Governments Must Rethink Policies Surrounding Biosecurity, Not Resort To Censorship

Author Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes in this Foreign Policy opinion piece that the announcement that researchers from the Netherlands and the U.S. have developed a supercontagious variety of bird flu “has highlighted a dilemma: How do you balance the universal mandate for scientific openness against the fear that terrorists or rogue states might follow the researchers’ work — using it as catastrophic cookbooks for global influenza contagion?” She continues, “Along with several older studies that are now garnering fresh attention, [the research] has revealed that the political world is completely unprepared for the synthetic-biology revolution” and notes “there are no consistent, internationally agreed-upon regulations governing synthetic biology, the extraordinarily popular and fruitful 21st-century field of genetic manipulation of microorganisms.”  

Commenting on the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity’s recommendation that journal editors redact some information from the publication of the research, Garrett says, “It is profound folly to imagine that global biosecurity can be attained through censorship” because those in the scientific community readily share information as soon as it is available. “Political leaders can no longer relegate questions about bioterrorism, biological accidents, bioweapons, or bio-homicide to scientific review panels or, worse, journal editors. It is time to rethink both the [Biological Weapons Convention] and the various biosecurity codes countries have created, without resorting to doomed calls for censorship,” she concludes (1/5).