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Advice on Security-relevant Research with Substantial Hazard Potential (RSH)

Freedom of research is of high importance in Germany and protected by the German Basic Law. Artikel 5a of the German Basic Law states: „Art and scholarship, research, and teaching shall be free.. […].“ The freedom of research is an essential foundation for the pursuit of new knowledge and for the prosperity of our society.

At the same time, there is a risk in almost all scientific disciplines that important and useful research results are abused for harmful purposes. This so-called dual-use problem repeatedly triggers wide discussions about the benefits and risks of individual research projects. This concerns, for example, research on the portability of highly pathogenic viruses to humans (such as avian influenza viruses) or the determination of personality traits based on social media activities in order to influence public opinion in a targeted manner.

In order to support scientists in the responsible handling of potential research risks, the University of Cologne has established the Commission for Advice on Security Relevant Research with substantial Hazard Potential (RSH) in 2017. In the field of tension between freedom from science and responsibility in research, the RSH Commission offers the members of the UzK advice and an independent assessment of ethical and legal aspects in safety-relevant research with substantial hazard potential. In addition, within the University of Cologne, it promotes awareness-raising for safety-relevant aspects of research.

This applies, in particular, to research projects where there are significant safety risks to human dignity, life, health, freedom, property, the environment or the peaceful coexistence of peoples, or which are likely to produce knowledge, products or technologies that can directly be misused by third parties.

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