MADISON, Wis. — Of the hundreds of monkeys in the University of Wisconsin’s primate center, a few — including rhesus macaque 827577 — are now famous, at least among scientists tracking the Zika virus.
Since February, a team led by David H. O’Connor, the chairman of the center’s global infectious diseases department, has been conducting a unique experiment in scientific transparency. The tactic may presage the evolution of new ways to respond to fast-moving epidemics.
Dr. O’Connor and his colleagues have been infecting pregnant female macaques with the Zika virus, minutely recording their symptoms, and giving them blood tests and ultrasounds. But then, instead of saving their data for academic journals, the researchers have posted it almost immediately on a website anyone can visit.
The openness of the process thrills scientists, who say it fosters collaboration and speeds research.
“David’s work is very useful,” said Dr. Koen Van Rompay, a virologist at theCalifornia National Primate Research Center at the University of California, Davis. “We all learn from each other and make sure we don’t duplicate each other’s work.”
Back-to-back epidemics of Ebola and Zika have driven some infectious disease specialists to embrace greater speed and openness. Until now, they felt forced to hoard data and tissue samples: Careers depend on being published in prestigious journals, which often refuse to publish work that has previously been released and may take months to edit papers.
At the same time, Dr. O’Connor’s openness has exposed some of the more macabre requirements of scientific research.
Animal rights activists are upset at the brutal reality of infecting female monkeys and dissecting their babies. They argue that the work is unnecessary because scientists have already learned a lot by drawing blood from Zika-infected human mothers and dissecting some human fetuses that have died in the womb or were aborted.
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