Secrecy in Scientific Research David B. Resnik, PhD, JD National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences National Institutes of Health This research was supported by the intramural program of the NIEHS/NIH. The ideas and opinions do not represent the views of the NIEHS/NIH.
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David B. Resnik, PhD, JD
National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences
National Institutes of Health
This research was supported by the intramural program of the NIEHS/NIH. The ideas and opinions do not represent the views of the NIEHS/NIH.
--Sissela Bok, Secrets (1983), xv
Secrecy in science can be good or bad
Need to look at reasons for secrecySecrecy in science
Patent Bargain = disclosure in exchange for the ability to control and commercialize a product or process
Publication bargain =
disclosure in exchange for
Industrialist Matthew Bolton
collaborate to develop and patent the
emerges in Germany for the production of
“Share data, results, ideas, tools, and resources. Be open to criticism and new ideas,” Shamoo and Resnik, Responsible Conduct of Research (2003), p. 20.”
“It is widely agreed that research data should be shared, but deciding when and with whom raises questions that are difficult to answer,” Steneck Introduction to Responsible Conduct of Research (2004), p. 95.
“The ideal of openness—i.e. the idea that scientific information should be accessible to interested parties—is strongly supported throughout the scientific community,” Munthe and Welin, Science and Engineering Ethics 2,4 (1996): 412.
Some reasons are good ones; others are not.
They can create ethical/legal dilemmas in research.Challenges to openness
Dr. D, an epidemiologist, has spent 10 years conducting a long-term study of a population. He has now completed his research and is planning to publish six or more papers from the database. He has published one paper. He now receives a request to share the entire database. What should he do? A) Share; B) Don’t share; C) Share on the condition that he is named on author on papers resulting from the database?
Sharing can harm your reputation or the public, e.g. Darwin, Cold Fusion.
Interim data in clinical trials is usually not shared not shared with researchers or research subjects but it analyzed by a data and safety monitoring board.Preliminary work
Sexual harassment investigations
Research misconduct investigations
Examples: Manhattan Project, research on stealth technology, etc.
Academic, basic science research is not classified, it can be published without prior approval by the government (e.g. declassification).National/international security
1940-60s: nuclear science and technology
1960s-1990s: encryption science and technology.
21st century: biotechnology, biomedicine
Anthrax attacks in 2001
How should scientists and society deal with this grey zone? Who should make decisions about potentially dangerous research? What criteria should be used?
Decisions are complicated by the fact that almost all research in biotechnology and biomedicine has a dual use.
Research on the virulence of pathogens can be used to make a bioweapon or to treat diseases or defend against bioweapons.National/international security
A National Research Council report identified 7 types of dangerous research*:
NRC, Biotechnology research in an age of terrorism. Washington: National Academy of Sciences, 2003.
Some options for addressing risky research:
Some factors to consider for choosing options for addressing risky research: