8 More Transparency for a Secure Biodefense

To read the full-text of this research, you can request a copy directly from the author.

No full-text available

Request Full-text Paper PDF

To read the full-text of this research,
you can request a copy directly from the author.

Since the terrorist attacks and anthrax letters in 2001, the US government has multiplied the number of government programs and agencies concerned with biosecurity and greatly increased its spending on related projects, including a 20-fold increase in spending for biodefense research. This paper considers whether the surge in spending and the responses from industry, universities, and individual scientists have created a network of interlocking interests that constitute a new ‘Biomedical Military–Industrial Complex’ (BMIC), similar to the military–industrial complex that Eisenhower warned against in his Farewell Address. Despite the emergence of many practices associated with the military–industrial complex, the tentative conclusion is that the new institutions and practices in the area of biosecurity do not merit the BMIC label, at least not yet. In particular, the concern that knowledge production in the life sciences might be seriously distorted by the increase in biodefense funding is discounted because, since the rise of molecular biology in the 1970s, the biological sciences have steadily evolved toward a model in which university research is already heavily influenced by outside patrons and commercial interests.
In the past decade, the perception of a bioterrorist threat has increased and created a demand on life scientists to consider the potential security implications of dual use research. This article examines a selection of proposed moral obligations for life scientists that have emerged to meet these concerns and the extent to which they can be considered reasonable. It also describes the underlying reasons for the concerns, how they are managed, and their implications for scientific values. Five criteria for what constitutes preventable harm are suggested and a number of proposed obligations for life scientists are considered against these criteria, namely, the obligations to prevent bioterrorism; to engage in response activities; to consider negative implications of research; not to publish or share sensitive information; to oversee and limit access to dangerous material; and to report activities of concern. Although bioterrorism might be perceived as an imminent threat, the analysis illustrates that this is beyond the responsibility of life scientists either to prevent or to respond to. Among the more reasonable obligations are duties to consider potential negative implications of one's research, protect access to sensitive material, technology and knowledge, and report activities of concern. Responsibility, therefore, includes obligations concerned with preventing foreseeable and highly probable harm. A central conclusion is that several of the proposed obligations are reasonable, although not unconditionally.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.