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World's Leading Journal Editors Urge Self-Governance
and Responsibility in Publishing Potentially "Dangerous" Science
Thirty-two of the world's leading journal editors and scientist-authors yesterday called for renewed vigilance and personal responsibility among their ranks whenever potentially "dangerous" research is presented for publication.
But, the editors and authors emphasized that the scholarly publishing community "must protect the integrity of the scientific process by publishing manuscripts of high quality, in sufficient detail to permit reproducibility." Without independent verification of research results, they emphasized, "We can neither advance biomedical research nor provide the knowledge base for building strong biodefense systems."
The joint statement, released at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting and scheduled for publication in key journals next week, supports the concept of self-governance by the scientific communityan alternative to government review of forthcoming journal articles. The statement resulted from a 9-10 January workshop, sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences and the Center for Security and International Studies (CSIS) at the urging of the American Society of Microbiology, on policies for publishing potentially sensitive, peer-reviewed research.
Discoveries reported in research articles have helped to improve the human condition by protecting public health, improving agricultural yields, promoting technological advances and economic growth and enhancing global stability and security, the editorial group noted. But, long-standing concerns about the risk of "good" science falling into the wrong hands were brought into clear relief by the events of September 11, 2001.
What is potentially "dangerous" science? Risky research cannot be clearly defined or categorized, the editorial group said, but any work that might be used by terrorists for malevolent purposes should not be published. "How and by what processes [risky research] might be identified will continue to challenge us," the editorial group concluded in its statement, which was presented at the AAAS Annual Meeting by Ronald Atlas, President of the American Society of Microbiology and Editor of CRC Critical Reviews in Microbiology. "It is also true that open publication brings benefits not only to public health but also in efforts to combat terrorism."
The group further made four key statements, summarized as follows:
- The integrity of the scientific process, and reproducibility of results, are paramount;
- Editors in the group are committed to dealing responsibly and effectively with security issues;
- Scientists and journals should consider establishing processes for reviewing risky papers; and
- If potential risks outweigh benefits, editors should modify articles or decline to publish them.
The editorial statement will be published 18 February in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS); 20 February in the journal, Nature; and 21 February in the journal, Science. In an accompanying editorial, Science Editor Donald Kennedy noted that the tension between scientific publication and security is not new: "It emerged in a very problematic way in the early 1980s, when regulations designed to prevent the transfer of weapons specifications were suddenly applied to basic research," prompting a report on "dual-use technologies," he wrote. Novelist C.P. Snow's exploration of the proverbial "Two Cultures" problem, which he applied to the cultural gulf between the sciences and the humanities, has now emerged in a different form, Kennedy said, as a chasm between the scientific and the security communities. The two cultures now must come together for the greater good, he added.
Attendees at the 9-10 January NAS workshop that resulted in today's statement included:
Ronald Atlas, President, ASM, and Editor, CRC Critical Reviews in Microbiology
Philip Campbell, Editor, Nature
Nicholas R. Cozzarelli, Editor, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Greg Curfman, Deputy Editor, New England Journal of Medicine
Lynn Enquist, Editor, Journal of Virology
Gerald Fink, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Annette Flanagin, Managing Senior Editor, Journal of the American Medical Association, and President, Council of Science Editors
Jacqueline Fletcher, President, American Phytopathological Society
Elizabeth George, Program Manager, National Nuclear Security Administration, Department of Energy
Gordon Hammes, Editor, Biochemistry
David Heyman, Senior Fellow and Director of Science and Security Initiatives, Center for Strategic and International Studies
Thomas Inglesby, Editor, Biosecurity and Bioterrorism
Samuel Kaplan, Chair, ASM Publications Board
Donald Kennedy, Editor, Science
Judith Krug, Director, Office for Intellectual Freedom, American Library Association
Rachel Levinson, Assistant Director for Life Sciences, Office of Science and Technology Policy
Emilie Marcus, Editor, Neuron
Henry Metzger, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, National Institutes of Health
Stephen S. Morse, Columbia University
Alison O'Brien, Editor, Infection and Immunity
Andrew Onderdonk, Editor, Journal of Clinical Microbiology
George Poste, Chief Executive Officer, Health Technology Networks
Beatrice Renault, Editor, Nature Medicine
Robert Rich, Editor, Journal of Immunology
Ariella Rosengard, University of Pennsylvania
Steven Salzberg, The Institute for Genomic Research
Mary Scanlan, Director, Publishing Operations, American Chemical Society
Thomas Shenk, President-Elect, ASM, and Past Editor, Journal of Virology
Herbert Tabor, Editor, Journal of Biological Chemistry
Harold Varmus, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
Eckard Wimmer, State University of New York at Stony Brook
Keith Yamamoto, Editor, Molecular Biology of the Cell
16 February 2003