Hosts: Vincent Racaniello, Dickson Despommier, Alan Dove, and Kathy Spindler
Guest: Paul Duprex
Paul joins the TWiV team to discuss the current moratorium on viral research to alter transmission, range and resistance, infectivity and immunity, and pathogenesis.
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Download TWiV 321 (73 MB .mp3, 100 min)
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Links for this episode
- Wain-Hobson objects (one, two, three, four)
- Influenza H7N1 transmission experiments (J Virol)
- Epistemological perspective on aTRIP experiments (mBio)
- Limited scientific value and risk (mBio)
- Reply to limited scientific value (mBio)
- Risks and benefits of aTRIP experiments (mBio)
- Apocalypse as rhetorical device in aTRIP debate (mBio)
- Moratorium on aTRIP experiments
- Moratorium on aTRIP research (mBio)
- Risks of influenza virus transmission experiments (mBio)
- Reply to risks of influenza virus transmission experiments (mBio)
- Vagueness of moratorium on aTRIP experiments (mBio)
- Role of aTRIP experiments in vaccine recommendation (mBio)
- Use of aTRIP data for surveillance and preparedness (mBio)
- aTRIP towards lexiconic precision (mBio)
- October 2014 NSABB meeting on aTRIP
- NAS aTRIP meeting (YouTube)
- MERS-CoV aTRIP experiments exempted (ScienceInsider)
- aTRIP: time for a debate (Nat Rev Micro)
- Effect of aTRIP moratorium on trainee plans (mBio)
- Make the moratorium permanent (Sci Am)
- Image credit: John Morris
- Letters read on TWiV 321
Weekly Science Picks
Alan – In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
Paul – Saving the lives of our dogs (blog post)
Kathy – New all-female Lego set
Dickson – Female storm-chaser
Vincent – Despommier Photo Art
Listener Pick of the Week
Jacob – Exaggeration in news and press releases (BMJ)
Peter – Quartet game (photos: one, two, three, four, five)
Send your virology questions and comments (email or mp3 file) to firstname.lastname@example.org
amazing! Thanks you!
My hat is off to Vincent and friends for being able to talk about gain-of-function research in an honest and engaging manner. I personally would have no problem with halting this research if someone could truly make an honest and thorough case for it, but I see very little of this coming from the anti-GoF crowd. Try making it all the way through that Scientific American article without grinding your teeth. I am embarrassed that a magazine I love published this without any rebuttal whatsoever, and I wonder if their editors even realize how few professional virologists share Lipsitch’s conclusions.
If history is any guide, you may have already lost on the GOF issue and the future of biology in the US. First a legitimate scientific question is raised, then some scientist starts taking a radical position and comes up with an arbitrary set of assumptions that risks catastrophic impacts. The bench scientists respond with science, reason and better sets of assumptions in the risk calculation that show insignificant risk. The high risk assumption makes the press and feed the ego of the scientist who make the assumptions (giving him a huge state in backing his foolish assumptions along with normal confirmation bias issues: he can’t and won’t back down and evolves into a “true believer” like the Wakefiels and anti-evolutionists and Climate change denial activist who actually believe their own delusions and assumptions) and the politicians and political scientists (including scientists who turned politician) sense a tactical advantage and join the fray with moratoriums, delays, and restructuring of regulatory organizations to favor more arbitrary political decision making. It is game over for rational science, where most of the funds get shifted to bureaucrats and record keeping.
The only action left is to put the decision making in the hands of lawyers and political appointees to make the decision making “independent” of the “proponents” resulting in no one at the funding level knowing any details about the actual science in question. A bunch of scientist with actual skin in the game and bench level knowledge can’t be trusted to make these high risk decisions.
If you want an example of this history, look at nuclear power. Back in the 60’s it was poised to put coal out of business (and prevent much of the global warming issue as a byproduct), but you had a couple of real scientists who really understood health physics make some assumptions about various reactor designs “blowing up” and spreading death and destruction everywhere. However, those scientists in reactor physics and dispersion showed that these assumption were insanely high, but the original estimates made the headlines. At that time the AEC (Atomic Energy Commission) was accused of being too close to the evolving industry and the NRC (nuclear regulatory commission) was created to oversea this evolving industry. The NRC, whose present members consists of four lawyers (one empty slot) only 2 of which even have relevant undergraduate degrees and all are political connected.
The NRC managed to triple the cost of reactors and double the construction time while freezing the technology to 70’s levels that we are still dealing with. This stopped the downward cost curve for nuclear power and made it more expensive than coal in the US. Most of the best scientists and engineers left the field and the existing systems are being managed by lawyers and bureaucrats, which is far more scary. This also killed the research in fast breeders and most research reactors in most Universities.
The worst possible accident in the worst possible reactor design (a positive thermal coefficient design: not like the western designs) did occur in Chernobyl with a total of 2000 direct and delayed fatalities with Japan at zero from radiation (18,000 from the tsunami) and TMI with zero. These numbers are trivial relative to the death and destruction from the coal alternative, let alone the climate change impacts of the coal. These numbers from half a century of hard data indicate that the assumptions by the serious scientists of a more reasonable risk was clearly scientifically correct and justified and the chicken little’s were full on FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt).
Imagine grant oversight board for microbiology consisting of 5 commissioners who are all lawyers and appointed by politicians with only 2 of the 5 having even a BS degree level of knowledge about biology and none of whom had actually done any real research. That is what may come based upon history.
I could have used many other evolving technologies, such as offshore aquaculture, etc. where a few activists have killed the future and jobs in the US, but the world impact of not replacing coal fired electricity with nuclear is the largest impact on humanity and the environment. Most of the TWIVERS probably believe the narrative that nuclear power is too risky without looking at the data or alternatives.
Hopefully the future citizens won’t believe than biological research is too risky to safely conduct while nature runs billions of experiments per second trying to take advantage of one of the largest protein sources on this planet — human biomass. The alternative is facing nature without knowledge, and that doesn’t work out very well for the dominant biomass (nature kills of the winners while increasing diversity).