Political Science

March 1, 2002
Wayne Koberstein
Wayne Koberstein

Wayne Koberstein, a 25-year veteran of the publishing industry, is editor-in-chief of Pharmaceutical Executive magazine. In 14 years as PE's Editor, he has overseen the emergence of the magazine as the leading business and marketing publication for the global pharma industry. He has interviewed and profiled more than 150 top executives in pharmaceutical companies, as well as major regulatory and healthcare leaders, around the world. Wayne has also directed the launch of numerous supplements and other ancillary business for the publication.

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How quickly the promise of pharmacogenomics and other medical miracles materializes may soon depend more on war-driven politics than science. Only free exchange of scientific information in public arenas such as peer-review journals makes progress possible. But now in the United States, long an avatar of freedom and progress, the government's war on terror threatens to subjugate that tradition in a new culture of secrecy.

How quickly the promise of pharmacogenomics and other medical miracles materializes may soon depend more on war-driven politics than science. Only free exchange of scientific information in public arenas such as peer-review journals makes progress possible. But now in the United States, long an avatar of freedom and progress, the government's war on terror threatens to subjugate that tradition in a new culture of secrecy.

One of the pillars of the scientific method is "reproducibility," which literally means that a colleague anywhere can replicate a published experiment and test its findings. At the level of basic research, to black out any area on the supposition that someone could use it to engineer terror biases the methodology. Yet the US President and his administration wish to "explore" doing just that.

In mid-February, Director of Domestic Security Tom Ridge announced an unprecedented reclassification of government research documents. At the same time, the administration asked the American Society of Microbiology to restrict publication of "potentially dangerous information" in its journals Bacteriology and Virology. Another Bush-appointed "scientific panel"-likely the political mirror of his conservative "bioethics" committee-will supposedly work out guidelines for such restrictions later.

At least terrorists are real. The other specter hanging over US bioresearch these days, human cloning, is pure phantasm masquerading as a threat. But the Bush team shows, if anything, special determination to stamp out as much related research as possible to prevent scientists from "defiling" the sanctity of life beginning at conception.

Such actions may prove popular in a climate of fear, but they will mainly bring aid and comfort to our most terrible enemy-disease. As the US government pours money into the military-industrial complex, chiefly funding only secret war-related research, we may wait added decades for new weapons in the fight against the world's most rapacious killers.

Generally, only military applications flow from secret science. Pinching off the free stream of scientific information inevitably slows progress in the public domain. This industry, whose lifeblood flows from the heart of free science, can only slow with it. Advances may yet come, though haltingly, as non-US scientists take the lead from this once-powerful leader in medical innovation.

Before the "war" and after, Bush has moved steadily to tame time-honored, and honor-bound, traditions in scientific research. Only now he wields a much bigger whip-his role as US commander and chief. He has made it clear that science will fall second to security. How long before such restrictive policies harm this industry, which depends so profoundly on the unfettered progression of scientific breakthroughs? To the extent that the policies use fear to dampen free investigation and communication, they already do great harm.

Perhaps a more important question: How long before the pharma industry awakens to this threat from a political family it once trusted like its own right hand? By the record, the industry has already slept too long.

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