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Responsible Research with Biological Select Agents and Toxins
setting has its own unique set of circumstances and issues. This speaks to the continued need for site-specific risk assessments and security approaches with enough flexibility to both promote security and safety and properly address the characteristics specific to that institution.
It is also critical to recognize that not all select agents and toxins are the same, nor do they all pose the same risks. This speaks to the need for a graduated set of risk-based policies and practices that adequately addresses the specific needs of each facility and program, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach that is not optimized for any given setting.
PRINCIPLE 6: Misuse of biological materials is taboo in every scientificcommunity.
Despite diversity in the facilities and agents used in BSAT research, there is a shared ethos throughout the scientific community that any misuse of biological materials is taboo. The intentional use of disease to cause harm is contrary to the fundamental goals of the life sciences to contribute to the welfare of all living things and to the safety of the environment. The use of biological materials as a weapon is simply not accepted as legitimate by almost every scientist and country: no reputable scientist or scientific organization would purposely perpetrate an action that puts the public at risk.2
These principles have been enshrined in numerous international agreements (see discussion in Chapter 2), and they are seen to be absolute. The scientific community has a responsibility for helping to make sure that the misuse of biological materials remains taboo. Individual scientists cannot be expected to do the impossible, so scientists cannot be expected to ensure that the knowledge they generate will never contribute to the advancement of biowarfare or bioterrorism. But scientists can and should be expected to take reasonable steps to reduce the risk that their science, and the results of life sciences research more generally, could be misused.
Scientists, and the scientific community more broadly, can exercise this responsibility in many ways. Individual awareness is important, as is education and training to create and maintain a culture of trust and responsibility that is central to sustaining good scientific conduct. Professional societies play an essential role, through their own training programs, by promoting responsible behavior through codes of conduct, and by supporting policies and practices that can help reduce the risks of misuse.
To be sure, there may be some discussion about which experiments are risky, but there is general agreement that the science itself should not be misused.