Federation of American Scientists Module 1.0: Introduction
Topic: Biosecurity: Why Should We Care? Subtopic: The Culture of Biological Research Requires Policing from Within

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Because of the nature of biological research and its international reach, true biosecurity requires participation by scientists, scientific societies, and institutions. However, engaging the research community in biosecurity has been challenging. Unlike the physics research community, the biological research community has found itself unfamiliar with the burdens and responsibilities of working with sensitive information, security clearances, and proliferation issues. While a government-imposed physical security system fits the nature of nuclear weapons research, it would be somewhat out of place in biological research. Also, it is impractical to limit access to the equipment and reagents found in a typical biological laboratory. Therefore, the biological research community has to police from within. This requires an understanding of the uncomfortable reality that biological research has reached a point where advances are creating new opportunities for discovery and therapeutics as well as security threats posed by misuse of science. It is important that the community realizes that being proactive about biosecurity need not impede progress.

Past and ongoing attempts by national governments to enforce internet conventions, copyright protections, and various trade and environmental agreements have demonstrated that the global marketplace is not defined merely by traditional borders or political conventions. Imposition of regulatory controls on biotechnology research and development in one nation would be ineffective internationally. While trade-based treaties have become increasingly effective at discouraging the most egregious violations of accepted convention, such multinational governance regimes would be ineffective for biological research because of its complexity and constantly evolving nature. An ethos needs to be created and nurtured in the research community that empowers scientists to integrate biosecurity considerations in the planning and conduct of their research without restricting progress. Such cultural change requires the scientific community to recognize that they are the only ones in a position to understand the true implications of their work and to take appropriate actions to mitigate the misuse of science. Some have called for an international "code of conduct" for the scientific community based on the fundamental principle that all research scientists would pledge to conduct research that would "do no harm." While such codes can never prevent bioterrorism, they can serve as an awareness tool.

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