Ajaccio workshop on Science, Ethics and Society

On 10-12 September 2004, Pugwash meeting no. 300 was held in Ajaccio, Corsica.

2nd Pugwash Workshop on Science, Ethics and Society 

Report by Barbara Seiders and Marion Nowick

1       Introduction

The workshop was attended by 28 participants coming from 17 countries, including some students. On September 9th, during a public evening organised at the Palais des Congrés, Francesco Calogero, Jacques Diezi, Jean-Pascal Zanders and Gabriel Galice spoke about different aspects of the social responsibility of scientists, and this session was followed by a discussion with the public (200 attendants). Furthermore on September 13th, Pierre Canonne gave a class on Science, Ethics and Society to high school students.

The organisation of this workshop was fully supported by the Mouvement pour la Corse du 21ème siècle and benefited from grants from the Ajaccio Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Mayor of Ajaccio, the Territorial Organisation of Corsica, the Corsican Tourism Office and the General Council of South Corsica.

The workshop was officially open by the Prefect of Corsica, in the présence of the Mayor of Ajaccio, the Rector of the Corse University and other authorities.

Table 2 Fink Committee Experiments of Concern

The participants were honoured by a message from Sir Joseph Rotblat that was read at the beginning of the first session.

1.1     Background

At the first workshop on the subject of “Science, Ethics and Society” convened by Pugwash in Paris in June 2003, participants discussed questions of morality and ethics, neutrality of science, the responsibility of scientists and society; secrecy and counterterrorism, codes of conduct and education. The first workshop established the foundation for a discussion that was continued in a second workshop, held in Ajaccio, Corsica from 10 – 12 September 2004.

In bringing together workshop participants to continue the work begun at the first workshop, the Chairman raised specific issues within the context of science and ethics, and elicited consideration of possible courses of action. Among the specific issues raised in preparation for the workshop were questions of “science for defense” and “science for sale”.  These directed issues focused consideration on special questions of ethical conduct of science within the defense and commercial sectors. In the course of the workshop, considerable attention was focused on possible misuse of biological science in production of biological weapons as a particular challenge with respect to the ethical issues associated with the advanced state of the science and the malicious intent to which that science could be applied.

Similarly, the Chairman raised two specific areas for consideration of possible courses of action for discussion at the workshop: forestalling the misuse of science and enhancing public understanding of science.  Options suggested for forestalling the misuse of science included codes of conduct, early warning systems for questionable research, and processes for voicing ethical concerns. The workshop discussion covered additional possibilities: prior review of research and publications; education in ethics; communication of ethical issues; identifying communities that can serve as models to establish systems or standards of ethics within science; identifying and encouraging nontraditional channels of communication; and strengthening treaties that control science and technology accessible for weapons development. Discussion on these potential courses of action – and the breadth of participants’ views — were wide ranging.

1.2     Assumptions

Not surprisingly, the workshop participants differed in their assumptions regarding the general area of science, ethics and society. Among the assumptions, both implicit and explicit, that were highlighted in the course of discussion are the following:

  • Ethical conduct is universal and independent of cultural context;
  • Science is universal and should be universally shared;
  • Science, or “pure research”, can be value-neutral;
  • Only in the application of results of “pure” science do ethical issues arise;
  • Sponsored research cannot be conducted objectively, that is, it cannot be “pure”;
  • Academic science is more “pure” than science sponsored by commercial organizations, government agencies, and especially military departments;
  • Research sponsored by the military is ethically questionable;
  • Increased public familiarity with science is a good thing;
  • Increased education of scientists on ethics would produce more ethical behavior; and
  • As technology advances, the possible consequences of danger from misuse increases.

Of particular value in this workshop was the process of bringing these assumptions to the table in order to better appreciate which assumptions were generally shared — few!; and which had divergence of view — most!

1.3     Ethics and Culture, Ideology and Religion

As noted by one workshop participant, ethical behavior in science is not just about science, it is informed by ideology, religion, and culture.  The different assumptions regarding the subject of the workshop reflect differing views on the relationships among ethics, culture, ideology and religion, each of which impacts recognition of standards of ethical behavior.

The relationship between ethical behavior and culture was highlighted by several examples offered by participants in the course of discussion:

  • different countries and cultures attribute different value to the lives of animals than they do to humans, leading to different policies relating to use of animals in scientific experiments and testing of pharmaceuticals on animals;
  • countries of different cultures have different ethical standards for the majority relative to the individual; and
  • ethical standards in laboratory research may differ from ethical standards of the public at large.

The conclusion drawn by some is that, with respect to culture, there is no universal standard of ethical behavior in science. As noted above, ethical behavior is defined within the context of local culture, even though that culture can be geographically dispersed. What constitutes an ethical practice can be perceived differently from culture to culture. Even within a culturally homogeneous group, ethical responsibilities that exist at different levels of education or authority, for example, can conflict. And, it was suggested, culture specific biases can generate patterns of ignorance.

By culture, we refer to observed patterns of behavior and thinking shared among groups, including their language, traditions, art, technology, style of dress, religion, political and economic systems, in addition to rules of behavior. Ideology describes the system of beliefs, values, and ideas that form the basis of a social, economic, or political philosophy or program held by an individual or group determining how they think, act, and understand the world.

Behavior may be judged as ethical or “good,” either as an inherent quality of the activity itself or because it conforms to an acknowledged moral standard.  Moral standards may be based on achieving the greatest happiness; discharging duty or obligation; or striving for human perfection. Within a given sociological group, culture, ideology and religion all influence what is considered ethical behavior – depending on whether the standard invoked derives from inherent qualities, a deity, human nature, or rational thought.

The role of culture is generally a passive, observed quality of a group or society, not a driving force in and of itself with respect to individuals within that group or society. Nonetheless, culture can be a determining factor in differences in the expression of ethical standards of behavior, as illustrated for example in Jane Jacobs’ perspective on the mutually exclusive “Guardian” moral syndrome and “Commercial” moral syndrome. The former is an observed moral code that Jacobs attributes to governments and religious institutions; the latter she attributes to scientists, business owners, and artists.

