Scientific Publishing and Concerns of Terrorism


Bioterrorism is no longer theoretical. Concerns about proliferation and the use of biological weapons have assumed greater political interest particularly due to the threat of its use by terrorist throughout the world. The anthrax attack that followed the 9/11 terrorist attack, left a deep of fear and created a fresh crisis on the role of science in countering or promoting terrorism. According to the United States intelligence reports, the anthrax attack used had been mostly been carried by a U.S based Microbiologist who obtained the deadly Ames strain of Bacillus anthracis from a culture collection. Such information not only raised the concerns about the security of dangerous biological agents but also the role of scientists and in particular the access to publishing scientific work and the spread of Bioterrorism (Mancini and Revill 2017). In the response to this heightened and threat of biological weapons, many governments have introduced defensive and legal mechanisms to prevent misuse of biological and scientific information. Such restrictions include scientific censorship and restriction to publish scientific and biological content. This essay, therefore, seeks to address the question "to what extent should a scientist be prevented from publishing their research due to the concerns of terrorism".

Framing the issue

Over the years, the governments have repeatedly tried to keep scientific information secret. From cryptography, physics, biology, nuclear science to diverse fields of math and optics, scientific censorship is not a new phenomenon. Recently, a call for concealment has fallen a contemporary field of virology where researchers are interfering with the fundamental of life to better understand whether altered flue could spread a sore of a deadly epidemic. Such developments come admits the threat and occurrence of anthrax attacks (Tinnes, 2013). Although one would argue the government has a responsibility of protecting or immunizing its citizens against such attacks, it's virtually impossible for a nation to provide specific defense against each of these deadly disease agents within a reasonable time frame.

Ideally, the diversity of readily available and potential agents of bioterrorism is virtually enormous. The knowledge, the technology and the innovations needed in making vaccine resistance antimicrobial agents and other re-engineered drugs are much easier and increasingly accessible. According to Jefferson Lentzos, and Marris (2014), unlike the last couple of decades, terrorists can now use less than three years to develop drug of mass destruction. In addition, the knowledge disseminated over the scientific publishing is immense. According to a report by International Association of STM publishers (2015), an estimated order of 5000-1000 scientific journals are published globally (Tinnes, 2013).

Although such increased scientific publishing is a great path towards making the world better, there is increasing fear that the availability and the accessibility of certain experimental methods could give terrorists a chance to produce weapons of mass murder. It is in the wake of these fears that the government is considering censorship and sense of restriction in scientific publishing as a counter-terrorism measure (Glerup, and Horst 2014). For instance, some months ago, flu scientists were under pressure to limit publication of both experiments and sensitive data to online sources. This move has been contested throughout the scientific world challenging the status of international bioterrorism.

Bioterrorism as an international issue

The threat of bioterrorism has heightened over the years giving the history of systematic warfare. The threat posed by biological agents of warfare is challenging given its unusual characteristics. In October 2001, the threat of bioterrorism become a reality when terrorist sent a series of letters containing powdered anthrax to the U.S portal services. Apart from resulting in a worldwide fear, the attack left over 22 people hospitalized and over 5 people dead (Pal et al., 2017). Although this may seem as an isolated case, substantial evidence suggests or reveals an existence of an ambitious plans and the use of biological weapons by the Germans in the WWI. Reports suggest that Germans could have used bacterial causing diseases such as Bacillus anthracis and Pseudomonas pseudomallei to attack the United States and other opposing countries. Several authors have also cited allegation of spreading Cholera in parts of Italy and St Petersburg Russia. Such allegations have also been alleged that Japanese used biological weapons on her prisoners from Britain, Soviet Union, and America during the WW2 (Pal et al., 2017).

During the 1970s, biological weapons were used in a wake of mass assassinations. People who became exposed during these times became disorientated and ill. Although there have been many attempts by the international community to censor the development and the use of biological weapons, private and civilian groups continued to developed programs and actions aimed at producing biological weapons that could be used in times of war. As a result, cult members have attempted to use agents of massive destruction like the anthrax attempt in Japan and the failed attempt of Ebola virus in Zaire during 1992 (Pal et al., 2017). Much recently, October 2016, sulfur mines were set on fire in Iraq leaving more than 600 people badly injured and 2 dead (Pal et al., 2017). In a wake of similar events, the Syrian military is reported to have used choline bombs that left a sore of 104 people killed and dozens badly wounded.

