Last year's terrorist attacks resulted in passage of the USA Patriot Act, which has affected Stanford and other research institutions nationwide. "We are working to comply with the act," says pediatrics and microbiology Professor Ann Arvin, associate dean of research. "However, we have serious concerns about the act as it is written. It has the potential to interfere with the openness in research and in our academic environment that we consider to be fundamental" to the university.
In part, the act restricts people, based on their country of origin and past medical diagnoses, from conducting research involving certain biological agents and toxins. Other proposed regulations expand the list of these materials using terms that are scientifically vague and ambiguous. Reporting about biological agents is important, although only "a handful" of researchers at Stanford use them, says Arvin, but the broad changes being proposed seem to be more political than scientific.
"There is a need to appear to have responded," she says. "It's not unlike [the changes in revamping] airport security. There is an attempt to show that these issues are being pursued vigorously. But there is a risk that this will add to the chaos."
Stanford Report, September 11, 2002