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Dual Use Research in the Biomedical Sciences

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Precautionary Reasoning in Environmental and Public Health Policy

Part of the book series: The International Library of Bioethics ((ILB,volume 86))

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Abstract

Scientific research benefits society in many ways. The knowledge generated by science has practical applications in medicine, public health, engineering, industry, transportation, navigation, communication, education, public policy, and numerous other aspects of human life. However, knowledge can also be used to cause harm to individuals, society, and the environment. The knowledge used to build a nuclear reactor may also be used to build nuclear weapons; the knowledge used to launch a rocket to the moon may also be used to guide a missile to kill innocent civilians; and the knowledge used to develop a vaccine might also be used to make a bioweapon.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The plague is a bacterium that is transmitted by fleas that feed on rats and humans.

  2. 2.

    Of course, some would argue that all non-defensive uses of weapons in warfare are immoral because war is immoral. For a discussion of the morality of war, see Orend (2006).

  3. 3.

    Webb (2003) does not view deployment as a significant obstacle to using anthrax as a bioweapon but Burton and Stewart (2008) disagree.

  4. 4.

    Gain of function research is research that is designed to allow a pathogen to acquire a new function, such as airborne transmissibility.

  5. 5.

    Viruses use their surface proteins to infect cells. Proteins on the outside of the virus attach to receptors on cells. After the virus attaches to the cell, it inserts its genetic material into the cell (DNA or RNA), which instructs the cell to make copies of the virus (Urry et al. 2016).

  6. 6.

    Of course, one needs to answer the question: “how does you decide when someone is a responsible scientist?”, which will be addressed below.

  7. 7.

    Other countries have similar laws.

  8. 8.

    Freedom of thought, opinion, and expression are part of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). About thirty countries have national laws protecting freedom of expression, but most countries do not and many actively suppress free expression (Freedom House 2017).

  9. 9.

    30 other countries, including the Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, and India, Mexico, Nigeria, and Poland also have freedom of information laws (National Freedom of Information Coalition 2020).

  10. 10.

    Another reason why scientific freedom is important is because it is a form of freedom of expression, which is a basic human right (Resnik 2009). See discussion of censorship below.

  11. 11.

    The Soviet Union’s suppression of Mendelian genetics is salient example of how restrictions on freedom and openness can undermine progress. See Resnik (2009) for further discussion.

  12. 12.

    The subjective approach would be too biased to be useful for estimating biosecurity and biosafety risks and the mathematical approach would be too unrealistic to be useful.

  13. 13.

    See the discussion of estimating low probability, catastrophic events in Chapters 2 and 4.

  14. 14.

    See Lipsitch and Bloom (2012) and Lipsitch and Galvani (2014) for disclosure of financial interests and funding.

  15. 15.

    See discussion in Chapter 7.

  16. 16.

    See Chapter 7 for discussion of these risks.

  17. 17.

    Examples include the former Soviet Union and North Korea.

  18. 18.

    The idea of forbidden knowledge is thousands of years old. According to the book of Genesis in the Bible, Adam and Eve committed a sin by eating the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

  19. 19.

    It would be wise to obtain information from individuals with knowledge and expertise related to national and global security, which the NSABB has done. Since some of this information may be classified, some of the deliberations concerning funding of dual use research may need to be confidential.

  20. 20.

    In theory, there is a fourth option, namely, publish the research in an obscure journal that only specialists in the field will know about. While this may have been a viable option before the advent of the internet, it is no longer, because people can easily use search engines to find papers published in journals that are accessible online.

  21. 21.

    The cost of background check to obtain a security clearance ranges from about $250 for a secret clearance to $4,000 for a top-secret clearance (Contract Professionals Incorporated 2019).

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Resnik, D.B. (2021). Dual Use Research in the Biomedical Sciences. In: Precautionary Reasoning in Environmental and Public Health Policy. The International Library of Bioethics, vol 86. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-70791-0_8

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