In contrast to culture, both religion and ideology can and often do include an active quality; a driving force within the group sharing the religious or ideological beliefs that can impact others not identified in the group or society. The workshop discussion included both positive and negative implications of the role of religion and ideology on ethical behavior. Invoking particular standards of ethical behavior by one group or society or culture may be seen by others as an attempt to impose control or assert a system of power, appropriately or not. This is particularly true when the standards at issue derive – or are even perceived to derive – from a religious or ideological basis.

Just as philosophers argue that some actions may be “good” and hence ethical by their very nature, some scientists hold the view that there is a concept of “pure” science untouched by potential conflict from sponsoring organization(s). There was a sense conveyed by some at the workshop that research sponsored by a scientific foundation is more “pure” than that sponsored by a government agency, military department or a commercial enterprise. Others raised issues with the concept of the inherent value-neutrality of science, noting that even scientific foundations have their own political and technical motivations. The divergence of view among even this thoughtful group indicates that adherence to the concept of the value-neutrality of science can represent an obstacle to productive dialog of the ethical implications of basic research.

To the extent that a universal quality of science is important, sharing of knowledge across cultures is important, and requires that cultural differences be acknowledged. Workshop participants discussed the need to recognize that ethical behavior cannot be dictated either to the public or the community of science, but that there must be dialogue on issues of importance in these cultures and communities. This recognition impacts possible courses of action. For example, while promotion of a single “universal” scientific language offers consistency and conformity of information, it does not reflect the diversity or cultural difference among societies in the scientific community. Endorsement of such a proposal by those whose culture includes the language could be legitimately driven by altruism, whereas scientists from cultures without a tradition in the proposed language could legitimately see the proposal as an attempt to assert control by countries that speak that language. At this stage, it could almost be considered a duty for scientists to publish their work in their mother tongue as a contribution towards the local scientific community and in some way to the public at large.

2       Issues in Context

2.1     “Science for defense”: Research Funded by Defense Ministries

2.1.1  Context

At the direction of the Workshop Chairman, the participants considered science and ethics within specific contexts. The first of these specific contexts was in special circumstances surrounding the conduct of science in support of national defense. The Chairman raised several aspects of these special circumstances as a foundation for contributions to the workshop and subsequent discussion, including:

  • The undeniable connection between science and war;
  • Motivations of government (or government related) scientists and ethical threshold;
  • Influence of leaders/managers of government-sponsored, national security related research;
  • Transparency of the goals;
  • Ethical concerns and legitimacy;
  • Problems of a legal, ethical nature in connection with security-related research as well as research for military purposes; and
  • Need for strategic thinking, guidelines, and definitions.

Discussion of these topics elicited a wide variety of issues associated with science, national and international security. There was some discussion of the implications of nanoscience for human health, privacy, and environmental protection. Members of the group also discussed the idea of a broader definition of “security” that might help shift the emphasis of sponsored research in support of more peaceful endeavors. For example, in biological arena, broader definition of biological security would look to protect human health from all biological threats, not just protect against those agents that might be used as weapons in the hands of a belligerent.

Although these and other topics were discussed that related to “Science for Defense,” the predominance of the workshop discussion revolved around biological weapons.

2.1.2  Biological Weapons

Contributions provided by several participants reinforced the unique circumstances surrounding biological science as it relates to the threat of biological weapons, as well as potential ethical issues associated with scientific programs to provide for defense against biological weapons.

Biological weapons have properties that make them very different from other classes of weapons. One of the key properties of biological weapons is that they can be produced entirely using materials, equipment and facilities that have other, completely legitimate uses. Furthermore, the technology used to provide a defense against biological weapons is largely the same as the technology that would be used to produce the weapons; the distinction between offensive and defensive biological research is very fine.  Whereas twenty years ago, the threat of biological weapons seemed to have been limited to the arsenals of a few nation states, the anthrax attacks of 2001 demonstrated that a one or a few individual(s) can deploy them effectively against an entire country. Another property that distinguishes biological weapons from other classes of weapons is the nature and speed of developments in biology and biotechnology.

How the unique qualities of biology, biotechnology, biological weapons and biological defense can be addressed in recommended courses of action will be discussed within specific sections below.

2.2     “Science for sale”: Research Funded by Corporations

The second special context offered by the Workshop Chairman for consideration was that of “Science for Sale,” raising ethical issues associated with research sponsored by private commercial corporations.  In charging the Workshop participants to consider this special context, the Chairman raised two issues in particular:

  • Transparency of the goals of such research, and
  • Ethical concerns and legitimacy.

Much of the discussion in this area focused on the example of pharmaceutical research and development. The premise of this area of discussion is that business practices needed to maintain a commercially viable organization may result in ethically questionable activities. Incomplete or inaccurate information regarding clinical trials may be made public; companies advertise the promise of developmental drugs that have not been fully tested; advertising to promote sales may influence the use of drugs under inappropriate circumstances; and known side effects may be misrepresented in the interests of sales of the drug. Communicating complex technical information accurately and ethically is made more difficult when information relates, for example, to the relative advantages and disadvantages of controversial drugs or therapies – in which key sectors of the public have a strong and often emotional interest.

Another issue that was raised in the context of “science for sale” is the inherent conflict between the value of publishing scientific findings to make them widely available and the need for commercial purposes to maintain control of intellectual property that might accrue from such scientific findings.

Among the potential courses of action discussed, examples were raised that apply to the issue of the ethical conduct of science in the commercial sector and will be described in the sections below.

3       Potential Courses of Action

A critical objective in convening a second workshop was to further elaborate on potential courses of action touched on in the first workshop that could be taken by Pugwash, individual scientists, organizations, and governments. The Chairman offered topics for consideration as potential courses of action, including 1) increasing public understanding of science, and 2) forestalling the misuse of science by establishing early warning systems, such as implementing codes of good practices and conduct, encouraging free expression of scientists and mechanisms for reporting ethical concerns, and education on ethical issues for scientists, leaders, and decision makers.

