortality. Nowadays, not only are population densities higher, we're also more interconnected, so we probably wouldn't get away with "just" 3% of the world's population infected like in 1918.

Re:Wikipedia says (1)

bhcompy (1877290) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080287)

My amateur understanding of it is that the particularly deadly strains burn themselves out fairly quick, because a dead person doesn't spread disease like an ambulatory one. Because we have a much better understanding of these things today(transmission, sanitation, incubation, etc), a pandemic in a modern society will be more difficult for a virus to attain and easier to avoid the scorch the earth policy necessary to eradicate it. Granted, small deadly outbreaks can't be stopped, but it would be less likely for it to spread like we've seen before before it burns itself out.

Re:Wikipedia says (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39080371)

I guess that would also depend on the incubation period.

HIV is pretty bad, but it takes a long long time to come to full effect. Thus the incredible infection rate it has already attained.

If it takes 3-5 days for this strain to actually work into full blown 'colds' then a few patient-zeroes are all that is needed to spread it effectively.

Re:Wikipedia says (3, Interesting)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 2 years ago | (#39081439)

My amateur understanding of it is that the particularly deadly strains burn themselves out fairly quick, because a dead person doesn't spread disease like an ambulatory one. Because we have a much better understanding of these things today(transmission, sanitation, incubation, etc), a pandemic in a modern society will be more difficult for a virus to attain and easier to avoid the scorch the earth policy necessary to eradicate it. Granted, small deadly outbreaks can't be stopped, but it would be less likely for it to spread like we've seen before before it burns itself out.

I don't know. Most Americans I've met have serious qualms about calling in sick to work for a cold or flu -- whether it's because they don't want to be perceived as whiners, or they have too much work on their plate, or they get so little vacation that they don't want to lose days that they could otherwise use for much-needed rest. A flu virus could very easily become a pandemic even if it makes you sicken and die in a single day, so long as it makes you walk around with a cough and the sniffles for a few days before that.

Also, in general the idea that diseases evolve to be less virulent over time is a myth. Think about rabies; if you catch full blown rabies (you don't get your shots in time), you're going to die. Mortality for rabies in humans approaches 100 percent. Once you develop symptoms, you'll be dead in a week. So is rabies "pricing itself out of the market"? No. It has existed for all of human history. You don't hear about cases of rabies in major human cities very often, but outside the developed areas, when a human or an animal gets rabies, it's the same rabies it has always been, and it's fatal. And there are many other diseases that have very dire, potentially lethal symptoms in humans. The idea that a living human must keep passing a pathogen to other living humans for it to survive in the long run is, unfortunately, too naïve and simplistic a model of disease.

Re:Wikipedia says (2)

orzetto (545509) | more than 2 years ago | (#39083981)

Also, in general the idea that diseases evolve to be less virulent over time is a myth. Think about rabies; if you catch full blown rabies (you don't get your shots in time), you're going to die. Mortality for rabies in humans approaches 100 percent. Once you develop symptoms, you'll be dead in a week. So is rabies "pricing itself out of the market"? No.

That's because evolution works by selecting traits that are present in the original gene pool. If they are not there, they cannot be selected. A mutation of rabies that killed its host later or not at all would have much more time to spread, and would diffuse much more rapidly. Either this mutation does not or cannot exist (possibly because it would end up contradicting some fundamental aspects of the rabies' modus operandi), or it maybe would cause the rabies to specialise too much on a species and lose its ability to jump from dogs to humans to other animals.

Also, in general the idea that diseases evolve to be less virulent over time is a myth.

They evolve towards the forms that allow the greatest diffusion, which in modern society means the forms that do not put the patient in a bed at home or in a hospital ward.

Re:Wikipedia says (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39083995)

"That's because evolution works by selecting traits that are present in the original gene pool."

That's how natural selection works not evolution. Evolution combines the pressures of natural selection with the mutation of new genes that weren't in the original gene pool. Otherwise we would have never evolved into complex organisms with genes as they weren't present in ancient primordial ooze.

Re:Wikipedia says (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39080377)

So it kills about 58% of the people it infects

Nope. It kills 58% of people who are detected to have been infected. There might be hundreds more people who get better quickly and never seek medical attention.

Re:Wikipedia says (3, Interesting)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 2 years ago | (#39081529)

Nope. It kills 58% of people who are detected to have been infected. There might be hundreds more people who get better quickly and never seek medical attention.

Why is that relevant?

People who don't sicken don't need medical attention. I think that's obvious.

Of those people who sicken from the flu, the ones who are infected with H5N1 die much more often than the people who sicken from other strains.

Suppose they came out with statistics showing that most people who have handguns fired at them don't get hit by the bullet, and of those that do get hit by the bullet, not many die. However, of those people who do get hit by the bullet, hollow-tip bullets cause much more severe injuries than regular ones. Would your conclusion be, "Who cares, I'm Superman"?

Re:Wikipedia says (1)

PRMan (959735) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080433)

"Each year, the flu is reported to be responsible for almost 36,000 deaths" http://pediatrics.about.com/od/kidsandtheflu/a/0607_flu_update.htm [about.com]

So, H5N1 was responsible for 1% of deaths... Why are we so scared of this flu again?

