Climate scientists get lawyered up

Attacks on research prompt group to offer legal counsel

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      Time for climate scientists to lawyer up? One of the world’s premier science associations is offering the option.

      Many scientists find themselves at the receiving end of attacks by groups who abuse open-records laws to saddle scientists with vexatious and intimidating demands for personal emails and other materials.

      The American Geophysical Union, representing more than 62,000 Earth, atmospheric, and space scientists worldwide, has teamed with the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund to make lawyers available for confidential sessions with scientists at its annual meeting next month.

      Legal counselling is not a typical agenda item for a science confab, but it’s become an important one in today’s political climate, scientists say.

      The role of science in society is evolving, said AGU’s executive director Chris McEntee. As society faces more conflict over natural disasters, natural-resource use, and climate change, scientists increasingly find themselves in the spotlight, forced to communicate findings in ways they haven’t in the past.

      One-on-one litigation counselling, McEntee said, is "part of a broader suite of services to help our scientists communicate and interact with the broader world outside of science".

       Avoiding naivety

       It’s an issue few researchers contemplate as they prepare for a career in science, said Scott Mandia, professor of physical sciences at Suffolk County Community College in New York and founder of the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund.

      "When you get your degrees in science, you have no understanding of how the legal system works," he said. Such naivety is often exploited to slow down the scientific process, he added, especially in controversial areas like climate research.

      The Legal Defense Fund and AGU teamed up last year to test interest; 10 scientists signed up for counselling. Mandia expects "many more" this year.

      Lawyers will be available seven hours a day for the first four days of AGU’s massive five-day fall Meeting, held every December in San Francisco and drawing 22,000 scientists to share and discuss their work.

       Wrong message to young scientists?

       While Mandia sees a need for scientists to get legal savvy, he also fears the message it sends to early career scientists unprotected by tenure or institutions.

      "Will young scientists shy away from controversial studies if they fear their work will constantly be under attack?" he asked.

      Penn State climatologist Michael Mann has been at the receiving end of multiple legal challenges as the creator, more than a decade ago, of the now-famous "hockey stick" graph merging contemporary and prehistoric temperature records.

      There’s no question to him of the value or need for legal knowledge.

      "Many scientists in my field now find themselves at the receiving end of attacks by groups who abuse open-records laws to saddle scientists with vexatious and intimidating demands for personal emails and other materials," he said in an email. "It is critical that they be informed about their legal rights and available recourse."

      The AGU fall meeting starts December 9.

      Lindsey Konkel is a staff writer for the Daily Climate and its sister site, the Environmental Health News, a foundation-funded daily news service that also publishes its own enterprise journalism.




      Nov 22, 2013 at 10:59am

      You have got to be kidding me. If they have been doing sound science it is very easy to share data and work. Especially easy now with computers etc. That is how it is done. If you have something to hide.... They are being paid with public money. All of their data and correspondence related to their publicly paid studies must be made available. These people have been supplying studies that support a political agenda in exchange for cash and fame. Human nature at it's lowest base.


      Nov 22, 2013 at 11:18pm

      ASk Mann why he doesn't want other scientists to view his workings. If his science is sound he has nothing to fear. If his science is deceiptful then he should be exposed. It really is that simple.

      Martin Dunphy

      Nov 22, 2013 at 11:26pm

      I think you've got it backwards about who is supporting a political agenda.