Defining the Boundaries: Homeland Security and Its Impact on Scientific Research

author: Jerome I. Friedman
author: Phillip A. Sharp, Department of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
published: Aug. 26, 2011,   recorded: September 2003,   views: 32
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In August 2001, MIT launched a review of the university’s commitment to unclassified research on campus. One month later, the events of September 11th gave this review a harsh immediacy, and transformed the discussion. New government policies that constrain the open exchange of information among scientists, Jerome Friedman says, will harm our national security by damaging the very way science is practiced. In particular, Friedman objects to regulations that would prevent MIT from attracting the best international scholars.

Phillip Sharp spoke to the issue of security concerns in the biological arena. It is unlikely that terrorists could come up with a monstrously effective bioweapon, he claims, because scientists aren’t skilled enough at manipulating infectious viruses and microbes. In fact, the real danger arises from such natural pathogens as smallpox, HIV or SARS. Sharp believes any future biological attack would probably involve the release of a known pathogen. He argues that strong public health institutions serve as our best defense – the same institutions that now face mounting security limits on researching lethal organisms. By preventing research and censoring publications, we may be handicapping ourselves in the fight against terror.

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