Monday, April 04, 2005

alas, poor darpa

Mark Kleiman mourns DARPA, rightfully so. The NYT article he references describes some of the details. It's a shift away from an open research model to a defense industry model. Even without an explicit shift of dollars from universities to the private sector, the imposition of defense industry accounting practices and restrictions on publication would have driven most university researchers out of the mix.

It is difficult to find a non-cynical explanation for the shift. The result will be neither more efficient nor effective. The need for secrecy is no larger today than it was during DARPA's cold-war heyday. Security did not become more important when the Soviet Union fell.

Cynical explanations, on the other hand, are easy. Defense contractors make campaign contributions. They support the administration. They get more money. They support the new policy:
Despite the complaints, some pioneering researchers support the changes being driven by Dr. Tether and say they are necessary to prepare the nation for a long battle against elusive enemies.

"There are pressures and demands on Darpa to be relevant," said Robert Kahn, a former Darpa administrator who is now president of the Corporation for National Research Initiatives in Reston, Va. "People think it should stay the same, but times have changed."

When war is peace, all things are possible. Any policy can be justified as long as it purports to keep the bogeyman at bay.

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