March 15, 2007

Dual–Use Research

To: John Sislin

From: Anna Greenberg, Jennifer Berktold, and Jessica Keating

Executive Summary

Biological research contributes greatly to society; it helps scientists understand the causes of disease, develop cures, improve agricultural methods and our food supply and the like. However, the same research, applied in a different context, has the capability to damage rather than heal. This notion that the same biological research can be used for good or ill is also known as “dual use” research. Post-9/11 and, in particular, after the anthrax attacks, stakeholders inside and outside of government have called for increased awareness among the life science community and new processes to prevent misapplication of dual use research.

This current research is the first step of a larger project that seeks to better understand life scientists’ perceptions of the debates surrounding dual use research and to explore responsibility for preventing dual use research from being misused. We conducted qualitative research to understand the current level of concern surrounding dual use research, to explore life scientists’ views about who, if anyone, should shoulder the responsibility of preventing such research from being misused, and to explore the consequences and concerns surrounding greater controls on dual use research.1

We found that the scientists we interviewed were themselves familiar with dual use research – some deeply aware – but for many others, knowledge was superficial. Many life scientists are only exposed to dual use issues as part of their job (e.g., if they work with select agents) or by serving on an institutional review committee (IRC), rather than receiving systematic training in graduate school or by employers. If life scientists are not in an academic environment, do not receive federal funding or do not work with select agents, they are unlikely to have significant exposure to the issues surrounding dual use research.

Moreover, we found that there is no real consensus about how much concern the scientific community places on the possible misapplication of dual use research. We found that many scientists, while aware of dual use issues and concerned about the possibility of misuse, do not


For methodological details, please see Appendix A.

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