No Scientist Should Face Harassment. Period.

, lead analyst, Center for Science and Democracy | February 20, 2015, 12:07 pm EDT
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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.

As detailed in our new report, Freedom to Bully, scientific experts in a range of fields have faced attacks from critics through open records laws. Photo: iStockphoto/studioportosabbia

As detailed in our new report, Freedom to Bully, scientific experts in a range of fields have faced attacks from critics through open records laws. Photo: iStockphoto/studioportosabbia

The advocacy group says it is looking to uncover the nature of relationships between the scientists and agribusiness companies, trade groups and PR firms. To be clear, disclosure of funding sources and other conflicts of interest is important. We’ve said it before on this blog and I’m sure we will say it again: any real or perceived conflicts of interest for scientists should be publicly disclosed. And as history has shown, scientists are not always proactive on this. Many cases have surfaced where undisclosed financial ties were found by those who took the time to scrutinize (e.g. here, here, and here).  Such investigations are important and necessary.

But the push and pull of the scientific process and research deliberations should be exempt from disclosure. Science is an iterative process and researchers should be free to discuss, challenge, and develop ideas with a certain level of privacy. As a result, these requests to the genetic engineering researchers, just like other overly broad open records requests that seek excessive access to scientists’ inboxes, are inappropriate.

Investigations should be targeted. Overly broad open records requests can intimidate scientists and take significant time away from their research. We know such politically or ideologically motivated attacks can have chilling effects on researchers and confuse the public about the state of the science. No scientist or engineer should have to face that kind of excessive scrutiny, no matter what their area of study.

Earlier this month, I wrote about an engineer named Charles Marohn, who had his credentials questioned by those who didn’t agree with his professional opinion.  With this in mind, we should remember that the harassment of scientists through open records requests is just one method of many that an expert’s antagonists use to discredit him or her. All of these actions make it more difficult for scientists to make new discoveries and come up with new ideas. We should be able to have critical discussions about science without attacking the individuals that create it.

Posted in: Science and Democracy, Science Communication, Scientific Integrity Tags: , , , , ,

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  • js121

    When the Koch’s can buy research …we have a serious problem. Now, that some have been exposed as corrupt; they will launch a full attack on genuine scientists. That is where we must draw the line.

  • Hi folks,

    We want to remind you that our comment policy requires commenters to stick to the topic at hand and refrain from personal attacks. We may delete comments that are off-topic or abusive. Thanks for your cooperation!

  • Ena Valikov

    I am going to make an announcement as I notice the arrival of anonymous unaccountable entities…my personal definition of trolls. If you can’t stand behind your comments by identifying yourself, please don’t expect acknowledgement of your disruptive comments in a thread on FOIA- public instruments of transparency.

    • Chris Preston

      I am going to make an announcement as I notice the arrival of anonymous unaccountable entities…my personal definition of trolls.

      So says someone who has already posted on this thread under another nym.

      Hypocrisy thy name is dogctor, no it isn’t it is Ena Valikov, maybe it is both.

      And upvoting your own posts and those of your sockpuppet? How quaint.

      • Ena Valikov

        I already addressed that below. Read the whole thread, please.

      • hyperzombie

        Cellphone account Ena Valikov. Office PC..dogctor. Sockpuppets, anonymous & unaccountable trolls,

        you up voted your own account, that has Douche Bag written all over it.

  • Kent Wagoner

    I’m not a scientist, so this has no direct effect on me. I’m glad that UCS is taking this position, but it still feels like the lion lying down with the lamb IMO. But It’s certainly not my place to judge.

  • dogctor

    Bye Bye UCS. You have lost this scientist who has been supporting you for over a decade with your broad brush approach and defense of junk science. What you are actually demonstrating is that at UCS politics trumps independent science.

    • Dominick Dickerson

      Do you intentionally use multiple disqus handles to give the illusion that there are multiple people who concur with you? Ena valikov and “dogctor” are infact the same person right? Why do you engage in this manner?

      • Ena Valikov

        Because my cellphone is linked to this account while my PC at work is linked to dogctor. My turn: Why are you questioning me (ad hominem) instead of addressing the substance of FOIA as it relates to GMOs?

      • Dominick Dickerson

        Very well, although it begs the question why the need for two handles in the first place but that’s neither here nor there.

        I concur with both Dr. Foltas and the ucs assessment of this instance of FOIA requests. It’s clearly a PR move on behalf of those opposed to genetic engineering that seek to vilify certain scientist who are engaged in outreach on the science of genetic engineering. As far as I know most if not all of the researchers targeted intend on complying to the extent they are required to by law, even though it is an offensive way to try to intimidate your opponents.

