Seminar: ‘The Life Sciences,
Biosecurity, & Dual Use Research’
This page charts some of recent attention to codes as part of responses
to threats with biological weapons. If you think other references should
be included, please contact Brian
Codes of conduct have long figured as part of the activities of professional
organizations; indeed in the 19th century the establishment of codes was
central to the formation of medicine, law, and engineering as professions
that could be entrusted to largely manage their own affairs. In the 20th
century, professional codes were further adopted and elaborated, often
in response to high profile controversies. In medicine, for instance,
the human experimentation atrocities committed in World War II led to
the agreement of the ten ethical principles of the Nuremberg
Code. This was later complemented by initiatives such as the World
Medical Association’s 1948
Physician's Oath, the Helsinki
Declaration originally agreed in 1964, and the establishment of institutional
review boards in many countries.
In the physical and biological sciences, historically the emphasis placed
on adopting codes of conduct has been much less acute than in engineering
or medicine, not least because the conflicts of interest that motivated
many professional codes for the latter areas were less relevant and some
wished to characterize science as a value neutral activity (though see, for instance,
Recommendations of the Status of Scientific Researchers as well as the 1999 World Conference on Science's
on Science and the Use of Scientific Knowledge). Questions about
the appropriateness of the involvement of scientists in military R&D
has been one topic generating significant attention in Western scientific
circles; one which has led to calls for explicit guidelines. Concerns
about biological weapons have played a significant part in science-military-society
In relation to concerns about biological weapons various efforts have
been made to translate voiced concerns into formalized codes. For instance,
at least partially with an eye to biological weapons, in 1985 the American
Society for Microbiology (ASM) published its ‘Code of Ethics’
which obliged microbiologists to ‘discourage any use of microbiology
contrary to the welfare of humankind’, though leaving the meaning
of this phrase open for interpretation. In 1989 the US Council
for Responsible Genetics (CRG) started a pledge for scientists not
to participate knowingly ‘in research and teaching that will further
the development of chemical and biological agents’. In the 1990s
Student Pugwash developed a pledge for young scientists analogous to the
Hippocratic Oath to promote ethical reflection. It included the promise
that individuals ‘will consider
the ethical implications’ of their work. Joseph
Rotblat has since furthered a call for a type of Hippocratic Oath
for scientists. Combining various oaths, codes, and declarations the International
Network of Engineers and Scientists for Global Responsibility launched
an appeal covering all forms of military research. In 1999, the British
Medical Association recommended: ‘Professional scientists and
physicians have an ethical responsibility to reinforce the central norm
that biological and genetic weapons are unacceptable. This should be explicitly
stated in codes of professional conduct in order to safeguard the public
interest in matters of health and safety’. In March 2001, a group
of NGOs consisting of the Los Alamos Study Group, the Natural Resources
Defense Council, Tri-Valley CAREs, and Western States Legal Foundation
launched a Scientists'
and Engineers' Pledge to Renounce Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Arguably the attention given to codes intensified dramatically in 2001
after the failure to reach agreement on a Verification Protocol to the
BTWC as well as 9-11 and the US anthrax
attacks. These two sets of events have brought intersecting, but not necessarily
complementary, initiatives to establish codes of conduct. In November
2001, partially in response to the US rejection of the Verification Protocol
and following an earlier Fact
Sheet by the Bureau of Arms Control, President Bush made a number
of proposals to strengthen the BTWC, including that State Parties consider
how to ‘Devise
a solid framework for bioscientists in the form of a code of ethical conduct
that would have universal recognition.’ That same month Pax
Christi called for biotech industries to adopt a code in respect of
BW concerns. During 24-25 November 2001, the 16th
Workshop of the Pugwash Study Group on the Implementation of the Chemical
and Biological Weapons Conventions debated the merits of codes among
The International Institute
for Strategic Studies (IISS) and the Chemical
and Biological Arms Control Institute (CBACI) started a project titled
"The Future of
the Life Sciences: Reaping the Rewards and Managing the Risks"
which included a call for a charter to prevent the misuse of the life
sciences. In early 2002, in a Green
Paper about the BTWC by the UK Foreign Office concurred with the US
call for a code in suggesting that one:
would be developed by academic and professional bodies to lay out
standards internationally for work relevant to the prohibition of the
Convention. Such codes could include, inter alia, a statement
that scientists will use their knowledge and skill for the advancement
of human, animal, and plant welfare and will not conduct activities
directed towards the use of micro-organisms or toxins or other biological
agents for hostile purpose or in armed conflict.
