To analyze the security risks of biological research, policy makers would need to know two things: the likelihood that bioweapons will threaten national security, and the likelihood that legitimate research could be misused to make bioweapons.
Both of these judgments are challenging to make. Since there have been few verified historical examples of bioterrorism or biowarfare, it’s hard to know how to quantify these risks. So lawmakers often rely on expert opinions. However, these expert opinions often differ widely, as evidenced by a paper published recently in Science.
The authors of this paper invited individuals with responsibility for setting public policy regarding bioweapons to provide their opinions regarding the risks. Included among the participants were past and present US government officials, academics, private sector individuals, and people in industry. They had backgrounds in the biological sciences, medicine, public health, national security, and international affairs. In general, these were people who should know about the topic.
Participants responded anonymously to questions about biological threats, reviewed each other’s answers, and were able to amend or maintain their answers based on their review of others’ opinions.
These 59 participants were asked to estimate the likelihood of a large-scale biological weapons attack affecting a minimum of 100 people occurring within the next ten years. The responses ranged from a one percent risk to a 100 percent risk, with an average falling at 57.5 percent. Those with a background in biology estimated lower risk of bioweapons use, and baby boomers were more likely to estimate a higher risk than Gen Xers or Millennials.Probably don't have to worry about the Jains. Or Quakers.Or Pastafarians.
Participants were also asked about the likelihood of an attack coming from a state or a non-state entity. Again, there was a wide range of opinions, but a covert attack by either a state or non-state group was considered to be more likely than an overt attack by a state. Religious extremists were generally considered to be most likely to participate in an attack....MORE
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