In late March, the National Institutes of Health announced the U.S. Government Policy for Oversight of Life Sciences Dual Use Research of Concern, which establishes regular review of federally-funded or conducted research with certain high-consequence pathogens and toxins with potential for dual use. This review is the latest in an ongoing effort to preserve the benefits of life sciences research and open scientific communication while minimizing the risk of misuse by those who wish to do harm.
Long before the issue of dual-use biological research rose to its current prominence, the National Research Council (NRC) led the debate on the tension between open scientific communication and national security. In 1982 the NRC produced the landmark report Scientific Communication and National Security. The message of this report remains relevant today.
Scientific Communication and National Security addresses one of the most difficult of policy issues: one in which fundamental national objectives seem to have been abruptly thrown into direct conflict. Advances in science and technology have traditionally thrived in an atmosphere of open communication; openness has contributed to American military and economic strength and has been a tenet of American culture and higher education. However, recent trends, including apparent increases in acquisition efforts by our adversaries, have raised serious concerns that openness may harm U.S. security by providing adversaries with militarily relevant technologies that can be directed against us. As would be expected when major national interests are in question, signs of distrust have appeared on all sides of the growing public discussion. The federal government, through its research and development agencies, and the university research community, where most basic research is conducted, both will lose much if the nation cannot find a policy course that reflects legitimate concerns.
This report, as well as others on the subject of dual use, is available to read or download at no charge.