Terrorist attacks using biological weapons, and also the threat of widespread viruses and illnesses have prompted the creation of research labs as preventive measures to deal with these types of possible future problems. These research labs which study some of the most harmful pathogens and viruses known to mankind are now present all over the world in places like Australia, Russia, South Africa, The U.K., and also The United States. These research labs are classified in four categories according to the level of danger posed by the pathogens being studied within these labs. The highest or most dangerous classification is known as Bio-safety Level Four (BSL-4), these are "also known as maximum containment laboratories (MCLs), to perform work essential for promoting public health and to ensure bioterrorism preparedness."(LeDuc 1685). In Recent years The United States government has decided to take a proactive approach, as they have sought to be prepared for biological terrorist attacks or the spread of dangerous viruses and diseases. They have done this by building and overseeing various BSL-4, research labs in partnership with some of the best research programs of academic institutions. Although these moves by government appear to be justified and well-meaning, they have been far from embraced by the public. One case that has caused great controversy and uproar is the building of the Boston University Bio-safety Lab 4. The lab is located in a densely populated area in Boston and many local scientists, residents and members of the media especially, have spoken out against the construction and continued operation of the Lab. Although it is clear that the lab can in some rare instances prove to be dangerous to the surrounding public and to its own workers, the level uproar and controversy it has caused appears to be fueled by the media concentrated own achieving its own agenda and for its own financial gain and notoriety. Media outlets have failed to report in an informative, objective and unbiased manner. They have instead chosen to capitalize on the fears of the public, while at the same time sensationalizing the highly unlikely potential dangerous of the BSL-4, in order to further their own enterprise.
The traditional role of media outlets has been to inform the public specifically those in their surrounding communities about news worthy and important stories and issues. With the rise of media outlets both in print, television and the internet competition has increased. Media outlets now compete with each other for popularity and survival. They are not necessarily concerned with providing their readers, viewers or subscribers with informed, objective and intellectually based information. They instead want to provide sensational stories in order to cause controversy, because controversy sells. In regards to the Boston University Bio-safety Lab 4, media outlets have not reported in a fair manner that covers all aspects of the controversy. Many times in media reports and all literature in general what is excluded from the text is just as, if not more important than what is included.
In the case of the Boston University BSL-4, the media outlets have excluded in their reports documents that give high safety marks to BSL-4 in general. They have also failed to mention the relatively low history of accidents as well as the high standards of training and exceptional safety procedures involved in the processes of operating these labs. They have also ignored the highly effective, correlated and coordinated infrastructure involved in the training of employees working within these labs who are responsible for the safety, upkeep and maintenance of these labs. Documents that can help ease the fears of community members afraid of potential accidents and outbreaks near their homes need to be made available and report on. One of these documents that can perhaps help alleviate some of the fears involved with the operation of a BSL-4 in Boston is James W. LeDuc's article titled Framework for Leadership and Training of Biosafety Level 4 Laboratory Workers. This article is very informative and serves to provide clarity and understanding to the exact procedures involved in the educating, training, hiring and supervision of employees who work in these labs and who are ultimately responsible for the safety of the Lab and its surroundings. As stated by LeDuc in his article "Development of rigorous standards for BSL-4 laboratory training will instill confidence in the public, policy makers, and security officials that the expanded international network of BSL-4 laboratories will continue to be operated safely and will pose no risk to scientific staff, local communities, surrounding environment,"(LeDuc 1686). In his article the author provides a clear and convincing outline of the structure and procedural standards used in the development and maintenance of the lab, and he also provides a clear hierarchy of the leaders responsible for and involved in with the process. The media however chooses not to report on this aspect of the controversy because it tends to bore and placate people. The article written by LeDuc is well written and very interesting and informative. It is however far from being appealing to the tabloids and the general public.
The media has not really been as concerned with getting to the specifics of the issue as they have been in igniting controversy while siding with the public. The media has described and written about meetings and rallies against the Boston University lab in a manner that sides with the public and makes their plight look heroic. The media has framed the issue in a manner that pits the community against an overbearing government and its cronies. Instead of writing about the issue with clarity and attempting to evaluate the actual pros and cons of having and operating a Bio-safety Lab 4, they try to create social upheaval and controversy. For example in her article for the media outlet The Tufts Daily Gabrielle Hernandez reported the quote of Vickey Stienitz, co-coordinator of the Greater Boston Committee of the Coalition to Stop the BioTerror Lab, as saying "This lab would never be placed in a middle-class area, the citizens wouldn't stand for it," Steinitz said. "I think the assumption was that this was a low-income neighborhood of color, and people wouldn't have the power to protest it." Although this was the opinion of a person not affiliated with that individual media outlet it is important to note that they have exclusive editing rights to their paper and know what comments cause controversy. By allowing this quote to be printed in their article they allow for this to be seen as a social struggle, of rich vs. poor and low-income vs. high-income. By framing the issue in this manner the media obscures the real issues and prevents them from being debated and resolved.
Some of the media reports about the Boston University lab issue have been printed with language designed create uncertainty and fear in the public's perception. Many of the articles written concentrate on and pay acute attention to hypothetical scenarios that according to history and science are very unlikely to occur. For Example in her article titled A Bio-Safety Level Four Facility in Boston: A threat of Epidemic or a Defense against Bioterrorism Janice O'Brien touches upon the controversy regarding the location of the BU lab. In her report she appears to be preoccupied with informing the public of the overwhelming and deadly dangers that can come out of that lab, she constantly uses words and phrases like: "BSL-4 facilities contain the most dangerous organisms known to mankind such as Ebola and weaponized anthrax." This phrase is repeated again as a quoted side column emphasized in bold font size 20 letters. Its curious how they decided to take that phrase out of context and isolate it by placing it aside, it appears to be an attempt by the media…