Science and Censorship

Censoring Science

The benefits to society of robust and unencumbered scientific research and debate are incalculable, especially considering that government-sponsored research is often the primary means to developing sound public policy. While censorship in the fields of art and politics has traditionally garnered the preponderance of public attention, the last few years have brought increased scrutiny of First Amendment concerns in the area of scientific research.

Under the Bush Administration the federal government, motivated by a desire to sustain a specific political agenda, suppressed and/or distorted scientific reports to a degree not previously seen in this country. This incursion on the scientific community impinged on a wide range of topics, including the environment, climate change, sex and health education, stem cell research, missile defense, energy sources and evolution. And these attacks came – and, in some instances, especially on the state level – continue to come in various forms:

-introducing a “controversy” where no scientific controversy actually exists by mandating equal attention and resources for quasi-theories containing little to no support in the scientific community;

-suppressing scientific reports by delaying their release or failing to make them available to the public;

-removing otherwise qualified scientists from important agency and panel positions by virtue of their disagreement with the current administration’s politics or because their research yielded results that did not favor the administration’s policy;

-enacting legislation that restricts the areas of inquiry an agency may permissibly study;

-distorting current scientific research by intentionally misrepresenting its findings.

These acts represent an erosion of our constitutional rights to freedom of speech, inquiry and exchange of ideas. They create a “chilling effect” for scientists, textbook and other publishers who fear repercussions for producing data or advocating positions that are inconsistent with current political agendas or powerful corportate interests.

NCAC has long worked on these issues and in 2005 formally established the Knowledge Project: Censorship & Science. As national concern over the “politicization” of science escalated during the Bush Administration, this program has provided a framework for understanding this problem as more than just politics and the integrity of science.

The Project is currently focusing on the more subtle, difficult and ultimately more intransigent problems of government sanctioned corporatization and privatization of vital scientific information, including information developed with federal funding and/or kept from the public under strained interpretations of federal law.

The Knowledge Project identifies specific practices that inhibit the free exchange of ideas, explores the policy implications of these activities, and develops analyses and arguments about how the First Amendment and free speech principles in general apply to those actions that suppress and/or distort research findings.

For resources and reports on specific censorship incidents, visit the Science archive.

To report an incident, or to lend your support, contact NCAC.