Report considers role of science in a world made vulnerable by terrorism

The nation is ill-prepared for a terrorist assault on its information systems, and lacks the public health structure necessary to address a major attack of bioterrorism, according to a report published recently by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

In Science and Technology in a Vulnerable World, a series of papers that characterize the role of science in responding to terrorism, Eugene H. Spafford, professor of computer science and philosophy at Purdue University, said that cost concerns and lack of sophistication have led both the public and private sector to cut corners in making their information systems secure. Another paper noted that physicians and other health-care workers have not been trained to recognize the symptoms of diseases such as anthrax and smallpox, and that many municipalities lack the public health infrastructures necessary to back up health care workers and to respond in the event of bioterrorism.

Several contributors to the report warned, however, of too extreme a response to perceived dangers, pointing out the potential damage to the research enterprise if the federal government decides to restrict the communication of scientific information and/or block the participation of foreign students in certain government-funded research projects.

"The danger of overreacting, I believe, is quite real, and in fact, I believe it is already happening," wrote Eugene B. Skolnikoff, professor of political science emeritus at MIT. "It is imperative that the universities understand what the issues are, how they believe they should respond to the issues, how far they should go in accepting certain restrictions, and how they should work with the government in working that out."

The report's authors noted that the scientists most obviously affected by the nation's new priorities are those whose work concerns the threats to national security identified by the government: threats to transportation, en

Contact: Lisa Onaga
American Association for the Advancement of Science

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