(about 84 percent) and primarily composed of scientists with advanced degrees (e.g., Ph.D.s or M.D.s), there was ample opportunity to attempt to survey the attitudes of American researchers across the full range of life science subfields. Because the survey was conducted via e-mail the study was restricted to 24,194 members who had validated e-mail addresses out of 64,787 life scientists who belong to AAAS. A random sample of 10,000 from these 24,194 AAAS members was selected to be contacted.
The survey was fielded from early August to early October 2007 by the AAAS Office of Member Services, with several follow-up e-mails to encourage a higher response rate. Among those sent the survey, 2,713 individuals viewed the survey (i.e., clicked on the link to the questionnaire provided in an e-mail); 1,954 individuals completed part of the survey; and 1,570 completed the entire survey. This leads to a response rate of about 16 percent for completed surveys and 20 percent including partial responses.
Almost all of the respondents had conducted or managed life sciences research (and three-quarters of them are currently doing so), were employed, had a postgraduate degree, and were U.S. citizens. In addition, a substantial majority of the scientists were academics and most were mid-career.
Given the low response rate, the lack of information by which the characteristics of the nonrespondents could be compared to those of the respondents, and the fact that the sampling frame included only those AAAS members whose e-mail addresses were known to AAAS, the survey results should not be generalized to the general population of U.S. life scientists. The methodological difficulties encountered in this project with regard to obtaining a representative sample and a high enough response rate to make generalized conclusions provide valuable lessons for future surveys on this as well as other topics of interest to the scientific community. Although it is necessary, because of these issues, to confine the report to the respondents and not to generalize beyond them, the committee believes that the survey results (including respondents’ anecdotal comments) provide interesting indications of how the U.S. life sciences community may view dual use research that merit further investigation.
The results of the survey provide some of the first empirical data about the perceptions of a sample of U.S. life scientists across a variety of disciplines about the potential risks of misuse of legitimate scientific research for malicious purposes. The survey data provide evidence about how the respondents perceive the sources of risk related to dual use research, the actions that some of these scientists are taking to reduce the risk of misuse