Topics identified by the Chair as possible “Early Warning Systems” that may help to prevent the misuse of science are given below. In addition to the specific recommendations from the workshop chair are two others: one that combines consideration of facilitating the communication of ethical issues by scientists and the other noting the suggestion to strengthen national and international laws and treaties that control science and technology that can be used for weapons. The following topics, candidates for consideration as early warning measures to deter redirection of science to weapons development, are discussed in detail below:

  • Critical review of all the types of research/experiment before they are carried out
  • Precautionary principles and audit of the risks involved
  • Realistic ethical framework for early identification of novel present and future technoscience developments
  • Institutionalisation: possible nature of the institutions for alert at various levels
  • Role and responsibilities of research institutions and funding agencies
  • Creation of a national body (Council for Science and Society) as a guide to public policy in this matter
  • Facilitate ability of scientists to communicate ethical concerns, opposition to sponsored research, and providing legal protection and social support for whistle-blowers
  • Strengthen treaties that control science and technology accessible for weapons development

3.1     Increase Public Awareness and Understanding of Science

3.1.1  Context

To stimulate discussion in this area, the Chairman provided the following suggestions for consideration prior to the workshop as possible activities that could be undertaken with a view to increasing public involvement in the scientific enterprise:

  • Provision by scientists of accurate information about research facts and their social and ethical implications, responsibility of scientific institutions to the citizens, requirement for transparency and outreach;
  • Establishing links to communicate research findings and put them in perspective;
  • Developing scientists’ communication skills;
  • Integrating and understanding of society’s values by scientists in their assessment of technological risks;
  • Increasing communication among scientists on ethical issues; and
  • Communication of scientists to the media: influence of media pressure, scientists and the “star system”.

3.1.2  Discussion

Previously, it was noted that workshop attendants recognized that it is not possible or appropriate to attempt to dictate terms of ethical practice either to the public or the community of science. For there to be effective interaction, there must be dialog between the various parties and communities impacted. Thus, it would seem that increasing public awareness of science and the ethical issues that science frequently entails is a straightforward suggestion to increase dialog, and ultimately reduce the potential negative impact of occasions when ethical issues arise. A better informed public would seemingly be better able to participate in decision making; they might be less susceptible to “spin doctoring” of scientific information, whether as a result of unethical practices or simple over exuberance on the part of the scientist(s).

However, even with respect to this seemingly straightforward potential course of action, there were serious issues raised and discussed. Some participants noted that it is not trivial to interact with the public to increase their awareness and understanding of science, and that there are practical issues that interfere with effective communication. For example, participants noted that many scientists are unable, ill-disposed or ill-equipped to communicate effectively with the public, the press, or political leadership. Even those scientists inclined to attempt communication with the press are often limited in the amount of time they can devote to developing the relationships of trust and mutual respect that are necessary to ensure that neither the scientists nor the press will be in a position to exploit the other. In some cases, and with regard to some areas of science, the press can be hostile — or at the least, aggressive — to the point that it inhibits productive interaction. An example of such an area of science where there is often an adversarial relationship between scientists and the media is when the issue for reporting is related to the ethical foundation of a particular scientific activity. Participants discussed the difficulty of ensuring scientific accuracy in the press when it is the legitimacy of the science that is being called in to question. There was considerable discussion of the inherent merits of informing the public, when scientists might expect that an informed public would be more accepting of risk or ethical ambiguity; sometimes the opposite is true.

One workshop participant observed that scientists’ ability to talk to media is often subject specific. He noted that in his country, when scientists transitioned from research associated with atomic energy to space research, they were able to adopt a more media-friendly approach. This highlights the challenge of this workshop, whose objective is to explore those very areas of science which are likely to raise ethical issues – and hence difficulty in communication.

One participant raised a challenging issue: how can scientists work to achieve different effects in their interactions with the public, the press and policy makers? By way of illustration, she noted that in responsible communication about the threat of terrorism, the goal is to stress the need for vigilance, without paralyzing the public in fear. In contrast, in some countries, the press is being used by policy makers to underemphasize situations – such as the prevalence of HIV/AIDS – which scientists and physicians see as demonstrably catastrophic. In this circumstance, the goal is to motivate the public out of the state of complacency encouraged by policy makers to engage in the process of addressing this disaster that affects families, communities, regions, nations and the world.

In the course of the discussion on increasing the awareness and understanding of science by the public, there were a number of positive notes and some suggestions for courses of action.

One participant noted that in some countries, there is a growing trend to add interaction with the press as an evaluation criterion for scientific recognition. As with other skills, the more training and practice scientists receive, presumably, the better able they will be to communicate with the public effectively.

In another line of discussion, workshop participants noted the need to recognize the legitimate needs of the press and structure their interactions accordingly. For example, in the discussion of the difficulty of developing relationships of trust and respect between the media and scientists, one participant noted that ultimately, members of the media are seeking truth. This participant suggested that over time, it undermines their credibility to provide reporting that is found to be untrue. Being able to recognize imperfect understanding of complex technical issues on the part of a responsible reporter for what it is, rather than an attempt to misrepresent the information, can help to build a relationship of trust. As another example, scientists who recognize that reporters are frequently responding to very short deadlines and are willing to work with them on an urgent basis often find that they have helped to develop a relationship of appreciation and trust that may be important when issues of ethics and accuracy are the more compelling considerations on another day.

Much of the discussion about raising awareness of the press and public referred to “the public” and “the press” as if they were each monolithic entities. One course for more effective communication with both is to recognize that there are different sectors of the public and the media and that it is necessary to tailor the interaction accordingly. This includes the need to interact with both the lay public and generalists who may have very limited appreciation for the field of science on which they are reporting. Workshop participants noted that such reporters will continue to report the news as they are able, whether or not responsible scientists take the effort to maximize the accuracy of the information.

