U.S. biologists, concerned that their research could be misused by terrorists, last week unveiled a series of steps aimed at balancing the prized principle of scientific openness with the need for secrecy about potentially dangerous research.
The proposals were announced by a panel of the National Academy of Sciences, the nation’s leading scientific body, which said it hoped the voluntary system would preempt restrictive legislation.
The panel’s report, “Biotechnology Research in an Age of Terrorism,” would establish a three-step review and oversight system for research that could be misused to create bioweapons, reported the Reuters news agency.
The first step would require scientists to get approval for research projects from their local research institution’s scientific review board. If approved, the project would then be vetted by a federal advisory committee at the National Institutes of Health.
Lastly, the finished findings would be scrutinized by a new National Science Advisory Board for Biodefense — made up of scientists, experts, and journal editors, and housed at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — tasked with weighing the merits of publishing against national security.
Seven areas of biological research would be subject to the review process, including research aimed at making viral agents more virulent, undetectable, or more easily transmitted, reported Reuters.
“This proposal is a key step in an evolving process to strike the right balance between national security concerns and the openness necessary for America’s research enterprise to thrive,” committee chairman Gerald Fink told Reuters. “We can do more now than we are doing and we should,” he added.
Further information at National Academy of Science