Re:Wikipedia says (1)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080625)

So, H5N1 was responsible for 1% of deaths... Why are we so scared of this flu again?

Because, like the GP says, if you catch it you have a worse than 1 in 2 chance of survival. The point is that not many people catch it ... yet. But what the recent research showed is that it would not take a tremendous amount of mutation for a form of the disease to arise that could spread much more easily.

If a guy comes along and says, "Your building isn't as safe as you think it is, there aren't enough fire exits," do you laugh and say, "You're stupid! Nobody has ever died in a fire in this building."

Re:Wikipedia says (1)

Transkaren (1925482) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080831)

Actually, I've heard people use almost that exact reasoning. "Why do I need to have an accessible fire exit? Disabled people don't come in here, and if they do the employees will just carry them out" and the like. Also, "Yes, I know the building doesn't have anchors or clips keeping pieces together, but it's survived since 1930. Why should I add them just because I'm putting an HVAC system on the roof?

Re:Wikipedia says (2)

Luckyo (1726890) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080721)

Lethality. 50% lethality + uncontrolled spread = societal collapse.

If you really hate the current world order, this may be your best bet to change it.

Re:Wikipedia says (1)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#39081365)

50% lethality + uncontrolled spread = the original version of Survivors.

Re:Wikipedia says (3, Informative)

Mr.LightFoot (2566795) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080911)

If you read the paper or summary of the paper, it is talking about mutation and implicit manipulation of the virus to 'weaponize' the flu. The steps to mutate the virus was extremely simplistic and can be spread quickly around the globe. An example of how it would work would be similar to the movie Contagion. If you were in Asia during SARS or Africa during Ebola, you would see how fast society/community collapsed. Panic ensures, rich ppl got cures/protection while poor got guns. By delaying the publication, WHO can allow some scientists to develop vaccines to immunize or have counter agents available for key gov't officials to ensure continuance of governance. (aka, politically connected/rich) can get their protection and the rest of us dies until the vaccine is spread across teh world and H1N1is eradicated or diminished. BTW, if you look at the Stats, the reason it didn't spread wide, it happened in China and other Asian countries that has an authoritarian government. Civil unrest results in a bullet to the head or heart. In "free world" it's all man/woman/child for themselves, and therefore, stats would have been higher.

Re:Wikipedia says (1)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 2 years ago | (#39081591)

BTW, if you look at the Stats, the reason it didn't spread wide, it happened in China and other Asian countries that has an authoritarian government.

Actually, if you're still talking about SARS, the reason it didn't spread wide is because it actually wasn't very infectious.

Re:Wikipedia says (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39081811)

No, it kills 58% of the people who end up in the hospital because they caught it.
Probably at least hundreds of thousands of people have caught it, but they did not go to the hospital.
The larger number is measured by looking for people who have antibodies to this flu.
The fatality rate is non-zero, but there is no evidence that this flu is particularly lethal in people.
This story is fear-mongering by the bio-defense people. Check out www.twiv.tv for the real story.
They have recent coverage at http://www.twiv.tv/2012/02/05/twiv-169-epidemiology-causes-conclusions-p/

Re:Wikipedia says (1)

ST47 (965252) | more than 2 years ago | (#39082187)

No. Of the people who were tested not only for Influenza A but also for subtype, 566 had H5N1. Of those, 332 died. Most people who get the flu get the sniffles and never go to their doctor. Those who go to their doctor often are told to rest and drink plenty of fluids. It's not very common to even get a simple surface antigen test, and I'm not even sure that most labs have the ability to test that. Those numbers are of cases that were tested in a lab. This is more likely to happen for patients for whom a diagnosis is useful - those who would get antivirals, such as the immunocompromised or the elderly. This is also more likely to happen for patients who are more serious. These numbers - 332 deaths and 566 cases - are lower bounds. Both numbers may be (and certainly are) higher - but I'd expect the death count to be much closer to the true value than the total case count. If 566 people were exposed to the Influenza A H5N1 in normal ways, most would probably react the same way as your standard H1N1 or H3N2 seasonal influenza. Far fewer than 332 would die.

Security through obscurity? Again? (1)

winkydink (650484) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080111)

Since it works so well, right?

Re:Security through obscurity? Again? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39080163)

Wow! A virus so dangerous we have to protect people from reading about it!

Re:Security through obscurity? Again? (1)

arth1 (260657) | more than 2 years ago | (#39081449)

Wow! A virus so dangerous we have to protect people from reading about it!

Yes, that is fnord rather unthinkable.

Re:Security through obscurity? Again? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39080295)

Well in the case of biology, pretty much.

You'd have to have some pretty damn good resources in order to be able to build H5N1, not only that, to be able to make the even worse version they supposedly created.

Since these guys likely had top gear to produce these results, it'd likely take a lot of trial and error for those with almost certainly lesser resources. (at least, we should hope they had top hardware for doing this research...)

When (if) we find out ways to protect against those strains in particular, it'd be less of a risk.

Re:Security through obscurity? Again? (3, Insightful)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080761)

Well in the case of biology, pretty much.

You'd have to have some pretty damn good resources in order to be able to build H5N1, not only that, to be able to make the even worse version they supposedly created.

