PNAS Publishes Botulinum Paper

Science  01 Jul 2005:
Vol. 309, Issue 5731, pp. 31
DOI: 10.1126/science.309.5731.31b

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) this week published, unchanged, a hot-button paper modeling a possible bioweapons attack. And federal officials aren't happy.

The study, led by Stanford mathematician Lawrence Wein, models a terrorist attack on the U.S. milk supply using botulinum toxin and discusses possible preventive measures. PNAS released the paper 25 May to reporters under embargo but delayed publishing it after Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) official Stewart Simonson suggested that the information could aid terrorists and asked NAS President Bruce Alberts to hold off (Science, 3 June, p. 1395).

The paper is being published with only copy editing changes, writes Alberts in an editorial accompanying an online version of the paper. Data useful to a terrorist—such as the lethal dose of botulinum toxin to humans—are available on the Internet, he says, and the modeling “can be valuable for biodefense.”

“While I respect the academy's decision, I do not agree with it,” HHS's Simonson told Science. “If the academy is wrong, the consequences will be serious, and it will be HHS—not the academy—that will have to deal with them.”

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