bioterrorism, I have found myself balancing divergent norms of science and society and communicating across boundaries of national security, science, policy, and public concerns—trading the world of a laboratory scientist for a bully pulpit before journalists to reach the public, congressional hearing rooms to reach policy makers, and forums like this to reach fellow scientists.
We in the scientific community have an obligation to provide an educational forum that reaches far and wide, within the scientific community about the new legislation and regulations, and about how we need to comply to be good citizens of the world. Additionally, we need to educate the broader public as to the importance of international exchange in the scientific arena so as to ensure that regulations are constructed in ways that permit the advancement of biomedical research. We have a need to explain to the public and policy makers that the best defense against the threat of bioterrorism is to advance the research agenda against infectious diseases so that we have the vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics needed to combat emerging and reemerging infectious diseases as well as “plagues” that may be introduced by terrorists. We need to make clear that biomedical research is an international endeavor and that the battle against infectious diseases must be global. We also have an obligation to engage in a dialog with the national security community so that we understand the threats and vulnerabilities of our new world and can engage in activities—some of which will involve constraint and adherence to the new regulatory mandates—that will reduce the threat of the misuse of the life sciences by terrorists.
When the USA Patriot Act was first proposed, it would have banned all foreigners from entering a U.S. laboratory where a select agent was present. The ASM explained to the Congress that biomedical research is international in nature. We brought a clear message to the debate: infectious disease is a global health issue that requires international exchange and cooperation. Half of the manuscripts submitted to ASM journals come from outside the United States. If we curtail international collaborations, then we put the health of this and other nations at risk. If we cannot combat infectious diseases regardless of where they occur in the world, we put U.S. national security at risk as well. The Congress listened. When the Patriot Act was passed, such proposed global restrictions on foreigners were removed.
Having said that, we in the scientific community also made compromises concerning who could have access to select agents and the regulatory system overseeing possession of those agents. In my view, the compromises were critical for demonstrating that the scientific community was responsive to public concerns about bioterrorism and for achieving public support for biomedical research needed to advance biodefense capabilities.
I recognize that some people would accuse me of having entered into a Faustian deal for having agreed that we should restrict certain individuals