Data Sharing and Dual-Use Issues

Science and Engineering Ethics 19 (1):83-92 (2011)
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The concept of dual-use encapsulates the potential for well-intentioned, beneficial scientific research to also be misused by a third party for malicious ends. The concept of dual-use challenges scientists to look beyond the immediate outcomes of their research and to develop an awareness of possible future (mis)uses of scientific research. Since 2001 much attention has been paid to the possible need to regulate the dual-use potential of the life sciences. Regulation initiatives fall under two broad categories—those that develop the ethical education of scientists and foster an awareness and responsibility of dual-use issues, and those which assess the regulation of information being generated by current research. Both types of initiatives are premised on a cautious, risk-adverse philosophy which advocates careful examination of all future endpoints of research endeavors. This caution advocated within initiatives such as pre-publication review of journal articles contrasts to the obligation to share underpinning data sharing discussions. As the dual-use debate has yet to make a significant impact on data sharing discussions (and vice versa) it is possible that these two areas of knowledge control may present areas of ethical conflict for scientists, and thus need to be more closely examined. This paper examines the tension between the obligation to share exemplified by data sharing principles and the concerns raised by the risk-cautious culture of the dual-use debates. The paper concludes by reflecting on the issues of responsibility as raised by dual-use as relating to data sharing, such as the chain of custody for shared data



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Louise Bezuidenhout
University of Exeter