about the safety of freely disseminating knowledge in the life sciences.4 Policy makers and members of the security and scientific communities soon began to focus on the dual use dilemma in the life sciences5—recognizing that the very research needed for bettering human health, advancing the economy, and other societal benefits could be misused to do harm. Slowing research in the life sciences, however, would harm the nation, global health, and the advancement of science, and so whatever policies might be developed to enhance security needed to be crafted very carefully. Given this tension, it is not surprising that 7 years later the debates continue over what to do about the dual use dilemma for research and communication in the life sciences.6

Clearly, during the past 50 years, rapidly expanding knowledge in the life sciences has brought great benefits to society. Smallpox has been eradicated; new vaccines are available to prevent childhood diseases such as measles, mumps, and rubella; there is a vaccine to protect against cervical cancer; numerous therapeutic drugs are available to treat infectious diseases, heart disease, cancer, etc.; and life expectancy has been increasing. Moreover, with regard to national security, research activities in the life sciences are vital for providing essential protection against infectious diseases and bioterrorism through understanding pathogenesis and host–agent (pathogen or toxin) interactions, and the development of vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics. In many areas, advances in the life sciences, enabled by government investments such as those by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have led to economic development in the United States, which contributes to national security and national prosperity.

As a result of its preeminent research enterprise, the United States has achieved a global leadership position in biotechnology. The continu-


In August 2008, after the current survey was conducted, the U.S. attorney in the case announced that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had concluded that Bruce Ivins, a senior researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, was the “only person responsible for these attacks” (Johnson et al. 2008). (Ivins had committed suicide in late July [Shane and Lichtblau 2008]). The FBI has released some of the evidence they used to implicate Ivins as the suspect (Willman and Savage 2008).


The term “dual use” in this context refers to legitimate research knowledge and materials that could be misused for malicious purposes; it does not refer to activities banned by the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) that can be cloaked by a guise of legitimacy. Thus, the dilemma is that the research is legitimate and should be conducted, even if it has the potential for misuse, as opposed to illegitimate research intended to do harm, which should not be allowed. For a discussion of the multiple uses of the term “dual use,” see Atlas and Dando (2006).


For ongoing discussion about the dual use dilemma, see the minutes of meetings of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) available at http://oba.od.nih.gov/biosecurity/.

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