UH must not allow UARC censorship
THE 15 million-plus pounds of chemical weapons secretly dumped in Hawaiian coastal waters during or after World War II and recently revealed by the news media foreshadows the high-risk stakes confronting the Board of Regents as it prepares to decide whether to approve a new kind of military research center at the University of Hawaii.
Besides chemical-weapons dumping of yesteryear, the United States in 1946 became the first nation to begin jettisoning hundreds of metal barrels of nuclear waste into the oceans off the East and West Coasts. Many of these containers have since rusted away, thus spewing radioactivity into the environment. Although nuclear-waste dumping in the oceans is now outlawed under international law, some scholars see it as a viable alternative to controversial land disposals needed while the Bush administration moves toward approving more nuclear power plants and a new generation of weapons.
Just what kind of research would be conducted at UH in this unique Navy-embedded research center is undisclosed. At a Feb. 16 news conference, then-interim UH President David McClain could not or would not describe the work UH researchers would conduct in the U.S. Navy University Affiliated Research Center that he had just moments earlier recommended that the Board of Regents establish. McClain has since been appointed permanent UH president. The date for the Board of Regents' decision-making meeting is unscheduled.
Whatever the research, the results of it will be either censored or kept secret from the public, students, other scholars, UH's own patenting or licensing officers and the business community.
THE DRAFT UH-Navy contract states that UH shall not release to anyone outside its organization any unclassified information that might be identified by Navy censors "as sensitive and inappropriate for disclosure regardless of medium (e.g. film, tape, document), pertaining to this contract or any program related to this contract" without their prior written approval.
This Navy censorship flies in the face of the Board of Regents policy that reads: "The university must insure, however, that there are no restrictions in making available the scholarly results of inquiry included in any contract or grant to which the university is formally a party, except for matters normally held in confidence such as those between doctor and patient."
In spite of this BOR policy, McClain recommended establishing the UARC. He justified his decision in part by saying, "Let me observe that current grants and contracts received by UH from a number of federal, state of Hawaii and industry sources do contain some form of restrictions, voluntarily accepted by the researchers in question."
Thus, McClain's failure to enforce this BOR policy by ignoring researchers' practices that subvert that policy is used as his faulty justification for recommending to the BOR the establishment of the UARC.
HOWEVER, even if McClain's statement is correct that BOR policy is already being violated by consenting researchers, that is hardly an academically sound reason to perpetuate this wrongdoing. Institutions and individuals teach by example; we can hardly expect our youth to follow laws, regulations and policies that we ourselves ignore.
Although the UARC is touted as bringing to UH $10 million annually for three years, the contract itself provides no specific dollar amount.
Violating the BOR's wise policy against restricting research results portends numerous grave consequences. These are worth examining, as last week commemorated nationally the 40th anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act, which establishes the public's right to know about and have access to federal executive branch records.
Restricting disclosure of research results negates the core mission of UH: to develop and disseminate full and accurate results leading to new knowledge for the benefit of students, other scholars and the public.
Withholding all or parts of UH research means that it will not be subjected to peer review and to the traditional methods of uninhibited scholarly and public discussion.
INCOMPLETE and inaccurate results of research -- as we have seen with accusations made by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers about a fraudulent study made there for the Missile Defense Agency -- might lead to faulty policy-making, thus actually endangering the national security it is designed to protect.
Secret or censored results of UH research might have a dangerous effect on the environment or public health and safety that might be kept secret for decades.
Finally, secret or censored research results might diminish the knowledge and credibility of UH research among students, other scholars and the public and might even lead to rumors and suspicions about the strategic activities occurring in Hawaii.
This suspicion has led some community members to question whether Hawaii might become Pearl Harbor 2, because of North Korea's possession of nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them to this state.
In short, secret or censored research results at UH might cause multiple harms that could linger for generations to come.
Beverly Ann Deepe Keever is a journalism professor at the University of Hawaii-Manoa.