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Quickly Noted: Scientists as Vectors?

March 23, 2009

2349098787_2cd660c18c_m There’s a neat little article in the March 6 Science magazine called, “The Danger Within.” Using the case of US Army bio-researcher Bruce Ivins as the background, the magazine notes that security protocols for government and academic researchers working with Category A agents are considerably lower than they are for other equitable researchers at the DoD and DoE(nergy).

The DoD and DoE folks routinely work while getting full background checks, credit checks, interviews with friends and acquaintances and psychological assessments. The academicians and other government researchers are currently subject to a standard FBI SRA (or Security Risk Assessment, which makes sure that you aren’t a felon, but are a citizen, with no history of substance abuse or mental illness, among a couple of other things) only.

The Science article talks about why more comprehensive and ongoing background searches are cumbersome and would keep scientists from doing research in the select agent field. The most ridiculous of these  reasons:

…psychological monitoring would yield too many false alarms without adding much security. Many scientists take “pride in their eccentricity[.]”

If you got a chance to read the World at Risk report that I reviewed earlier, you’ll recall that engaging the scientific community and trying to incorporate the idea that they are part of the homeland security infrastructure was one of their recommendations. I wonder how do-able it is, but the fact that it’s appeared now in both World at Risk and Science shows that the idea is taking root. One day soon we’ll wonder why background checks and ongoing evaluation was ever in question.

Oh, and sorry for no link to the article. Read about open access journaling here and try to figure out why we’re not important enough to get access to top notch research.

Photo credit: andercismo

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