When Is It Acceptable to Censor Science?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The government advisory board that oversees biosecurity in the U.S. is asking the scientific journals Nature and Science to censor details of recent studies on bird flu due to concerns about biological terrorism. Researchers created mutations of the A(H5N1) virus, making it transferable between mammals through the air. In 60 percent of human cases, this strain of avian flu is fatal. At present, only 350 people worldwide have died because of the flu, only because it can be contracted via direct contact with infected birds.

D. A. Henderson, professor of medicine and founder of the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and Christine Gorman, senior editor for health and medicine at Scientific American, discuss whether it is appropriate for the government to ask science journals to censor content.


Christine Gorman

Comments [8]

The answer is, only when it is self censorship. If the scientist(s) providing the information is asked to do so and whatever agency has good reasons, the scientist(s) can make a decision on what they feel is the best answer to the request for censorship. If they find the reasons compelling, they can censor themselves, if they believe it is more important to get the information out, then they should be allowed to do so, after all they might just be right considering they are the one who did the study and thus probably know more about it than almost anybody else.

Dec. 26 2011 10:04 PM
Craig from Arizona

I don't feel that censorship by the government is ever allowable. We the citizens through our taxes pay for the majority of this research, in essence we own what we pay for. The publishing of this study will in no way increase the threat of bio-terrorism. There are plenty of private labs funded by those factions who are considering the use of this as a weapon. They already know the results. I think an informed public is able to make their own rational decisions. Look at the censorship that has occurred by the executive branch in regards to global warming, they censored most of the reports, and blatantly stated that it was not an issue, how does this help the public. We have a right to know what is occurring in science so that we may make our own intelligent informed decisions without government interference.

Dec. 22 2011 11:00 AM
Chris from Queens

How you can go from a headline referring to the man that failed to blow up his underwear to a story hinging upon fear of terrorists developing and wielding sophisticated biological agents with a straight face is beyond me.

Dec. 22 2011 09:42 AM

As someone who worked with medical researchers, I think they have enough self-censoring to deal with the ethical issues spurred by their research. The science community is not left or right (from my experience). They have their own internal disagreements and also have their own way of addressing those disagreements as well. I think getting the government more involved will just cause more issues.

Dec. 22 2011 09:32 AM
Anthony from VA

Censure sciences indeed? Who’s ever heard of bias researcher or information that scientist have that threatens the sovereignty of the U.S? I mean it’s not like scientist are corruptible like priest.

Why stop there? It would be a much better world if we just let science make all our choices for us. I mean why hold elections anymore I’m sure there is a formula available to calculate the perfect presidential candidate. Also, we can let scientist pick our mating partners for us that would solve a lot of confusion for everyone. It will be a much better day when our morality is derived from scientific thought instead of free will. I’m just waiting in line to join the club.

Dec. 22 2011 07:45 AM
Arx from USA

Right and wrong don't go on holiday just because the subject is science. This could be compared the Mary Shelly's Frankenstein and how science and discovery can be abused like everything else.

Dec. 22 2011 07:37 AM
Mike from USA

Rob, I don't understand your comment, those are not examples of censorship, those are examples of incomplete understanding guided by cultural norms, not politics. Anyhow, scientits have voluntarily censored themselves in the past, not just in print, but in action. Case in point, when gene cloning procedures were developed, some scientists foresaw potential experiments the outcome of which could be disastrous; at Asilomar in the mid '70s they then called for and adopted guidelines on what could be done, and under what constraints.

Dec. 22 2011 07:32 AM

Sure, it it now; happens all the time. A perfect example is the "science" that now says race is only skin color and homosexuality is not a mental disorder, as it was classified up till a few years ago. Politics makes poor science.

Dec. 22 2011 06:55 AM

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