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‘Science and Secrecy’

When a federal advisory panel last week asked two prominent journals to withhold details of experiments for fear they might aid terrorists seeking to make deadly viruses, “the specter of censorship loomed over science,” says William Broad at The New York Times. Though science has been subject to secrecy throughout history, the Federation of American Scientists’ Steven Aftergood tells the Times that censorship often fails – “because science by nature is inherently open and gossipy,” as Broad puts it. “For better or worse, the way that knowledge is disseminated today is ever less dependent on the flagship journals. It’s done by global scientific collaboration, draft papers, online publication, informal distribution of preprints, and on and on,” Aftergood adds. Biologist David Franz tells the Times that though he’s a proponent of transparency in research, the request to withhold information was justified in this particular case. “My concern is that we don’t give amateurs — or terrorists — information that might let them do something that could really cause a lot of harm,” Franz says.