Scientific freedom and responsibility in a biosecurity context

Published on 30 September 2018


Scientific freedoms are exercised within the context of certain responsibilities, which in some cases justify constraints on those freedoms. (Constraints that may be internally established within scientific communities and/or externally enacted.) Biosecurity dimensions of work involving pathogens are one such case and raise complex challenges for science and policy. The central issues and debates are illustrated well in the development of responses to publication of (‘gain of function’) research involving highly pathogenic avian influenza, by a number of actors, including scientists, journal editors, scientific academies, and national and international policy groups.

The core tension that can arise between working to protect health by promoting work on pathogens (to support surveillance and response efforts) and working to protect health by setting limits to work on pathogens that poses risks to health through accidental or deliberate releases, is reflected in and has been responded to by international (and some national) policy processes. These responses have placed increasing emphasis on the responsibilities of scientists. Framed within recognition of the reciprocal responsibilities of scientists and policy makers, further joint work is needed to manage this tension and develop appropriate and effective international responses.

Read more

This book chapter is in The Freedom of Scientific Research: An Anthology, edited by Simona Giordano, in collaboration with Lucio Piccirillo and John Harris. The book's descripton is: "Never before have the scope and limits of scientific freedom been more important or more under attack. New science, from artificial intelligence to gene editing, creates unique opportunities for making the world a better place. It also presents unprecedented dangers. This book is about the opportunities and challenges - moral, regulatory and existential - that face both science and society. How are scientific developments impacting on human life and on the structure of societies? How is science regulated and how should it be regulated? Are there ethical boundaries to scientific developments in sensitive areas? Such are the questions that the book seeks to answer. Both the survival of humankind and the continued existence of our planet are at stake."

Subscribe to our mailing list to get our latest updates