        Also billing yourself as a scientist, is a bit of a stretch isn’t ? I mean you don’t have to be a scientist to take part in the debate over genetic engineering, I’m not nor have I ever claimed to be . But youre a vet aren’t you? Why not simply state that instead of trumping up your credentials? You make it sound like you’re actively engaging in research when you present yourself as such. Are you engaged in research Ena? If so i apologize in advance.

      • Ena Valikov

        I am not surprised a bit. f you cant address the substance of the scientific debate on GMOs you are the last person whose opinion on my scientific credibility nor on GMO matters to me. Please find a discussion that best suits your expertise- this isn’t it. I will not respond to you again. Bye bye!

      • Dominick Dickerson

        That’s the rub, there isn’t a real substantial debate on either the safety or efficacy of genetic engineering as a method of plant breeding. It only exists in the mind of a vociferous minority who are either financially or philosophically opposed to the use genetic engineering to breed plants (I suspect your in the latter). You’re trying to get me admit that there is controversy, when there isn’t. It’s the same tactic used by those who don’t believe in evolution. No credible scientific body disputes the cold hard fact that genetic engineering poses no more of a threat human health or the environment than any other method of plant breeding.

        So I take it that’s a no on you being a practicing scientist? Not that you have to be, but it seems very deceptive that you claim to be if you actually aren’t.

      • Dominick Dickerson

        Ena valikov, everybody. Practicing vet who claims to be an expert on genetic engineering and wants to call everyone who disagrees with her stupid. It’s very ironic that you keep insisting everyone look up dunning-Kruger effect as youe likely the most guilty party of overstating your expertise and claiming intellectual superiority. I merely use the primary literature and the global scientific consensus to inform my opinions, but do keep prattling on with your baseless assertions and your special knowledge.

      • Ena Valikov

        GMO safety tests are performed on animals…the only profession with relevant expertise to interpret hematological biochemical & histopathological tests on animals are….wait for it…veterinarians. It isn’t a ginormous surprise to us when ignoramuses who can’t read 6 letters “Bye Bye” don’t recognize that doctors of veterinary medicine are scientists. Please stop directing comments my way. Opinions are like @$$h¤£€$ – everyone has one…including you. B. Y. E. B. Y. E.

      • Dominick Dickerson

        So show me a link between genetic engineering and detrimental effects on animal health , besides the roundly discredited Seralini study. If I’m wrong I want to stand corrected, but to my knowledge (which is admittedly limited, silly humans not being omniscient) there hasn’t been. Are we expected to believe that every major scientific agency around the world have some how missed these papers. I find that possibility remote, but I am open to evidence.

      • Ena Valikov

        Dominick, the first thing to understand is that scientific bodies position statements are usually qualified, and stress the need for a *case by case* risk assessment but are misrepresented by those with vested interests as definitively finding GMOs safe….The second is that like any field of science, context & the body of science must be considered. To that end, here is a study to give you context on Serallini

      • hyperzombie

        OMG, you changed your name… LOL so funny..
        Read My Blog!

      • Dominick Dickerson

        Well first off, the assessments usually don’t say anything about safe but rather absence of harm and i am very particular to word it in my own communications as such. I tend to not make claims that products of genetic engineering are absolutely safe, but rather that to date there is no evidence of harm or even more precisely that genetic engineering is no more harmful than any other method of plant breeding.

        So from what I understand from reading your blog is that you have beef with the safety assessment studies because you find them to be lacking in several criteria. But if that were the case wouldn’t that mean that anybody with sufficient expertise could disprove them? Why has this not been done? Do you honestly suppose there is some kind of world wide conspiracy that is suppressing research? because that seems to be the only option for why these studies that you find lacking are accepted while almost unilaterally the research of Seralini, carman and pusztai have been challenged/discredited.

        And also, I mean no disrespect but your interpretation of a study on your personal blog doesn’t carry much weight as far as evidence goes. If what your saying is true and that in this case insertion of gene for glyphosate resistance has the potential for causing liver and kidney damage wouldn’t the scientific community at large as well as farmers be seeing the affects of such? Wouldn’t such abnormalities be seen by food inspectors when livestock are slaughtered or by livestock vets who would surely be called in if massive numbers of animals were being harmed by consuming genetically engineered crops? It just seems like if what you say is true the evidence would be so glaringly apparent that no amount of money or influence could suppress it and I just don’t see it.

      • hyperzombie

        Dominick, you do know that this is just dogtor with a different name right?

      • Dominick Dickerson

        Yes, and I know her reputation. But if you keep asking enough people for evidence and they fail to produce it or you demonstrate their dependency on conspiratorial thinking in enough places, then maybe in some small we those people who havnt already decided that GE crops are evil can be persuaded. A foolish hope I know

      • hyperzombie

        then maybe in some small we those people who havnt already decided that GE crops are evil can be persuaded. A foolish hope I know

        I know it works, reverse brainwashing takes some time, but it can and does work. Keep up the good work.

