"The hidden data could be of immense value in determining how the virus is evolving and in developing effective vaccines or drugs. The possibility of breakthroughs can increase only if many more scientists can analyze the data," the editors wrote.
The World Health Organization is being challenged to open its archives by Ilaria Capua, an Italian veterinarian who is working on bird flu. Instead of sending her data to the password-protected archive, she publicly released it and has urged her colleagues to do the same.
"She is surely right. The limited-access archive should be opened or bypassed immediately to encourage research on this looming health menace," The Times said.
The New York daily explained that the WHO maintains such a closed system in order to encourage scientists, who worried about being upstaged by rivals, to share their information on a limited basis even before they have published their findings in a journal. The WHO also contends that confidentiality is needed to persuade edgy countries, concerned about negative publicity or the loss of intellectual property, to release the genetic sequences of viruses found on their territory.
"Those arguments seem insubstantial now that some top WHO officials and other health authorities have called for opening the exclusive-access system. Academic and national pride must not be allowed to slow potentially crucial health research," The Times said.