Remarkable advances are underway in the biological sciences. One can credibly imagine the eradication of a number of known diseases, but also the deliberate or inadvertent creation of new disease agents that are dramatically more dangerous than those that currently exist. Depending on how the same basic knowledge is applied, millions of lives might be enhanced, saved, degraded, or lost.
Unfortunately, this ability to alter basic life processes is not matched by a corresponding ability to understand or manage the potentially negative consequences of such research. At the moment, there is very little organized protection against the deliberate diversion of science to malicious purposes. There is even less protection against the problem of inadvertence, of legitimate scientists initiating chains of consequence they cannot visualize and did not intend.
John Steinbruner is the director of the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland.
Elisa D. Harris is a Senior Research Scholar at the Center.