Web of PreventionSince 11 September 2001 and the anthrax attacks that followed in the US, concerns about the security threats posed by biological weapons have increased significantly. With this has come an expansion of activities where the wisdom of applying national security controls is being considered. Questions are being asked regarding what novel threats might stem from life science research, how those associated with the life sciences can contribute to national defence, and whether controls should be placed on what gets done and how.

A major plank of policy responses in relation to this has been devising educational and awareness training for scientists regarding the 'dual use' potential of research — its potential to be used for both beneficent and malevolent purposes. Yet, that overall agreement is belied by the lack of specification about the content and specific aims of such provisions. Should that, for instance, consist of providing information on the history of biological warfare, stimulating generic concerns about the responsibilities of scientists today, alerting researchers to security considerations for their individual consideration, or challenging certain presumptions about the malign potential of research?

First as part of a grant funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and more recently through three Alfred P. Sloan Foundation grants, Malcolm Dando (University of Bradford) and Brian Rappert (University of Exeter) are conducting seminars for practising researchers. There are two aims to this: one, to inform participants about current biosecurity ‘dual use’ debates and second, to generate interactive discussion about the merits of proposed policy responses. Working with a wider range of individuals and organisations, we have conducted over 100 of these seminars with researchers in countries such as the UK, the US, South Africa, the Netherlands, Finland, Japan, Israel, Uganda, Ukraine, Kenya, Switzerland, Australia, Argentina, Germany, India, and Australia. With our collaborators, we are now working to build up from these activities to develop national educational provisions and policies.

Through this work we are developing a novel research method for engaging with practising scientists about emerging areas of societal discussion:

Interactive Materials

Our seminars have sought to engage practicing scientists and students in thought provoking discussions about the possible implications of their work. Rather than simply providing information, we think it is important for people to discuss these issues with one another. In the spirit of encouraging further deliberation, we have produced two educational aids:

1. NYAS eBriefing

Biotech Security LimitsOn 28 March 2006, we conducted a seminar at the New York Academy of Sciences. The NYAS recorded the session and produced one of its eBriefing web pages. This “No Easy Answers” eBriefing includes (signup necessary):

  • The audiovisual recording of the seminar (app. time 1h 15m);
  • An analysis of our reasoning for asking what we did;
  • Transcribed examples of exchanges from previous seminars to illustrate contrasting responses;
  • Further questions for consideration based on the NYAS conversation;
  • Links to relevant web sites.

The seminar can be viewed on its own, or used in conjunction with the other elements of the eBriefing. Course instructors, for instance, can assign students to watch the seminar or do so while also responding to the further questions posed.

2. Dual Use Role Playing Simulation

To allow for course instructors to conduct these seminars, we have produced a teaching aid package. This will not only allow individuals to repeat the seminar, but also take them a step further. In collaboration with Marie Chevrier (then University of Texas at Dallas), we have turned our basic structure into a role playing game. In this exercise, participants are asked to imagine what they might say to the questions posed if they were a first year postdoc, a senior professor, a police officer, a scientific reporter, and so forth. An advantage of such role playing is that it challenges people to think, respond and listen in ways that they might not otherwise.

This role play playing package consists of three parts:

  1. A set of projector slides and presentation notes, with elaborating info and links,
  2. Role instructions for 16 different participants, and
  3. A background teaching note.

Education and Ethics in Life SciencesIn terms of time requirements, this seminar could be run as part of a 1.5 hour course or otherwise split up.

Biosecurity & Dual-Use Education: Links to other resources

In recent years, a number of initiatives have been undertaken pertinent to dual use and biosecurity education:

Online Publications Related to Education Engagements with the Life Sciences