The deliberate misuse of biology is not a new phenomenon in human history, but the focus on terrorism and the potential misuse of ‘advanced’ (genetically engineered) biological weapons is.
In the 1990s, high profile terrorist incidents such as the sarin gas subway attacks in Japan, and 9/11 and the subsequent anthrax letter mailings in the United States in 2001, motivated national and international institutions to focus on bioterrorism threats and to develop a range of biosecurity measures at the international, national and local level. Simultaneous concerns about ‘user-friendly’ biotechnology (e.g. synthetic biology) increased the importance of the ‘dual-use dilemma’ in ethical debates about the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ implications of the life sciences and biotechnology in our daily lives.
Throughout the two-day workshop, journalists and public information professionals will deepen their understanding of biotechnology, its potential applications in bioterrorism, and existing biosecurity measures aimed at preventing deliberate misuse. Participants will also be engaged in a series of brainstorming sessions and practical exercises with eminent scientists, high-level officers and experienced journalists.
Upon completion of the course, participants will have acquired key tools to report compelling news stories, communicate bioterrorist threats, frame bioethical debates, detect inaccurate reporting, and verify reliable scientific sources.
Day 1 – PART I: Framing the threat and methods of prevention
Day 2 – PART II: The role of media
Framing the threat
Introduction: Modern biology and the ‘dual-use dilemma’
‘Experiments of concern’: Dual-use research in focus
- Spanish flu
- H5N1 experiments
- Aspects of the science, potential for deliberate misuse, and reactions of different stakeholders/communities, including scientific journals, public health experts, government authorities, media and the public
From biowarfare to bioterrorism: Historical precedents and new axienties
- Early examples – humans have been using germs to sicken and kill rival groups throughout history
- Biowarfare programmes – the rise of sophisticated, state-funded biowarfare programmes during WWII and the Cold War
- Bioterrorism – the increased focus on non-state actors that accompanied high profile terrorist attacks in the 1990s (e.g. sarin gas attack in Japan) and early 2000’s (9/11 and anthrax letter mailings), and simultaneous concerns about ‘user-friendly’ biotechnology (e.g. synthetic biology)
Methods of prevention
Introduction: A ‘web of prevention’
The Biological Weapons Convention (international)
Legislation and law enforcement (national)
- The Select Agent Regulations
- Oversight of Dual-Use Research of Concern (DURC)
- Counter-terrorism intelligence activities, e.g. FBI WMD Directorate
Bioethics and dual-use education (local)
The role of media
Introduction: Translating science and security into practical knowledge
Communicating scientific ‘facts’
Talking to scientists
- Ethnographic research in the fields of Science and Technologies Studies (STS) and the Social Study of Science
Keeping it complex
The role of journalists in promoting responsible science