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Right to know versus the nature of digital information

In eras of dramatic change – such as militarization in ancient Rome and the French Revolution/Industrial Revolution – existing mindsets and institutions are, in Schumpeter’s words, creatively destroyed. The newspaper, recording, and TV industries have experienced this recently as digital information comes into its own and sheds legacy structures (such as the “album” or the “newspaper”). Politicians have certainly felt the inability to control narratives and restrict information flow in 2011.

An interesting case symbolizes the balance between control and the attributes of digital information: whether or not to publish the results of engineered bird flu. The short version: “Inside a Dutch medical facility is a potentially devastating weapon that could kill millions: A genetically modified version of the H5N1 bird flu, engineered to be easily transmitted among ferrets. And the researchers who figured out how to do it would like to share their work with the world.”

The challenge in this instance goes beyond ethics. Can scientists reasonably expect to keep digital information secure, especially when it is part of a scientific community and requires peer review? Wikileaks has made it difficult for the US Military to keep secrets. Digital information, held in social networks, can’t be regulated and controlled.

One Comment

  1. Martin wrote:

    The question should be preceeded by a different one: if the atom bomb scientists felt bad for releasing the geenie, and knowing well, that once out it cannot be put back into the bottle.

    The modern scientists, like those engineering a new lethal form of bird flu, should be asked: WHY? whats the point of that research, other than creating a weapon that will be used, sooner or later, as digital data is never secure. Also, who funded that research and why? Do the sponsors know? Do they approve?

    Friday, January 13, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Permalink