American Society for Microbiology Publications Policy Stipulates Methods Requirements, Materials Sharing

Barbara Hyde

Washington, DC-August 12, 2002 - The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) has amplified its journal publications policy to ensure that while manuscripts containing information that could be potentially misused be given careful scrutiny during the peer review process, research articles must also contain sufficient detail to permit the work to be repeated by others. Authors must also agree to make materials available to the scientific community for noncommercial purposes, adhering to all laws and regulations governing the shipment, transfer, possession, and use of biological materials.

"In the aftermath of the tragic and terrifying events of last fall, we must ensure that we do not inadvertently supply information that will be misused by terrorists," said ASM President Dr. Ronald Atlas. "However, we must protect national security without undermining the integrity of the scientific process. We need science to progress in a responsible manner if we are to combat effectively the horrific threat of bioterrorism, and communication is critical to that effort. Strong biodefense is founded upon sound science."

Achieving consensus within the scientific community and among bioscientific publishers worldwide on appropriate practices is critical at this time, he said.

On behalf of the ASM, Atlas requested that the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) convene a meeting of publishers in the biological sciences to develop common policies regarding review and publication of manuscripts dealing with research that could have public safety implications. The Academy has agreed to organize such a meeting this fall in Washington, DC. The meeting will focus on identifying "sensitive" information and developing common policies to screen this information that will not compromise the scientific process.

Science has always progressed best when there is open communication. Today, however, how to ensure the integrity and appropriate communication of biomedical information within the legitimate research community has become a new and daunting challenge, Atlas said. "We must ensure that we proceed responsibly, while recognizing that the need to know the potential risks and consequences associated with bioterrorism agents is also crucial to protecting the public."

The ASM, which publishes 11 peer-reviewed journals in the microbiological sciences, is committed to the responsible and ethical publication of scientific research and to the free flow of scientific information, Atlas said. The ASM has adopted specific policies and procedures for papers that might provide details of methods or material that could be subject to misappropriation or misuse, as follows:

"The ASM recognizes that there are valid concerns regarding the publication of information in scientific journals that could be put to inappropriate use. Members of the ASM Publications Board will evaluate the rare manuscript that might raise such issues during the review process."

All journal editors have been requested to inform reviewers to let editors know if, in the reviewer's opinion, the manuscript falls into the category described in the foregoing policy statement. If such a manuscript is brought to an editor's attention, and the editor believes the manuscript to be suspect, it is to be brought to the attention of the Publications Board for further review.

Policy guidelines also stipulate that methods sections must contain sufficient information for replicability, materials be available for other researchers, and that sequence data be included and made publicly available. "The absence of such information or materials severely compromises the review process as well as the scientific literature and cannot be used as a justification for "ethical" science, Atlas said.

"We must act together in ensuring the safe flow of information within the biomedical research community, to policy makers, and to the public if we are to win the battle against bioterrorism," Atlas said. "The ASM continues to strongly support appropriate oversight and regulation to ensure that the most dangerous biothreat agents are secure and are used only for legitimate research and diagnostic efforts to ensure public safety." Atlas is Graduate Dean and Co-Director of the Center for Deterrence of Biowarfare and Bioterrorism at the University of Louisville, Kentucky.

The entire Policy Guidelines can be viewed at

The American Society for Microbiology is the largest single life science society, composed of over 42,000 scientists and health professionals. Its mission is to promote research and research training in the microbiological sciences and to assist communication between scientists, policy makers, and the public to improve health, the environment, and economic well-being.