U.S. Tightening Rules on Keeping Scientific Secrets [NYTimes free subscription required]
February 17, 2002 7:39 AM   Subscribe

U.S. Tightening Rules on Keeping Scientific Secrets [NYTimes free subscription required] "One White House proposal is to eliminate the sections of articles that give experimental details researchers from other laboratories would need to replicate the claimed results, helping to prove their validity " It's a new monkey to keep See, Hear, and Speak no evil company: Publish no scientifically replicable evil.
posted by srboisvert (7 comments total)
Where is the balance between security and progress to be found? There were very few deaths from the Anthrax attack but the potential threat is quite real. However, the spinoffs from potentially dangerous areas of research can have significant impacts ranging from curing disease with engineered viruses to getting rid of wrinkles with botox. I am not sure where I stand on this issue but I am curious what other people think.
posted by srboisvert at 8:11 AM on February 17, 2002

But the anthrax wasn't engineered based on US research -- it was US anthrax. It seems to me that the government is trying to use terrorism as an excuse to enact restrictions that it couldn't even pull off during the Cold War (when they actually had some semblance of reasonableness).
posted by Ptrin at 9:58 AM on February 17, 2002

I think this is ridiculous. One of the main reasons scientists publish their discoveries is so that other scientists can validate them by independently replicating their experiments and getting the same results. What's to stop someone from announcing that they've created a new pill that reduces the chance of getting cancer, and then selling it? You think that releasing the ingredients to the AMA is going to be good enough? What about students who would not be able to really understand the meaning of the latest scientific advances, unless they got a job with the laboratory that made those advances? It sounds pretty creepy to me.
posted by bingo at 10:08 AM on February 17, 2002

This is the dawn of a new dark age. Unless this kind of short sighted craziness is stopped there will be an end to inquiry since you can't even set up for the all important peer review of scientific documents. It seems to me that it's crucial that the administration be made to understand that hiding, skulking and skullduggery does nothing to enhance the freedom of Americans. It's clear that as far as the Administration is concerned Osama has already won.
posted by shagoth at 10:20 AM on February 17, 2002

It seems to me that re-classifying such documents is a little silly at this stage of the game. As the article points out, many of them have already entered public domain, which means getting them is as simple as finding someone with a copy and asking if you can photocopy it. Heck, I imagine such items will pop up on ebay any minute now. Some industrious "Michigan Militia" type has probably already posted the text on usenet. Furthermore, since we have all been called upon to look for suspicious activity, wouldn't it be a lot easier if we could look at documents such as these and compare what our nieghbors are up to?

So, um, uh, who is it we're keeping this information from? Do we have any evidence whatsoever that Osama did a FOIA request for a pamphlet titled "So you want to culture military grade anthrax"?
posted by ilsa at 1:44 PM on February 17, 2002

Note that the classificiation of reproducible scientific results applies only to research applicable to weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, biological, chemical). It's not a general provision for all scientific research.
posted by dhartung at 12:04 AM on February 18, 2002

dhartung, okay, but it's my impression that quite often, scientific advances at an early stage are not necessarily connected to any specific planned application in the long-term. I don't have a source on this, but I remember reading that sometime after WWII, the US govt started funding various fields of research with no application in sight, with the idea being that a weapon may emerge out of any field. How do we know that current research into strange areas like teleportation, invisibility, and faster space travel won't end up opening the door to new weapons of mass destruction? And since the government already understands this possiblity, why wouldn't they just keep an iron hand on the distribution of all scientific research?

Besides, the experiments that lead to weapons of mass destruction need to be validated and replicated by disinterested peers, just like all other experiments. Reducing the number of people who are allowed to validate the new discoveries actually increases the chances that the weapons are not going to work the way they should.
posted by bingo at 12:05 PM on February 18, 2002

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