Federation of American Scientists Case Studies in Dual Use Biological Research Module 8.0: Public Reaction Case Study
Topic: Implications

It is not unexpected for the public to be wary of science research particularly in light of the poor coverage it generally gets in the media. But scientists cannot blame the media alone for the lack of public understanding. Scientists need to reach out to their communities and better communicate what their research is and why it is being done. Residents should be made aware of and be involved in the planning of new research facilities being built in their neighborhoods and community meetings planned to listen to and address residents’ concerns.

The public wants to know that research is happening in a safe way and that their families are not in danger. They also want to be sure that containment facilities are operating safely and that there are inspections, requirements and measures in place to ensure that they will continue to operate safely. In response to concerns about a lack of oversight at research facilities the public is often told that the IBCs are responsible and taking care of it. However, as the Sunshine Project's work has shown, the state of the current IBC system does not provide the assurance that there is sufficient oversight of science research. As a result there is an interest and a push for more control measures, increased regulation, and better accounting of laboratories and agents to ensure public safety and security. Many members of the public feel that select agent work should either not be done at all, or if necessary, should be kept secret and be conducted in facilities not located in major urban areas. Scientists worry that increased regulations or legislation will hurt their ability to do science, but the public feels like these steps will be necessary to ensure their safety.

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