Open Access News

News from the open access movement


Monday, July 28, 2008

More on open research and national security

Jeffrey Brainard, Untying the Secret Strings That Bind Research, Chronicle of Higher Education, August 1, 2008 (accessible only to subscribers).  Excerpt:

Federal agencies, caught up in the zeal for national security, have been pressing universities to hide research results, even when they come from unclassified projects. The requests are coming more and more often from agencies financing the work, despite a longstanding presidential order that such findings be open and public.

However, the Defense Department led by Robert M. Gates, a former president of Texas A&M University has offered an olive branch, releasing a memorandum [in June 2008] that supports the freedom to publish unclassified results of "fundamental" research....

Jacques S. Gansler, a professor in the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland at College Park...[who] worked for the Pentagon in the late 1990s, supervising research projects, [said] the memo "sends a pretty strong message to other agencies" to back off the restrictive language, he said. "It's an important statement" and "very positive," he said.

A strong message is sorely needed, according to the Association of American Universities and the Council on Governmental Relations. The two groups just issued a report that found 180 instances of restrictive language in research awards to 20 research institutions in 2007. That was up from the 138 found at the same institutions during the association's last such survey, conducted in 2003 and 2004....

The report says that college officials accepted most of these restrictions "with hesitation after protracted negotiations." In only 16 of the 180 instances, colleges rejected the federal money rather than accept the limitations.

The Defense Department memo makes it clear that the agency is asking universities for too much. It came from John Y. Young, the under secretary for acquisition, technology, and logistics, who oversees Pentagon research. It reiterates a 1985 order issued by President Ronald Reagan that fundamental research should generally not be classified. The Bush administration has endorsed that order, but apparently agencies have been paying scant attention....

Mr. Gansler, in "Science and Security in the Post 9/11 World," a report he helped write last year for the National Research Council, argued that restrictions on unclassified work have created more harm than good. Openness, he said, has helped keep basic research at American universities at the cutting edge, actually benefiting America's national security....

PS:  I can't find the Young memo online.  But if anyone else does, please drop me a line.