The germs of terror – Bioterrorism and science communication after September 11

The attacks of September 11 2001 and in particular, the sending of letters containing anthrax spores the following October had a profound effect on society, and at the same time on science and its communicative mechanisms. Through a quanto-qualitative analysis of articles taken from four publications: two daily newspapers, the Corriere della Sera from Italy and the New York Times from the United States and two science magazines, Science and Nature, we have shown how the aforementioned events provoked the emergence of media attention regarding bioterrorism. A closer reading of the articles shows that today, science – including that found in science magazines – is closely related to politics, economics and the debate over the freedom to practice communicate. The very mechanisms of communication between scientists were changed as a result of this debate, as can be seen from the signing of the Denver Declaration in February 2003, which brought about the preventative self-censorship of publication of biomedical research findings.