concerning whether and how that research should be conducted and disseminated” (Epstein, 2001). The conduct of such contentious research is beyond the charge to this committee, but the dissemination of the results falls within our purview. Two examples of such potentially contentious research are given later in the report: work with a fungal pathogen of plants and work with a virus of mice.


On January 9, 2003, the National Academies convened a workshop titled “Scientific Openness and National Security.” The day-long workshop had sessions on assessing the threat posed by life-science knowledge and current policies related to openness, and four case studies of how “sensitive” information could be handled were discussed. Two members of the committee that wrote the present report participated in that workshop.

On January 10, 2003, a meeting of journal editors was held in Washington, DC. The editors discussed their role in determining which articles are published, including decisions as to what constitutes sensitive or dangerous information and what steps journal editors might take to decrease the chances that published material would facilitate efforts of bioterrorists. These editors later published a joint statement in three journals (Science, Nature, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science; Atlas et al., 2003a,b,c). The statement indicated that the scientific review process must be safeguarded and issues of security risks acknowledged. They called for journals to devise appropriate procedures for reviewing security risks and to encourage scientists to communicate their data in ways that minimize risk and maximize benefits.

On October 8, 2003, the National Academies released a report, Biotechnology Research in an Age of Terrorism, written by the Committee on Research Standards and Practices to Prevent the Destructive Application of Biotechnology, chaired by Gerald Fink, of the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The report examined the dual-use problem as related to applications of life-science research. The charge to that committee was to “consider ways to minimize threats from biological warfare and bioterrorism without hindering the progress of biotechnology” (NRC, 2003a), and the committee’s report identified seven categories of “experiments of concern.” They included experiments that would

  • Demonstrate how to render a vaccine ineffective.

  • Confer resistance to therapeutically useful antibiotics or antiviral agents.

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