The Anonymous Source – an Endangered Species?


In The Anonymous Source – an Endangered Species?, author Philipp Steger discusses the importance of whistleblowers to journalists—and the risks they face.  Published in Bridges (13 July 2005), a publication of the Office of Science and Technology at the Embassy of Austria, Washington, DC.

The author, Philipp Steger, is Attache for Science and Technology and director of the Office of Science & Technology at the Embassy of Austria in Washington, DC.


Whistle-blowers can play, and have indeed played, an important role in all areas of government and public affairs, including science policy. Take, for instance, the debate on the politicization of science policy which has dogged the Bush administration for several years. The accusations leveled against the administration have largely been fueled by reports which relied in part on anonymous sources detailing individual cases of alleged abuse….

Already, news media across the country are adopting a very restrictive policy regarding the use of anonymous sources. Such a policy, once adopted, will undoubtedly have repercussions for a variety of investigative reporting including less politically-charged areas such as science policymaking: reporters talking to people within the administration about alleged abuses of science in policymaking will be hard pressed to commit their sources to being quoted on the record….

For the time being, whistle-blowers will have to live with the risk that the journalists they talk to will be forced to reveal their sources, or they will have to go on the record, as did Rick S. Piltz….Rick Piltz’s willingness to go on the record (and effectively end his career in government) is the rare exception.

Copyright OST 2006


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