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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 4 Conclusions and Recommendations INTRODUCTION The results of the survey provide some of the first empirical data about the perceptions of a sample of U.S. life scientists of the potential risks of misuse of legitimate scientific research for malicious purposes. The survey obtained information from a diverse group of academic, government, and industry researchers. The survey data provide evidence about how the respondents perceive the sources of risk related to dual use research, the actions that some scientists are taking to reduce the risk of misuse of science, and the prospects for acceptance of various policy proposals aimed at reducing the risks of misuse of legitimate life science research. While useful, the results of the survey must be viewed with caution because of the low response rate and possible response bias. Scientists who may be involved in biodefense or select agent research, for example, may be more aware of the dual use dilemma and thus more likely to have responded to the survey. In addition, a few of the questions could have been interpreted in multiple ways. Despite the limitations, which are discussed in detail in Chapter 2, the committee believes that the data obtained in this study offer valuable insights and new information. Overall, the survey findings suggest that there is considerable support for models of oversight that rely on the responsible conduct of research and self-governance by the scientific community. The responses also suggest, however, that there is a critical need to clarify the scope of research activities of high concern and to determine the appropriate actions that
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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 members of the life sciences community can take to reduce the risk of misuse of science for bioweapons development or bioterrorism. The rest of the chapter provides a summary of the survey findings. Following a brief summary of the perceptions of risks of the scientists who responded to the survey, three key areas of current and potential activities and policies are highlighted: actions that life scientists have already taken to address dual use concerns, mechanisms for the oversight of research, and issues related to education and outreach. The chapter closes with the committee’s recommendations for furthering education and outreach activities that are based on the findings of the survey and its own judgments and analysis. PERCEPTIONS OF RISK The findings suggest that, on average, the scientists who responded to the survey perceive a potential, but not overwhelming, risk of bioterrorism and that the risk is greater outside the United States. On average, the respondents believed that there is a 51 percent chance that there will be an act of bioterrorism somewhere in the world in the next 5 years and a 35 percent chance that there will be an act of bioterrorism in the United States in the next 5 years. Three-quarters of the respondents believe that a preference for other means of attack is the primary reason why there have been only a few acts of bioterrorism to date; overwhelmingly, 87 percent of respondents said that they believe that terrorists are not deterred by the threat of being caught and punished. Fewer scientists considered a lack of knowledge (46 percent) or access to equipment (51 percent) or agents (36 percent) to be significant barriers. It may be that one’s perceived risk of such an attack is related to one’s support for taking measures to reduce the risks that life sciences research might be misused. With regard to the chance that the knowledge, tools, or techniques from dual use research will facilitate bioterrorism, the respondents perceive a 28 percent chance, on average, of such a bioterror attack within the next 5 years. Half of the respondents thought that if someone wanted to create a harmful biological agent, the Internet would be the most likely place to provide sufficient information for life scientists with college-level training. Other sources of information—articles in scientific journals (40 percent), personal communications (38 percent), and presentations at professional meetings (18 percent)—were considered relatively less likely sources, although on average 45 percent of respondents answered “Don’t Know” to these questions.
