How to make secrets: pesticides, nerve gas and knowledge transfer

Dr Brian Balmer of University College London will give a seminar entitled "How to Make Secrets: Pesticides, Nerve Gas and Knowledge Transfer in the Cold War" at Leeds on 22 February 2012.

This is a case study of how secret sites of knowledge production produce new and deadly secrets.   Drawing on recently released documents from The National Archives, Kew this case study explains how knowledge transfer from civilian pesticide research to the British military during the Cold War resulted in a new generation of chemical weapons, nerve gases called the "V-agents."

By tracing the process through which this particular application of science moved from peaceful to military application, the case study makes clear that the weapons application did not arise automatically from the inherent properties of the chemical itself (such as its high toxicity) but required the active intervention of defence officials.  Ostensibly, the pesticide and the nerve agent are the same chemical.  But, creating the new chemical weapon required the active configuration of two very different worlds of civil and defence science, each with their own set of concerns about secrecy.

This suggests that the current international governance of dual-use technologies requires a nuanced and historically informed understanding of the role of secrecy and dual-use technology transfer.

The seminar will take place:

On:  Wednesday 22 February

At:   3.15-5.00pm

In:   Room G.36, Baines Wing

Add to Outlook calendar.

For further information contact the director of the Centre for History and Philosophy of Science, Professor Stephen French.

Posted in: