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More Sophisticated Process Needed To Vet Research For Possible Security Threats

Noting that the journal Science last week published the second of two controversial bird flu research papers, in which a team led by Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam created a mutated strain of the virus that spreads easily among ferrets, a Washington Post editorial writes that “this is not the end of the story. Rather, it marks the beginning of an important chapter for both science and security.” The editorial continues, “The United States and other nations need a more sophisticated process for vetting research for possible security threats without discouraging or impairing scientists,” adding, “This is more difficult than it sounds.”

“Freedom of inquiry in science is not only a cherished principle that must be protected, but it also generates colossal benefits for society,” the editorial states. “An entirely new oversight process is needed that will be responsive to both science and security, clearing experiments in advance and making sure lab safety precautions are met,” it continues. “In March, the federal government took a preliminary step by publishing guidance for handling ‘dual use research of concern,’ covering experiments intended for beneficial purposes but with a risk of misuse,” it notes, concluding, “Much more needs to be done. … Scientists must show leadership and recognize that freedom to discover carries a responsibility to remain vigilant for those who would misuse the basic building blocks of life” (6/23).