In a dramatic policy reversal, the White House has announced it will not restrict the dissemination of scientific research funded by government grants if the work is unclassified.
The brief statement issued last week abruptly curbed recent federal efforts to subject a broader range of federally funded research to prior review in order to reduce the flow of technological information to the Soviet Union.
Educational associations and schools, especially Harvard, have actively campaigned against such restrictions, which have been on the rise in recent years. (See story page 3).
A Pentagon study released earlier in the month found that government-sponsored research published by scientists in business and academia is regularly acquired by Soviet spy agencies for military use.
Educational organizations condemned the Pentagon report, which they said belied an underlying mistrust of fundamental freedoms. In addition, the presidents of 12 scientific associations with a total of two million members sent a statement to the Department of Defense pledging not to present papers at conferences if the audience is limited to U.S. citizens, as some have been.
Harvard relies on government contracts for about one-fifth of its operating budget, or about $120 million last year. Although only a small percentage of that work is done for the Pentagon, publication restraints have been proposed for many federal contracts unrelated to defense here and at other schools.
As a matter of policy, Harvard and many other universities reject all classified and restricted research proposals because they believe such regulations violate the ethic of academic freedom.
Vice President for Government and Public Affairs John Shatruck yesterday welcomed the White House announcement. "It seems to say the restrictions are over," he said.
"Finally, the long series of complaints that have been launched by universities seem to have been heard. The very nature of a university is free and open. If universities are hit with research restrictions, the forward thrust of innovation and technology is stopped," he said.
Shattuck has worked extensively on the issue and last year wrote a widely-circulated report accusing the government of violating rights of speech and knowledge.
Shattuck said White House and Pentagon officials are saying they will still try to curtail the export of information. He said he is unsure whether the government will concentrate its efforts on private companies or on foreign travel here.