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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 ACTIONS TAKEN BY LIFE SCIENTISTS IN RESPONSE TO DUAL USE CONCERNS Although the responses to the survey indicate that bioterrorism probably is not perceived to present a serious immediate risk to U.S. or global security, the survey results also indicate that there is already concern about dual use issues among some of the life scientists who responded. Fifteen percent of the respondents (260 individuals out of 1,744) indicated that they are so concerned about dual use research that they have taken actions, even in the absence of guidelines or mandatory regulations from the U.S. government. Some respondents reported that they had broken collaborations, not conducted some research projects, or not communicated research results. The results indicate that more scientists have modified their research activities than some members of the committee expected on the basis of previous reports of manuscripts that have been modified or not published because of dual use concerns. Interestingly, many of the actions that the respondents reported taking to mitigate concerns occurred before the publication stage; much of the behavior change occurred during the research design, collaboration, and early communication stages. Of particular interest and concern to the committee, a few respondents commented on their concerns about foreigners as potential security risks, which may be reflected in the reported avoidance of some collaborations. The survey results suggest that: (1) some life scientists in the United States may be willing to consider self-governance aimed at the responsible scientific conduct for dual use research, and (2) some life scientists in the United States are already acting, even in the absence of government regulations and guidance, to protect against the perceived risk of misuse of dual use research. OVERSIGHT MECHANISMS With a proposed oversight framework for dual use research of concern proposed by NSABB in June 2007 now under consideration within the U.S. government, the survey was an opportunity to assess scientists’ attitudes toward specific policy options. Many of the respondents indicated that they believe that personal responsibility, including measures such as codes of conduct, could foster a positive culture within the scientific community to evaluate the potential consequences of their research for public safety and national security. They also indicated that they believe that individual researchers, professional scientific societies, institutions, and scientific journals should be responsible for evaluating dual use potential of research and/or fostering the culture of scientific responsibility. A majority of those who responded to the survey favored self-gov-
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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 ernance mechanisms for dealing with dual use research of concern, such as those proposed by the Fink report (NRC 2004a), rather than additional mandatory government regulations. In addition to the low level of support for greater federal oversight (26 percent), the individual comments indicated a belief that increased government oversight of dual use research would be counterproductive by inhibiting the research needed to combat emerging infectious diseases and bioterrorism as well as being potentially harmful to the scientific enterprise more generally. The survey suggests that most of the respondents (82 percent) favor their professional societies’ prescribing a code of responsible conduct to help prevent misuse of life sciences research. However, many respondents (66 percent) did not know whether the societies to which they belonged already had codes that address dual use issues, and some of the societies most frequently cited do not in fact have a code. There was substantially less support (38 percent agree or strongly agree) for a Hippocratic-style oath. The results also indicate potential support for journals having biosecurity policies. Yet, most of the respondents did not know if any of the journals in which they have published or to which they have submitted manuscripts have those policies. Moreover, more than half of those who responded to the survey strongly disagreed or disagreed with restrictions on personal communication, altering or removing methods or findings from scientific publications, or limiting publication itself. The survey points to a likely preference for self-governance measures to provide oversight of dual use research. There was substantially less support for mandatory measures that might be imposed by regulation, although the results varied for different policy measures. The results indicate that there may be greater support for restrictions on access to biological agents (just under 50 percent of the respondents said they agree or strongly agree) and certifications of researchers (just over 40 percent of the respondents said they agree or strongly agree) than for any control of scientific knowledge generated from the research or through information exchange (only 20 to 30 percent of respondents supported these measures). Table 4-1 provides a list of the level of support for the various measures addressed in the survey. The survey results suggest there is support for: Greater oversight that is not federally mandated, Self-governance mechanisms as an approach for preventing misuse of life science research and knowledge, Professional and scientific societies adopting codes of conduct that include dual use research as suggested in the Fink report (NRC 2004a), Establishing and implementing policies for authors and reviewers
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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 TABLE 4-1 Summary of Results Regarding Support for Measures of Personal and Institutional Responsibility Measures of Personal or Institutional Responsibility Strongly Agree or Agree (or Respond Yes*) (%) Principal investigators should be responsible for the initial evaluation of the dual use potential of their life sciences research. 87 Principal investigators should be responsible for training lab staff, students, and visiting scientists about dual use research. 86 Should professional science societies have codes for the responsible conduct of dual use life sciences research? 82* University and college students should receive educational lectures and materials on dual use life sciences research. 68 Scientists should provide formal assurance to their institution that they are assessing their work for dual use potential. 67 Funding agencies should require grantees to attest on grant applications that they have considered dual use implications of their proposed research. 60 Should scientific journals have policies regarding publication of dual use research? 57* Institutions should provide mandatory training for scientists regarding dual use life sciences research. 55 Greater restrictions should be placed on access to specific biological agents or toxins. 47 Researchers conducting dual use research should be certified. 42 All grant proposals for life sciences research with dual use potential should be reviewed by a researcher’s institution prior to submission for funding. 41 Scientists conducting or managing research should take an oath. 38 Research findings should be classified based on their dual use potential. 28 Dual use research needs greater federal oversight. 26 Certain experimental methods or findings should be altered or removed prior to publication or presentation. 22 Certain biological equipment that is commonly used in life science research should be licensed. 21 There should be restrictions on disclosure of details about the research or its findings through personal communication. 21 There should be restrictions on publication of findings based on their dual use potential. 21 SOURCE: NRC/AAAS Survey of Life Scientists; data analysis by staff.
