Scientists urged to safeguard research

December 2, 2005

A global network of science academies, including the Royal Society, this week appealed to scientists to ensure that others do not misuse research, writes Anthea Lipsett.

The 68 academies presented a guiding set of principles that they would like to be considered when scientific codes of conduct are drawn up.

Scientists should be aware of the potentially harmful consequences of their work and refuse to undertake research that has only harmful consequences for humankind, the group says.

It argues that scientists should use good, safe and secure laboratory procedures and inform others about preventing the misuse of biological research.

Finally, it urges researchers to raise concerns about activities that violate the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention or humanitarian laws.

The academies call on those with responsibility for overseeing research or for evaluation of projects or publications to promote the principles.

The Royal Society helped draft the statement and has endorsed it as part of its work on reducing the potential for the misuse of scientific research.

Julia Higgins, vice-president of the Royal Society, said: "The threat from biological weapons is again a live issue. Scientists need to be aware. They must always bear in mind the potential consequences of their research and should not ignore the possible misuse of their work by others. They also need to pass on this awareness."

Tom Blundell, head of chemistry at Cambridge University and president of the Biosciences Federation, said: "With the change of science over the past 20 years and the extraordinary ability to manipulate DNA to create new molecules, this is qualitatively now a very different threat and a major one for all bioscientists."

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