A recent essay in Science makes the case that, at least when writing up research on endangered species, complete transparency could be harmful. The prolific increase in online publishing, whether it be articles, reports, or data, creates significant problems in this field, namely:
- Unrestricted access to species location information is facilitating a surge in wildlife poaching, with many species at risk. Poaching has been documented in species within months of their taxonomic description in journals.
- Unrestricted access to location data and habitat descriptions can disrupt the often delicate relationships between scientists and landowners. Trespassing has occurred when location data is published.
- Unrestricted access to species information has the potential to accelerate habitat destruction and create other negative disturbances. The digital age has brought a desire among many nature enthusiasts to observe, photograph, and sometimes remove animals and plants.
Some fields such as paleontology and archaeology have long maintained restrictions on the publication of site locations and promoted government policies and regulations to limit collection and trade in fossils, artefacts, and culturally sensitive and/or scientifically important material. Organizations such as the U.S. Forest Service do not disclose geospatial data in order to protect research sites. Other solutions include modification of research permits so that endangered species locations are not automatically uploaded into wildlife databases and masking such records on private land, as presently occurs in some states in the United States.
Is this relevant to any public health research? Other than personally identifiable information, what types of health data should not be made widely available?