In late 2002 several major scientific and medical organizations lent
support to the suggestion that codes might have some policy utility. The
ASM reaffirmed bioterrorism and ‘the
use of microbes as biological weapons’ violated its Code of Ethics.
At its annual General Assembly, the World Medical Association adopted
the Washington Declaration
calling for bioresearchers to ‘consider the implications and possible
applications of their work and to weigh carefully in the balance the pursuit
of scientific knowledge with their ethical responsibilities to society.’
In reply to the Foreign Office Green Paper, the British
Royal Society gave its support to ‘codes of conduct that are
developed by academic and professional bodies’ in further stating
that 'addressing issues of scientific responsibility and ethics in research
is an important but complex undertaking, which can only be tackled in
a number of complementary ways. One is the agreement of a universal set
of standards for research that can be incorporated into internationally-supported
treaties; another is a concerted effort to increase awareness of international
treaties and implicit codes of ethical conduct amongst researcher.'
At almost the same time the International
Committee of the Red Cross launched its ‘Biotechnology,
Weapons and Humanity’ appeal to prevent the hostile use of biological
agents. As part of this it asked political authorities ‘To encourage
the development of effective codes of conduct by scientific and medical
associations and by industry to govern activities and biological agents
with potential for abuse’ and asked scientific and medical communities
to ‘To adopt professional and industrial codes of conduct aimed
at preventing the abuse of biological agents’. Following a recommendation
by the Policy
Working Group on the United Nations and Terrorism, in September 2002
the UN General Assembly and the Security Council endorsed the recommendation
that codes of conduct be established across those areas of research relevant
to weapons of mass destruction. Beside this support for codes of a general
nature, various organizations offered proposals for proscriptions on biodefense,
such as the Joint Code of Conduct
statement for Biodefense Programs and the Council for Responsible
for a Ban on the Genetic Alteration of Pathogens for Destructive Purposes’.
In November 2002, codes of conduct entered the formal agenda of the BTWC
when its President Tibor Tóth proposed the establishment of a series
of annual expert and States Parties meetings for 2003, 2004 and 2005 in
the run-up to the 2006 Sixth Review Conference so as to ‘promote
common understanding and effective action’. In 2005, the topic for
the meeting will be ‘The content, promulgation, and adoption of
codes of conduct for scientists’.
Since then attention to a code has continued to spread and its possible
advantages repeated. During November 2002, the 18th
Workshop of the Pugwash Study Group on the Implementation of the Chemical
and Biological Weapons Conventions again considered the merits of
codes. That December the Foreign
Affairs Committee of the UK House of Commons supported an ‘international
code of conduct for scientists working with dangerous pathogens.’
In February, in response to the statement of the Policy
Working Group on the United Nations and Terrorism, a UN
Inter-Agency Consultative Meeting was held which encouraged the development
of ethical codes of conduct for scientists and engineers. Also in that
month, the British Society
for General Microbiology issued a Policy
on Scientific Publication, Security and Censorship.
Later that year, the biomedical charity the Wellcome
Trust stated a code could play an important role the self-governance
of the international scientific community by making it ‘aware of
potential risks and concerns relating to terrorist misuse of research,
and of the regulatory and ethical responsibilities that they hold.’
