Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies Program on Energy and Sustainable Development Stanford University

Clostridium bacteria are highly pathogenic to humans in that they can produce a potent exotoxin such as C. botulinum, which is the cause of botulism food poisoning.
Photo credit: CDC

October 15, 2013 - CISAC, FSI Stanford In the News

Relman: Should scientists publish discoveries at the risk of misuse?

Appeared in Journal of Infectious Diseases, October 7, 2013

In this commentary in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, CISAC Co-Director David Relman, a microbiologist and immunologist at the Stanford School of Medicine, discusses the discovery of a new, eighth botulinum neurotoxin and questions whether scientists should publish their findings. What if their research falls into the wrong hands?

"The dilemma faced by these authors, and by society, revolves around the question: Should all of the information from this and similar studies be disseminated, motivated by the desire to realize all possible benefits from the discovery," Relman writes, "or should dissemination of some or all of the information be restricted, with the goal of diminishing the probability of misuse?"

Relman, who is also chief of infectious diseases at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System and a member of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, argues that the solution lies somewhere in-between.

You can also listen to him address a recent CISAC science seminar about the most pressing and confounding biosecurity issues today.

Topics: Biosecurity | Health and Medicine | Public Health | Science and Technology