Federation of American Scientists Case Studies in Dual Use Biological Research Module 8.0: Public Reaction Case Study
Topic: Reasons for Public Distrust Biosecurity Since 2001

Following the anthrax attacks of October 2001, Congress took a series of legislative actions directed at securing potentially dangerous biological agents, including the Patriot Act and the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002. The implementation of this act led to the creation of the Select Agent Program run jointly by the CDC and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The Select Agent Program requires registration of all facilities and security risk assessments of each individual with access to select agents. The list of select agents is made up of biological agents and toxins that have the potential to pose a severe threat to public, animal or plant health, or to animal or plant products.

The government also expressed concerns over the conduct and publication of what was construed as "sensitive research," such as the mousepox experiments in Australia and the polio synthesis work of Dr. Wimmer at the State University of New York. Many in the scientific community interpreted these concerns as ones that would prompt further regulation of research unless the scientific community took the initiative to establish guidelines and reviews. Three major actions in biosecurity shaped much of the current approach: the issuance of the "Statement on Scientific Publication and Security" by journal publishers; the formation of the Fink committee by the National Research Council to produce a set of recommendations for action by the scientific community and the government; and the establishment of a National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB).

The NSABB was established to provide advice, guidance, and leadership regarding biosecurity oversight of dual-use research to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the heads of all federal departments and agencies that conduct or support life science research. The NSABB has been tasked to recommend specific strategies for the oversight of dual use biological research, taking into consideration both national security concerns and the needs of the research community. NSABB members have a wide range of science and public health backgrounds, and Susan Ehrlich, a former Judge in the Arizona Court of Appeals is the public representative on the board.

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