Science: Contemporary Censorship

Written by Brian Martin, guest post

Today the major censors of scientific work are governments, corporations and elite scientists. During the scientific revolution, the greatest threat to science came from the church, but those years are long past. Early science was also done mainly by amateurs, alone or in small groups using simple pieces of equipment, and this model of “little science” still prevailed until World War II. Since then, though, science has been “industrialised”: it is characteristically done by teams using expensive apparatus.

This requires substantial funding, which comes primarily from governments (including militaries) and large corporations. The groups with the greatest stake in this contemporary system are governments and corporations, naturally enough, plus elite scientists whose influence depends on satisfying their patrons, maintaining the flow of funds and protecting their reputations. Anyone who challenges these interest groups is a potential target for censorship or reprisal.

Much scientific research is directly relevant to practical problems, such as studies of terrain mapping for ballistic missiles or genetic engineering for more profitable crops, and it is clear why there might be censorship in these areas. However, so-called “pure science”–knowledge for its own sake rather than for application–is not exempt. Much pure science has a potential application; that, often, is why it is funded. As well, powerful scientists often develop a commitment to and a career investment in particular ideas, and react strongly against challengers.

The traditional image of censorship suggests that the primary processes are the prevention of publication and the editing of texts by censors. These certainly occur in today’s science, but there are other processes at work as well that have a similar effect. To look at the array of techniques used to channel and control scientific research and its dissemination, it is useful to consider three major processes: stopping the message, stopping the messenger, and establishing research priorities.

The above is an extract from: Censorship: A World Encyclopedia, Volume 4, edited by Derek Jones (London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2001), pp. 2167-2170. To read more from this fascinating article visit here.

See also:

Brian Martin’s publications on suppression of dissent

Brian Martin’s publications

Brian Martin’s website