Mediathek

Why not all Research is Free – Constitutional Limits of Science

Rüdiger Wolfrum, Heidelberg

Speech at the Herrenhausen Symposium "Dual Use Research on Microbes: Biosafety, Biosecurity, Responsibility", 11.12.2014

In Germany, the freedom of science and research is guaranteed without any explicit limits in the basic German law. What does this mean for researchers? Rüdiger Wolfrum, a professor for law, explains in his talk when the government can impose standards for safe research and restrict the publication of the results of certain research, despite this constitutional guarantee of the freedom of research. One of the examples Wolfrum has in mind is research on the modification of influenza viruses. The government cannot limit how a scientist defines the research he does. However, when research is actually being conducted, the government can and must play a role when it comes to issues of safety: When research could potentially endanger the basic human rights of others – their lives, for example, or their health – there is a duty to protect them. Risks cannot simply be ignored, Wolfrum argues. The greater the potential damage, the less willing we are to accept these risks. Wolfrum goes further: Both individual scientists and institutions have a duty to anticipate the misuse of their research by others. Wolfrum is a professor for comparative public law and international law and worked at the law faculties of the universities of Mainz (1982), Kiel (1982-1993), and Heidelberg (1993-2012). He also served as director at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg (1993-2012), was vice-president of the German Research Foundation (1996-2002), and vice-president of the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Sciences (2002-2006). Wolfrum is a member of the humanities section of the German Academy of Natural Sciences (Leopoldina) since 2003 and is president of the Ethics Council of the Max Planck Society.

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