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Disagreement Among Experts Over Bioweapons Threat

UTMB Vaccine Center ResearchAmid continued difficulties around assessing “dual-use” research and bioweapons threats, especially given limited empirical data, some researchers took another route to gauge their danger: the collective judgment of multiple experts.

Crystal Boddie, Matthew Watson and Gigi Kwik Gronvall from the UPMC Center for Health Security, with Gary Ackerman from the University of Maryland, College Park, led the assessment published today in Science.

The surveyed experts’ opinions on bioweapons-related risks were quite diverse, the authors say, adding to the challenge around developing a regulatory system for legitimate dual-use research.

The team employed a Delphi Method study to query the beliefs and opinions of 59 experts in order to assess the bioweapons threat and the potential for misuse of scientific research toward bioweapons development.

Questions asked of the experts included a range of biosecurity issues, for example:

  • Most likely actor to conduct a biological attack
  • Most likely agents to be used in an attack
  • The ability of the intelligence community to anticipate such an occurrence
  • The appropriateness of biodefense experiments

The participants’ experience and expertise varied, and so did their opinions. Those trained as biological scientists perceived a lower likelihood of bioweapons use than other participants, in many cases. And experts older than 50 years of age believed the likelihood of an attack was greater than did Generation X and/or Millennials (21 to 49 years of age).

The analysis aimed to examine biosafety concerns, the potential for such research to produce a biological weapons agent, and the possibility that publication of research such as “gain-of-function” studies may lower barriers to bioweapons development.

The results portray the disagreement among authorities over the threat from biological weapons.

Read more at Science: Assessing the bioweapons threat. (Login Required)

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