Consensus Report

A Survey of Attitudes and Actions on Dual Use Research in the Life Sciences: A Collaborative Effort of the National Research Council and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2009)

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Over the last 50 years, rapidly expanding knowledge in the biological sciences has raised concerns over so-called "dual-use research," in which the same technologies that fuel scientific advances could also be misused to create biological weapons or for bioterrorism. Determining how to constrain the risks posed by dual-use research without slowing scientific progress is critical for national security, economic competitiveness, and well-being. With sponsorship from The Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Presidents Circle Communications Initiative of the National Academies, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the National Research Council (NRC) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conducted a survey of professionals in the life sciences to better understand their levels of awareness of dual-use concerns and their attitudes about policies to address dual-use risks. A committee convened by the NRC analyzed the survey responses and found that overall, the survey findings suggest that there may be considerable support for approaches to oversight that rely on self governance-mechanisms that are suggested or required by the scientific community itself. The responses also suggest that there is a need to clarify the scope of research activities of concern and to provide guidance about what actions scientists can take to reduce the risk that their research will be misused by those with malicious intent.

Key Messages

  • Based on the survey results and its own analysis, the committee believes that a basis of support exists within the U.S. scientific community for measures that, taken together, could lead to the development of a system of self-governance for the oversight of key aspects of dual use research.
  • Based on the survey results and its own analysis, the committee believes that there is support for mandatory education and training about dual use issues, most likely as part of ethics and responsible conduct of research training.
  • The survey results suggest that: (1) some life scientists in the United States may be willing to consider self-governance aimed at the responsible scientific conduct for dual use research, and (2) some life scientists in the United States are already acting, even in the absence of government regulations and guidance, to protect against the perceived risk of misuse of dual use research.