May 27, 2024

Research Responsibility: Correctly assess consequences and risks

Security-related research risks can arise in almost all disciplines. Professor Britta Siegmund, Vice President of DFG, and Dr. Johannes Fritsch of the National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina provides information in the current issue of Research and Teaching about the positions of the Joint Committee on Security-related Research. Below is the most important summary of her statements.

'Safety alarming' research and risks of dual use

There is a particular need for work in the area of ​​“security-related concern” research: “scientific work that can produce knowledge, products or techniques that can be directly misused by third parties in order to harm human dignity, life, health, liberty, property, the environment or peaceful coexistence.” “It causes serious damage.”

Distinguishing between useful research and harmful research is not always easy because of the dual use of technologies. “Evaluation is difficult, not least because future chains of action often remain unknown, as well as the difficulty of impact and risk assessments,” say Siegmund and Fritsch. However, at the same time, overlooking research can become a problem if it leads to missing out on innovations that serve the public good.

“Assessment is difficult, not least because future chains of action often remain unknown, as well as the difficulty of impact and risk assessments.”

Professor Britta Siegmund and Dr. Johannes Fritsch

Because not all issues are regulated by law, researchers face the task of maintaining the ethical boundaries of science. A prerequisite for this is awareness of the potential dangers and risks of research (or even omission of research). Researchers also face the question of “the extent to which their findings and methods can be misused by other people for malicious purposes.”

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It may be desirable to obtain information about the context of the research project, clients and collaboration partners in a timely manner. Research institutions are invited to support this process through legal compliance offices and training courses, as well as the establishment of “security-related research ethics committees (KEFs)”.