Despite reservations about the utility of a code from industry and funding
councils, the UK
House of Commons Science and Technology Committee urged British learned
societies and funding councils to ‘consider introducing an overt
ethical code of conduct’ linked to professional membership analogous
to the Hippocratic Oath. This least the scientific community risk having
‘ill-judged restrictions placed on it by politicians’. Following
a preliminary meeting in July, in December 2003 the UK government began
a series of workshops with members of the scientific, medical, and industrial
communities regarding codes. In December, the third meeting of the UNESCO's
World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology
(COMEST) included a session on a code of conduct for scientists with
specific reference to issues associated with biological weapons.
As part a wider education strategy to alert scientists about the dangers
of bioterrorism and dual-use knowledge, the National
Research Council report Biotechnology Research in an Age of Terrorism
argued that ‘it is the responsibility of the research community,
including scientific societies and organizations, to define what’
steps are needed to minimize the possibility that scientific knowledge
will further biowarfare or bioterrorism and ‘to provide scientists
with the education, skills, and support they need to honor these steps.
These principles should be added to the codes of ethics of relevant professional
societies’. As part of a Statement
on Health Security, members of the Asia-Pacific
Economic Cooperation agreed to 'establish an effective code of domestic
ethical and operational conduct for bio-scientists or promote such codes
where they already exist'.
In part as a response to Biotechnology Research in an Age of Terrorism,
the goals charged to the recently established US
National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity include developing
‘Professional codes of conduct for scientists and laboratory workers
that can be adopted by professional organizations and institutions engaged
in life science research’.
In March 2004 the International
Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War lent its support to establishing
'a code of ethics … guided by the Precautionary Principle.' In April,
as part of document titled The
Individual and Collective Roles Scientists
can Play in Strengthening International Treaties, the British
Royal Society further elaborated its expectations for a code, shifting
its explicit emphasis towards devising an enforceable code of practice.
The United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution
1540 in April that called for states to develop 'appropriate ways
to work with and inform industry and the public regarding their obligations
under' international WMD-related laws. In May, Pax
Christi further elaborated its expectations for a code and other responsive
measures necessary to prevent the spread of biological weapons. A US National
Research Council report regarding access to genome databases titled Seeking
Security reaffirmed the earlier NRC call for professional
codes of conduct. In June the American
Medical Association adopted its Guidelines
to Prevent Malevolent Use of Biomedical Research. The Council
for Responsible Genetics initiated a Campaign
for the Peaceful Development of the Biological Sciences which
specified various do's and don'ts in relation to biodefense research.
Following the 2002 recommendation by the UN General Assembly and the Security
Council for WMD-related codes of conduct, the International
Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology and the InterAcademy
Panel held meetings in May and September 2004 to produce a draft code
for life scientists. As well in September, the OECD
International Futures Programme held a conference "Promoting
Responsible Stewardship in the Biosciences" which supported a
code of conduct.
The Royal Society and Wellcome Trust held a meeting October titled 'Do
No Harm' wherein the suggestion was advanced to take forward a scientific
community derived code of conduct or code of good practice. While not
explicitly recommending a code, in Biotechnology,
Weapons and Humanity II the British
Medical Association said it would work with others to 'to develop
the voluntary self-policing policies that will contribute to reducing
the scientific risk' from research. Also in October, in an article
Jonathan B. Tucker of the Monterey
Institute of International Studies called for all researchers funded
in US federal biodefense programs to be ‘required to sign a code
of conduct, similar to the Hippocratic oath, that precludes them from
deliberately developing agents with enhanced pathogenicity or other harmful
properties and requires them to report any deviations from this norm’.
In November the International Committee
of the Red Cross forwarded various Principles
of Practice as a framework between general ethical responsibilities
and codes of conduct. In December, Pax Christi further elaborated its
call for a code of
conduct for scientists and the Sunshine
Project issued a 'Government Undertaking on Biodefense Programs' that
made various demands on the conduct of such programs. As chair of the
2005 BTWC meetings about codes of conduct,
in December a UK Ambassador wrote to all States Parties suggesting seven
questions to be addressed at the June 2005 BTWC
Meeting of Experts. A report titled "Fighting
Bioterrorism: Tracking and Assessing U.S. Government Programs"
by the CBACI called
for a strong code of conduct for businesses and scientists working in
the life sciences.
