Flu Research and the Pursuit of Deadly Knowledge

One of the most fundamental ethical questions facing the world of science and technology has to do with whether some knowledge is so dangerous that it simply ought not be sought.

That, essentially, is the question posed by recent research into how bird flu could be made more deadly. Understanding the process is clearly useful to scientists who want to learn how better to combat deadly viruses. But it could also be useful to others with less noble goals.

From the Stanford Daily: Flu research sparks debate over censorship

Researchers successfully created a version of the H5N1 virus, typically only virulent in wild waterfowl, which could possibly be transmitted to humans.

The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) was set up after 9/11 to monitor the scientific community for bioterrorist threats. This is the first time the board has recommended authors not publish parts of an article since its inception in 2004, recommending scientists redact portions of the article which contain the methodology of how to replicate the procedure….

Final note: the problems posed by such research become more and more salient as the basic tools of biotech become cheaper and more readily available.

(See also, from The Economist: Flu Research: A Deadly Balance.)

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About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.
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