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Survey Samples Life Scientists' Views on 'Dual Use' Research and Bioterrorism;
Some Respondents Already Taking Action to Avert Misuse of Research
The National Research Council and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) surveyed a sample of AAAS members in the life sciences to assess their awareness of and attitudes toward such "dual-use" research – studies undertaken for beneficial purposes that could also have harmful applications such as bioterrorism. The survey also explored actions the scientists might support to reduce the risk of misuse of research, as well as steps that scientists may already be taking in response to these concerns. The results of the survey, conducted in 2007, are summarized in a new report from the Research Council, which includes recommendations for next steps.
The survey yielded some of the first empirical data on
The results suggest that survey respondents perceive a potential but not overwhelming risk of a bioterror attack in the next five years, a risk they believe is greater outside the
Survey results also indicate that some respondents -- more than the committee had expected -- have been so concerned about dual-use issues that they have already taken action to try to avert misuse of research in the life sciences, even in the absence of guidelines or government restrictions. Some respondents reported that they had broken collaborations, not conducted some research projects, or not communicated research results.
Many of respondents' precautionary actions were taken during design, collaboration, and initial communication stages of research, before reaching the publication stage, the report notes. Of particular interest and concern to the committee, a few respondents offered comments about foreigners as potential security risks, which may be reflected in the reported avoidance of some collaborations.
"The fact that some scientists are changing their research activities may indicate that the life sciences community is responsibly responding to reduce the risk of misuse of science," said committee chair Ronald Atlas, professor of biology and public health at the
With regard to future actions that the life sciences community would support to reduce the threat of misuse of research, the survey results indicate that life scientists in the
In addition, respondents showed support for mandatory training by institutions for practicing life scientists regarding dual-use concerns, as well as education materials and lectures for students.
The survey results also highlight the need to better define the scope of research that is of concern, the report notes. Fewer than half the respondents who reported carrying out dual-use research activities felt that their work falls into one of the seven categories of research of concern identified by the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, which was created in 2004 to advise federal agencies about dual-use research.
Based on the survey results, the committee urged further exploration of ways to provide guidance to the life sciences community about appropriate actions that could protect against misuse of dual-use research. The committee also recommended further research to examine the effectiveness of educational programs on these topics and find ways to enhance them.
In addition, the report recommends surveys and interviews that can reach additional life scientists or begin to probe more deeply into life scientists' attitudes. And surveys of scientists outside the
The report was sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of
Copies of A Survey of Attitudes and Actions on Dual Use Research in the Life Sciences: A Collaborative Effort of the National Research Council and the American Association for the Advancement of Science are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above). In addition, a podcast of the public briefing held to release this report is available at http://national-academies.org/podcast.
NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Policy and Global Affairs
Development, Security and Cooperation
Division on Earth and Life Studies
Board on Life Sciences
Committee on Assessing Fundamental Attitudes of Life Scientists
as a Basis for Biosecurity Education
Ronald M. Atlas (chair)
Professor of Biology and Public Health
Center for Health Hazards Preparedness
Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy
Center for Genome Ethics, Law, and Policy
David R. Franz
Vice President and Chief Biological Scientist
Midwest Research Institute
James M. Lepkowski
Institute for Social Research
Department of Biostatistics
Vice President for Research and
Edward Meyers Professor of Dentistry
Department of Science and Technology Studies and the
Jo L. Husbands
Senior Project Director
Director, Board on Life Sciences
AMERICAN ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF SCIENCE STAFF
Kavita Marfatia Berger
Project Director and Consultant