J Med Ethics 39:205-206 doi:10.1136/medethics-2012-100923
  • Commentary

Biodefense and dual-use research: the optimisation problem and the value of security

  1. Michael J Selgelid
  1. Correspondence to Associate Professor Michael J Selgelid, Centre for Human Bioethics, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; michael.selgelid{at}
  • Received 16 October 2012
  • Accepted 16 October 2012
  • Published Online First 8 November 2012

Central to the argument of ‘Biodefense and the Production of Knowledge: Rethinking the Problem’ are claims that

  1. the vast majority of ethical debate about biodefense research to date has focused on the dual use problem, and

  2. the focus of ethical discussion of dual-use research has been on the need to strike ‘a proper balance of only two dominant values: biosecurity and “open science”’ —the idea being that ‘under current conditions other values can and ought to be ignored because the stakes are so high’.1

With regard to (2), Buchanan and Kelley's main point is that policy making regarding biodefense and dual use should be seen as an ‘optimisation problem’—the aim should be to achieve the greater good of society, where all relevant values are taken into account, rather than limiting attention to just two values—security and open science—in particular. While, as other commentators have argued, it is questionable whether these authors have provided an accurate account of ethical discussion of biodefense and dual use to date, in this brief commentary my purpose is to argue that the values of security and open science should themselves be seen as proxies for other values (comprising the greater good of society) and that solution to …

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