The Problems with forbidding science

Gary Marchant, Lynda L. Pope

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Scientific research is subject to a number of regulations which impose incidental (time, place), rather than substantive (type of research), restrictions on scientific research and the knowledge created through such research. In recent years, however, the premise that scientific research and knowledge should be free from substantive regulation has increasingly been called into question. Some have suggested that the law should be used as a tool to substantively restrict research which is dual-use in nature or which raises moral objections. There are, however, some problems with using law to restrict or prohibit certain types of scientific research, including (i) the inherent imprecision of law for regulating complex and rapidly evolving scientific research; (ii) the difficulties of enforcing legal restrictions on an activity that is international in scope; (iii) the limited predictability of the consequences of restricting specific branches of scientific research; (iv) inertia in the legislative process; and (v) the susceptibility of legislators and regulators to inappropriate factors and influence. Rather than using law to restrict scientific research, it may be more appropriate and effective to use a combination of non-traditional legal tools including norms, codes of conduct, restrictions on publication, and scientist-developed voluntary standards to regulate problematic scientific research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)375-394
Number of pages20
JournalScience and engineering ethics
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2009


  • Code of conduct
  • Dual use
  • Research ethics
  • Science regulation
  • Self-regulation
  • Substantive regulation
  • Voluntary standards

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Health Policy
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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