An interesting article that made me think two things: 1. As scientists we are rarely encouraged to thing about the big picture implications of the research we are geekily obsessed with - we need to ensure the public have the right to have their concerns respected and 2. it's easy to sound scary when talking about a very unlikely catastrophic event.
Reverse-engineering the scary stats in the paper means that it claims there is a 0.2% risk/year of someone catching something when working in a high containment lab. However its impossible to make such assessments accurately when the thing you're preventing has not happened before, so 0.2% is probably the most conservative estimate of how likely it is something could go wrong (i.e. the real answer is probably far lower than that).
The question I'd like to know is: in the past 10 years, how many people who work in these labs have got sick from working with any dangerous viruses in these labs?
More generally, people are prone to freak out when faced with unknown risks - so it's unsurprising the papers love a story like this!
Public health experts have warned that controversial experiments on mutant viruses could put human lives in danger by unleashing an accidental pandemic. Several groups of scientists around the world are creating and altering viruses to understand how natural strains might evolve into more lethal forms that spread easily among humans. But in a report published on Tuesday, researchers at Harvard and Yale universities in the US argue that the benefits of the work are outweighed by the risk of pathogenic strains escaping from laboratories and spreading around the world. They calculate that if 10 high-containment labs in the US performed such experiments for 10 years, the chance of at least one person becoming infected was nearly 20%. If an infected person left the laboratory, the virus might then spread more widely.