The discussion at the workshop included not only what could be done on an institutional level, but also what individual participants could do, or do better. In the discussion of the practical challenges of dealing with the press, especially when there is an expectation they will be hostile, participants discussed alternatives. For example, there is an endless need in virtually every community for scientifically trained individuals to become more involved in issues of local importance. Interaction with concerned non-scientists within a community can bolster a more coherent advocacy that can address a difficult issue collectively.  A second alternative for  improving communication with the public when the press is hostile is to recognize that scientists can provide advice and counsel directly to policy makers by a variety of mechanisms. One mode of communication occurs from scientists to the press, the press to the public, the public to policy makers; scientists can improve the quality of information available to policy makers by direct communication. Additional considerations in the area of better informing lawmakers and decision makers are described below. Finally, participants noted that it is possible to use to advantage technologies and modes of communication to achieve a degree of communication never before possible, via such mechanisms as the internet and in the newly emerging phenomenon of the “Café Scientifique”.

One presentation offered in support of the discussion of informing the public highlighted the need to temper release of scientific information, cautioning that it is possible to go too far in communication of science to the public. In a study of the eventual disposition of medical research presented as abstracts at scientific meetings, and reported on by the media, researchers found that a substantial portion of the studies represented remain unpublished. Because the information is presented as preliminary in the form of meeting abstracts, there is no opportunity to exercise peer review of the reported results. This situation suggests a more prudent approach to scientific reporting may be appropriate, and additional courses of action are discussed below in the area of prior review of research and publication.

3.2     Increase Awareness and Understanding of Science by Local, Regional, National and International Governing Bodies

3.2.1  Context

A special case of “increasing public awareness of science” is to increase awareness on the part of members of governing bodies. Discussion and presentations also touched on the need to recognize different roles of leadership that apply in scientific organizations that call for communication at a variety of levels, targeting individuals with both formal and informal leadership roles. Participants also noted the importance of working with leadership in a variety of capacities: institutional leadership, scientific leadership, as well as elected or appointed political leadership.

3.2.2  Discussion

In one presentation, the activities of a particular committee of the US National Academy of Science (NAS), the Committee on Research Standards and Practices to Prevent the

Destructive Application of Biotechnology, chaired by Gerald R. Fink were described. The Fink Committee addressed a number of specific issues discussed within the workshop including the issue of increasing awareness of science on the part of institutional and elected leadership.[1]

Although the National Academy of Science is not a government agency, recommendations by its committees are generally persuasive to key policymakers within the United States government, the governments of other countries, and other organizations. In the case of the Fink Committee, their deliberations resulted in seven recommendations that are very similar to aspects of the discussion of the current workshop.

  1. Educating the Scientific Community
  2. Review of Plans for Experiments
  3. Review at the Publication Stage
  4. Creation of a National Science Advisory Board for Biodefense
  5. Additional Elements for Protection Against Misuse
  6. A Role for the Life Sciences in Efforts to Prevent Bioterrorism and Biowarfare
  7. Harmonized International Oversight

Table 1 Recommendations of the Committee on Research Standards and Practices
to Prevent the Destructive Application of Biotechnology

With respect to the current potential course of action, increasing awareness of science by policy makers, the Fink Committee recommended that the United States undertake to establish a National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) specifically to advise and guide the government in issues associated with advances in biotechnology, and the security, health and ethical issues they may entail.

For the United States to undertake measures such as those recommended by the Fink Committee is important, but the workshop discussion reinforced that attempts to reduce the risks associated with biotechnology must ultimately be international in scope, because the technologies that could be misused are available and being developed throughout the globe.

3.3     Increase Prior Review of Proposed Research and Publications

3.3.1  Context

Workshop participants devoted a significant amount of discussion to the need for and possible mechanisms to be used in the review of scientific results prior to publication, as well as the need for review of research objectives prior to undertaking studies of ambiguous ethical foundation.  An important aspect of this suggestion was recognized by the Fink Committee: which is the need to develop and promulgate guidelines for the appropriate communication of dual use research methodology and research results.

In discussing the importance of increasing public awareness of science, workshop participants also recognized that in some cases, full disclosure might be counter to sound ethical practice. In one example given previously, participants described research in which medical research studies were featured prominently in the media on the basis of abstracts presented at scientific meetings, even when the studies were not eventually supported by full, peer-reviewed publication. This situation suggests the possible need for review of scientific findings prior to their release to the public. In addition to calling into question the practice of prematurely releasing scientific findings that are not borne out by complete experimentation or peer review, there is the question of publication of information that can be exploited by terrorists and others to cause harm. Discussion on this topic seemed to reflect similar views of scientific journal editors and authors, who felt, as related by one participant, a fundamental view, shared by nearly all, that there is information that, although we cannot now capture it with lists or definitions, presents enough risk of use by terrorists that it should not be published. How and by what processes it might be identified will continue to challenge us, because it is also true that open publication brings benefits not only to public health but also in efforts to combat terrorism.[2]

The general view of the workshop seemed to be that members of the scientific community should develop procedures for such review of research and publications, drawing on the experience during the emergence of the field of biotechnology with respect to oversight of recombinant DNA research. In the view of workshop participants, it seems important to be able to rely on self-governance by scientists and scientific journals to review experiments and publications for their potential national security risks. Participants saw it as important that such review be undertaken by the scientists themselves for a variety of reasons: maintaining the autonomy and integrity of science; ensuring that the review would be carried out by those most knowledgeable about the subjects at issue; the need to specify standards appropriate in each field of inquiry; and the desire to forestall unwieldy and inappropriate government-imposed measures. Self-regulation within the scientific community would require involvement of individual scientists, research organizations, and scientific publishers. Editors of journals should constrain information if in their judgment the information has a reasonable potential to do harm. A difficult – and potentially unanswerable – question for both authors and editors is whether the risk outweighs the likely benefits.

With respect to prior review of proposed research, one participant described an approach based largely on the findings of the Fink Committee. The Fink Committee identified seven classes of “experiments of concern” (see Table 2) that illustrate the types of research that should undergo review and discussion by informed members of the scientific and medical community before they are undertaken or, if carried out, before they are published in full detail. The Fink Committee proposed a system that would establish a number of stages at which scientists would review experiments and eventually their results to provide reassurance that advances in biotechnology with potential applications for bioterrorism or biological weapons development receive responsible oversight.