Apart from the military and state agents, Islamic terrorist have killed thousands and thousands of civilians and police officers by using biological weapons. Among these biological weapons includes the use of pesticides, rat poisons, chlorine, sulfur, mustard gas, strain nerve gas among others. Although there is no scientific evidence that scientific, work could do not in a way act as triggering events for terrorism, reports suggest that publishing reports and findings could act as the risk factors for terrorism. There concerns that the availability and accessibility of scientific information could further the course of terrorism. Since the lists of “potential recipients” of scientific publications are higher and could potentially escalate with the rise in terrorism, the government is considering censoring scientific publishing as a duty to safeguard the public warfare. Although such move makes sense especially in the security circles, opponents of this idea argue that publication of scientific information and sensitive serve much more task such as Research needs, fighting infections and diseases, development of public health and furthering the cause of science.

Why publishing research is important

Writing is the most importance of communicating scientific principles. Over time, the antibiotics and antiviral drugs in circulation have proved futile in the management of diseases. The main purpose of health care is to alleviate suffering. It so follows that without publications of scientific research, scientific knowledge will be static hence the overall role of health care will be nonexistent. For instance, parasites and viruses have undergone mutations over time. Plasmodium parasite, H influenza, and HIV are best examples of the changing nature of microbes. In correspondence with the mutational changes, scientific research and publications becomes imperative to facilitate preparedness in healthcare whenever epidemics occur (Cook and Odom, 2013)

Promotes Learning

Information about diseases has existed due to previous publications. Undoubtedly, scientists and practitioners have relied on this information to teach other new individuals in the field. With a static knowledge, there will be a situation of knowledge divide, just like the division in the level of technology. Publications have stimulated critical thinking trough metanalysis. For example, other scientists may extrapolate published research from their fellow scientists in order to answer the research questions in totality. The case of the Australian IL-4 gene experiment is a suitable example here. In this experiment, scientists made a mousepox virus using IL-4 gene (Cook and Odom, 2013). Herein, these scientists anticipated that the new strain of smallpox would confer sterility to the mice leading to total control of pests. However, the results turned out to be lethal. The mice injected with the new viral strain died irrespective of prior vaccination with smallpox vaccine or natural resistance to smallpox. Therefore, the scientists concluded that there is need to conduct further research to determine the treatment of the smallpox super strain.

The Need to Uphold Academic Freedom

After conducting research, it is important that the science life researchers publish their work. If the scientists fail to publish their research in the name of censorship, then there is no point of conducting the research in the first place. The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity is concerned with reviewing of research articles before publications. As such, this board has the authority to prevent scientists from making publications whenever the risks outweigh the benefit of publication. For example, this board reviewed the research on influenza in 2005 and gave a go-ahead on its publication (Cook and Odom, 2013). However, the editor-in-chief indicated that he would have published the findings even if the board had turned down their intention to publish their research. Up to this point, it is clear the there is need to consider voluntary self-governance as opposed to government censorship.

There is Safety in Publishing

Through publications, people learn the risks of certain biological agents towards humanity. Keeping a discovery secret in the name of self-censorship may pose a greater risk compared to when the information is readily available. Leo Szilard suggested that keeping scientific discoveries out of ordinary reach may help reduce advances in bioterrorism. However, this may ambush the public in case of the information leaks to a few terrorists. It is crucial to have the information published in order to facilitate awareness and preparedness in case of an attack. A valid embodiment is the atomic bomb secret. The scientists involved in this discovery kept it to themselves. It is so unfortunate that a similar discovery became available and was hence tested during the Second World War on Japan in 1945 (Cook and Odom, 2013)

Academic Advancements

In order to acquire academic testimonials in higher education, it is imperative for one to conduct and publish research in the field of interest. These publications have promoted scientific interventions in various fields and thus helped to solve emerging health conditions and foster prosperity in academics. Without publications, transfer of knowledge would be limited and the available knowledge will hence become obsolete (Latour, and Woolgar 2013).

