address research that falls within a gray zone—i.e., research that is neither freely shared nor classified—what are the appropriate considerations? How should research that, at its inception, is not seen as research of concern but that, in the course of its performance, becomes so, be addressed? Of related interest was the question of appropriate document control or information management measures for research of concern whose findings may have already been dispersed.
Several participants cautioned against focusing on regulatory frameworks to the point of relegating discussions about ethics to a separate sphere. They expressed concerns that a system consumed with checking boxes on regulatory paperwork might draw attention away from the thoughtful ethical considerations that they felt should accompany life sciences research. A related discussion issue was the importance of informal aspects of scientific culture that can play a role in protecting the public health.
Several workshop participants voiced dissatisfaction with the term “dual-use research of concern.”
Dr. Franz suggested that using the term “dual-use” orients a conversation in a narrowly regulatory direction. In Franz’s view, this may give rise to a risk that the burden of the regulation outweighs any potential protection. He cautioned that excessive regulation might “hobble the entire enterprise because of the behavior of a few.” Franz favored the terms “responsible life sciences research” and “culture of responsibility,” as they are oriented toward leadership, honesty, healthy scientific culture, and acceptance of responsibility. Franz suggested that current efforts to oversee the funding and publication of life sciences research are, in their current form, sufficient. Rather than impose additional layers of regulation, Franz advocated a change in behavior and in the scientific culture.
An audience member relayed what she has heard from people in a network of high-containment laboratories funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. When scientists are asked to state whether a specific research project is or is not “dual-use research of concern,” she remarked, it is difficult for them to provide an answer. However, if the research is simply described and a question posed to the researcher about how to manage the research responsibly, then the researcher will deliberate on the question and give serious thought to the management of the research.
Dr. Brent raised several points about practicality and ethics in the context of dual-use. He noted that it is not possible to know what the near-term or long-term benefits and potential for misuse are, and he expressed the opinion that scientific (or technological) experts tend to underestimate both benefits and risks. He observed that researchers consider themselves to have positive,