30 June 2011

AAAS on harassment of scientists

The Board of the AAAS put out a strongly-worded statement condemning the harassment of climate scientists via nuisance lawsuits, death threats and 'fraud' investigations:

We are deeply concerned by the extent and nature of personal attacks
on climate scientists. Reports of harassment, death threats, and
legal challenges have created a hostile environment that inhibits the
free exchange of scientific findings and ideas and makes it difficult for
factual information and scientific analyses to reach policymakers and
the public. This both impedes the progress of science and interferes
with the application of science to the solution of global problems.
AAAS vigorously opposes attacks on researchers that question their
personal and professional integrity or threaten their safety based on
displeasure with their scientific conclusions.

The progress of science and protection of its integrity depend
on both full transparency about the details of scientific methodology
and the freedom to follow the pursuit of knowledge. The sharing of
research data is vastly different from unreasonable, excessive Freedom of
Information Act requests for personal information and voluminous data
that are then used to harass and intimidate scientists. The latter serve
only as a distraction and make no constructive contribution to the
public discourse.

Scientists and policymakers may disagree over the scientific
conclusions on climate change and other policy-relevant topics. But the
scientific community has proven and well-established methods for
resolving disagreements about research results. Science advances
through a self-correcting system in which research results are shared
and critically evaluated by peers and experiments are repeated
when necessary. Disagreements about the interpretation of data, the
methodology, and findings are part of daily scientific discourse. Scientists
should not be subjected to fraud investigations or harassment simply
for providing scientific results that are controversial.

Most scientific disagreements are unrelated to any kind of fraud and are considered a
legitimate and normal part of the scientific process. The scientific
community takes seriously its responsibility for policing research
misconduct, and extensive procedures exist to protect the rigor of the
scientific method and to ensure the credibility of the research enterprise.

While we fully understand that policymakers must integrate the
best available scientific data with other factors when developing
policies, we think it would be unfortunate if policymakers
became the arbiters of scientific information and circumvented the
peer-review process. Moreover, we are concerned that establishing a
practice of aggressive inquiry into the professional histories of scientists
whose findings may bear on policy in ways that some find unpalatable
could well have a chilling effect on the willingness of scientists to
conduct research that intersects with policy-relevant scientific questions.

The AAAS Board was apparently prompted to issue the status following the Cuccinelli probes at U.Va and the ATI/CEI lawsuits at U.Va and NASA targeting Micheal Mann and Jim Hansen. In response, Chris Horner (of ATI & CEI) implied that criticism of his actions was equivalent to defending statutory rape. Nice.

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