Since these guys likely had top gear to produce these results, it'd likely take a lot of trial and error for those with almost certainly lesser resources. (at least, we should hope they had top hardware for doing this research...)

When (if) we find out ways to protect against those strains in particular, it'd be less of a risk.

Not as much as you might think. As I pointed out previously, the Ferret is out of the bag. The big question was whether or not you could take H5N1 and pass it through a mammal and make mammal-mammal transmission reasonably efficient (as far as the virus is concerned). Since we know the answer is 'yes' and the bonus answer is 'ferret' then the techniques needed to reproduce (so to speak) the experiment is 1) a culture of H5N1 and the ability to keep it alive and 2) a cage full of ferrets and the ability to keep them alive. 1) isn't exactly trivial but it's not anything that a PhD level viral researcher couldn't manage on a budget easily obtainable by some random psychopath. 2) is trivial.

We're doomed (again).

Re:Security through obscurity? Again? (1)

arth1 (260657) | more than 2 years ago | (#39081483)

... and, the typical kneejerk reaction will likely be DHS now registering and surveying everyone who buys ferrets.

28 Ferrets Later (1)

lennier (44736) | more than 2 years ago | (#39084027)

Since we know the answer is 'yes' and the bonus answer is 'ferret'

Well, if nothing else, I look forward to the next big pop culture monster to take over from "sparkly vampire" and "zombie".

From the producers of "Snakes On A Tesseract", "Sunday Afternoon Tea-Time of the Dead", and "David Attenborough's Rather Interesting Space Creature With An Unusual Yet Beautiful Life Cycle".

The Next Frontier Of Terror Just Scurried Up Your Trousers.

Fear It.

Re:Security through obscurity? Again? (3, Insightful)

timeOday (582209) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080473)

All security is through obscurity. If somebody knows your key, or your hiding spot, or what time you have to put down your shotgun to take a crap, you're through. All cryptography does is let you protect a large secret with a smaller one.

Re:Security through obscurity? Again? (1)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080677)

All security is through obscurity. If somebody knows your key, or your hiding spot, or what time you have to put down your shotgun to take a crap, you're through. All cryptography does is let you protect a large secret with a smaller one.

I see your point, but you're short circuiting a little bit of common sense to make it.

Someone would have to "know" your key pretty damn well -- and some highly specialized skills besides -- to make a copy of it without having access to the original. And they'd need to be downright brilliant to use their copy if the lock is too far away for them to reach. Lack of physical access is not really "obscurity," in the sense that people mean when they quote that phrase.

And when you need to put your shotgun down to take a crap, the best practice is to hand it to someone else. The thing you want to keep secure can be sitting right there, as long as the guy with the shotgun is just as visible. If you manage to shoot the guy with the shotgun first, it says nothing about "security by obscurity."

Re:Security through obscurity? Again? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39080931)

"Security by obscurity" has a specific meaning, and it's not the same as "security that depends on a secret key to be secure." It's "security that depends on a secret process AND a secret key to be secure." That's not so good as a sound byte, so we just say "Security by obscurity" and confusion results.

Re:Security through obscurity? Again? (2)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 2 years ago | (#39081203)

Right. "Security by obscurity" refers to the assumption that something is secure because you haven't told anyone how to defeat the security. The weakness of this method is obvious: You might not be the only one who knows what you know. Someone might have stolen the method from you by looking over your shoulder, or they might have figured out how to do it on their own.

Cryptography can be security by obscurity. Good cryptography is not. Good cryptography is based on a published, public algorithm that anyone can read and know how to do. And once they learn the method, they get sad, because they realize that they can't run the algorithm to unlock your encryption. To do so they'd need to know not just how to do it, but also the to fill in variables X, Y, and Z ... and to do that they'd need some piece of information, or maybe a physical object, or what-have you, which they do not possess.

The information they want to steal is obscured, but that's not the point. The security method is not obscured. It's as plain as day -- plain enough that you have to admit you don't know how to break it.

Cryptography becomes security by obscurity when the creator of the algorithm tries to keep it secret, in the misguided belief that nobody will be able to come up with a method to circumvent it. They might get lucky; it's possible that nobody will ever figure out how to break the encryption. But that's why security by obscurity is frowned upon: You're gambling on the hope that you're smarter than everybody who has an interest in breaking your cryptography, plus everybody who will ever be born who wants to break it. That just doesn't sound like good odds.

So back to this flu virus thing. It's security by obscurity because the scientists haven't invented anything, really. They have developed a method to produce a virus having certain characteristics, which are only slight variations of characteristics that are known to exist in other viruses already. So by censoring this research, they are literally saying that as long as they don't tell anyone how they did it, we will be safe from the possibility that this virus will appear -- which is mind-boggling, when the whole purpose of their experiment was to prove that the novel virus could exist in nature even had they not developed their method. Almost by definition, there must be other ways to produce this virus, or other, similar viruses. Their "secret" is worth nothing.

Re:Security through obscurity? Again? (1)

LambdaWolf (1561517) | more than 2 years ago | (#39081009)

All security is through obscurity. If somebody knows your key, or your hiding spot, or what time you have to put down your shotgun to take a crap, you're through. All cryptography does is let you protect a large secret with a smaller one.

