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Secret Science from the CIA?

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Secret Science from the CIA?

The CIA has reactivated a Clinton-era program, code-named MEDEA (Measurements
of Earth Data for Environmental Analysis), that allows environmental
scientists access to classified intelligence. The CIA’s
network of measurement technology on satellites, ships and planes is
ideal for spying on America’s enemies, but it also is well-suited for
data collection in a number of scientific disciplines, including
climatology, ecology and geology. In 1992, at the behest of Vice
President Al Gore, the CIA granted security
clearances to almost 70 scientists, thereby permitting them access to
highly classified intelligence-gathering techniques. The scientists
were allowed to study archival data and propose innovative uses of CIA resources for scientific research.

Project MEDEA may seem like a free lunch, or at least free science, but it’s not that simple. The rigors of CIA
security coexist uneasily with the principles of science. Fundamental
to the process of peer review, itself a keystone in the scientific
method, is the uninhibited availability of raw data for evaluation by
the scientific community. Think of it as a fact check. Research
derivative of the CIA, however, is classified. So MEDEA science comes with a disclaimer – literally. A 1996 paper on desertification, based on research from project MEDEA,
was accepted for publication by the journal Global Change Biology, but
the editors included a notice that “Limitations on access to the data
make it impossible for the journal’s usual review process to assess all
aspects of data quality, selection, or interpretation.”

In
light of the damage done to the reputation of science by the recent
“Climategate” scandals – in which data that should have been made
public wasn’t and a group of scientists discussed ways to thwart the
peer-review process and intimidate peer-reviewed journals, the
scientific community should be wary of depending on research where
secrecy antithetical to the openness of science appears to be a
requirement.