- Brian Balmer, University College London, UK
It is no secret that twentieth-century Britain was governed through a culture of secrecy, and secrecy was particularly endemic in military research and defence policy surrounding biological and chemical warfare. More generally, it is hard to exaggerate the role of secrecy in all past biological and chemical warfare programmes and several recent historical surveys of biological and chemical warfare research have emphasised that all state sponsored programmes, together with sub-state organised activities, were cloaked in utmost secrecy. Of these research programmes, Britain carried out one of the most significant in scale and scope in the twentieth century. Yet, partly because of the secrecy surrounding the programme, there is still little academic literature on its historical development. Equally, and despite secrecy being a pervasive feature of past and contemporary societies, social scientists and historians have paid relatively little scholarly attention to the nature, mechanics and effects of secrecy, particularly with regard to secrecy in relation to the production and governance of science and technology.
Drawing on classical sociological writing on secrecy by Simmel, Merton and Shils this groundbreaking book by Brian Balmer draws on recently declassified documents to investigate significant episodes in the history of biological and chemical warfare. At the same time, it draws on more contemporary perspectives in science and technology studies that understand knowledge and social order as co-produced within heterogeneous networks of 'things and people' in order to develop a theoretical set of arguments about how the relationship between secrecy and science might be understood.
Contents: Preface; Secret science; Secrecy at work: scientists' defence of biological weapons research; Making secrets: accidents, experiments and the production of knowledge; Keeping, disclosing and breaching secrets: classification and security; Secrecy, doubt and uncertainty: power/ignorance?; Secrecy, transparency and public relations: opening up Porton Down in the 'year of the barricades'; Secret spaces of science: a secret formula, a rogue patent and public knowledge about nerve gas; Opaque science; References; Index.
About the Author: Brian Balmer, Reader in Science Policy Studies, University College London, UK
Reviews: '‘Secret science’ is much more than normal science with access restrictions applied; a world neatly divided into an inside and an outside. Brian Balmer uses various metaphors, including concentric spheres, labyrinths and archipelagos, to illuminate and explain a world with few absolutes… As the author explains in the preface, this book operates on two levels: it is a history of biological and chemical weapons research in the UK during the Cold War, and can be read as such. But it will also appeal to a smaller group, with an interest in science and technology studies, by illuminating the social processes by which science and secrecy are co-produced. I believe that the book’s insights and conclusions are much more broadly applicable even than this and will certainly interest an Australian readership. Although it sometimes uses technical language, with which a social scientist might feel more comfortable, this book is very accessible. It provides an intriguing perspective on the production of scientific knowledge, and the complications introduced by secrecy. The phrase ‘social science’ now seems tautological to me: since scientific knowledge is socially-produced, how could the two ever be separated?'
Australian Defence Force Journal
View Dr Brian Balmer's homepage
Extracts from this title are available to view:
Full contents list