Freedom of research must be accorded high priority because it plays a fundamental role in ensuring social progress and prosperity. And yet in nearly every branch of science, important and useful research findings can also potentially be misused to do harm. This dilemma of dual use, as it is called, always sparks wide debate over the benefits and risks of specific research proposals. A current example involves experiments to determine whether humans can contract highly pathogenic avian influenza, also known as bird flu viruses.
The public debate of this issue has expressed the expectation that researchers themselves develop ethical principles and mechanisms for a responsible approach to freedom of research and research risks. In response, the German Ethics Council published a position paper in May 2014 on behalf of the Federal Government entitled Biosecurity - Freedom and responsibility of research, which focuses on research conducted into highly pathogenic viruses and bacteria while also evaluating the validity of subject-specific codes of conduct in light of recent advances in the life sciences.
The German Research Foundation and the National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina set up an interdisciplinary, cross-institutional working group in 2013 to debate and analyze the complex relationship between Freedom of research and responsibility. It aimed to stimulate debate in scientific communities and among DFG and Leopoldina members as well as to develop general guidelines on handling security-relevant scientific research.
ML = Member of the Leopoldina
Leopoldina President Jörg Hacker on the Publication of Research Findings concerning the virus H5N1 (News, 23 December 2011, German)