Since September 11, there has been an increasing pressure on Life Scientists to be aware of the potential harm that their research can cause. In her thesis, Frida Kuhlau, political scientist and bioethicist, discusses if Life Scientists have a responsibility for potential misuses of their research and what that responsibility consists of.
 
Research on how virus and bacteria are spread can help us prevent diseases from becoming epidemic. Unfortunately, this kind of research often has the potential also for harmful applications. Sometimes research aimed to benefit mankind can be used to create biological weapons. This is the reason why the publication of two manuscripts on the transmission of the bird flu (H5N1) influenza virus was delayed for months in 2012.  

Frida Kuhlau believes that competence building is necessary if we are to achieve a culture of ‘dual use’ responsibility in the Life Sciences. According to her, ethical competence is necessary if scientists are to be able to take responsibility.
“Sometimes, that could mean taking a hard look at your research and the potential harmful consequences it could have. This could even mean limiting what is published and where”, Frida Kuhlau says.

There are in fact some obligations that scientists have. Frida Kuhlau has looked at them and found that some of them are indeed reasonable. According to her, scientists need to consider the possible negative implications of their research and report activities of concern. But they also need the ability to take this responsibility:  

“The scientific community should work to create conditions for ethical competence building and encourage discussion on dual use research”, Frida Kuhlau says.

There is also a need for organizational support. Frida Kuhlau suggests putting structures in place where stakeholders in the dual use debate can communicate, assume and share responsibility. She calls this an ‘ethic of deliberation’ and believes it could constitute a cornerstone of responsible dual use governance.

Frida Kuhlau will defend her thesis “Responsible Conduct in Dual Use Research: Towards an Ethic of Deliberation in the Life Sciences” [Ref 1] on March 23 2013 at 9.15 in Museum Gustavianum, Auditorium Minus, Akademigatan 3, Uppsala.

Contact:
Frida Kuhlau, PhD Student, Centre for Research Ethics & Bioethics (CRB), Uppsala University
Phone: +46  709 20 65 80, E-mail: frida.kuhlau@crb.uu.se
Web: http://www.crb.uu.se/staff/frida_kuhlau.html [Ref 2]
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