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9/3/2014 » 9/7/2014Wonders of Science, Marshalltown, IA
9/5/2014 » 9/6/2014“Truth for a New Generation,” Spartanburg, SC
9/19/2014Human Sexuality Conference, Bartlesville, OK
9/19/2014“Darwin, Dawkins and the Divine: Why is biology at the heart of the New Atheism?,” Cambridge, UK
9/21/2014“Science & Faith: Are They Really in Conflict?,” simulcast multiple locations
These are deep and highly relevant concerns, with no easy answers. I think it is an important area for us in ASA to be considering. At one extreme is the opinion that anything that can be discovered should be, and at the other, anything that could be potentially used for harm should not be pursued. Clearly, neither extreme is viable, but on what principles do we make decisions concerning what research to pursue and what results to publish? And whose responsibility is the final decision to publish? The researchers? The government? A governing board?
An analogous, though of far less global impact, situation that I often had to deal with inside corporate research was the decision of what research to publish and what to keep as trade secret. The primary impact was corporate earnings rather than public health but the decisions were nevertheless difficult. Most corporate research labs have to face this tension. My philosophy at IBM Research was to challenge my team to be the world leader. And being a leader meant getting the world to follow. If they didn't follow, we would be a loner, not a leader. Therefore, we had to publish enough material to persuade our competitors to follow us rather than seek an alternative path. As long as they were following us, we were ahead, and not behind. That meant a maniacal focus on productive research with aggressive but selective publishing.
Applying that philosophy to viral reseach, the referenced approach seems to be on target. A trusted lab must aggressively pursue the research, while publishing just enough tantalizing results to chart the path but without enough material to let others get ahead. That may backfire, however, if others leapfrog the research. There's no surefire winning strategy.