Speech at the Herrenhausen Symposium "Dual Use Research on Microbes: Biosafety, Biosecurity, Responsibility", 12.12.2014

The term “dual use” is a technical one. But it is not as special a category as one might think. Everything has dual use, says journalist Michael Specter: Planes are amazing inventions for transporting people and things but they can also be used as weapons, as happened on September 11th, 2001. He argues that no one in their right mind would want to stop making planes, just because they can be misused as weapons. All we do and should do, is try to make them safer. Research on viruses is no different although Specter admits that a virus is probably the biggest threat to mankind. But we do not know where it might come from – it could be a virus invented in a lab or one that spreads from a chimp. It is the job of science to do as much research as possible on viruses, so that we can understand how they work and find vaccines or other ways to contain them. For scientists, just doing their research in the lab isn’t enough, Specter explains. It is the scientist's job to explain to the wider public what exactly it is they are doing and what good it can do. Michael Specter writes for the New Yorker about science, technology, genetics and public health. He has published articles about AIDS, TB, avian influenza, malaria, synthetic biology, the search for new viruses, GMO crops, and the attempt to modify mosquitoes to fight dengue. Specter came to The New Yorker from the New York Times, where he had been the newspaper's Senior Foreign Correspondent, based in Rome. He came to the Times from the Washington Post, where he served as the Post's national science reporter and, later, the newspaper's New York bureau chief.

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