In The Field

APS 2010: Science and secrecy

secrecy.jpg Is the censorship of sensitive science becoming more or less pronounced? Yesterday, during a session on ‘science and secrecy’, Steven Aftergood, who leads the project on government secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists, had numbers that told a mixed tale.

On the hand, he said, there were 23 million classification decisions in 2008, up from 8.6 million in 2001 and 3.5 million in 1995. These 2008 decisions were made by 4,000 government classifiers, and cost taxpayers $9.85 billion. And with science from World War I still restricted, Aftergood says that bureaucratic inertia resists the more open dissemination of scientific knowledge.

On the other hand, Aftergood pointed out that the amount of classified science, as a percentage of all science, is shrinking fast. And, because of a presidential order in December, all agencies are conducting a review of their dozens of classification schemes with an eye towards eliminating ones that are obsolete or inappropriate.

Perhaps that will lead to a world where there is less wanton secrecy. Peter Galison of Harvard was also on hand, partly to promote his new movie, in which he asserts that the US government classifies five times as many pages of information as are added to the Library of Congress.


Comments are closed.