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.
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.