Research ethics


Dual use responsibility is something that researcher in biological research must think about. This means that a researcher is resposible to see that research results are not misused to manufacture e.g. biological weapon. Earlier this spring Frida Kuhlau from University of Uppsala defended her doctor’s thesis Responsible Conduct in Dual Use Research: Towards an Ethic of Deliberation in the Life Sciences on research conduct and dual use responsibility.

Discussions on researcher’s responsibility for his/her research started already during the second World War. It was among other things the creation of nuclear weapons that made the research community aware of the dual use responsibility and security questions. The 9/11 attacts and following anthrax attacks made these discussions acctual again.

Frida Kuhlau makes four points in her studies into dual use responsibility:

  • The researcher has a moral responsibility not to expose others for risk for injury.
  • Precautionary Principle must be explicit and it is meaningfull and usefull as a normatively guiding principle.
  • The researcher has also responsibility for what is published and responsibility to consider if what is publiced might have dual use.
  • There is a need for building up ethical competence similar to that in animal trials and research involving humans.

Frida Kuhlau means that there is a need to create a culture of dual use responsibility for research to continue to be free and open research.

This very interesting. The researcher has a number of ethical principles to follow such as those for animal trials, research involving humans, publishing ethichs, plagiarism and not to falsify research data. On top of this they have to consider open access and making research data freely available. The balance between being open with research and have responsibility for how research results are used is probably difficult. I wonder how long a researcher has responsibility for his/hers research results: at the moment misuse is not possible but in ten years a new component has come…

There is a new Swedish book on publishing ethics and the authors mean that the most common way for research misconduct is authorship. There are authors who demand to be accredited as authors although they do not fill the criteria for authorship. They write in the book that maybe an independent authority should be established that one could contact if irregularities are detected. A research conduct council? They might also work with questions regarding dual use responsibility and questions regarding research conduct.

Pieta Eklund