The 'Jurassic Park' Problem – Dual-Use Research of Concern, Privately Funded Research and Protecting Public Health
53 Jurimetrics No. 3 (Spring 2013)
16 Pages Posted: 9 Feb 2013 Last revised: 9 May 2013
Date Written: February 7, 2013
During the late winter of 2011 and early spring of 2012, a controversy arose about publishing the results of two publicly funded experiments designed to transform the H5N1 “avian” influenza virus into a disease that would be easily transmissible between mammals through airborne means. The concern was that the published research could be used to produce biological weapons. Questions about the proper balance between encouraging the free-flow of scientific information and protecting public health followed. This paper discusses recent attempts by the U.S. government to balance these concerns, and analyzes the effectiveness of these attempts, especially in light of increasing involvement of the private sector in biological research. It posits that the best way to protect the public health when dual-use research of concern is involved is to ensure that the implications of the proposed research are scrutinized by qualified people before the research begins. The paper then proposes that requiring private sector researchers to demonstrate that they submitted their research protocols to the appropriate government body for a review of the potentially harmful uses of the research, prior to applying for a patent, is an effective way to ensure that privately funded research is subject to the same scrutiny as publicly funded research, while preserving First Amendment rights of free expression.
Keywords: public health, dual-use research of concern, First Amendment, patent, avian influenza, life-sciences research
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