In research institutions in the United States, an appropriate body for the first formal review of proposed research is the Institutional Biological Safety Committee (IBC). Institutional Biological Safety Committees are responsible within organizations carrying out biological research for oversight of research involving etiological agents, select agents, and agents requiring biological containment measures. By recommendation of the National Institutes of Health, the IBC includes participation by the public in the form of community members of the committee. In research institutions in the United States, the IBC may be able to provide an assessment of research at its earliest stages, when the direction and objectives of questionable research can be redefined as needed.

  1. Demonstrate how to render a vaccine ineffective
  2. Confer resistance to therapeutically useful antibiotics or antiviral agents
  3. Enhance the virulence of a pathogen or render a nonpathogen virulent
  4. Increase transmissibility of a pathogen
  5. Alter the host range of a pathogen
  6. Enable the evasion of diagnostic/detection modalities
  7. Enable the weaponization of a biological agent or toxin

As noted above, also among the recommendations of the Fink Committee was the recommendation to harmonize international oversight of biotechnology-related research. Some participants in the workshop endorsed the concept of creating an international forum to work toward a common understanding of security concerns and eventually, an international norm against misuse of genetic information. Others, however, felt that the system described under development in the United States was extremely intrusive.  Some of these participants noted that international harmonization should include harmonization appropriate to different risk levels. In the view of these participants, for developing countries to adopt such intrusive measures without a commensurate risk would divert effort and funds from other productive activities.

3.4     Increase Education on Ethical and Biosecurity Issues

3.4.1  Context

Prior sections of this report have described discussion within the workshop of the need for education of the press, the public and policy makers in science. The workshop also covered the need for a different area of education, specifically, the need to provide education on ethics and biosecurity to scientists. This concept was also raised in the context of the Fink Committee recommendation to develop and implement programs for education and training in biosecurity issues for all scientists and laboratory workers at federal as well as federally funded institutions.

3.4.2  Discussion

While workshop participants seemed to have a general sense that this was a good and straightforward recommendation, it also raised issues. Among the immediate questions raised were, whose system of ethics? Who should teach? Is it possible to teach ethics without turning the instruction into ideological indoctrination? Who is to be responsible for such a course of instruction? Are there empirical studies of the impact of the courses that suggest such training would contribute to an improved environment of ethical practice? At what age should a person’s ethical training start?

In the view of one participant, ethical behavior could only be expected to be handed down from elder to younger scientists. This view highlighted differences of view as to the likelihood of scientists at different stages in their career, their lives and their training to act ethically (or not). There was general agreement, however, that young scientists have both the capacity for and interest in ethical analysis, and that early education in ethics may help shape culture of scientists and reduce culture-specific biases. This agreement among workshop participants did not settle the question, however, of how best to enhance the degree and quality of training in ethics for scientists.

One participant offered a practical example of circumstances in which educational support in the field of ethics could be of help, specifically, to provide aid and assistance to the scientist who has identified an area of ethical concern, but who needs help in how to address it. The individual observed that scientists need a system for analyzing ethical implications of the potential course of action, and that making such a tool more readily available would contribute to the goal of improving the familiarity of scientists with ethical analysis.

Although education is of utmost importance, other factors canot be forgotten: for example in the end, engineers are responsibles to those in charge of their project, rather than to humanity. In fact, there was a concern that courses might become references set in stone, rather than methods of approaching ethical issues (a set of rules rather than a set of tools).

3.5     Establish Codes of Conduct

3.5.1  Context

In introducing this line of inquiry into the workshop, the Chairman raised a variety of questions regarding recommendations to establish codes of conduct, specifically:

  • Role in combating the diversion of science advances into activities that threaten  global security and peace
  • Obligations under international treaties: links between codes of conduct and/or codes of good practices and international agreements aimed at preventing illegal weapons development and use
  • Is an international consensus possible?
  • Need for a Scientific “Hippocratic” Oath

3.5.2  Discussion

On this issue, workshop participants held widely divergent views. A number of participants expressed the view that codes of conduct were an appropriate step to attempt to encourage ethical behavior among scientists. Some of these participants described specific formulas for possible codes, as well as general guidelines that might be used to develop appropriate codes of conduct. One participant suggested that emphasis in the development of codes of conduct should be on individual scientists; codes of conduct should not dictate permitted or prohibited experiments but rather guide acceptable or unacceptable intent for research. In the discussion, there were suggestions to compile examples of such oaths or codes, or the rules by which groups sought to define them. In the view of some participants, codes of conduct are seen to be reflective and reinforcing of a norm of ethical practice, and hence valuable. One possible path to implementing codes of conduct is contained in the report of the Fink Committee, where they suggest that development and adoption of codes of conduct lies with governance of relevant professional societies:

[The Committee] believes that it is the responsibility of the research community, including scientific societies and organizations, to define what these reasonable steps entail and to provide scientists with the education, skills, and support they need to honor these steps. These principles should be added to the codes of ethics of relevant professional societies.

Not all workshop participants viewed the development and adoption of codes of conduct as useful. Some noted that asking scientists to act to prevent the use of their science for questionable purposed implies calling on them to predict the future, to anticipate how the product of their scientific enterprise might be used to nefarious ends at some unspecified time in the future, and to control the actions of others. It was noted that many scientists are unable to assess the positive uses to which their science can be immediately applied, much less anticipate an indefinite future.

Related to this concern is that the time that is sometimes required for basic research to be translated into application can be substantial, even when those applications are targeted early in the process of research and development. Asking scientists to be responsible for the duration of the developmental process is impractical at best. In the medical field, standards are legally binding. However this doesn’t allow for intuitive judgement, nor for considering the individual cases.

