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Dual-Use Research Codes of Conduct: Lessons from the Life Sciences. Michael J. Selgelid, PhD Senior Research Fellow Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics The Australian National University. ‘Dual Use’ is Multiuse. ‘Dual Use’ has multiple meanings:
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Michael J. Selgelid, PhD
Senior Research Fellow
Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics
The Australian National University
i.e., given concern with values, benefits, harms, duties
Ethicists, however, have played only minor role in debates about dual use
Whether or not these studies should have been published, can we not imagine some that should not be? Censorship of nuclear science has been norm for decades. Who should make decisions? Would reliance on scientists (guided by codes of conduct) suffice? Similar questions relate to vetting of research.
Relevance to “converging technologies”
Those who employ fruits of science in malevolent manner are guilty. Well-intentioned scientists are innocent.
scientists have a responsibility to be aware and/or reflect on the ways in which their work will be used. The failure to reflect—or to foresee the foreseeable—may be considered negligence. In the context of weapons of mass destruction, such negligence could cause grave harm.
“Biomedical research may generate knowledge with potential for both beneficial and harmful application. Before participating in research, physician-researchers should assess foreseeable ramifications of their research in an effort to balance the promise of benefit from biomedical innovation against potential harms from corrupt application of the findings.
In exceptional cases, assessment of the balance of future harms and benefits of research may preclude participation in the research; for instance, when the goals of research are antithetical to the foundations of the medical profession, as with the development of biological or chemical weapons.”
Neither the CWC nor the BTWC was designed to address the dual use dilemma. As revealed by general provisions clauses, the conventions’ prohibitions largely turn on the intentions of researchers and/or research programs.
No one, so far as I am aware, has argued that the mousepox, polio, and flu studies flew in the face of the biological weapons conventions. The concern was that these were potentially dangerous experiments/publications—not that they were (already) prohibited ones.
Recall censorship debate (and relevant issues regarding of vetting of research).
Who should decide?
Perhaps neither is satisfactory. There are hybrid solutions, for which legally binding codes of conduct may play an important role.