What you say is true, but it doesn't really address security through obscurity. Yes, all information security is carried out through some form of literal obscurity, but the phrase "security through obscurity" is a piece of jargon that involves keeping the security system hidden. In other words, some security engineer has Idea A that can be used to protect Secret B, but only if A remains secret as well. That's bad.

Avoiding security through obscurity means drawing a clear box around the information you intend to obscure—that is, the key—and saying with confidence, "Nothing other than this needs to remain secret."

But then, the flu studies are the informational content, not the key nor a system used to keep that content secret, so security through obscurity really has little to nothing to do with this thread.

Re:Security through obscurity? Again? (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 2 years ago | (#39081237)

Avoiding security through obscurity means drawing a clear box around the information you intend to obscure-that is, the key-and saying with confidence, "Nothing other than this needs to remain secret."

I agree, that is the nut of it right there.

I also agree that as properly interpreted it doesn't apply to this story; that is, it only applies if misinterpreted such that it is nonsensical.

Re:Security through obscurity? Again? (1)

crutchy (1949900) | more than 2 years ago | (#39081129)

If somebody knows your key, or your hiding spot, or what time you have to put down your shotgun to take a crap, you're through

true, but security through obscurity is about obscurity that isn't secure (such as access to a system from an unknown URL - the URL may be unknown, but it isn't secure).

if somebody knows a cryptography key to the point where they gain useful information with it, there is a good chance that somebody was the guy who was given that key and authorized to use it in the first place.

its easy to say "if someone has the key they can get in", but the whole point of having a key is that it's given only to those authorized to have it and nobody else. how many people do you know that are able to break common cryptography standards (such as SHA-2) to actually use it to get anything useful?

Re:Security through obscurity? Again? (2)

LambdaWolf (1561517) | more than 2 years ago | (#39081097)

The only way this would be "security through obscurity," in the sense that cryptography experts typically use that piece of jargon, is if they trying to be obscure about the means of hiding the flu data, in addition to hiding the flu data itself. Hiding the flu data is just plain old secrecy.

Since we are talking about scientifically reproducible data, I guess you might be hinting at an analogy to the mathematics or source code behind a cryptographic system: it's foolish to assume that bad guys wouldn't be able to learn facts about H5N1 anyway, in the same way that you shouldn't assume that crackers won't know how your security software operates. But, in a pragmatic context, some temporary secrecy might work out to be a good if imperfect idea—I don't really know.

Re:Security through obscurity? Again? (2)

pla (258480) | more than 2 years ago | (#39081691)

Security through obscurity? Again? Since it works so well, right?

Particularly in light of the fact that we already know the most important features of their method...

Step 1) Pick your favorite in-the-wild strain of H5N1.

Step 2) Pick an animal known to occasionally catch H5N1, which for the most part shares viral sensitivity with Humans. Such as a ferret or dog or pig.

Step 3) Force-infect your first specimen with your H5N1 sample. It doesn't need to get really sick, just wait long enough for the directly injected viruses to clear the body and suck out a sampling of those that managed to replicate in the host.

Steps 4-9) Use that new "strain" to infect your second specimen. Rinse wash repeat half a dozen times. By then, you probably have a problem with not killing your specimens.

Step 10) Profit! Congrats, you have a strain that will likely also infect humans. If not (or just for good measure), start from step #2 with a different animal that shares viral sensitivity with humans.

Seriously, not rocket science - Genetics, actually, in the form of plain ol' simple evolution. You artificially select for those mutations best able to infect your target, and you end up with a strain that can do exactly that with great efficiency. Censoring this paper truly means nothing more than sticking our collective fingers in our ears and going "nah-NAH-NAH-I-can't-hear-you!"

Re:Security through obscurity? Again? (1)

afabbro (33948) | more than 2 years ago | (#39083077)

Rinse wash repeat half a dozen times.

THAT'S what I was doing wrong. I was doing lather-rinse-repeat, and it was supposed to be rinse-wash-repeat.

Headed back downstairs to the lab...

Fuckers. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39080125)

Why can't we just get the details and end this(*) right now?

(*) The human race.

Oh yeah? (2, Funny)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080133)

Just wait until Anonymous (Achoo!) gets their hands on it (sniffle).

Reworded Title (4, Funny)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080139)

Government Organization Declares Self Sole Proprietor of Bio-Terrorism

And as we all know, government officials never use such exclusivity of information for their own personal profit.

Nothing to worry about here, Citizen, now move along...

Re:Reworded Title (1)

Hentes (2461350) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080381)

The WHO is a UN agency, not a governmental one.

Re:Reworded Title (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39080459)

I thought the WHO were a musical group.

WHO ? (1)

rossdee (243626) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080883)

The Doctor will find a cure
Matt Smith that is. I'd guess that being from Galifrey he is probably immune.

Re:WHO ? (1)

lennier (44736) | more than 2 years ago | (#39083943)

The Doctor will find a cure
Matt Smith that is.

Good thinking, Pond, but how are we going to build an instant distribution system for eight billion servings of fish fingers and custard?