The meeting of the New
Defence Agenda's Bioterrorism Reporting Group encouraged 'ethical
codes of conduct for scientists working in sensitive bio-technologies
sectors'. In March, Margaret Somerville and Ronald Atlas published a proposed
"Code of Ethics for the Life Sciences"
in the journal Science
in response to concerns about bioterrorism. At the "International
Forum on Biosecurity", a member of the International
Council for Science called for the implementation of existing
and new codes of practice. In April, the International
Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) and the Chemical
and Biological Arms Control Institute launched the charter-based International
Council for the Life Sciences. In May, the UK Council
for Science and Technology launched a consultation on its Rigour,
Respect, and Responsibility: A Universal Code of Conduct for Scientists.
Although not specifically covering biological weapons, it may play an
important code for British government scientists.
In preparation for the June 2005 BTWC Meeting of Experts, its Secretariat
produced four background papers: Existing
Codes of Conduct which Refer to Biological and Toxin Weapons,
of Conduct Relevant to the Life Sciences or Biotechnology Which Do Not
Refer to Biological and Toxin Weapons, Review
and Analysis of Relevant Elements of Existing Codes of Conduct in Other
Fields, and Relevant
Organisations, Associations, Professional Bodies and Institutions Which
Might Serve as Sources of Guidance on the Formulation of Codes of Conduct
and as Agents for Adopting and Promulgating Such Codes. Numerous
working papers, official documents, and other documents from the June
Experts Meeting at available at the web site of the BTWC.
Prior to the June BTWC meeting the UK Royal
Society issued a report titled The
Roles of Codes of Conduct in Preventing the Misuse of Scientific Research.
On June 30-July 1, the US
National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity had its first
meeting, where, among other issues, codes of conduct were discussed.
The OECD International Futures
Programme launched a biosecurity
codes web site in mid-2005. In August Science
number of letters in response to Somerville and Atlas' "Code
of Ethics for the Life Sciences".
At the International Union of Microbiological
Societies General Assembly in San Francisco in July 2005, the General
Assembly agreed wording for a Code
of Ethics for the Prevention of the Misuse of Scientific Knowledge, Research
& Resources and also agreed to investigate how its member organizations
In September 2005 the UK Biotechnology
and Biological Sciences Research Council, the UK Medical
Research Council and the Wellcome
Trust published a joint
policy statement on managing risks of misuse associated with grant
funding activities, wherein each expressed interest in further pursuing
a code related to biological weapons.
In the Autumn of 2005, an occasional paper titled “Global
Biosecurity: The Vital Role of Academic Leadership” was produced
on the basis of a University of Virginia Tech Biosecurity Summit held
in May. It called for ‘consensus building process to create and
perfuse a set of standards and codes that are adaptable to academic biosecurity
practitioners in all disciplines’. In the November issue of Nature,
a leading scientist in the field of synthetic biology called for a code
of ethics for bioengineering similiar to those in traditional fields
of engineering. That month NSABB
held its second
public meeting which included a discussion about codes of conduct.
In December the InterAcademy Panel published its Statement
on Biosecurity which set out principles that could inform the content
of codes. The International Union
of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology also agreed a Code
of Ethics that stated its members would not 'engage knowingly in research
that is intended for the production of agents of biological warfare or
bioterrorism, nor promote such agents.' That same month the BTWC
held its meeting of States Parties for which many statements and working
papers were produced as well as a final agreed report.
