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The benefits, risks, and threats of biotechnology
University of Exeter
Science and Public Policy
Beech Tree Publishing
This article considers how threats, risks, and benefits associated with research are defined in contemporary policy debates. Specifically, it examines what has become known as the ‘dual-use potential’ of life science research findings and techniques. Focus is given to the emerging dominant policy response of enacting oversight processes to weigh the risks and benefits of individual instances of research. The curiosity at the center of this article is how it is often said that any knowledge might be used for destructive ends but, in practice, it has been extremely rare that anything has even been identified as ‘of concern’. This situation raises basic questions about the purposes and prospects of oversight procedures. Various proposals are advanced in reply. These include better understanding how notions of the utility of research are constructed, searching for improved methods for assessing risks and benefits, attending to factors that might affect risk–benefit calculations, pursuing alternative questions and challenging fundamental tenants in policy discussions.
Published version reproduced with the permission of the publisher.