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Freedom to Tweet? Government Scientists and the Right to Engage on Social Media

Social media has done great things for science. We’ve seen it educate, advocate, and communicate on scientific issues around the world and at an unimaginable speed. Social media has allowed open science to thrive, scientists to connect, and movements to start. It allows us to organize, debate, and discuss breaking news on science-related topics. As my colleague Aaron has said, when Neil deGrasse Tyson has more Twitter followers than Seth Rogen, we know that social media has potential for communication of science. Read More

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Willie Soon, Academic Freedom, and How We Can Deal With Undisclosed Conflicts of Interest

In the last week, the Internet has blown up. There were llamas, dresses, and bird-riding weasels. But what also blew up was an important discussion about conflict of interest disclosure and what information academic scientists should be expected to make public. Above all else, the debate has made clear that conflict of interest disclosure rules are lacking and that we need clarity from Congress, scientific societies, and academic institutions on how these issues should be addressed. Read More

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Rep. Grijalva’s Requests and the Real Problem with Conflict of Interest Disclosure

On Tuesday, Arizona’s U.S. representative Raul Grijalva asked seven academics for their sources of funding and earlier drafts of testimony they have delivered before congressional committees. Since then, many have debated whether the requests cross the line into harassment or witch hunts or McCarthyism. Lost in the discussion around whether the requests are too broad is a bigger question to address: Why don’t we already know who funds the work of those who testify before Congress? Read More

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What Kinds of Scrutiny of Scientists are Legitimate?

This morning, Rep. Raul Grijalva sent letters to seven universities seeking documents related to academics who have testified before Congress on climate change. The requests come in the wake of revelations over the weekend that the Smithsonian Institution agreed not to disclose payments from the Southern Company, a major utility, to fund and review the work of Smithsonian aerospace engineer Willie Soon. As all of the researchers in question have been critical of mainstream climate science, some are wondering if Rep. Grijalva’s requests can be considered a witch hunt. So is it? Read More

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Willie Soon’s Failure to Disclose Industry Funding for Contrarian Climate Research is Another Reason to Support Transparency

My first job in science communication was as an “Explainer” in the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. The program helps visitors – particularly students – understand the forces of flight. Our uniforms included red polo shirts that said “The Explainer Program” on the front and had the name of the company that sponsored the program – Cessna Aircraft – on the sleeve.

I recall this old uniform because the Smithsonian is under scrutiny for an entirely different type of sponsorship that was hidden from public view. Read More

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No Scientist Should Face Harassment. Period.

Last week, UCS released a report detailing the cases of many scientists who have been the targets of open record requests filed by their critics. These attacks have come from the left (e.g., gay marriage) and from the right (e.g., climate change). That same week, Science reported that an advocacy group had submitted extensive open records requests to multiple universities for significant portions of the email correspondence of several scientists who work in genetic engineering. On whether this constitutes harassment, it’s worth revisiting what should be disclosed and what should not. Read More

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Big Sugar Is Watching You: Four Ways the Food Industry Is Trying to Rig the Game

Most of us ask a doctor for advice about our health. We consult a dentist about care for our teeth. No one queries General Mills, the maker of sugary Lucky Charms and Betty Crocker cake mixes, for the latest science on diabetes or cardiovascular disease. And no one in their right mind calls up Coca-Cola or PepsiCo for evidence-based guidance on sugar and dental disease. Read More

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Let the Engineer Speak: On Scientific Free Speech and the Harassment of Experts

Last week, Minnesota engineer and planner Charles Marohn received a letter notifying him of a complaint of misconduct filed against his professional engineering license. Was Mr. Marohn accused of a misstep in his professional engineering practices? No. Rather, the complaint concerned Marohn’s writings on his website, Strong Towns. Read More

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Why Does UCS Survey Government Scientists?

Today, thousands of scientists who work for federal agencies will get emails from the Union of Concerned Scientists asking them to take an online survey. The surveys will go out to employees who deal with science at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with other agencies to be surveyed in the future. Read More

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Beware of This Zombie Bill: The Regulatory Accountability Act Returns from the Dead

The House leadership has promised a new day for Congress. Less partisanship, more governing. But it’s hard to believe them when first out of the gate the House chooses to recycle one of its most divisive bills, and one which would greatly harm science-informed policymaking at federal agencies.

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