Defence & Security // The  International Forum on Technology Assisted Learning for Defence, Security and Emergency Services
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"Every major technology - metallurgy, explosives, internal combustion, aviation, electronics, nuclear energy - has been intensively exploited, not only for peaceful purposes but also for hostile ones. Must this also happen with biotechnology, certain to be the dominant technology of the twenty-first century?"

This was the question posed in 2000 by the American geneticist and molecular biologist Matthew Meselson, the professor who framed the notorious dual-use dilemma that looms ever larger when countless new discoveries pose a threat as potential weapons in bioterrorism or, even worse, as weapons in biowarfare.

Simon Whitby & Tatyana Novossiolova of Bradford University in England will present a paper on the dual-use dilemma facing biotechnology at Security and Defence Learning 2010.

They suggest that the task of limiting use of bioweapons will be a process of engagement between scientists and the security community, requiring the development of strong ethical and normative frameworks to support legal and regulatory measures being developed by nation states.

They argue that engagement amongst practising life scientists on the issues of dual-use or ethical responsibilities has been very limited. Contributions from ethicists on dual-use are also conspicuously absent from the new biosecurity discourse.

One possible explanation of why life scientists are uninformed of biosecurity issues is such issues do not feature in their university education. “Our first attempt to bridge the existing gap in the education of life scientists in regard to biosecurity issues has been the development of a Dual-Use Biosecurity Education Module Resource (EMR),” say Whitby and Novossiolova  “In effect, the EMR consists of 21 lectures, each with 20 PowerPoint slides and notes for the lecturer, and direct links to the references used via the web. Each lecture also has some suggested essay questions and the EMR has an introduction to all the material for lecturers and a number of Briefing Papers cover material that would be less familiar to life scientists. Several lectures are also duplicated, with material in the second set being more scientifically orientated. The whole set of lectures are currently available in English, Japanese and Russian, with equivalent versions in other languages being translated. “

Since September, 2010 the Bradford Disarmament Research Centre has begun delivering two versions of the Train-the-Trainer online distance-learning module: a 20-credit module and a 6-week short course. Working in a fully supported online learning community, participants are able to communicate and interact with peers, developing their practice through sustained reflection and involvement in a range of activities and scenarios. Members are encouraged to bring their own ideas and experiences to the course, sharing these with peers to contextualise their knowledge and understanding in ways that will help them, as life science professionals, to meet the ethical challenges thrown up by dual use. As well as participation in a vibrant academic (social-network) web-group where interaction on course-work-related topics between tutors, moderators and students takes places, members undertake independent reading and research. Participants benefit from a supportive and interactive online web-based learning community and work both independently to produce a coursework assignment, as well as in online groups to produce a significant group-work course assignment.

Whitby and Novossiolova will outline the contents and delivery of both the 20-Credit module and the short course at Security and Defence Learning 2010.

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