Scientist support for Biological Weapons Controls

08 November 2002

The Royal Society has a long-standing interest in countermeasures against biological weapons. Lord May of Oxford, President of the Royal Society, and Bruce Alberts, President of the US National Academy of Sciences, have joined together to express their support for biological weapons controls in a joint editorial published in Science on 8 November 2002 (Volume 298, page 1135). The editorial has been timed to coincide with the Reconvened Fifth Review Conference of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, taking place in Geneva from 11 to 22 November 2002.

The key points in the editorial are:

  • The terrorist attacks of the past few years have made us all more aware that the threat from biological weapons needs to be tackled urgently and on many fronts. International agreements such as the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) are one vital component.
  • Collectively, the best scientists in both the UK and US must support policy makers in their efforts to make progress towards measures that will counteract the threat from advances in weapons technology that could be misused by governments or as terrorist threat agents.
  • The scientific community can provide a range of tools that reduce the threat from biological weapons.
  • In defining clear boundaries between what is classified and unclassified, governments must have access to the best scientists in each discipline.
  • Individual scientists also have a key role to play. Every researcher, whether in academia, in government research facilities, or in industry, needs to be aware of the potential unintended consequences of their own and their colleagues research.