Re:Reworded Title (1, Insightful)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080499)

The WHO is a UN agency, not a governmental one.

I maintain that the UN is a government.

Re:Reworded Title (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39080675)

The WHO is a UN agency, not a governmental one.

I maintain that the UN is a government.

Of course, you'd maintain that the homeowner's association in your neighborhood were a "government" if it helped you dredge up fear, so that doesn't mean much to us.

Re:Reworded Title (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080799)

Or, in the deepest, darkest corner of their minds, they'd like to be.

Re:Reworded Title (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | more than 2 years ago | (#39081455)

Or, in the deepest, darkest corner of their minds, they'd like to be.

Yea, but the only way they'd be able to pull it off is if they held the world hostage with some sort of, I dunno, supervirus that no one knew enough about to stop...

Aw, shit.

Re:Reworded Title (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39080965)

That's even worse. The UN is a political organization, but has no justification or legitimate authority to intervene in any sovereign nation's business - though it does so with regularity. WHO is a political creature.

Re:Reworded Title (1)

thereitis (2355426) | more than 2 years ago | (#39081793)

Nuclear annihilation is often predicted as the potential end of mankind. I would put biowarfare right up there as just as likely to be the end of our species. It might even be the result of good intentions - eradicating hatred or racism or some other ugly human trait - that goes horribly wrong. I'm sure there's a sci-fi book out there which deals with this topic.

Re:Reworded Title (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39083205)

Miranda.

They certainly managed to draw attention to it now (1, Informative)

gweihir (88907) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080181)

Every dictator left that cannot afford nuclear weapons will have a team looking into reproducing this work, even without the publication. I do have to say that most of the fault is with the scientists that went for an, at best, dubious research subject, doubtlessly because of some over-sized egos.

Re:They certainly managed to draw attention to it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39080701)

For crying out loud...total misunderstanding of the work here batman...they are trying to SAVE lives with this research. The research was in to trying to determine if the H5N1 virus is transmissible in mammals and how that might happen. Presumably in an effort to determine how best to combat this if it ever does happen. A human form of H5N1 is already 'in the wild' and infecting people but it doesn't seem to be transmissible very easily...the question then is 'why?' and if it does start being transmissible how do we stop it....geez, impugning the character of a scientist without understanding their research isn't exactly fair fighting...as opposed to the Hollywood versions scientists aren't in general 'Mad Scientists' out to destroy the world...

Re:They certainly managed to draw attention to it (0)

gweihir (88907) | more than 2 years ago | (#39082021)

So they claim. And it sort-of makes sense. But the controversy they are now having makes me thing this is not really their motivation, but more of a nice justification. It is possible that they are even kidding themselves. My guess would be they could have approached this in a far less dangerous (and far less spectacular) way, but deliberately chose not to. This has all the hallmarks of a scientific stunt, aimed at fame and funding, but of limited scientific value.

Re:They certainly managed to draw attention to it (3, Insightful)

Luckyo (1726890) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080757)

Or perhaps they were looking for ways to prevent the global pandemic that has a pretty good potential of wiping out over half of humans on the planet? You know, like those who experimented on dozens of diseases that killed most people before they reached the age where they could procreate, eventually driving infectious disease mortality so far down, that most people don't understand the risks hiding in them?

Just a suggestion.

Cat is out of bag anyway (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39080187)

As was brought up couple weeks back in SciFri, the study abstract and rough process which has been talked publicly is enough for skilled laboratory to try same. Passing the virus just trough five ferret infections to get it spreading over air is so simple and little that it might happen anyway naturally over time without human intervention.

All we can do and should do is start developing vaccines now and not wait until we would be too late. It takes about 6 months to develop and produce enough vaccine. Thinking that the lethality of H1N5 is about 50% compared to smallpox ~40% it's going to be enormous panic to get it done if any preparations were not done beforehand.

I doubt it would take that long (1)

F69631 (2421974) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080395)

I obviously don't know what I'm talking about so feel free to correct me if I'm wrong... but I seriously doubt it would take that long.

I'd guess that a lot of that "6 months" involves testing. In other words, if there is a very quickly spreading pandemic that kills over half the people it infects, we could probably say "Let's just pray that there aren't too horrible side effects for most people. Start mass producing the prototype!" Also, in such a case we could probably say "There is a risk of billions of deaths... We want every damn factory to produce the vaccine, ignore all the patents, let's sort the licensing fees when humanity has been saved" which would probably speed up the production a bit.

tl;dr: It'd probably be less than 6 months if we're willing to inject anything and everything that slows down the disease and it's suddenly the #1 priority of mankind.

Re:I doubt it would take that long (3, Insightful)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080969)

I'd guess that a lot of that "6 months" involves testing. In other words, if there is a very quickly spreading pandemic that kills over half the people it infects, we could probably say "Let's just pray that there aren't too horrible side effects for most people. Start mass producing the prototype!"

Heh. But you're talking about vaccinating just about everybody on the planet, in a pandemic. Is your proposal that we inject the entire population of the world with an untested medicine, in hopes of preventing disease? I somehow don't think that suggestion would travel far within the WHO.

