Friday, February 17, 2012

Feds Block Scientific Journal from Publishing Paper, First Cut Manuscript

In the Feb. issue of Chemical Processing, Editor Mark Rosenzweig published a column entitled, "Research Papers Draw Governments' Gaze" that described the process by which the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity advised the Department of Health and Human Services to ask the authors of two then unpublished manuscripts and the editors of the two academic journals considering them for publication, Nature and Science, to "make changes" and remove methodological and other details that would permit replication of the research, which, btw, is the primary reason scientific papers were created. The papers deal with the H5N1 influenza virus and the Feds are just trying to prevent the bad guys from getting access to the information.

Research published in these peer-reviewed journals has always been subject to influence in a variety of ways, such as the level of interest in a particular subject by the editors and publishers, the professional pressure to "publish or die" among the authors and the need among some to support a political agenda, such as the world saw when Nature was racked by Climategate. I was bothered by the editorial and alarmed at where this would likely lead and sent this letter:

Hi Mark. When the government gets involved, it begins with something seemingly innocuous and allegedly in the public interest so "the intervention seems justified." But how quickly government influence via scientific experts becomes censorship when information is to be published that runs counter to the desires of entrenched interests! Or how quickly this leads to the outright placement of peer-reviewed papers in support of government programs via scientific experts who rely on government grants. One of the first steps the Nazi party took in its takeover of Germany was to control academia, removing opponents from their university positions and having the day's scientific experts publish papers about eugenics, for example, under the guise of academic research. It may seem like a large leap to compare the actions of the National Socialist party to our federal government but many of the tactics are the same and we would all benefit from understanding history so we could more easily recognize the wolf when it comes knocking in sheep's clothing.
But wait - there's more! According to a WHO announcement published today in the NY Times, both Nature and Science plan to publish the original research in full after the situation quiets down and fades out of public consciousness. It seems the international scientific community was not happy with the federal intervention.

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