Conflict of Interest

Allowing the publications to be regulated by an authorized body would mean that the board shoots down most of the attempts to make scientific advancement. In the same pipeline, there will be a hindrance in knowledge expansion in the field of medicine in particular. Apparently, whenever the NSABB refutes a certain publication, the researcher may go ahead and publish the same through the spirit of self-governance (Rychnovská, 2016). Having legal limitations in publications may breed a conflict of interest wherein the regulatory board will exercise excessive authority against the science life researchers. It goes without saying that review, regulations are what the board does for a living, and assigning exclusive authority would disadvantage scientific research. In addition, it would be difficult to determine whether the panel has the scientists will at heart. The panel may only focus on frustrating scientists and not on doing what is legally right and helpful in the field of science.

The Code of Ethics guides scientists

To all scientists, the ethical code of beneficence and non-maleficence applies in every research they undertake. These ethical principles prevent scientists from performing experiments that would otherwise pose a threat to the entire human race. In addition, the principle of beneficence ensures that researchers only indulge in activities that will improve the quality of life when allowed to progress (Rychnovská, 2016). It is against this background that the principle of voluntary self-governance comes into play. Scientists have a capacity to determine what is harmful and what is best for human existence bearing in mind that the ethical codes are binding in every scientific research.

Scientific Publishing and Terrorism

Over the past few decades, many countries have exhibited a tremendous increase in the accumulation of biological hazards that could be a threat to the entire human race. For instance, USSR had to ensure that a massive covert program for biological weapons is in place. On the other hand, the United Nation’s commission indicated that Iraq had stockpiled unbelievable amounts of biological pathogens. Elsewhere, the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo spent up to 4 years in their quest to create two pathognomic agents. These three cases have defied the core principles that the USA and Britain outlined in the Biological and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction (BTWC) of 1975 (MacLehose, Shamseer, Straus, 2016). Publishing scientific research on the guidelines of certain infections and experiments may trigger more terrorism.

Ease and cost of manufacturing biological weapons

Compared to nuclear weapons, the biological weapons are relatively cheaper and easy to acquire. Therefore, nations have opted to the accumulation of biological weapons in preparation for an imminent attack. What nations forget is the ease with which biological agents can affect humans. The anthrax attack of 2001 goes unmentioned whenever the topic of bioterrorism arises. Terrorists only mailed a few letters that caused the lives of five people with 17 others being admitted to hospitals with serious complications (Balali-Mood, Llewellyn, and Singh, 2015)Therefore, when scientific research is easily accessible, terrorists can take advantage of the same to frustrate civilians for no reason.


Censorship provides a sense of biodefence against the use of biological agents to harm humanity. Some of the experiments have raised questions of their overall significance following the fact that the experiment itself did not offer a solution to the problem question. For instance, the Australian mice experiment only created a super strain that had no cure. In fact, we do not have a cure for smallpox (Nikolelis, and Nikoleli, 2016). The creation of a new strain that overwhelms natural resistance against smallpox and the vaccine itself is a serious threat. Critiques have argued that the research was not worth it as it created a new problem that further compounded the available issues. Looking at it from a different perspective, terrorists may use the same thought process to create other strains of deadly viruses such as Ebola and HIV. The level of preparedness of public health is so insufficient to guarantee full control in case of an attack.


A dual-use research is debatable topic. While there is, increasing proliferation and threat to biological weapons there are numerous benefits to scientific publishing. The benefits that scientific research has provided to humanity outweigh the risks of perpetrating bioterrorism. However, there is need to promote security owing to the fact that bioterrorism may clear thousands of populations following a single attack. While the threat of bioterrorism should not be taken lightly, there is a need for a consultative collaboration in countering the threat of terrorism.. Scientific and censorship may not entirely deescalate the threat of bioterrorism.


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Galipeau, J., Barbour, V., Baskin, P., Bell-Syer, S., Cobey, K., Cumpston, M., Deeks, J., Garner, P., MacLehose, H., Shamseer, L. and Straus, S., 2016. A scoping review of competencies for scientific editors of biomedical journals. BMC medicine, 14(1), p.16.

Latour, B. and Woolgar, S., 2013. Laboratory life: The construction of scientific facts. Princeton University Press.

Cook, B.G. and Odom, S.L., 2013. Evidence-based practices and implementation science in special education. Exceptional Children, 79(2), pp.135-144.

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