Also, there's no "prototype vaccine." They know how to make a vaccine that will be effective against any strain of flu, pretty much. They're all just variations of the same thing. The problem is that there are so many different variations (mutations) that they have to predict which one to manufacture in any given year, given the production capacity (labs/factories) available. And you can't just say "keep manufacturing H5N1 vaccine until we have enough for everybody," because it doesn't necessarily have a long shelf life. In fact, they're not really sure how long stockpiled doses would remain effective.

What's more, manufacturing the flu vaccine isn't like manufacturing paint or chairs. The raw materials of the flu vaccine involve living, biological things. The virus itself is alive and must be cultured (before they kill it), and to do that, they grow it inside fertilized chicken eggs -- and as we know, nine chickens don't help you produce a fertilized egg any faster than one does (and to get more chickens, you need more fertilized eggs). So when you estimate how many doses of flu vaccine can be manufactured in a given period of time, it's a little bit like estimating how many cheeseburgers McDonald's can make in the same period of time ... while it is possible to "just make more," it's not necessarily as easy as it sounds.

tl;dr -- When scientists talk about how many flu vaccine doses it would be possible to manufacture in a given period, they pretty much know what they're talking about.

Re:Cat is out of bag anyway (1)

Hentes (2461350) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080527)

This might be the case with this particular strain but the decision is a precedent for any further similar research. At least in this case we know what we are dealing with, even if it gets out the methods of developing vaccine for avian flu are already researched which cuts the development time much shorter. And similar cases in the future may be handled more professionally now that a consensus is created.

Re:Cat is out of bag anyway (1)

frank_adrian314159 (469671) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080791)

Just in time for December 12, 2012!

The fact that this is kept secret only means... (4, Interesting)

gatkinso (15975) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080235)

... that it is relatively easy to produce this deadly strain.

If it were hard, say like producing an atomic bomb (rather, producing the fuel for an atomic bomb)... then there would be no reason to keep it secret.

Even atom bomb are easy (1)

aepervius (535155) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080639)

At least first stage atom bomb are easy. The secret is not in those, hirshima-clunky type of bomb (the canon type one, and the sphere type one), but in efficient usage of combustible and neutron reflector, to produce a second and even third stage, getting order of magnitude better nuclear bomb than hiroshima, in a smaller space and weight, making it deliverable in ICBM/missile/"suitcase". That involve a lot more engineering, neutron reflector and a choice of various materials. Now if you want only 10 kt, have a lot of uranium to spend, and a big ass truck to move it, well then anybody and their grandma can do one.

Re:Even atom bomb are easy (1)

Luckyo (1726890) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080771)

That is false. One of the hardest aspects of making the bomb is producing enough fissile material in sufficient concentration.

Re:Even atom bomb are easy (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 2 years ago | (#39081639)

Or Acquiring it in small enough quantities multiple times from mutiple places. Once you have enough, you melt it all down into a larger piece.

Iran could do this to make a bomb. Combine stuff bought from N. Korea and combine it with what they themselves have already created. Anyways, you get the idea.

Re:Even atom bomb are easy (1)

Luckyo (1726890) | more than 2 years ago | (#39084519)

I'm not 100% certain about uranium, but I'm absolutely certain that you in fact cannot "melt together" a plutonium bomb without some very cutting edge know-how and technology. One of the hard parts about handling weapons grade plutonium is keeping it actual plutonium and not becoming plutonium mixed with something else while cooling it through various allotrope phases.

Oh. please. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39084081)

Even frigging north korea could do that. Separation and concentration is neither hard nor a secret. Doing it cheaply and secretely IS where it is hard. Doing it inneficientely and unsecretely is not hard at all.

Re:Oh. please. (1)

Luckyo (1726890) | more than 2 years ago | (#39084557)

You're severely underestimating effort needed to acquire/built enriching and separating equipment. North Korea had to invest a huge amount to get this done, and all they could do was a very basic uranium device.

And if you try that with plutonium, you'll end up with a whole lot of useless materiel. Plutonium has a ridiculous amount of different allotropes making keeping it pure and usable after cooling it a huge technical challenge.

Re:Even atom bomb are easy (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080829)

Quick! Hide all the trucks!

And the Grandmas!

Re:Even atom bomb are easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39081327)

...making it deliverable in ICBM/missile/"suitcase". That involve a lot more engineering, neutron reflector and a choice of various materials.

Bah. Typical nukes are, "squeeze a hunk of X fissile material until it becomes supercritical", and elaborate suitcase bombs are a hollywood joke. Pressure (shaped explosive), kinetic (strongly endothermic) or simply a physical barrier separating something supercritical where the barrier can be quickly removed (highly refined plutonium and a meltable moderator).

Now if you want only 10 kt, have a lot of uranium to spend, and a big ass truck to move it, well then anybody and their grandma can do one.

Fat man and little boy were uranium (fat) and plutonium (little). It's all moot though, since any atom bomb can be the core of a hydrogen bomb and hydrogen bombs scale up significantly more.

For terrorist purposes, it doesn't even need to be functional/real. The purpose of terrorism is fear; and killing is secondary. For any other purpose, there's no incentive to build an elaborate "compact" weapon of mass destruction - just the biggest yield possible with the materials available plus any additives to make the fallout dirtier.

Heck, I bet it's possible to build a hydrogen bomb without using a fission bomb to start it. Then there'd be no radioisotopes necessary, no difficult enrichment process.

Re:Even atom bomb are easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39082853)

Heck, I bet it's possible to build a hydrogen bomb without using a fission bomb to start it. Then there'd be no radioisotopes necessary, no difficult enrichment process.

The trick would be to get a source of thermal energy, neutrons, and X-ray or high energy gamma radiation all in the same area rather fast and at a high enough energy density. Then you need a good amount of lithium-6 deuteride. The first part seems a lot easier to do with a conventional nuclear weapon than with some convoluted array of lasers, neutron guns, and thermite. Another alternative may be in something like a Z-machine, but that's not really portable is it?

Also there's some other trick to moderating the impulse that passes through the lithium matrix in order to break the lithium itself into hydrogen and fuse that with the hydrogen which was contained in its matrix. Too fast and it blows apart before the fusion magic begins. Too slow and the level of intensity for it to happen isn't there. If that part were easy, countries wanting to get into the nuclear club would have been going for the H-bomb to begin with. The differences in building your 'splodey thing may be comparable to those between a wooden cuckoo clock and a Swiss watch with jewel bearings and a precision movement.

Not that the idea isn't interesting though. If it's really possible to skip the first fission step using a typical nuclear explosive device, there might be something else interesting out of it. If enough people were to figure such details out, it may be possible to limit the reaction in a more controlled manner and build lithium-hydride reactors. We would then have (possibly cheap) fusion energy, but it would be far different than Tokamaks or Bussard/Farnsworth designs. Skip dealing with the "dirty" uranium stuff with the long half-live waste material all together. Who knows, maybe the lithium rush going on now has more to it than high-energy-density batteries and it's usefulness in chemical processess? Might be part of the next big energy source after coal, oil, gas, and uranium.

Nope, can't say I know enough. Far from it. But I figured it's something to put out there for people with more of a clue to ponder over if they aren't doing so already.

Now the world knows it exists. (1)

stevenh2 (1853442) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080283)

Someone will try to recreate it anyway, now that people know it exists. Even without on how to do it.

Yet again the editors deleted my submission (3, Informative)

wisebabo (638845) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080285)

I submitted this a few hours before this one. (That makes three for three recent submissions of mine that were in the /recent queue and just vanished!). I guess for this one they didn't like my alarmist tone. Anyway, these guys say the studies will stay secret but the New York Times link I provided says they will be releasing the full details (after a delay).

Here is my submission:

wisebabo writes
"So they're going to release FULL details of how to make this? Time to whip up my bio-reactor!

Ok, so this easily transmissible human to human virus (as predicted by ferret models) *only* has a lethality of 50% but that should be enough to collapse civilization. At least it'll help cut down on global warming.

Still that doesn't compare with that (smallpox?) variant which had an almost 100% fatality rate. I remember the publication for that one was suppressed pretty fast. I guess they think this one isn't nearly as dangerous which i would agree with except for the fact that it is AIRBORNE TRANSMISSIBLE (it's based on the Flu!). Boy is sneezing going to be a real conversation killer!

Seems like we've solved the Fermi Paradox; once a species has figured out to make or modify self-replicating nano bots (like viruses), they'll inevitably make one that will in one way or another wipe them out.

Hey, let's see if we can get them to release this in time for 12/21/12!"

Link to Original Source

Re:Yet again the editors deleted my submission (2)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080345)

I submitted this a few hours before this one. (That makes three for three recent submissions of mine that were in the /recent queue and just vanished!). I guess for this one they didn't like my alarmist tone.

That, and the clearly subjective nature of your commentary.

In this case, I agree with /. (assuming your submission really was removed, and for those reasons); I would prefer the summaries stay as neutral about a topic as possible, and let the reader make their own judgements. You know, News in the old-skool, not sensationalized sense.


Telling us what happened is fine; save the editorializing for the comment section.

Re:Yet again the editors deleted my submission (1)

wisebabo (638845) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080525)

So submissions shoud be treated differently than comments? Never thought of that but that might explain why even when my submission was rejected, people seemed to enjoy the very same post as a comment. Here's an example:

http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=2677993&cid=39078095 [slashdot.org]

Re:Yet again the editors deleted my submission (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080617)

So submissions shoud be treated differently than comments?

IMO, yea. The constant editorializing is why I avoid network news channels. If I wanted opinions I would read a forum thread, you know?

Never thought of that but that might explain why even when my submission was rejected, people seemed to enjoy the very same post as a comment.

I don't work for /., so I can only surmise what the official rationale is. But to address your point, commentary is expected to be subjective, so wording it to favor your opinion on the matter is par-for-the-course. It's only the summary I prefer remain objective, so as to allow the reader the opportunity to get the actual facts then decide how they feel about it.

Again, not saying it was a bad comment, just too editorialized to be considered as an objective summary.

IMHO.

YMMV.

Re:Yet again the editors deleted my submission (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 2 years ago | (#39081717)

Exactly. Submissions should state the fact and if possible, remain unbiased. Personal POVs should be voiced as a comment. It's perfectly fair game to submit and comment. Just don't do both during the submission process.