Whereas some see establishment of codes of conduct as reinforcing norms of ethical behavior, others note that this applies only to the extent that the norms are shared. In the case of ethical practices, it has already been noted that there are many bases for judging the ethical quality of activities. The extent to which norms are not shared or standards used to judge ethical practices differ, calls into question the value of codes of conduct. Some felt that the only way for codes of conduct to be effective is if they are world-wide and binding.  Important questions were raised with respect to binding codes of conduct, specifically, how would codes be enforced and who would be responsible for their enforcement? In the view of some workshop participants, based on experience with other informal international agreements, it is better not to have safeguards than safeguards that are unsafe, in the same way that it is better not to have laws which are breached too often.

N.B. As a follo-up to the workshop, two participants, Margaret Somerville and Ron Atlas, have proosed an interesting “Code of ethics for persons and institutions engaged in the life Sciences which could be used as a basis for future discussion. (see attachement 2)


3.6     Facilitating the Communication of Ethical Issues by Scientists

3.6.1  Discussion

While several of the documents prepared to support discussion at the workshop addressed the issue of protecting scientists who raise ethical issues, and how to facilitate the communication of such concerns, the discussion on this point was interwoven throughout other elements of the workshop.  For example, as reported previously, one example was offered in which educational support in the field of ethics could be of help, specifically, to provide aid and assistance to the scientist who has identified an area of ethical concern, but who needs help in how to address it. The individual observed that scientists need a system for analyzing ethical implications of the potential course of action, and that making such a tool more readily available would contribute to the goal of improving the familiarity of scientists with ethical analysis. As another example, discussion of facilitating raising of ethical issues by concerned scientists, it was observed that communities in which norms or codes of conduct are recognized set the stage for such scientists to be able to speak out when they see activities at odds with those norms.

3.7     Strengthen National and International Laws and Treaties that Control Science and Technology that can be used for Weapons

3.7.1  Discussion

The Workshop participants discussed the role of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in efforts to reduce the use of biological research and development for weapons purposes. It was pointed out that these treaties reflect norms of behavior, which is positive.

There is a need for international agreements such as the BWC to be made flexible enough to address technological advances. One participant cited the provisions of the CWC and BWC in banning weapons outright, and raised the question of the relationship of non-lethal chemical or biological weapons under the Treaties. In his view, as an outright ban, these treaties eliminate these classes of weapons from military doctrine of those nations who abide the terms of the treaties. By maintaining a technological exclusion to the treaty, such as non-lethal chemical or biological weapons, parties can maintain the capacity to use weapons. The CWC has a technological exclusion for agents used domestically for law enforcement; it was the view of this participant that such exclusions were unhelpful in that they opened the door for use under other circumstances.

One issue acknowledged among the workshop participants is that international treaties such as the BWC or CWC are binding on states; but these weapons are accessible to groups and individuals, possibly without the knowledge or involvement of the state party government. Because the weapons can be obtained by individuals and groups without knowledge of government, it raises questions of accountability. This issue in turn suggests the need to engage the widest possible community of leadership in order to maximize the likelihood that illicit activities will be seen and recognized as illicit by someone who has the knowledge and tools to do something about it – whether the response is reporting to law enforcement, corporate management, municipal or other elected political leadership.

Along the lines of empowering lower levels of leadership to recognize and act to prevent unethical use of science, the Fink Committee included among its recommendations the merit of developing and promulgating national guidelines for local (e.g. institutional) and federal oversight of dual use research; fostering the extension of biosecurity policies to the international arena; adopting restrictions on access to dangerous pathogens; and self policing of life sciences research and information to limit potential misuse.

3.8     Identify Communities that Represent Ethical Scientific Conduct

3.8.1  Discussion

In the course of interactions at the workshop, one participant suggested looking to examples within the scientific community with prior experience developing and refining standards of ethical practice. That participant described the field of medicine as one scientific community that has evolved standards and practices of ethical conduct. She indicated that evolution of the system of medical ethics has been ongoing for 30 years, and it may be appropriate to consider what elements of the systems of ethics that has emerged in medicine has applications elsewhere. It could be appropriate to consider what lessons may be learned that would be better not to repeat in other communities. For example, the current practice of ethics in medicine arose from an emphasis on differences, spawning litigation, as opposed to an emphasis on the basis of consensus or agreement. Also, there used to be a separation between pure research and therapeutic medecine which does no longer exist.

3.9     Identify and Encourage Nontraditional Channels of Communication

3.9.1  Discussion

In various contexts, both in the prepared materials for the workshop and in the discussion, it was acknowledged that ethical conduct is a responsibility at all levels of an organization, national and international leadership. One participant posited that some systems of leadership may be more susceptible to challenges to ethical conduct of science, so that the issue must be engaged at all levels, not just at the level of national leadership or just at the level of individuals. Participants discussed the need for creative approaches to encourage ethical standards of behavior, partly for reasons already discussed, e.g. imposition of control measures from outside a country or culture or organization may be less effective than controls put in place internally because the former could be perceived as inappropriate attempt to control. Finally, it may not be adequate to pursue formal, traditional modes of engagement, because rogue states, terrorists, and criminals may distance themselves from regulated environments. The community of scientists conducting similar research may have the best (albeit limited) window into activities others may try to hide.

One particularly intriguing proposal offered at the workshop, consistent with looking for nontraditional channels of communication, was to consider using art as a means to convey ethics.

4       Future work

The possibilities discussed for future work of Pugwash in the area of Science, Ethics and Society are wide ranging. They included recommendations brought forward from the 2003 workshop, which specifically suggested that Pugwash could:

  1. On its own, issue a letter on the ethical responsibilities of scientists or sponsor a book on the subject which would lay out the choices available.
  2. Establish a website, either for discussion of ethical issues among scientists or as a mechanism to share information about educational initiatives and materials suitable for use in ethics training.
  3. Endeavor to institutionalize early warning functions against the misuse of science, by actively participating in activities whose objectives are to strengthen in international arms conventions, provide information about the physical and social risks of new technologies, and increase societal support for whistleblowers.
  4. Engage the Student Pugwash group, as suggested in their paper.

