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Biosecurity Governance for the Real World


Current efforts to limit the dissemination of dual-use biological research results are rooted in simplistic understandings of how such knowledge becomes dangerous. I argue in an article appearing in the Fall 2016 Issues in Science and Technology that it’s time for a new approach. Read the full preprint.

With little fanfare, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine set up a committee earlier this year on Dual Use Research of Concern: Options for Future Management.* While unable to make its first meeting in New York in July, in reviewing the Committee’s purpose and the slides from the meeting I was struck by the idea that we have already walked down this road several times.

In my article, I outline how our current governance system is built on specific assumptions about the structure of knowledge (that it is made of discrete chunks) and the relationship between science and society (science should remain autonomous and be self-regulating). I show how these assumptions aren’t doing the work we need them to do in governing security concerns in biology, and suggest some ways we might work to change them.

After publication, Issues was able to get some excellent responses to my paper by Judith Reppy, Jennifer Kuzma, Megan Palmer, and David Relman, all of which appear in the Forum section of the Winter 2017 issue. All other comments are most welcome, though your comments will likely have the most viewers on the main Issues page for my article rather than this post.

Evans, Sam Weiss. 2016. “Biosecurity Governance for the Real World.” Issues in Science and Technology, Fall: 84-88.

*As of the time of printing, the Committee’s name was the “Committee on Dual Use Research of Concern: Options for Limited Communication“. The name change appears to have happened within the last few weeks.