Reframing biosecurity governance as an experimental space, including as relates to handling COVID-19

April 09, 2020

Biological science and its applications are rapidly evolving, and to keep up with emerging security concerns, governance of biosecurity applications should evolve as well. In a Policy Forum, Sam Evans and colleagues argue for rethinking biosecurity governance - moving beyond assuming the related threats are known, as one major change, and making efforts more experimental. Evans et al. loosely define biosecurity governance as the policies and processes designed to prevent or deter misuse of biological science and technology. Due many factors, existing biosecurity processes are being pushed to their limits, the authors say. Processes related to recognition and handling of natural biological threats like COVID-19 are but one example. "It should not take hundreds of thousands of corpses around the world and a recession to get us to assess and address the limitations of our current systems of governing health security and biosecurity," said Evans. "One of the biggest lessons we can learn from the current pandemic is the need to learn lessons without a pandemic. We can do that by taking a more experimental approach to biosecurity and health security governance, periodically testing and reassessing basic assumptions we are making about science, security, and society." Traditional approaches have focused mostly on risk management and the malicious exploitation of research. According to the authors, this approach assumes the threats are known and able to be addressed. However, many recent advancements in the biological sciences, including the development of powerful new technologies like CRISPR and synthetic genomics, have created previously unknown and poorly understood security concerns. The authors demonstrate how reframing biosecurity governance as an experiment in itself focuses attention on ways to systematically evaluate the effectiveness and limitations of current and future solutions to biosecurity issues.
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American Association for the Advancement of Science

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