An important general issue remains for potential exploration in Pugwash: how to identify and discuss novel technological and scientific developments as they appeared over the horizon, before their social implications had become widely recognized, to provide a realistic ethical framework and a reliable factual background for this type of discussion? How to set up a realistic ethical framework for early identification of novel present and future technological and scientific developments?  Future work could continue to explore these questions, possibly following the work of Working Group 5 from the 2003 Halifax Pugwash Annual Conference. In their report, WG5 identified specific guidelines to judge circumstances that may warrant attention with respect to their ethical foundation:

  1. a) If science or technology creates a circumstance that poses potential threats to global or human security then we, as scientists, have a responsibility to do something about it;
  2. b) If a complex problem is emerging, or a simple problem has to be looked at in a complex context, and engagement with it is not possible without thinking in a new way;
  3. c) If new technologies are required to deal with a problem; and
  4. d) If issues are systematically forgotten or suppressed.

Given the breadth and complexity of the area, future work of Pugwash in Science, Ethics and Society could include establishing a working group on “Early warning and preventive action on emerging technologies”. Topics for review within such a working group could be: the character of the early warning institutions and the scientific analysis of examples of potential threats from emerging technologies – downside consequences of nanotechnology, biomedical technology etc., and security and privacy issues related to ICTs (Echelon etc.). The analysis should include contextual aspects (commercial, religious, and ideological etc.) surrounding emerging technologies, as well as account for the epistemological and historical meta-assumptions on which they are built.

Discussion at the second workshop on the possible implementation of a website included a number of potential uses, not all of which were foreseen in the first workshop. Most of the discussion also revolved around establishing a website to serve as a repository for resources that could be shared, including:

  • A collection of examples of codes of conduct;
  • Educational materials and references;
  • Professional materials and references, as illustrated by the webpage for the Public Assistance Hospitals of Paris (see APHP.fr);
  • Programs, training, tools, experiences on communicating science to the press and public;
  • History and philosophy of science and ethics; and
  • A directory of experts in science and ethics.

In addition to its possible uses as a repository of information, the workshop participants discussed whether it might be feasible to exploit the internet for its collaborative and dynamic interaction tools. Examples of such nontraditional tools that might spur a new form of interaction for Pugwash on these issues include shared server resources, such as SharePoint sites, or tools that depend on interaction within a community for its value, such as the free internet encyclopedia, Wikipedia. It was asked whether there was merit in organizing a discussion network on the issue of early warning systems, and it was noted that this might be a subject for internet-based interaction as well.

Related to the suggestion to use an internet site to accumulate examples of codes of conduct, it was suggested that future wok could include sponsoring and endorsing a Pugwash student project to accumulate and analyze variations of codes of conduct. In future activities, Pugwash could encourage students or junior Pugwashites to explore creating their own pledge or /code of conduct. Participants in the workshop discussed that analysis of codes of conduct might also be interesting as a dissertation project for a student in scientific ethics. It may be appropriate to include the issue of  wistle-blowing protection into the code of conduct.

Several papers contributed for the workshop suggest the possibility of preparing a Pugwash position paper on the dangers in biology research. Participants asked whether it would be possible and/or appropriate to draft an appeal by an international group of high-level scientists regarding the conduct of research and the communication in the life sciences for a self.-policing by the scientific community, using an agreed upon and internationally harmonized framework, as has been done for recombinant DNA research.

A variation on the theme of preparing a special paper under formal Pugwash sponsorship was to assemble the papers prepared for this workshop into a book.

The subject was raised of collaborative efforts between Pugwash and other organizations, in particular the International Council of Science (ICSU). From the perspective of an organization like ICSU, there is potential added value of working with Pugwash, given their complementary membership and outstanding reputation. It was suggested that there was common interest of the two organizations in relation to science and society that might warrant potential for future partnerships on specific projects. In this regard it was noted that a substantial element of the reputation of Pugwash arose specifically because it maintains its autonomy and objectivity, and absent a compelling reason to change this practice, it was unlikely that proposals for joint activities would proceed very far.

A significant amount of discussion at this workshop focused on the scientific and ethical issues associated with biological research and its potential use in making weapons. Participants at the workshop discussed the value of identifying a specific topical theme to stimulate additional discussion in the net phase of activity. The principle topic that arose in the discussion among participants that was a significant issue within society with implications of science, technology, society and ethics was the response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic worldwide. This topic seemed to be an excellent possibility for focusing additional future analysis among Pugwash workshop members.

The Chairman discussed a possible time and location for the next meeting and identified June of 2005 as a possible date, with the third workshop possibly to be held again in Corsica, France.




Professor Sir Joseph Rotblat FRS
London Office

Ground Floor Flat
63A Great Russell Street
London WC1B 3BJ
tel 020-7405 6661 fax 020-7831 5651
e-mail: pugwash@mac.com

Colonel Pierre Canonne and all at the
2nd Pugwash Workshop on Science Ethics and Society
9 – 12 October 2004

03 September 2004

Dear Friends,

I deeply regret not to be able to be with you all in person.  You are going to discuss a most important aspect of Pugwash activities.  Indeed, I would say that working out a sound relationship between science and society is the raison d’être for Pugwash, a feature distinguishing us from other anti-war and anti-nuclear organizations.  It was my fervent hope to be with you in Ajaccio, but unfortunately the state of my health does not allow me to make the journey from London.  This will be the first Pugwash symposium on this topic that I will have missed.

You have a very comprehensive agenda, embracing a number of problems that have arisen as a result of the application of the fantastic progress in science and technology.  Most of these applications have proved to be of benefit to human society, but others have posed new dangers, threats to our civilization, and perhaps even to our very existence.  Science is playing an ever increasing role in every walk of life, and this puts an extra obligation on scientists to be accountable for their deeds.

Unfortunately, there are still many scientists who do not accept their social responsibility.  The task of the scientist – they say – is to search for knowledge, and how his or her knowledge is applied is not the business of the scientist.  Moreover, some believe that the search for knowledge overrides all other considerations and that scientists should be entitled to ignore the ethical elements of their work.

