BP is an Enemy of Academic Freedom: Scientists

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by
Common Dreams

BP is an Enemy of Academic Freedom: Scientists

BP successfully subpoena's scientists' emails; will take scientific evidence 'out of context'

by
Common Dreams staff

The Deepwater Horizon oil rig after it exploded on 20 April 2010. Photo: KPA/Zuma/Rex Features

Oceanographers Richard Camilli and Christopher Reddy, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, have accused oil giant BP of stifling academic freedom and attempting to skew scientific research from the Gulf of Mexico after the massive BP oil spill in 2010.

This week, the two expressed concern after BP successfully subpoenaed thousands of confidential emails between the two regarding their research on the effects of the spill.

"BP claimed that it needed to better understand our findings because billions of dollars in fines are potentially at stake. So we produced more than 50,000 pages of documents, raw data, reports, and algorithms used in our research — everything BP would need to analyze and confirm our findings. But BP still demanded access to our private communications. Our concern is not simply invasion of privacy, but the erosion of the scientific deliberative process," the two wrote in an article for the Boston Globe.

They fear that the email exchanges, written during the process of research, could be used for deliberate misinterpretation in reports released by BP, the Guardian reports.

"Incomplete thoughts and half-finished documents attached to emails can be taken out of context and impugned by people who have a motive for discrediting the findings. In addition to obscuring true scientific findings, this situation casts a chill over the scientific process. In future crises, scientists may censor or avoid deliberations, and more importantly, be reluctant to volunteer valuable expertise and technology that emergency responders don't possess," the scientists stated.

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Richard Camilli and Christopher Reddy/Boston Globe: Science out of context

Late last week, we reluctantly handed over more than 3,000 confidential e-mails to BP, as part of a subpoena from the oil company demanding access to them because of the Deepwater Horizon disaster lawsuit brought by the US government. We are accused of no crimes, nor are we party to the lawsuit. We are two scientists at an academic research institution who responded to requests for help from BP and government officials at a time of crisis.

Because there are insufficient laws and legal precedent to shield independent scientific researchers, BP was able to use the federal courts to gain access to our private information. Although the presiding judge magistrate recognized the need to protect confidential e-mails to avoid deterring future research, she granted BP’s request.

It is the lack of legal protection that has us concerned. [...]

In future crises, scientists may censor or avoid deliberations, and more importantly, be reluctant to volunteer valuable expertise and technology that emergency responders don’t possess. Open, scientific deliberation is critical to science. It needs to be protected in a way that maintains transparency in the scientific process, but also avoids unnecessary intrusions that stifle research vital to national security and economic interests.

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The Guardian/UK: BP accused of attack on academic freedoms after scientists subpoenaed

A pair of scientists have accused BP of an attack on academic freedom after the oil company successfully subpoenaed thousands of confidential emails related to research on the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.

The accusation from oceanographers Richard Camilli and Christopher Reddy offered a rare glimpse into the behind-the-scenes legal manoeuvring by BP in the billion-dollar legal proceedings arising from the April 2010 blow-out of its well.

It also heightened fears among scientists of an assault on academic freedoms, following the legal campaign against a number of prominent climate scientists.

In an opinion piece in the Boston Globe, the scientists, from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said they volunteered in the early days of the spill to deploy robotic technology to help BP and the Coast Guard assess how much oil was gushing from the well. [...]

The struggle over the emails indicates the looming legal significance of any data related to the flow of oil from the stricken well.

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