Marc Lipsitch and Thomas V. Inglesby wrote back in 2014:
However, research that aims to create new potential pandemic pathogens (PPP) (1)—novel microbes that combine likely human virulence with likely efficient transmission in humans—is an exception to that rule. While this research represents a tiny portion of the experimental work done in infectious disease research, it poses extraordinary potential risks to the public.
Multiplying the probability of an accidental laboratory-acquired infection per lab-year (0.2%) or full-time worker-year (1%) by the probability that the infection leads to global spread (5% to 60%) provides an estimate that work with a novel, transmissible form of influenza virus carries a risk of between 0.01% and 0.1% per laboratory-year of creating a pandemic, using the select agent data, or between 0.05% and 0.6% per full-time worker-year using the NIAID data.
Estimating risks of gain-of-function research this high is deeply awkward. When I spoke about the numbers with a local EA, his reaction was "this can't be true and has to be wrong". His reaction was emotional. When Marc Lipsitch was talking about reducing catastrophic risk at EA Global he left out being explicit about this risk from gain of function research and went more meta. In the environment of EA global, that's a much better status move because actually talking about his risk numbers would produce emotional pushback.
The Chinese recently called for more public transparency for military biological research in the US. Siding with the Chinese in their call for more public transparency for military biological research is socially awkward, so even people like Zvi who generally pro-biosafety and pre-independent thinking called the Chinese position a "nonsensical demand".
Given that the Biological Weapons Convention banned the development of biological weapons and the US signed it, you might ask yourself why the Chinese might have reasonable concerns about military biological research in the US. The US government interprets the convention very narrowly when it comes to its own activities. The convention allows for defensive research and the US government sees their research as defensive in nature.
One example of defensive weapons research was to modify anthrax to evade a vaccine response. According to the FBI, those modified anthrax strains were used in 2001 to kill American citizens by Bruce Edwards Ivins who worked at a biodefense lab at Fort Detrick. The US position is built on the Orwellian notion that those Americans died due to defensive anthrax and not through an anthrax weapon, because the US doesn't develop bioweapons.
When Marco Rubio asked Nuland "Does Ukraine have chemical or biological weapons?" Nuland responded by saying "Ukraine has biological research facilities, which, in fact, we are now quite concerned Russian troops, Russian forces may be seeking to gain control of, so we are working the Ukrainians on how they can prevent any of those research materials from falling into the hands of Russian forces should they approach."
It's unclear whether those biological research facilities have defensive nonweapons like that anthrax that Ivins used to kill Americans or what exactly they do in their research facilities. From Nuland's answer we however do know, that there are dangers involved in the research. From a biosafety perspective it matters when dangerous research is done in an intransparent matter.
I expect that if the Chinese assume that the US is doing military biological research they have to do so as well. It will be very hard for anyone in the communist party who's concerned about biorisk to unilaterally push for China to do no dangerous military biological research.
To the extend that military biological research is really defensive in nature because it wants to answer question about how to vaccinate soldiers against anthrax, sharing the resulting knowledge with other countries would be beneficial from a biorisk perspective as it would reduce the amount of such research being done. Ideally, we would have an UN agency with the authority to access all biolabs to monitor for treaty compliance while at the same time being a hub for the defensive military biological knowledge.
The Chinese demands for transparency should be applauded. They should be meet with a constructive dialog about how we can put a treaty into place that moves toward biosafety.
Chinese decision makers who are currently taking heavy loses from dealing with COVID restrictions are in a good situation to agree to a fair and sensible international biosafety treaty. This opportunity shouldn't be passed up because it feels virtuous to pretend that there's nothing wrong with dangerous research being done in secret in Ukraine.