Authored by: Stephanie Lavau

The Routledge Handbook of Mobilities

Print publication date:  December  2013
Online publication date:  January  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415667715
eBook ISBN: 9781315857572
Adobe ISBN: 9781317934134


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In January 2012, an international consortium of scientists made a rather surprising announcement in a letter hastily published in the eminent journals Nature and Science. They announced not an exciting new discovery, method or fact, but instead a self-imposed moratorium on their laboratory research, an action that was without precedence in the biomedical sciences. What were they working on that was so potentially dangerous and controversial so as to prompt such a drastic measure? It was a virus, more specifically, the star of Soderbergh’s 2011 blockbuster disaster movie Contagion: avian influenza. In their public statement, researchers from 39 laboratories declared, “we have agreed on a voluntary pause of 60 days on any research involving highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 viruses leading to the generation of viruses that are more transmissible in mammals” (Fouchier et al. 2012). From scientific publications to newspapers, to blogs and tweets: the announcement rapidly propagated through media around the world, with the virus at the centre of all this fuss attracting hyperbolic headlines as the “Armageddon flu” (Anon. 2012) and the “Doomsday flu” (MacKenzie 2012). Why so much concern for this virus and this research?

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