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The Double Edge of Science
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Increased knowledge of genetics, microbiology, and immunology can obviously be used to increase the quantity and quality of life for people around the world. If you're a terrorist, that same knowledge can help you to try to kill people.

If you were the editor of a scientific journal that published such research, what would you do, knowing that the information you're dispersing could be used for ill as well as good?

Well, a collection of prestigious scientific journals is editing out information they think may be useful to terrorists.

DENVER - Editors of the world's leading scientific journals announced Saturday they would delete details from published studies that might help terrorists make biological weapons.

The editors, joined by several prominent scientists, said they would not censor scientific data or adopt a top-secret classification system similar to that used by the military and government intelligence agencies.

But they said scientists working in the post-Sept. 11 world must face the dismaying paradox that many of their impressive breakthroughs can be used for sinister purposes.

The new editing methods will be voluntary and will differ among the 32 publications and scientific associations that agreed to the effort. Those include the journals Science, Nature, Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, the New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet.

Now any scientists should be mindful of the potential consequences of their research, but this measure strikes me as ludicrous. I'm libertarian when it comes to the dissemination of knowledge. Though I realistically realize that in the private sector sometimes knowledge is kept close to people's chest for the sake of profit.

But among academic journals? University research? Open communication between peers is vital to the proper functioning of the scientific method. Findings have to be submitted openly so that peers can either overturn or validate those findings through duplication and testing.

I don't know how large the impact of this measure is, but it seems like a step back, not only for science, but for everyone.

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