Science needs freedom, freedom entails responsibility! 

What is security-relevant research? 

Security-relevant research includes scientific work that has the potential to produce knowledge, products or technologies that can be misused by third parties to harm human dignity, life, health, freedom, property, the environment or peaceful coexistence. This is designated as “of concern” if the misuse can be immediate and the potential damage is significant. 

Gain-of-function experiments on pathogens

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Tasks and objectives of the Joint Committee  

The Joint Committee on the Handling of Security-Relevant Research is a body established by the DFG and the Leopoldina to raise awareness of the dual-use of research results, the responsible handling of security-relevant research, and the self-regulation of the sciences in this regard in the long term. The committee supports the implementation of the corresponding recommendations of the DFG and Leopoldina on “Scientific Freedom and Scientific Responsibility”. This includes in particular the establishment and work of local Committees for Ethics in Security-Relevant Research at German research institutions. At the same time, the Joint Committee serves to exchange experiences. 

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Committees for Ethics in Security-Relevant Research (KEFs) 

In accordance with the joint “Recommendations for Handling Security-Relevant Research” of the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Leopoldina, more than 120 research institutions, organizations and professional societies have now established KEFs to advise researchers and research institutions on questions concerning security-relevant aspects of their research.  

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Why is responsible handling of research risks important? 

Freedom of research, which is protected by the German Basic Law, enables researchers to find scientific questions for themselves within the scope of legal freedom and to work on them on their own responsibility. However, freedom of research does not apply unconditionally. Researchers have a special ethical responsibility because of their freedom, knowledge and experience. They must be aware of the danger of misuse of research, and they must weigh the opportunities of research against its risks for human dignity, life and other important goods. 

What can KEFs do for researchers and research institutions? 

KEFs can sensitize researchers to security-relevant aspects of their own work, e.g. by offering advice and regular events on research areas at risk of misuse. 

KEFs are an important instrument in strengthening researchersself-responsibility in dealing with and in mitigating risks of misuse in their own research, e.g. through counseling and competence building. 

KEFs can help to classify research projects ethically and thus create the prerequisite for the review of funding applications in research areas that are particularly at risk of misuse. 

KEFs can legitimize security-relevant research, for example in international collaborations, through ethical evaluations as part of their consultations, thereby safeguarding researchers. 

By providing transparency and promoting ethical reflection through interdisciplinary deliberation processes and public events, KEFs can help strengthen public confidence in research freedom. 


Raising awareness and building competencies for ethics of security-relevant research (dual use) in teaching – theories, methods, good practices

Berlin, 5TH jUNE 2023

The conference of the Joint Committee on the Handling of Security-Relevant Research is intended to explain how awareness and competence building for security-relevant research issues, in particular the possible misuse of research, can be integrated into teaching. To this end, the conference will first address relevant theories, methodologies, and didactic concepts. Which teaching/learning forms seem particularly suitable for this? What materials and approaches can be used to create points of contact with students? Are the courses best implemented in optional, compulsory, subject-related or interdisciplinary courses, in block courses or better continuously over the entire course of study?


Fourth Progress Report

November 2022

Aspects of security-relevant research and related ethical issues are increasingly coming into focus, among other things due to advances in research on artificial intelligence and pandemic pathogens, as well as scientific entanglements with states in which human rights violations and other violations of rule-of-law principles are observed. This is reflected in the fourth Progress Report of the Joint Committee on the Handling of Security-Relevant Research. The report provides an overview of the state of international debates on selected research fields, legal frameworks and funding requirements. Furthermore, the activities of the Committees and Officers for Ethics in Security-Relevant Research established at 120 research institutions throughout Germany are described, as well as the contributions of the Joint Committee to public debates.