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On the Dual Uses of Science and Ethics

On the Dual Uses of Science and Ethics: Principles, Practices, and Prospects OPEN ACCESS

Brian Rappert
Michael J. Selgelid
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    On the Dual Uses of Science and Ethics
    Book Description:

    Claims about the transformations enabled by modern science and medicine have been accompanied by an unsettling question in recent years: might the knowledge being produced undermine – rather than further – human and animal well being? On the Dual Uses of Science and Ethics examines the potential for the skills, know-how, information, and techniques associated with modern biology to serve contrasting ends. In recognition of the moral ambiguity of science and technology, each chapter considers steps that might be undertaken to prevent the deliberate spread of disease. Central to achieving this aim is the consideration of what role ethics might serve. To date, the ethical analysis of the themes of this volume has been limited. This book remedies this situation by bringing together contributors from a broad range of backgrounds to address a highly important ethical issue confronting humanity during the 21st century.

    eISBN: 978-1-925021-34-9
    Subjects: Philosophy
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Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction
    • Michael J. Selgelid

      One of the most dramatic—and ethically problematic—episodes in the history of science involved the making and use of the first atomic weapons. When key discoveries of things like atomic fission and the chain reaction were made during the revolution in physics under way during the first half of the twentieth century, the scientists involved realised that the new knowledge gained might be used for both good purposes (for example, energy production) and bad purposes (for example, weapons making).² The first atomic bombs were developed soon after the discovery of the chain reaction in particular. The atomic bombs dropped...

  2. Part I: Dual Use in Context
    • Jim Whitman

      The abundant dual-use potential of nanotechnology arises from the fact it is not materials-specific in either the organic or the inorganic realms. At the nanometre scale, familiar materials can display altered, unexpected and/or amplified qualities including tensile strength, viscosity, conductivity and antimicrobial properties. Our ability to manipulate matter at the molecular and even atomic levels opens up a breathtaking range of possibilities in engineering, medicine, materials science, energy and computing, to list but a few. At the nanometre level (a nanometre is one-billionth of a metre, approximately the diameter of a strand of DNA), disciplinary boundaries between biology and chemistry...

    • Valentina Bartolucci and Malcolm Dando

      It is clear that in the past advances in neuroscience were used for hostile as well as peaceful purposes. Lethal chemical nerve agents, after all, interfered with the acetylcholine neurotransmitter system¹ and, during the twentieth century’s East–West Cold War, both sides clearly also made efforts to develop ‘nonlethal’ chemical agents for various purposes.² The use of some form of fentanyl derivative(s) by Russian security forces to break the 2002 Moscow theatre siege shows that today at least one major state has deployed such a weapons system. Many commentators fear that Russia would be far from alone in having an...

    • Alexander Kelle

      Over the past decade synthetic biology has emerged as one of the most dynamic subfields of the post-genomic life sciences. According to a European high-level expert group, synthetic biology comprises ‘the synthesis of complex, biologically based (or inspired) systems which display functions that do not exist in nature … [and] is a field with enormous scope and potential’.¹ Some of the areas where this expert group argues that synthetic biology could have a major impact include biomedicine, a sustainable chemical industry, environment and energy, and biomaterials.Ifthe emerging discipline of synthetic biology can deliver on the promises of some...

    • Simon Whitby

      This chapter explores the dual-use quality of scientific research and technological development in the field of phytopathology (plant science). It offers a brief survey of naturally occurring pathogens that have been developed for use in weapons and considers areas of convergence and overlap between the hostile use of disease organisms as a form ofwarfareand thepeacefuldeployment of bio-control and plant inoculants. The relevance of bio-control agent and plant inoculant production to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) is then considered. Included in this chapter also is a snapshot of some significant developments in civil plant science, alluding to...

