For more than a decade now, two scientists–one in the U.S. and one in the Netherlands–have been trying to create a deadly human pathogen from avian influenza. That’s right: they are trying to turn “bird flu,” which does not normally infect people, into a human flu.
Not surprisingly, many scientists are vehemently opposed to this. In mid-2014, a group of them formed the Cambridge Working Group and issued a statement warning of the dangers of this research. The statement was signed by hundreds of scientists at virtually every major U.S. and European university. (Full disclosure: I am one of the signatories.)
In response to these and other concerns, in October 2014 the U.S. government called for a “pause” in this dangerous research. NIH Director Francis Collins said that his agency would study the risks and benefits before proceeding further.
Well, four years later, the risks and benefits haven’t changed, but the NIH has (quietly) just allowed the research to start again, as we learned last week in an exclusive report from Science‘s Jocelyn Kaiser.
I can’t allow this to go unchallenged. This research is so potentially harmful, and offers such little benefit to society, that I fear that NIH is endangering the trust that Congress places in it. And don’t misinterpret me: I’m a huge supporter of NIH, and I’ve argued before that it’s one of the best investments the American public can make. But they got this one really, really wrong.