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Countering the Misuse of Biotechnology
Jamais Cascio, 30 Oct 03

Rob Carlson knows biotech. He should - he's a research fellow at the Molecular Sciences Institute in Berkeley, and a research scientist at the Microscale Life Sciences Center at the University of Washington. When he talks about just how emerging biotechnologies could be misused, and what we can do about it, pay attention.

Now, the traditional view among many scientists and science-enthusiasts is that the dangers of people with bad intent getting their hands on powerful biotechnologies are so great that we must clamp down, censoring the public release of research which could be used by bioterrorists.

Carlson disagrees. In the most recent issue of the journal Biosecurity and Bioterrorism, he argues that, instead, our best defense is openness. Closing research, he says, would lead directly to black markets, driving much research underground, making it all the more difficult to monitor and respond to unsanctioned and irresponsible work.

I've advocated this position for quite a while. Locking down research and information doesn't keep us safe, it just makes it harder to recognize when a problem has occurred, inhibits effective response, and pushes those responsible for controlling the information to under-report violations in order to protect their own jobs. It's good to see this argument made by a respected scientist in a reputable journal.

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