A critical voice on biosafety

Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, has become a leading critic of experiments creating dangerous flu strains that are transmissible between mammals. Earlier this year, he co-authored an editorial calling for greater scrutiny of these so-called “gain-of- function” experiments, and for future studies on flu transmission to use safer and more effective alternative approaches.

“Just learning good science is not a justification for putting life and health at risk,” Lipsitch said in a September 8, 2014 BBC World Service Discovery podcast.

A Science magazine profile, published in the September 5, 2014 issue, observed that Lipsitch’s warnings about the risk of accidents at labs working with dangerous pathogens were prescient given this summer’s biosafety incidents at the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The article quotes longtime friend and collaborator Lone Simonsen, who calls Lipsitch “one of the bravest scientists I know.” He added that if Lipsitch “feels strongly about an issue he will pursue and talk about it, even though it is a point of view most of his sympathetic colleagues share but would not discuss aloud.”

Lipsitch also recently spoke to ScienceInsider about the difficulty of calculating Ebola’s fatality rate. Read the article, which was published online September 8, 2014: How deadly is Ebola? Statistical challenges may be inflating survival rate