Historic Line of Demarcation

There is a historic line of demarcation between academic freedom and national security (albeit fragile). Starting with the veil of secrecy over nuclear research in the 1940s, to the concern over classified research in the 1950s, to the expansion of export controls to include information in the 1970s, to the exclusion of fundamental research from export control in the 1980s, to restrictions introduced Post 9-11 in the 2000s, to current debates over emerging technologies and global innovation, the academic community and the government have each sought opportunities to demarcate the sphere of their respective authority and autonomy and assert themselves in that sphere.[1]

There are three key documents that serve as pillars of this demarcation. The first is the Social Contract for Science (“Contract”). In 1945, Vannevar Bush[2] produced a report (commissioned by President Franklin D. Roosevelt)[3] that condensed wartime research lessons into a proposal to justify on-going federal support of science.[4]

The Contract spoke to two ends of a spectrum. On the side of science and research (including academia), the Contract argued for a return to freedom of inquiry and freedom of expression for basic research. The Contract believed such a return could release information (hitherto classified) that would be of value to existing societal problems.[5] It also believed that such a return could best advance the frontiers of scientific knowledge for the benefit of society.[6] On the side of the state, the Contract argued that science was an invaluable asset of the state. As such, the state (in the form of the government) should and invest in science for purposes of national defense, economic security, and public health.

The second key document is the 1985 presidential directive (i.e., National Security Decision Directive 189 or “Directive”) excluding fundamental research from export controls. It defined fundamental research,[7] granted scientists jurisdiction over fundamental research and reaffirmed government control over proprietary (commercial) research (i.e., it defined non-fundamental research), and excluded fundamental research from any export control[8] to ensure that the U.S. had a research environment that was “conducive to creativity” and one in which “the free exchange of ideas” was possible.[9]

The third key document is Ashton Carter’s Department of Defense (“DOD”) Memo on Fundamental Research in 2010.[10] The Post 9-11 years saw a rapid rise in restrictions for the sake of national security (e.g. the 2001 Patriot Act). Academia spoke out quickly and forcibly.[11] This battle waged until the Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter drafted a DOD memo on fundamental research in 2010. It reinforced support for NSDD 189 and its definition of fundamental research at colleges, universities, and laboratories.


[1] Samuel A. W. Evans and Walter D. Valdivia, “Export Controls and Tensions Between Academic Freedom and National Security,” Minerva 50 (2012), 169.

[2] Bush was the Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development during World War II which oversaw virtually all wartime military research and development.

[3] Vannevar Bush, “Science The Endless Frontier: A Report to the President by Vannevar Bush, Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development” (July 1945). https://www.nsf.gov/od/lpa/nsf50/vbush1945.htm#ch6.4 . Accessed September 1, 2018.

[4] Don K. Price called this Contract “the ‘master contract’ that formed the ‘basic charter’ of the postwar relationship between the U.S. government and the scientific community.” Don K. Price, Government and Science: Their Dynamic Relation in American Democracy (New York: New York University Press, 1954), 70.

[5] “While most of the war research has involved the application of existing scientific knowledge to the problems of war, rather than basic research, there has been accumulated a vast amount of information relating to the application of science to particular problems. Much of this can be used by industry. It is also needed for teaching in the colleges and universities here and in the Armed Forces Institutes overseas. Some of this information must remain secret, but most of it should be made public as soon as there is ground for belief that the enemy will not be able to turn it against us in this war.” Bush, 3.

[6] “The publicly and privately supported colleges, universities, and research institutes are the centers of basic research. They are the wellsprings of knowledge and understanding. As long as they are vigorous and healthy and their scientists are free to pursue the truth wherever it may lead, there will be a flow of new scientific knowledge to those who can apply it to practical problems in Government, in industry, or elsewhere. Many of the lessons learned in the war-time application of science under Government can be profitably applied in peace. The Government is peculiarly fitted to perform certain functions, such as the coordination and support of broad programs on problems of great national importance. But we must proceed with caution in carrying over the methods which work in wartime to the very different conditions of peace. We must remove the rigid controls which we have had to impose, and recover freedom of inquiry and that healthy competitive scientific spirit so necessary for expansion of the frontiers of scientific knowledge. Scientific progress on a broad front results from the free play of free intellects, working on subjects of their own choice, in the manner dictated by their curiosity for exploration of the unknown. Freedom of inquiry must be preserved under any plan for Government support of science.” Ibid., 7.

[7] “‘Fundamental research’ means basic and applied research in science and engineering, the results of which ordinarily are published and shared broadly within the scientific community, as distinguished from proprietary research and from industrial development, design, production, and product utilization, the results of which ordinarily are restricted for proprietary or national security reasons.” Ibid., 1.

[8] “It is the policy of this Administration that, to the maximum extent possible, the products of fundamental research remain unrestricted. It is also the policy of this Administration that, where the national security requires control, the mechanism for control of information generated during federally-funded fundamental research in science, technology and engineering at colleges, universities and laboratories is classification. Each federal government agency is responsible for: a) determining whether classification is appropriate prior to the award of a research grant, contract, or cooperative agreement and, if so, controlling the research results through standard classification procedures; b) periodically reviewing all research grants, contracts, or cooperative agreements for potential classification. No restrictions may be placed upon the conduct or reporting of federally-funded fundamental research that has not received national security classification, except as provided in applicable U.S. Statutes.” Bush, 1.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ashton B. Carter, “Memorandum for Secretaries of the Military Departments” (2010). https://research.uci.edu/policy-library/export-control-policies/govt-fundamental-research-policy. Accessed September 1, 2018.

[11] American Association of University Professors, “Academic Freedom and National Security in a Time of Crisis” (October 2003), https://www.aaup.org/report/academic-freedom-and-national-security-time-crisis. Accessed September 1, 2018.


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