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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 to consider the dual use potential of research manuscripts submitted to journals. The survey results suggest there is opposition to: Mandatory government regulations to govern the conduct of dual use research and the communication of knowledge from that research; Other mandatory oversight actions, such as oaths or licensing of scientists. Based on the survey results and its own analysis, the committee believes that a basis of support exists within the U.S. scientific community for measures that, taken together, could lead to the development of a system of self-governance for the oversight of key aspects of dual use research. EDUCATION AND OUTREACH A major reason for conducting the survey was to inform efforts for education and awareness-raising about dual use research by providing empirical data on the attitudes of a sample of the life sciences community. In general, the respondents to this survey would likely support educational and outreach activities aimed at raising awareness of the dual use dilemma. The respondents indicated that they supported educational materials and lectures on dual use research for students. They also supported mandatory training by institutions for practicing life scientists regarding dual use research of concern. The survey results also highlight the need to better define the scope of dual use research of concern. Fewer than half of the respondents who indicated that they were carrying out dual use research activities felt that their research fell into one of the seven categories of research of concern specified by the NSABB. The dual use experiments of concern as listed in the Fink report (NRC 2004a) and by the NSABB are all based on microbial research, but other relevant research, such as theoretical research, scenario development, or applied research (e.g., pharmaceutical formulations or neuroscience research) can be of dual use concern. In their individual comments, a number of respondents stressed the difficulties of defining dual use, as did participants in the focus groups used to develop the survey. Clearly a better understanding of the scope of dual use research of real concern would help any educational or outreach activities aimed at raising the awareness of life scientists so that appropriate actions can be taken.
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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 Based on the survey results and its own analysis, the committee believes that there is support for mandatory education and training about dual use issues, most likely as part of ethics and responsible conduct of research training. RECOMMENDATIONS The committee believes that the survey raises several hypotheses that merit further research about the views of life scientists about oversight policies and education and outreach efforts to address concerns about dual use issues in the life sciences. In particular, based on the survey results and its own deliberations, the committee offers the following recommendations: Oversight, Education, and Outreach Explore how to continue and to expand the dialogue within the life sciences community about dual use research of concern. Explore ways to provide guidance to the life sciences community about appropriate actions that can be taken to protect against the misuse of dual use research. Seek to better define the scope of knowledge in the life sciences that may be at greatest risk for misuse and to provide the life sciences community with criteria for recognizing dual use research of concern. Encourage journals that have biosecurity policies or plan to adopt them in the future and the professional and scientific societies that have or plan to develop codes of conduct to communicate those policies more effectively. Further Research Examine the effectiveness of existing educational programs and how they can be enhanced and focused. Seek to extend educational and awareness-raising efforts being conducted in the United States to the broad international scientific community. Examine how education and outreach activities can be developed to guide the life science community’s response to concerns about dual use research so as to ensure that actions taken by the community are appropriate and contribute to advancing scientific knowledge while protecting national security. Conduct additional surveys, interviews, or focus groups of U.S. life scientists that better represent the full community, with higher response
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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 rates than the current study was able to achieve, and the ability to assess potential bias, in order to gain a better understanding of the awareness of a broader range of U.S. life scientists about dual use research of concern and the measure that they would support to reduce the threat that research in the life sciences could be subverted to do harm; a better understanding of the types of behavioral changes being made in response to dual use concerns to determine if actions by life scientists are contributing to national security or harming scientific research; such research is critical given the actions that the current survey suggests are being taken; more detailed information about the types of changes scientists are making or scientists’ thoughts about dual use issues, experiments of concern, and select agents; a better understanding of scientists’ experiences with education on this topic and their views about the content and delivery of educational and training materials. Conduct additional surveys of life scientists outside the United States that would enable comparisons of attitudes toward dual use research of concern and inform educational and outreach programs so that they can be effective on a global scale. Such knowledge could also facilitate international discussions of potential measures to address dual use concerns.