Scientist Legal Defense Program Launched
Network for Pro Bono “Legal Protection of Science” and Web Law Center
Washington, DC — A new program providing legal information, counseling and, when needed, formal representation to embattled scientists at no cost to them was unveiled today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This Alliance for Legal Protection of Science (ALPS) will also field a national network of volunteer attorneys from a variety of specialties to help PEER staff counsel provide pro bono legal assistance to besieged scientists.
When public scientists’ research has economic or political significance, their findings and careers are sometimes put under pressure or attack from industries or interest groups, such as fossil-fuel extractors, chemical and other manufacturers, as well as the law firms and “think tanks” they finance. Individual researchers are often ill-equipped to counter well-funded harassment campaigns. ALPS will organize legal and other resources to protect both targeted scientists and their work products.
The effort features a new web center for public agency and university scientists to schedule legal sessions and to access user-friendly on-point information about their rights and options on topics such as –
- How to cope with voluminous “weaponized” public records requests intended to launch intrusive and disruptive fishing expeditions. The site also breaks down each state public record law;
- Avenues to escape being dragged into lawsuits and for handling invasive litigation discovery; and
- The right to publish without official approval as well as limits on “official information.”
ALPS is an outgrowth of the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, a PEER effort to defray legal fees of scientists under industry-funded legal attack; one beneficiary has been Professor Michael Mann, the climate scientist known for the “hockey stick” graph showing the sharp increase in global temperatures over the past 50 years. The ALPS program, however, is not limited to climate science and aims to be preventive and proactive, rather than reacting to litigation once it has arisen.
“Our main objective is to help scientists do their work while helping them avoid entanglement in the legal system,” said ALPS Project Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and an attorney formerly with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, noting that many of the pressures facing public scientists are applied by interests seeking to control the information and thus the outcomes of major decisions. “This is an effort to shield both science and scientists from political manipulation.”
The new PEER web center marshals information about emerging developments, such as federal scientific integrity policies, peer review and data quality requirements as well as the expanding role of scientific professional societies. In addition, it analyzes conflicts between transparency and confidentiality in research settings.
“Like a volcanic island rising from the seabed, a new body of science law is fitfully evolving,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that new rules confer legal status on technical works and those who create them. “In a government setting, the law often treated science as subject to the dictates of political appointees but that is changing.”