11
votes

Many times in movies we see a people doing scientific research secretly and have achieved some amazing technologies.

Is there any evidence of any such scientific work done very secretly anytime (might get caught red handed).

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  • 2
    How about the answering machine? Companies invest heavily into R&D and if the executives can't figure out a way to capitalize on their discoveries, they often shelve the information without publishing it, for fear that some other entity could possibly be profiting off of the research investment. – zzzzBov Aug 22 '11 at 16:50
  • 4
    If people knew about the current endeavors, then they wouldn't be secret. ;-) – Randolf Richardson Aug 22 '11 at 19:39
  • 3
    I work secretly on some things, but I can't talk about it - it's secret. – user unknown Aug 22 '11 at 22:25
  • It's not exactly science, but Andrew Wiles worked for 5-10 years on his paper which proved Fermat's Last Theorem, and it came as a big surprise when he revealed it. Of course, it's easier in maths (or possibly theoretical science) where you can work in isolation with no equipment. – Jack V. Aug 23 '11 at 10:30
  • This is an area where those who have knowledge of secret research will categorically not be able to provide evidence here as they will be under an NDA. Examples will include military research, and pharma research into new drugs (which may go through a secret phase before a wider testing phase) – Rory Alsop Aug 23 '11 at 14:35
11
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The other answers contain some examples of secret research and it’s well worth keeping in mind that secret research exists – notably for military projects, but often also in privately funded research, where premature publication would harm patentability and marketing.

On the other hand, you need to realise that most publicly funded research is, by its very nature, open. Public funding almost always1) entails that results be published (in peer-reviewed journals). This is one of the fundamental rules of “good scientific practice”, as universally understood [1, 2].

  • [1] One reference among many can be found in the NIH Grants Policy Statement, the NIH being the largest medical research body in the world[3]:

    It is NIH policy that the results and accomplishments of the activities that it funds should be made available to the public.

  • [2] The same is true in other countries, for instance in Germany, as shown by the legal guidelines of the DFG, the biggest German public science funding organisation. The same guidelines are in place in most (all?) public funding organisations.

  • [3] From their website:

    NIH is the largest source of funding for medical research in the world …


1) and the exceptions are usually military research

  • 1
    Being in German does not make this reference wrong. However, it isn't very accessible to most of the readers of this site. If you could add an English equivalent, that would help. – Oddthinking Aug 22 '11 at 18:51
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    @Oddthinking I’ve added the NIH guideline. – Konrad Rudolph Aug 22 '11 at 19:00
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    I'd comment that "published in peer reviewed journals" is not always the same as public and open. It is not entirely unheard of for researchers to get results published in peer reviewed journals without ever releasing the source data for their studies. In several notable cases recently it has required Freedom of Information Act requests to get data from completely non-military government funded projects. – Russell Steen Aug 22 '11 at 22:43
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    @Russell But that’s fundamentally a failure of the peer review process. Nominally, researchers are obliged to provide the data and failure to do so is notably a breach of scientific conduct for publicly funded projects. And in some cases, the authors simply accidentally deleted their data. – Konrad Rudolph Aug 23 '11 at 6:51
  • @Konrad -- I disagree. Nothing in the peer review process inherently encourages public disclosure. Peer review boards are often only three people, who are usually legally bound by contract not to disclose outside of the review process. I completely agree that it's a breach of conduct, however the peer review process, in and of itself, does nothing to protect against that particular issue. – Russell Steen Aug 23 '11 at 12:33
16
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The Manhattan Project was of utmost secrecy.

12
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DARPA has a lot of very secret research. The F-117, and stealth technology, was developed in secrecy for recent history. Generally, a lot of military technology is developed in secrecy due to the nature of the "arms races" we may be involved in.

2
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There are a couple of examples of research beeing kept from the public eye. Think for example new weapon systems. Another example: engineers will research and develop stuff secretly until a patent is filed (or they might choose to never publish the method for building for example a new Li-ion battery).

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