U takes appropriate stance on DOD research proposal

Since Sept. 11 and the anthrax attacks that soon followed, the nation has been bolstering security, and it hasn’t come cheaply. For instance, the University of Pennsylvania is reporting it might have to spend $5 million for additional security features. With costs rising quickly, some universities such as Iowa State have decided research sensitive enough to require security is more trouble than its worth and dismantled the projects.

And now the progression of knowledge has run into another barrier that is also a direct result of national security concerns. The Department of Defense is considering forbidding researchers working on unclassified projects from publishing their findings, making a considerable amount of research unavailable to fellow researchers and the public. They fear this so-called basic research and technology will be used by terrorists to attack the United States. Although these are well-founded concerns, their proposals will stifle the free exchange of ideas on campuses and will exact too heavy a toll on research to be justifiable.

The United States has long been considered a leader in technological development – from pharmaceuticals to computers. However, the Department of Defense’s proposed policy might end the U.S. dominance. The Department of Defense, in a document titled “Mandatory Procedures for Research and Technology Protection Within the DOD,” outlined a policy that would prevent research it sponsored from being published even if it were unclassified. This would break with the current policy of allowing basic research to be published. Under the new policy, researchers will face criminal sanctions for publishing work funded by the Defense Department. The proposed policy has universities lobbying in opposition.

“We’re are very concerned by this,” said Christine Maziar, vice president for research at the University. The policy will hinder the exchange of ideas and as an educational institute that’s antithetical to our goals, she said.

The University spent $19.8 million on research funded by the DOD. None of the research was classified, in accordance with the Board of Regents policy, and administrators say the University will not accept any DOD funds for research not publishable. This is a strong and appropriate stance for the University, and the DOD will be making a detrimental mistake if it isolates itself from the world’s top researchers who work at universities.

Research funded by the DOD has brought about significant improvements to our everyday lives. The Internet is the classic example. ARPA, the research division of the Defense Department, began sponsoring the research and development of ARPANET, the world’s first Internet. Leonard Kleinrock, a professor at MIT, published “Information Flow in Large Communication Nets” in 1961, which was the first of many papers that helped shape the ideas behind the first working Internet in 1969. Researchers continued to publish their findings about Internet technology, which advanced its growth and complexity. If this information had not been published, it is likely the Internet’s growth would have been stunted, and it might still be operating today like it was in 1997.

Today, the DOD heavily funds robot research, among a host of other fields. Not publishing the unclassified results will not only deteriorate the base of knowledge at universities but also slow the growth of these fields. The result will be a relative deterioration of our military’s supremacy and of our country’s overall welfare. Enacting this policy will be more detrimental than the terrorist attacks it seeks to prevent.