The flip side of scientific freedom
Science is primarily used for good, but scientists have always had to contend with the idea that their research may be misused and where the moral responsibility for this lies.
Perhaps the most famous instance of where science has been used for harm is the 20th century research in physics that led to the development of the atomic bomb.
Now the focus is shifting to the ethical dilemmas arising from research in the life sciences. For example, advances in brain imaging may lead to technologies that could reveal what people are thinking or feeling.
The problem, how scientific freedom of inquiry should be weighed up against the possibility that the research could be used for harm, is known as the 'dual-use dilemma'. In this podcast, Chandy Nath from the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), speaks to Dr Tom Douglas, Doctoral Candidate in Philosophy, University of Oxford, Professor Charles Penn, Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Medical Microbiology and Dr Michael Selgelid, Senior Research Fellow, The Australian National University, Canberra. They discuss the role that scientists and scientific publishers have to play in tackling this problem, and to Phil Willis MP, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee in the House of Commons, on his views on where politicians fit into this.
This recording is 15 minutes long.
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- Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology briefing, The Dual-Use Dilemma (pdf 111KB) (Opens in a new window)
- Royal Society Report: New approaches to biological risk assessment (July 2009)
- Royal Society Policy document: Society activities on reducing the risk of the misuse of scientific research (August 2008)
- The Wellcome Trust's position on the harmful misuse of research
- Awareness-raising project based at the Universities of Exeter and Bradford