Dr. Clegg also spoke of several roles that the international scientific community might play, including educating scientists to foster a sense of a culture of responsibility, protecting the practice and progress of legitimate science, and providing advice to governments on technical issues. Discussion then followed among all of the Forum participants, as they reflected on the two-and-a-half day meeting.
Several themes and concerns emerged repeatedly across the working group and plenary discussions.
Participants in the Forum agreed that progress in the life sciences is global in nature and thus that a dialogue on issues such as the risks that may arise from potential misuse of life sciences, and developments and strategies to minimize such risks, must also be international. However, there are challenges associated with the use of the terms “biosecurity” and “dual use,” which mean many different things to different groups. Many Forum participants emphasized that it is more effective to present ideas in more easily understood terms, and that it is important to be as specific as possible about what is meant in each particular context.
Many of the presentations and discussions during the Forum also highlighted the concept that biosecurity and dual use issues in the life sciences were fundamentally about risk, specifically about assessing relative risks and developing appropriate risk management options. Furthermore, many participants agreed that achieving a balance among potential risks is critical. They felt that it is important to acknowledge and to take steps to minimize risks of the life sciences being misused for harm, to recognize the serious risks to human, veterinary, and environmental health that could result from such misuse, and also to minimize the risk of an overemphasis on security, which could stifle progress in the life sciences and therefore could reduce the many important benefits of such progress.
The three working groups also highlighted the need for a global dialogue on these issues, recognizing that there will likely be differences in the priorities that different regions, nations, and segments of the scientific and policy communities may place on achieving various objectives. Therefore, developing a toolkit of multiple options for addressing topics such as education, oversight, and governance was widely recognized to be valuable, since different groups may choose to emphasize different strategies.
There was also recognition by Forum participants that consensus does not yet exist within the scientific community on many of the questions considered by the Forum. As the working group on science advising noted, discussions will need to continue within the international scientific