The harm to society that has resulted from such attitudes has brought science into disrepute, and action is needed to restore the proper image of science.  The introduction of a “hippocratic” oath is our example of such action, but it should perhaps be given more than a symbolic value.  Perhaps the time has come for a binding code of conduct, where only those who abide by the code should be entitled to be practicing scientists, something which applies now to medical practice.

Dear friends, I have touched on only one of the issues on your agenda, in order to illustrate the great task for you during your time in Ajaccio.  I wish you an intense but friendly discussion and full success in your deliberations.

Yours sincerely,

Joseph Rotblat







Ethics must be embedded in all aspects of scientific research from its inception;

All persons and institutions engaged in science and medicine must first seek to do no harm and where possible to do good;

The power of science to result in harm, if it is not governed by strong ethical standards, has been vastly augmented, in particular, by advances in molecular biology and informatics and especially in the context of the life sciences;

Society has entrusted all people engaged in all aspects of science, in particular, scientists, physicians, other researchers and scientific institutions, to undertake it in such a way as to show respect for all life, especially, for all people, including future generations;

Safeguards are needed to ensure fulfillment of the public trust and the fiduciary obligations it engenders, and to protect against breach, in particular, to ensure that science is not used in the cause of biowarfare or bioterrorism;

A code of ethics, setting out the principles that collectively form the standards of conduct that define the essentials of ethical behavior for all people engaged in all aspects of science, in particular, scientists, physicians, other researchers and scientific institutions, is needed to contribute to the protection of present and future generations of humans, other living creatures and our planet against the misuse of science, especially the life sciences;

The standards of behavior embodied in a code of ethics will help to protect against the misuse of science, especially the life sciences;

Compliance with a code of ethics and adherence to its principles is both the individual and collective responsibility of all people engaged in all aspects of science, in particular, scientists, physicians, other researchers and scientific institutions;

A code of ethics will underline the importance of ethics review of proposed scientific research and the monitoring of on-going research;

A code of ethics will support the protection of people who act in accordance with its requirements to bring breaches of ethics in scientific research or the misuse of science to the attention of relevant authorities or the public;

Scientists, physicians, other  researchers and scientific institutions who fail to act ethically are at high risk of losing the respect of their peers and the respect and the trust of society as a whole, which would have harmful consequences, not only, for them, but also, for scientific research, all people and institutions engaged in science, and society;

Some breaches of ethics can concurrently constitute contravention of existing law and, because codes of conduct and ethical principles that are broadly accepted by one’s peers are often used by courts to establish legal standards, violations of a  code of ethics could result in legal penalties as well as censures for breaches of ethics.

A code of ethics based upon strong principles will facilitate transmitting the values that must govern scientific research to trainees and students and provide them with both guidance for themselves and benchmarks against which to assess the conduct of their teachers and mentors


Therefore, all people and institutions engaged in all aspects of scientific research and development, in particular, in the life sciences, must:

  1. Work to ensure that their discoveries, knowledge, and application of  those discoveries and knowledge, first do no harm, in particular, to the well-being of humankind and life on the Earth.
  2. Work for the ethical and beneficent advancement, development and use of scientific knowledge.
  3. Refuse to engage in any research, development or use of science that is unethical, in particular, that is intended to facilitate—or when there is a real possibility of its being misused to facilitate—biowarfare or bioterrorism, both of which violate the fundamental moral values of humanity.
  4. Never, under any circumstances, knowingly or recklessly to contribute to the development, production or acquisition of microbial or other biological agents or toxins, whatever their origin or method of production, of types or in quantities that cannot be justified on the basis of their being necessary for prophylactic, protective, therapeutic, or other peaceful purposes.
  5. Take steps to prevent any research or use of science that is unethical, especially that which could facilitate biowarfare or bioterrorism and, in particular, the misuse or potential misuse of one’s own discoveries, teachings, knowledge, or scientific advancements for such purposes; and to call to the attention of the public, or the appropriate persons or bodies, unethical research or misuses or potential misuses of science or scientific information for such purposes.
  6. While facilitating, to the fullest extent possible, the exchange of biological materials for peaceful purposes, take prudent steps to assure biosecurity by seeking to ensure  that only individuals for whom there are reasonable grounds to believe will not misuse them are provided with biological agents that could be used unethically, in particular as weapons; and by restricting access to such agents within laboratories and collections to individuals with bona fide needs for them for ethical research, clinical diagnostics, or other medical uses.
  7. While facilitating, to the fullest extent possible, the generation and exchange of biological, scientific, and technological information and knowledge for peaceful purposes, in those rare cases where there is reasonable concern that information or knowledge could be readily misused to do harm, in particular, to develop biological weapons or for use in biowarfare or bioterrorism, seek to restrict the dissemination of such dual use information or knowledge to those who need to know.
  8. Ethically justify undertaking any given scientific research or development, in particular, through ethics and safety reviews; that is, the persons engaged in any aspect of scientific research have the burden of proof of its ethical acceptability and safety where there is doubt about its potential to do harm, or whether its development or potential uses are within legitimate peaceful purposes, or whether the legitimate benefits being sought outweigh its risks and harms.
  9. Abide by prevailing laws and regulations that apply to the conduct of science, unless doing so would be unethical. If an individual believes that certain laws and regulations breach the obligations set out in this code, he or she must work through the relevant societal institutions to change those laws and regulations so as to become consistent with the ethical principles set forth in this code.


  10. Faithfully transmit the duties and obligations embodied in this code of ethics, and the principles upon which it is based, to students, trainees and others who are, or may become, engaged in the conduct of science.

Drafted by Margo Somerville and Ronald Atlas, 20th November 2004

[1] National Research Council of the National Academies of Science, Committee on Research Standards and Practices to Prevent the Destructive Application of Biotechnology, chaired by Gerald R. Fink, 2005.


[2] “Uncensored exchange of scientific results,” Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, Journal Editors and Authors Group, February 18, 2003.