TED Conversations

Jelena Nedjic

Postdoctoral Fellow, Ludwig Maximilians University Munich


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To publish or not to publish?

Open access to scientific findings are the must. Or so do we think.
What happens in case of discoveries that have potential to be used as a bio-weapon? Should all information be available to anyone who is willing to pay the price? What are the consequences? How we- the community at large- not only TEDies- should react? The researchers from Netherlands and Wisconsin came up to potentially deadly bio-weapon, the air-born bird-flu virus...it has potential to kill millions...should information about its synthesis be available? Should we be angry at the government for trying to limit the accessibility to information or should we applaud it? Where is the point at which scientific freedom ends?


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    Dec 28 2011: Very interesting question. I held my breath a few days ago when I read an article about the scientists being urged or pressured (or both) to withhold information about the strain. I haven't found an answer to this question and thank god, I'm not responsible for this decision.
    But two arguments for publishing the study, nevertheless have come into my mind.
    For one, the article I read about the whole thing said that there was prior exposure of the material (or big parts of it) at conferences. That means possible bioterrorists allready could have or procure most / all of the info.
    Withholding the information would on the other hand mean that the scientific community can't work together on finding an antidote for lack of information. Or at least they would first have to dig.
    If you ask me personally, I'd rather have the entire international science community know that there might be a problem, and how it would look like - to facilitate early discovery / to give more heads a chance to work on a solution - than to withold the information from potential terrorists.
    At first I've asked myself what the sense of this discovery was in the first place - I guess the answer is: the mutation can occur spontaniously in the wild - we might preemptively find a cure for it. Weird thinking but ok - they said "A" - and if we agree of thei initial drive or not isn't important - now someone has to say "B" in finding a vaccine or something.

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