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Scientists Want Guidance on Dual-Use Research

Scientists doing dual use research - beneficial work that may be misapplied for malicious purposes in the wrong hands - need more tools to help them understand the scientific, ethical and legal issues surrounding their work, according to an AAAS-sponsored workshop report.

by American Association for the Advancement of Science
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Scientists doing dual use research - beneficial work that may be misapplied for malicious purposes in the wrong hands - need more tools to help them understand the scientific, ethical and legal issues surrounding their work, according to an AAAS-sponsored workshop report.

The report recommends more funding for education programs targeted at American and foreign scientists working in the United States on dual use research and urges use of real-life simulations, case studies, small group discussions and mentorship programs to teach them about their obligations. The same methods used for legitimate research on viruses and other organisms also can be used to engineer a bioweapon.

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The report draws on the expertise of life scientists, bioethicists, biosecurity specialists and others who attended a 21 November workshop convened by the AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy and the AAAS Program on Scientific Freedom, Responsibility and Law. The report is entitled "Professional and Graduate-Level Programs on Dual Use Research and Biosecurity for Scientists Working in the Biological Sciences."

The workshop reviewed several existing programs meant to educate graduate or professional students in the biomedical sciences on dual use research issues.

"Participants did not agree on a preferred method of teaching," the report says, "but instead supported the idea that these programs should be flexible and allow institutions to tailor their program to best suit their researchers."

Federal agencies that conduct or sponsor life sciences research should provide money to pay for education programs on dual use issues, the report says. It also notes the low level of interest about dual use issues by senior scientists and says institutions should encourage them to train and mentor junior researchers regarding the responsible conduct of research.

The report asks the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (established by the federal government to offer advice on dual use issues) to offer scientists guidance on what to do if they encounter a dual use situation. It also asks the board to develop a list of existing teaching materials and methods on dual use issues as well as a list of possible topics to be covered in education programs.