Most observers and participants expect that the NSABB will continue to weigh in on policy development, although it may have to resolve questions about conflicts of interest first. In the wake of the flu controversy, some observers have questioned whether it is appropriate to have the NSABB under the control of the NIH — which funded the flu research — and populated by NIH-funded scientists. Board members might not have wanted to vote against publication if it risked biting the hand that feeds them. “I'd be lying if I didn't say that that thought crossed my mind,” says Michael Imperiale, a virologist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and a member of the board since its inception. Ultimately, he says, he followed his conscience, which favoured publication of both articles. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIAID and a non-voting member of the NSABB, calls the idea of the NIAID taking revenge against NSABB members for their vote “preposterous”.
The whole controversy has been an ordeal for those involved. But Casadevall takes a positive view. “The end result has been a tremendous education,” he says.
“I don't know how much of a silver lining that is,” Fidler says. There's little consensus as to what a new system for dual-use research oversight should look like, he says, and governments have simply kicked the can down the road in the past. “That may happen again, but at least it's out in the open,” he says.
This article is reproduced with permission from the magazine Nature. The article was first published on May 25, 2012.