    • Nancy Connell

      Tuberculosis (TB) is a devastating disease that leads to 10 million deaths per year worldwide.¹ Despite enormous advances in TB research in recent years, the surge of drug-resistant strains and deadly synergy with the HIV virus have threatened to destabilise gains made in its control. During my career as a microbial geneticist, I have studied the physiology ofMycobacterium tuberculosis, the causative agent of TB, and its interaction with the human macrophage, its primary host cell. The major function of the macrophage is to engulf and destroy invading organisms, but many pathogens, such as TB, have developed intricate and clever...

  3. Part II: Ethical Frameworks and Principles
    • Judi Sture

      A variety of approaches aimed at mitigating the intermittent friction between science and society and the risks of malign use of modern scientific advances has been defined: ethics,¹ the responsible conduct of science,² self-governance by scientists,³ and top-down initiatives from policymakers and other authorities.⁴ These approaches have allowed for a number of perspectives on the challenges that biosecurity poses to society and biotechnology today, but none has considered the pre-existing values of stakeholders as they interact with these challenges.

      I would suggest that scrutinising the cultural pressures, forces and processes that influence the development of the values that individuals bring...

    • John Forge

      This chapter addresses themoraldimension of dual-use research. To set the scene, I will begin by explaining what I take dual use to be. I understand a dual-use item to be something that has both a good or neutral (neither good nor bad) use or application and a bad use. Three different categories of dual-use items can be distinguished: research, technologies and artefacts.¹ These are clearly different sorts of things. Research is an activity, while technology is a form of knowledge—knowledge of the techniques for the production of artefacts—whereas artefacts are objects. But it is also clear...

    • Thomas Douglas

      In this chapter I examine how expected-value theory might inform responses to what I call the dual-use problem. I begin by defining that problem. I then outline a procedure, which invokes expected-value theory, for tackling it. I first illustrate the procedure with the aid of a simplified schematic example of a dual-use problem, and then describe how it might also guide responses to more complex real-world cases. I outline some attractive features of the procedure. Finally, I consider whether and how the procedure might be amended to accommodate various criticisms of it. The aim is not to defend the procedure...

    • Suzanne Uniacke

      Is the doctrine of double effect (DDE) relevant to dual-use dilemmas? Can consideration of the DDE make a significant contribution to the ethics of dual use? Several writers assume that dual-use dilemmas are instances of double effect.¹ Certainly this particular connection is strongly suggested by the terms ‘dual use’ and ‘double effect’ and also by the structure of dual-use dilemmas. A dual-use dilemma is said to arise when an action or activity such as research in the life sciences or publication of that research can have both good and bad effects: alongside its intended good outcome, for example, the enhancement...

    • Michael Smithson

      Dual-use dilemmas are defined as a consequence of the potential for the same piece of research to be used for harm and for good. Miller and Selgelid¹ advise that ‘fine-grained ethical analyses of dual-use research in the biological sciences would seek toquantifyactual and potential benefits and burdens, and actual and potential recipients/bearers of these benefits and burdens. These analyses would also identify a range of salient policy options.’ Desirable as such quantification may be, the path to it is obstructed by several yawning abysses in the form of unknowns. If unresolved or ignored, these unknowns can render fine-grained...

    • Seumas Miller

      The so-called ‘dual-use dilemma’ arises in the context of research in the sciences as a consequence of one and the same discrete piece, or ongoing program of scientific research, intentionally undertaken for good ends having the potential to be intentionally used to cause great harm.² So there is a primary user who creates new knowledge or designs new technology for good—for example, discovers how to aerosolise chemicals for use in crop-dusting. But there is also a secondary user who uses the knowledge or technology for some harmful purpose—for example, uses the newly discovered process of aerosolisation to weaponise...

    • Koos van der Bruggen

      Biosecurity and the just-war tradition occupy separate worlds. In debates and discussions about biosecurity and dual use, no references are made to just-war criteria. And in textbooks on just-war tradition, biosecurity and dual use hardly get any attention. This chapter will deal with the question of whether this separation is justified. First, an oversight will be provided of the just-war tradition and more especially of recent developments within it. Attention will be given to which questions this tradition deals with, why and how. The answers it offers will then be applied to biosecurity and dual-use issues.

