Problem

Secrecy in scientific research

Nature:
A considerable amount of scientific research is conducted in institutes or under contracts which preclude dissemination of the results to other than a select group. Scarce resources are allocated to research which may be duplicated in another establishment or in another country. Secrecy may be maintained either to gain a military advantage (in the case of defence research) or to gain commercial advantage (in the case of industrial research).
Incidence:
Pharmaceutical research, for example, is intensely competitive and may involve corporate counter-intelligence operations and secrecy classifications.

Until its declassification, in 1993, of about 80 percent of documents relating to laser research, strict secrecy by the USA was seen in the as stifling the exchange of ideas, inhibiting progress and limiting international cooperation over the applied use of the research in the development of fusion power. (Scientists in Japan, Russia and Europe had not been under such constraints).

The UK government scientist who in 1999 discussed his experimental results concerning genetically modified potatoes and illness in rats has been "gagged" for life.

Claim:
While secrecy in science may be necessary to protect the human race from damage or extinction, secrecy in science in order to increase private profits is morally indefensible. Universities and corporations will move away from research in areas that governments have classified secret, thus inhibiting the growth of knowledge.
Counter Claim:
The gap between science and technology, between understanding nature and using that knowledge to shape the natural world through new technologies and products has narrowed. In the early days of science, discoveries often found practical application only after the passage of decades or centuries. This length of time not only encouraged but required the free flow of ideas. Today the delay can be years or even months, encouraging industry and inventors to tap science as soon as possible. New technologies maintain their commercial and military competitiveness for increasingly shorter periods. These facts of today's science require secrecy in scientific development.
Related Problems:
Environmental secrecy
Problem Type:
F: Fuzzy exceptional problems
Date of last update
16.02.1999 – 00:00 CET