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The last 12 years have seen historically high levels of interest in biosecurity among life scientists, science policymakers, and academic experts on science and security policy. This interest was triggered by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the ‘anthrax letters’ attack of the same year, and two virology papers, published early last decade, that were thought to raise serious biosecurity concerns.1 Ethicists have come relatively late to the game, but, in recent years, a lively debate has developed on ethical issues raised by biosecurity policy, and, more generally, on the ethics of producing and disseminating ‘dangerous’ biomedical knowledge. Unsurprisingly, this debate has taken on increased sense of urgency over the last 18 months as the journals Science and Nature, the United States National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, and the World Health Organization, among others, have been considering whether and how to publish two academic papers reporting means of enhancing the transmissibility of H5N1 influenza, or ‘bird flu’ (see, for discussion, Evans' paper in this issue).
We hope that this issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics will substantially advance the emerging ethical debate in this area. The issue features five articles on the ethics of biosecurity: a feature article, by Allen Buchanan and Maureen Kelley (see page 195, Editor's choice); three brief replies to this article, by Michael Selgelid (see page 205), Thomas May (see page 206), and Nicholas King (see page 207); and a stand-alone paper by Nicholas Evans (see page 209), which discusses the recent H5N1 controversy and analyses the appeals to scientific freedom that have been made by some of its protagonists. In this ‘concise argument’, I can, regrettably, comment only on the Buchanan and Kelley piece.
Buchanan and Kelley on the framing of the biosecurity debate
Buchanan and Kelley aim to broaden and reframe the existing debate on biosecurity. They begin by noting that
science policy …
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