This is troubling news for academic scientists. An organization called “US Right to Know” has issued at least a dozen legal requests to the home universities of public scientists who have made efforts to educate the public about genetically engineered crops. Using the US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and state laws, they want access to all of the emails sent to and from the targeted scientists and a list of industry and industry-associated organizations. Claiming to only be interested to “understand the dynamics between the agrichemical industry’s PR efforts, and the public university faculty who sometimes are its public face”, these FOIA requests risk violating academic freedom and having a silencing effect on scientist-communicators who fear becoming political targets. Reminiscent of Climategate, the scientists who have been targeted fear that their correspondence will be twisted for political purposes.
We will report more about this concerning issue as it evolves. Keith Kloor has the story at Science Magazine, and will be updating this post at Collide-A-Scape with additional details as he receives them.
The fierce public relations war over genetically modified (GM) food has a new front. A nonprofit group opposed to GM products filed a flurry of freedom of information requests late last month with at least four U.S. universities, asking administrators to turn over any correspondence between a dozen academic researchers and a handful of agricultural companies, trade groups, and PR firms. The scientists—many of whom have publicly supported agricultural biotechnologies—are debating how best to respond, and at least one university has already rejected the request.