Bioterrorism and Science: The Censorship of Scientific Journals Will Do More Harm than Good

Satisfactory Essays
Bioterrorism and Science: The Censorship of Scientific Journals Will Do More Harm than Good

Science is based on the open communication of research and information. Scientists often build on the work and results that their colleagues have published in scientific journals. This process of incremental development prevents scientists from “reinventing the wheel” before continuing forward with original research. It stands, therefore, that the publication and distribution of research is necessary for future research to be productive. However, the dissemination of research has an adverse side effect in the current world. Scientific journals not only inform scientists about recent developments in their field of research, they also inform terrorists. It is possible for terrorists to use the same information found in scientific journals, intended for the benefit of the scientific community, to harm other people. The September 11th attacks force journal editors and reviewers to consider whether censorship is necessary to prevent further, more severe, terrorist attacks. I believe, however, that broad censorship of scientific journals will hurt our own efforts at biodefense and health care more than it will hinder terrorists looking to make biological agents.

In order to understand the current anxiety over bioterrorism we must look at the history of terrorism, both biological and conventional. Bioterrorism was a worry of American scientists and policy makers long before the attacks on September 11th. It has been estimated that, during the Cold War, the Soviet Union employed as many as 60,000 people in a biowarfare research program ([Anonymous] 2000). Ex-Soviet biowarfare researchers have reported the development of a strain of plague resistant to 16 different antibiotics by the Biopreparat, a clandestine network of research facilities located in Russia and Kazakhstan (Dennis 2001). It is certain that the US government was aware of the Soviet interest in biowarfare and thus also had biowarfare and defense programs. It wasn’t until Iraq used chemical weapons against the Kurds that we thought a modern state would actually employ chemical or biological weapons. Then, in 1995, the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo released sarin gas on a subway, killing 12 ([Anonymous] 2001), and demonstrated that there was need for real concern about chemical and biological terrorism. In addition to the September 11th attacks, the American public was also subjected to anthrax attacks during the final months of 2001. As the first biological attacks on US soil in more than a decade, these emphasized that bioterrorism is still around and that the United States is still unprepared for a large-scale biological attack ([Anonymous] 2000).
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