Re:Yet again the editors deleted my submission (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39080353)

Yours wasn't chosen because it was shit.

Does it matter? (1)

Xandrax (2451618) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080311)

While I understand their reasons for doing this, it's not going to matter much. We've reached the point in technology where the answer to the Fermi Paradox will be paying us a visit. Technology has advanced far beyond our social evolution and will lead to a catastrophic event, either intentional or accidental, that will decimate or annihilate us. Looking at the big picture of human's existence on Earth, whatever time this might buy us won't matter much, so why bother.

DRACO (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39080317)

Hurry up DRACO! Sounds like DRACO could mitigate the problem in countries that can afford it. As usual, the poor (most of the planet) would be left behind. DRACO, if successful, would render any viral weapon worthless.

Cure worse than disease? (1)

roguegramma (982660) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080475)

Reading the DRACO description on Wikipedia, I cannot tell whether the cure is worse than the disease.

The only part in the Wikipedia article I liked was the cleavage.

These.. (1)

Higgins_Boson (2569429) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080325)

These aren't the avian pathogens you're looking for.

This will hinder science in the long run (1)

diewlasing (1126425) | more than 2 years ago | (#39080549)

We can't carry out risk analysis everytime research needs to be published, even if it is (wrongly, I believe, in the current context) perceived as dangerous.

Re:This will hinder science in the long run (2)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 2 years ago | (#39081699)

We can't carry out risk analysis everytime research needs to be published, even if it is (wrongly, I believe, in the current context) perceived as dangerous.

But it won't be every time. This is clearly a politicized issue on many levels:

- It feeds into discussions of "the War on Terror"
- It triggers people's fears about vaccines, modern medicine, and doctors
- It strays into conservatives' beliefs about government funding of science
- Because it's science, it fires up debates about universities, education, "ivory-tower academics," etc
- The UN is involved, and some people think the UN shouldn't exist (and therefore either the WHO has no right to object, or the research should never have been done, take your pick)
- There's a class warfare element (who will get the vaccine?) and in America, at least, that always evokes race (will we get it?)
- The race thing in America runs deep (they invented the flu to kill us)
- And so on

I for one ........ (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39080935)

Some people seem to think this is a free speech issue but free speech has always been limited. It's the old you can't yell fire in a crowded theater. Yes terrorists may be able to figure if out for themselves but we don't have to give them an instruction manual. Beside we aren't dealing with rocket scientist and I doubt they can figure it out with help. In the end it's the threat they want they aren't out for mass murder because if they are they are going about it all wrong. All you have to do is find a common but dangerous flu strain then begin feeding it generation after generation small amounts of every antibiotic known. After a couple of years you you have something that will kill most people with compromised immune systems and all it took was a few years and several grand in antibiotics and lab equipment. A high school biology student has the basic knowledge needed. The trickiest part is not infecting yourself along the way. Our poultry and cattle industries are doing something like this and it isn't terrorism it's in the name of saving a buck.

58% figure is bogus (4, Interesting)

estitabarnak (654060) | more than 2 years ago | (#39081605)

The 58% figure is not the number of people who were exposed to the virus and died. It is not the number of people who have been exposed and successfully infected and died.

The 58% figure is the number of people who were SO sick that it warranted going to the hospital, and then died.

Serological surveys have shown that in the populations where H5N1 has been historically present there are an extensive number of people who have been infected, successfully mounted an immune response, and survived. And even that says nothing about the people who were exposed and did not get sick.

The 50-60% figure has been getting a ton of coverage in the press, and is total bullshit. As a reason to censor scientific research, it is total bullshit.

Re:58% figure is bogus (2)

Rutulian (171771) | more than 2 years ago | (#39083325)

Yes, that is true. However, assuming all flu epidemiological data suffers from the same systematic error, the H5N1 strain still has a much higher mortality rate than the other strains--ie: 58% may really be 35%, but then the 20% for H1N1 is actually 12%, assuming the same sampling error. So H5N1 is still a dangerous strain to take very seriously.

Leak time (1)

J'raxis (248192) | more than 2 years ago | (#39081629)

So when is someone going to acquire a copy and leak it to Wikileaks or similar? Once it's out it's out, and this now-months-long saga of trying to justify censorship will become moot.

Ha ha (1)

russotto (537200) | more than 2 years ago | (#39081827)

Nope, this one's done. There's nothing so permanent as a temporary restriction. The moratorium will be extended indefinitely (or as long as the copyright on Mickey Mouse, whichever is shorter)

make you scared so you give away your liberty (1)

locopuyo (1433631) | more than 2 years ago | (#39082715)

The government just wants to make you scared and give away your liberty so they have more power.

Research should be condemned (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39083323)

Ron Fouchier is an idiot. The scientific community is also at fault. They should have made it abundantly clear that anyone doing this kind of research would not get published, ever (as deterrence). People claim about governments pulling off this sort of weapon research. Well, fair enough... so now that an individual has done it, they should be equally condemned.

I take this very personally. It's all fun and games until you start losing family members to these kinds of diseases. If his strain ends up killing anyone he should be convicted of manslaughter.

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