Safe for Humanity: Taming Biological Research through Norm Awareness

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Abstract

Is it better to publish or restrict potentially dangerous dual-use scientific research? This question sparked international attention in mid 2011 when two researchers separately sought to publish scientific studies that demonstrated that laboratory-derived strains of the highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 virus became capable of airborne transmission after a few genetic manipulations. These findings raised fears that the virus could become easily transmissible among mammals and that rogue actors could use the published information to create a biological weapon. In response, some governments sought to restrict or prohibit the publication of such research. Other actors countered that sharing this information was the best way to ensure national and international safety and security. In this article, I examine the competing demands between public health and national security by examining two dual-use research controversies. This article shows that the best solution to dual-use dilemmas in security-sensitive biological research is to promote an international norm of dual-use awareness. This balances the value of transparent scientific research with dual-use research's potential implications to provide the highest degree of security. Promoting a global norm, cognizant of potential consequences, would allow for scientific research to continue while ensuring that security considerations play a vital role in conditioning the scientific conversation. Such an effort need not be directed by governments; indeed, professional societies could and should take the lead in promoting such efforts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)258-277
Number of pages20
JournalContemporary Security Policy
Volume34
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 1 2013

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