Early in the year the US Institute of Medicine
and National Research Council launched a report titled Globalisation,
Biosecurity, and the Future of the Life Sciences that called
for the development of 'explicit national and international codes of ethics
and conduct for life scientists'. In March at an open meeting, the National
Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity reported on its progress
in devising a code for researchers in the US. A report
by the University of California (Berkeley) in April documented efforts
in the field of synthetic biology to adopt a code as part of developing
community standards. Researchers at the Synthetic Biology 2.0 meeting in Berkeley, California, considered and then rejected a draft code of conduct declaration.
At the 13 July meeting of National
Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, the draft document titled
in Developing a Code of Conduct for Dual Use Research in the
Life Sciences was agreed by members of the Board.
held by the Royal Society, InterAcademy
Panel & International Council for
Science in September 2006 titled ‘Scientific and Technological
Developments Relevant to the Biological & Toxin Weapons Convention’
gave measured support to devising codes of conduct.
During the 6th Review Conference of the BTWC (20 November to 8 December)
states such as India,
and the United
Kingdom made statements in support of codes. That Conference decided
to hold a number of yearly intersessional meetings between 2007-10. In
2008, one of the topics for discussion will be: ‘Oversight,
education, awareness raising, and adoption and/or development of codes
of conduct with the aim to prevent misuse in the context of advances in
bio-science and bio-technology research with the potential of use for
purposes prohibited by the Convention.’
In April, the MIT Institute for International Studies produced a piece
by Jeanne Guillemin about codes. Brian Rappert published a summary
and analysis of code developments to date in Biosecurity & Bioterrorism.
In late 2007, the Dutch Biosecurity Working Group, under the Royal
Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, launched its Code
of Conduct for Biosecurity.
In March, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists published an article about the code activities of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office held a seminar about codes and education in that month as well.
Under the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention the topics for discussion in 2008 include: 1. ‘National, regional and international measures to improve biosafety and biosecurity, including laboratory safety and security of pathogens and toxins'; and 2. ‘Oversight, education, awareness raising, and adoption and/or development of codes of conduct with the aim of preventing misuse in the context of advances in bio-science and bio-technology research with the potential of use for purposes prohibited by the Convention'. In preparation for the Meeting of Experts (18-22 August), the BTWC Implementation Support Unit produced a number of background documents including Developments in Codes of Conduct Since 2005. That Meeting of Experts also produced a number of statements by governments and others on the topic of codes.
In August the British Royal released a paper titled Royal Society activities on reducing the risk of the misuse of scientific research that summarised, among other things, its engagement with codes of conduct.
An industry association for the five leading German companies in the field of synthetic biology (IASB) issued a draft Code of Conduct.
In December 2008, the Council of the European Union adopted New lines for action by the European Union in combating the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems that included the suggestion that codes could help ‘to raise awareness that legitimate work can have dual-use applications'. The Meeting of States Parties to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention in December 2008 continued to address the topic of codes.
A report launched in February titled A Survey of Attitudes and Actions on Dual Use Research in the Life Sciences: A Collaborative Effort of the National Research Council and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, concluded that the (largely US) survey respondents supported ‘professional and scientific societies adopting codes of conduct.' The report recommended that ‘the professional and scientific societies that have or plan to develop codes of conduct […] communicate those policies more effectively'.
Graham Pearson produced an article summarizing code activities undertaken by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons relevant for biosafety and biosecurity.
In mid-2009, a book by Brian Rappert titled Experimental Secrets was published. It provides a detailed examination of attempts to develop bioweapons codes in recent years.
Robert Mathews and John Webb produced a chapter for a BWPP Reader titled 'Awareness-raising, Education and Codes of Conduct within the Framework of the BWC'.
The US White House National Security Council launched its National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats in November. Among the activities forwarded as part of supporting a ‘culture of responsibility' in the life sciences, the US committed itself to ‘Encouraging professional societies in the life sciences to develop and communicate codes of ethics and consider how their membership policies can best reflect community norms.'
In April, the magazine New Scientist carried a pledge for
neuroscientists 'to join with other professions in moving away from militarism and violence toward a culture of peace and respect for human life.'