Anything but blase 1

July 29, 2005

The headline "Science blase on terror" and the first line "Scientists in the UK are failing to consider potential terror threats resulting from their work and dismissing warnings about bio-weapons" (July 15) paint a sorry picture of scientists.

We question this interpretation for three reasons. First, the report conflates two distinct aspects of bio-security - non-proliferation policies and bio-terrorism. If scientists regard bio-terrorism as largely irrelevant to the recent extension of export controls and to the proposed introduction of codes of conduct and modifications to the Voluntary Vetting Scheme, then they are probably correct. These controls are primarily aimed at preventing proliferation of intangible dual-use technologies, not at preventing bio-terrorist activities.

Second, in research we conducted in 2004 on attitudes to bio-security we found that more than half the 128 scientists questioned wanted to be better guardians of their science and to be more actively involved in the process of developing more effective bio-security policies. Given the workload of researchers, it is hard to interpret this willingness to give up time as blase.

Third, our research showed that a range of new controls is being successfully implemented with the support of the UK scientific community.

Given the difficulties involved in implementing these controls, and the widespread confusion between bio-terrorism and non-proliferation, it is unfair to portray the scientific community as socially irresponsible.

Paul Nightingale and Caitriona McLeish
Sussex University

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