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A Tale of Two Studies: Ethics, Bioterrorism and the Censorship of Science
Hastings Center Report (2007)
  • Michael J Selgelid, The Australian National University
Concerns over bioterrorism have prompted increased debate about whether or not “dual-use” life science discoveries with implications for bioweapons development should be prevented from being published. Much of this debate has focused on two particular studies: the genetic engineering of vaccine resistant mousepox and the artificial synthesis of polio. Critics complain that publishing studies like these alerts would-be bioterrorists to possibilities and provides them with explicit instructions for producing biological weapons. The fact that publishing such studies can have benefits related to medicine or biodefense, however, should hinder hasty conclusions that censorship is justified. There are, in any case, at least imaginable cases where censorship would be warranted. The important question, then, is what the process of censorship decision making should be. Because scientists are not usually security experts and because scientists are systematically denied (classified) information required for risk assessment, I conclude that we cannot—as proposed by the US National Research Council—rely on voluntary self-governance of the scientific community.
  • dual-use,
  • bioterrorism,
  • censorship,
  • genetics,
  • mousepox,
  • smallpox
Publication Date
May, 2007
Citation Information
Michael J Selgelid. "A Tale of Two Studies: Ethics, Bioterrorism and the Censorship of Science" Hastings Center Report Vol. 37 Iss. 3 (2007)
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