Is Secrecy Worth It?

A tale of openness and secrecy: The Philadelphia Story

The former Manhattan Project scientists who founded what would eventually become the Federation of American Scientists were adamantly opposed to keeping nuclear technology a closed field. From early on they argued that there was, as they put it, “no secret to be kept.” Attempting to control the spread of nuclear weapons by controlling scientific information would be fruitless: Soviet scientists were just as capable as US scientists when it came to discovering the truths of the physical world. The best that secrecy could hope to do would be to slightly impede the work of another nuclear power. Whatever time was bought by such impediment, they argued, would come at a steep price in US scientific productivity, because science required open lines of communication to flourish.

At the University of Pennsylvania were nine scientists sympathetic to that message. All had been involved with wartime work, but in the area of radar, not the bomb. Because they had not been part of the Manhattan Project in any way, they were under no legal obligation to maintain secrecy; they were simply informed private citizens. In the fall of 1945, they tried to figure out the technical details behind the bomb.

This basic problem hasn’t gone away. The conflict between the desire for secrecy and progress’s need for communication is still there.

One thought on “Is Secrecy Worth It?

  1. The secret to efficient diamond presses is rouge as a friction control agent. Anybody could discover it. Only one man did. It was a secret well worth keeping, but it wasn’t kept. Every molecule of a Kraton thermoplastic elastomer contains one atom of silicon. It was a secret well worth keeping, but it wasn’t kept.

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