Are Scientific Journals Self-censoring?

Lagniappe is sounding off on the decision of the major scientific journals to self-censor material which could be used by terrorists. All kinds of things are being done now, that we normally wouldn’t do, due to fears about terrorism. There are reasons why we don’t normally do these things. We don’t normally keep a database of information about where foreign nationals are going, what they’re doing, and what they’re buying. Our government doesn’t normally provide us a number to call in case our neighbors look like they’re doing something suspicious. We don’t normally do anything to infringe on the freedom of the press. It’s the same issue underlying all three issues: respect of individual liberty. In the extreme case we need to take one of these measures, it should be understood that serious oversight and openness must be part of the process.

The way the journals are handling the issue is a great example of the way to handle an issue like this. For the tiny number of cases that require it, they work with the author to get them to focus their article on the things necessary to make their point, but not to give anyone any unrelated ideas. If additional information is desired by someone, well…any responsible researcher knows how to handle requests for additional information. They are familiar with the people in their field, so they can handle requests for information such as, “Exactly which conditions most greatly contributed to pathogenicity” in somewhat similiar fashion to the way you would handle a request to borrow your axe. You might loan it to your neighbor willingly, but if somebody you don’t know shows up wearing a hockey mask and asks to borrow it, you’re gonna be a little more careful.
Thanks for the blogroll, Derek!