Debunking myths on genetics and DNA

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Avian flu papers will be published!

Apologies if you've heard about this already, I was away last week and I'm slowly catching up.

The members of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) finally gave the green light for the two papers on the avian flu virus to be published in full in Science and Nature respectively. I originally discussed the issue in this post, and you can read about the update here. Basically, the two papers independently showed that an artificially mutated strain of H5N1 (the so-called avian flu, a highly pathogenic flu strain, under normal conditions transmissible only through contaminated fluids) could be transmitted through aerosol (not just fluids) in ferrets. Back in December, the NSABB had recommended not to publish the papers in full, and in particular to redact the data on the mutations that conferred the new transmission route to the virus.

Security issues aside, which I have already discussed, the part that struck me about the Science news story [1] is this:
"The original papers were typical Science and Nature papers: very brief, short on detailed discussion, little to no information on biosafety/biosecurity/mitigation, and perhaps even a little sensational," says NSABB member Lynn Enquist, a molecular biologist at Princeton University. Fouchier's original paper, in particular, was somewhat misleading, several NSABB members told Science. [. . .] Fouchier agrees that his original 2500- word Science manuscript was "not as clear and as explicit as it could have been if we had been given another couple of hundred words."
It's an issue I am very sensitive to because even though I understand high-profile journals like Science need to keep a word limit, we (authors) often struggle to meet this limit and have to sacrifice clarity in order to keep the report concise. Invariably, the reviewers come back with confused comments. I don't have a solution to this, but it is a problem. In this particular case, the solution was to allow Fouchier and colleagues extra words to present the data.

The other statement I'd like to highlight is one NSABB member Michael Imperiale of the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor made, also reported in [1]:
"What it came down to for me ... [is that there] might be a risk to not publishing."
Something I completely agree with. Sharing the data will motivate more funding into this type of research and more surveillance.

[1] Cohen, J., & Malakoff, D. (2012). On Second Thought, Flu Papers Get Go-Ahead Science, 336 (6077), 19-20 DOI: 10.1126/science.336.6077.19

1 comment:

  1. This should be a good thing. I am almost always on the side of letting information flow to the most people possible.


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