      • Ena Valikov

        What does anything you just said have to do with the science. Oh, wait…absolutely nothing. The champions of science don”t actually understand the science. Thus they expect me, the scientist to work my way through their litany of heuristics to divert attention from the fact….that the science champions sidestep science completely. Does that answer all of your irrelevant questions? Respond to the science or you don’t belong in this conversation at the Union of Concerned Scientists.Good bye!

    • Joel Hruska

      The fact that you claim GMOs are “toxic mutants” destroys any credibility you might otherwise claim on this topic.

      • Ena Valikov

        Please Google ” novel corn mitogen corncob leukotoxin diol” and find HPLC / MS on all varieties of GMO corn currently on the market. Thank You.

      • August Pamplona

        And here, in a reply to a comment questioning your credibility due to your ridiculous claim that GMOs are toxic mutants, you attempt to support your argument with a reference to a paper that has absolutely nothing to do with the genetic engineering of maize (or any other crop, for that matter).

        No, that doesn’t help your credibility at all. I suggest you re-read that Wikipedia article on the Dunning-Kruger effect that you linked to earlier and reflect upon its content for some time.


      • Ena Valikov

        You know whats predictable about insecure people peddling toxic products people reject globally? Their tobaccoscience is so fraudulent they are forced to sidestep real science …deny it and attack others credibility.It is a very predictable & rational response, really. Had I been a denialist I would be smearing others too. Note: You have yet to post HPLC/ MS on GMO corn to convince me it does not contain toxic THF-diols & leukotoxin diols that stimulate breast & prostate cancer in vitro AND in vivo in parts per Billion! Until you do GMO corn is toxic! Oh, another thing you herbicide apologists always do is give out unsolicited advice- arrogance combined with ignorance is so appealing, not.

      • August Pamplona

        Apparently, it didn’t help.

    • hyperzombie

      You have lost this scientist who has been supporting you for over a decade

      LOL, so funny…. thanks for the posts dogtor, you add comic levity to the conversation…. Everything is a conspiracy! Evil Corporations! Corporations,,blah blah blah! So funny. and I bet your vet clinic is incorporated, evil corporation….

  • mem_somerville

    Thanks very much for making this clear. I have already seen the mere requests deemed as evidence of guilt, and there’s one outfit even lying about the process: Reprehensible. This politically-motivated and organic industry-funded attack is futile, but still harmful to the state of science outreach to the public.

    It’s also had a chilling effect on young scientists too. But that was the point–to silence the specific scientists and intimidate others.

    And I will add that I read the report and I was impressed. It struck me as being like the ACLU for science. That would be a worthy role for UCS to take up.

    • Michael Halpern

      Thanks for the kudos on the report (shortlink: ). In doing the research for it, I was somewhat surprised at how easy it was to show how so many areas of research are impacted by overly broad open records requests, as well as how the method has been used to go after researchers for at least two decades. Such diverse use points to the need to develop common standards to disclose what is in the public interest to disclose protect what is not. This is a longer term challenge for the science and good government and transparency communities to figure out.

      I agree with you that we need to speak out when we can against misuse of open records laws regardless of subject area or requester intent. I’m sure we would also agree that we should also speak out when researchers try to hide behind academic freedom or privacy laws to keep quiet what should be in the public domain. It’s impossible to engage in every situation, but because responding to open records requests can be costly, distracting, and intimidating, scientists should know that we have their backs.

      I’m all ears if people have other stories to share on this front–just make a comment or drop me a note.

      • dogctor

        Let me guess. You lack all and any expertise in any field related to biology or medicine, just like your “analyst” who is applying an incident in engineering to a completely unrelated field.

        Since I am not a climate expert but understand the details of the GMO debate– this little political stunt is making me reconsider your “consensus” on global warming.

        Anything being presented by UCUSA is tainted.

      • this is the respect you pay Dr. folta after he offered friendship to you and patienty answers all your queations all these years? More shill accusation against anyone who dares disagree with your conspiracies.

      • Ena Valikov

        As someone who has yet to get legitimate answers to specific medical concerns….and as Kevin’s friend….I want to know the real reasons.

      • mem_somerville

        On one of Kevin Folta’s posts, someone mentioned that it drove them out of Extension work. I hope this link works, but you can find it on his post “Silencing Public Scientists”:

        I had no idea that those folks were facing this too. And it’s driving good people out of public service. That’s really sad. So good scientists leave? That’s a terrible consequence.

  • mememine

    34 MORE years without climate action leaves CO2 scientists eventually being charged for exaggerating and fostering decades of needless CO2 panic. Yes, a pure war crime.