Masthead for the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) site:  Protecting employees who protect our environment. Graphic: PEER

By Rebecca Trager
22 October 2014

(Chemistry World) – A pro bono network that will provide legal protection for US scientists in government and academia has been launched by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (Peer), an environmental group based in Washington, DC. The new Alliance for Legal Protection of Science (Alps), will provide legal information, counselling and formal representation to embattled scientists at no cost to them.

“We have public scientists at universities and in the government who are being hassled basically because of their research,” says Kyla Bennett, the project’s director. “A lot of the work that these scientists are doing is of potentially great significance to regulation and even stock prices. There is both industry pressure and political pressure on these scientists to stifle or change their science.”

Bennett emphasises that these researchers need to pursue their work without fear of getting fired, losing their grants or being presented with intrusive public records requests that are designed to hamper their work. Because individual researchers are often ill-equipped to counter what Peer calls well-funded ‘harassment campaigns’, the intent is for Alps to help by organising legal and other resources to protect the targeted scientists and their work. […]

Charles Monnett, a wildlife researcher who was suspended from his job at the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for six weeks in 2011 amid questions about his data and whether he had wrongfully released government records, is also very enthusiastic about the new programme. Monnett and others suggest that he was penalised over his observations of drowned polar bears that became an iconic illustration of climate change in action.

Monnett, whose scientific integrity came under attack, ultimately received $100,000 (£62,000) to settle a whistleblower complaint against the agency. He says he never resumed his former duties overseeing a $50 million portfolio of 20 to 30 studies, and retired from the agency last year due to health issues he says were brought on by stress. [more]

Free legal help for embattled US scientists

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