What we do

HSP research is of three kinds: short-term, longer term, and field investigations.


Short-term research is done chiefly in support of presentations at the regular seminars and workshops organised by HSP or conferences at which HSP personnel are invited to speak. It is also done in support of interventions in the media, such as newspaper op-eds. More privately, research of this type is done in support of less public outreach activities as well, including work for governmental advisory committees and for ad hoc working parties convened by the World Health Organization, for example, and the European Commission.

Longer-term research is aimed principally at identifying possible policy initiatives and realistic ways of taking them forward. Examples of current and recent activities falling into this category include:

  • Allegations of Syria chemical weapons use: a project that designed methodologies to capture and analyse multiple streams of open source data concerning allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria
  • History of the context of the BWC negotiations: a research project conducted with colleagues at UCL, to better appreciate the origins of that Convention and how this treaty was shaped by its broader political and social context
  • Pathways to security: a research project conducted with colleagues at LSE, to explore the co-evolution of technology and security
  • Science and technology reviews in the BWC: an investigation into how reviews of advances in science and technology might be better performed within the BWC environment
  • CBW criminalization: An investigation of possible contributions of international criminal law to strengthening the existing regime against CBW
  • Future CBW trends and policy choices: A research activity that monitors the relevant technical background and the principal current national and international responses to the challenge of CBW.
  • 'Non lethal' CBW: An analysis of challenges to the regime against weaponization of disease presented by disabling CBW weapons:
  • Biothreat perception and policy formation: An investigation of why and how threats of bioterrorism are being perceived in the ways that are now apparent, and of the influences of such threat perceptions on assessment of vulnerability and the consequent development of public policy for threat mitigation.
  • OPCW/PC history: A project detailing authoritatively how the OPCW was built by its Preparatory Commission during 1993-97
  • Dual use in genomics: an investigation of possible impacts on biotechnology of dual-use controls introduced in order to enhance biosecurity in the UK.
  • ASSRBCVUL: A collaborative effort with five overseas research institutions to assess the vulnerability of European society to radiological, biological and chemical terrorist attacks and to propose and evaluate countermeasures.
  • Civil society and CBW: an examination of the role and influence of civil society on attempts to eliminate biological and chemical weapons.
  • Non-state actors and the globalization of chemical and biological WMD technologies: an investigation into how heterogeneous non-state actors enrol one another to create, overturn and enforce regulatory regimes that frame and constrain the development of CBW-relevant technologies.

Funding for this longer term work has been received from various sources such as the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation of Chicago, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Alfred P Sloan Foundation of New York, the UK Economic & Social Research Council, the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, the European Commission, and the foreign ministries of Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal and the United Kingdom.

Field investigations

This HSP research activity is exemplified by the on-site investigation of the anthrax outbreak of 1979 in Sverdlovsk, USSR, organized and led in 1992 and 1993 by the Harvard HSP director, Matthew Meselson. Its definitive findings have been published in the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences, in the journal Science, and in the book Anthrax: the investigation of a deadly outbreak (University of California Press, 1999) by HSP Associate Jeanne Guillemin. This inquiry followed an earlier HSP investigation of the 'yellow rain' phenomenon in southeast Asia, which demonstrated that the yellow materials at first thought to be samples of a CBW agent were in actuality the harmless droppings of large swarms of wild honey-bees. These findings were published in Nature, Science and Foreign Policy. What both these HSP inquiries revealed was the importance of independent and properly conducted scientific investigation as backstop to the efforts of governments to understand complex events possibly associated with biological or chemical weapons. Since then, HSP has involved itself in preliminary inquiries regarding several other alleged CBW events (in, for example, Iran, Iraqi Kurdistan, Burma, southern Africa, Sudan and Palestine) but they have not yet proceeded to field investigation.

On the basis of this experience, HSP is well suited to pursuing, should occasion arise, 'open source plus' research in which, on very specific matters such as allegations of use or other forms of non-compliance with international CBW agreements. HSP engages in fieldwork aimed at building upon existing published sources of information through interviews, for example, or through sample collection and analysis.