      Thinking about what counts...

    • Steve Clarke

      The precautionary principle (PP) is a conceptual tool used to guide decision-making in the management of risk.¹ It has been widely taken up in environmental law, and is now being applied in a variety of contexts, including the regulation of potentially dangerous technologies. It was first developed in Sweden and the former West Germany in the late 1960s,² was explicitly used in West German environmental law by the 1980s³ and has become increasingly influential in many countries since then, particularly in Europe.⁴ That the PP is usually referred to asthePP might seem to suggest that there is a...

  4. Part III: Ethical Practices
    • David B. Resnik

      In the past decade, scientists, policymakers, ethicists and citizens have become increasingly aware that scientific research that promotes public health and safety has the potential to be used for terrorist, criminal or other malevolent purposes.¹ The phrase ‘dual-use research’ refers to research that may have beneficial as well as detrimental consequences. The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), a US Government committee that provides advice to researchers and federal agencies, has defined ‘dual-use research of concern’ as ‘research that, based on current understanding, can be reasonably anticipated to provide knowledge, products, or technologies that could be directly misapplied by...

    • Nicholas G. Evans

      The so-called ‘dual-use dilemma’—which arises when scientific research, materials or technologies can be used to both benefit and harm humanity¹—is not an altogether new phenomenon. Early in the twentieth century, nuclear science—here, the study of the properties of atomic nuclei—raised similar concerns about materials, technologies and knowledge that had the potential to be used to benefit humanity, but also posed serious risks of misuse. Comparing the experiences of the nuclear sciences with those of biology in regulating dual-use materials, knowledge and technology will be the focus of this chapter.

      Nuclear science raises a number of dual-use...

    • Louise Bezuidenhout

      As dual-use ethics continues to grow as a topic of discussion, a number of features are increasingly becoming identifiable in the discourse. While many of these have been well discussed in a number of other volumes,¹ this chapter focuses on a little-examined characteristic: how issues relating to contextuality in life-science research are currently addressed in dual-use ethics.

      The issue of contextuality in dual-use ethics is an interesting topic for consideration because it may be simultaneously argued that there is too much focus as well as too little. Those suggesting that dual-use ethics has been predominantly context driven will point to...

  5. Part IV: Ethical Futures
    • Michael Crowley

      Over the past two decades there has been a revolution in the life sciences with extremely rapid advances in genomics, synthetic biology, biotechnology, neuroscience and the understanding of human behaviour. The speed of progress is staggering. For example, in 1999 a special meeting of the National Academies of Sciences and the Society of Neuroscience noted that ‘[t]he past decade had delivered more advances than all previous years of neuroscience research combined’.¹ Many of these developments have great potential to benefit humankind—in, for example, the production of more effective, safer medicines.² Concern has been raised, however, by a growing number...

    • Emmanuelle Tuerlings and Andreas Reis

      There has been much discussion over the past years about global health security and how to strengthen it. One area that has raised much activity revolves around the risks posed by accidents and the potential deliberate misuse of life-sciences research.² Different actors have proposed a variety of measures to manage such potential risks.³ Yet little information is available about the needs and capacities of countries, laboratories and research institutions in this area.

      The World Health Organisation (WHO) has developed a self-assessment questionnaire for laboratory managers and researchers to assess their needs and capacities in regards to responsible life-sciences research. This...

  6. Conclusion
    • 20. Ethics as … (pp. 349-380)
      Brian Rappert

      The contributions toOn the Dual Uses of Science and Ethicshave extended an invitation to dwell on a matter of much importance: the unity of knowledge. Each chapter has considered the potential for the skills, know-how, information and techniques associated with modern biology to serve contrasting ends. Each has spoken to steps that might be undertaken to prevent the deliberate spread of disease. A recurring message has been that, to date, the discussion about the ‘dual-use’ potential of the life sciences has been characterised by silences and absences. To be sure, while some researchers and policymakers have devoted attention...