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Scientists Want To Keep Their Research Work Out of Court 288

Posted by timothy
from the 10-million-dead-polar-bears-can't-be-wrong dept.
concealment writes "How much privacy is the scientific process entitled to? During the course of their work, researchers produce e-mails, preliminary results, and peer reviews, all of which might be more confused or critical than the final published works. Recently, both private companies with a vested interest in discounting the results, and private groups with a political axe to grind have attempted to use the courts to get access to that material.Would it be possible or wise to keep these documents private and immune to subpoenas? In the latest issue of Science, a group of researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) argue that scientists need more legal rights to retain these documents and protect themselves in court."
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Scientists Want To Keep Their Research Work Out of Court

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  • by SirAstral (1349985) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @11:58AM (#41526709)

    Helps them to be dishonest about results and the research.

    It is Science folks... what purpose is served by keeping it secret? Unless someone is up to no good eh?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @12:05PM (#41526799)

      They have to publish their methods. The problem is that if preliminary information is published, its easier for people to accuse them of bias without judging them based on their findings. This isn't science, that's politics. We need to keep politics out of science. What matters are the final published results. Those are the findings that they are saying, "Here is our data, we believe this is reproducible." If it's not independently verifiable, that will come out soon enough. If they practice good science, and peer review backs their findings, who cares if they initially had biases before the experiment began?

      • If they practice good science every step should be grounded in good science and not be subject to validly criticism.

        Of course it is entirely understandable where an unofficial conversation where the person is not trying too hard to find perfect wording could be mis-understood.

        But I think it is important to be able to see a scientists method in action to gauge if what the report says is actually what happened.

      • by Rostin (691447) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @12:51PM (#41527495)
        The truth will out "eventually", but that's not always fast enough. You should check out the book Plastic Fantastic, which is about the Schön scandal [wikipedia.org]. The careers of many innocent people who wasted years of their PhD training trying to replicate fraudulent results were ruined in that little episode. Schön was asked repeatedly to provide access to his samples, to more clearly describe his methodology, and the like, but kept finding excuses to avoid doing so. He was only found out when suspicious researchers in his area noticed that the noise in the results of multiple experiments was identical, likely having been faked using the same random numbers. It's a classic example of the inadequacy of our current way of doing and reporting science to quickly identify fraud.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @01:14PM (#41527783)

          And how is this failure to put sufficient pressure on someone who's results just can't be reproduced to prove their stuff in any context relevant to the topic at hand? Or are you suggesting that this fraud could have been spotted easier by sifting though everyone's correspondence looking for "sumethin' off"?

          The problem in your anecdote, in case you can't spot it, has nothing to do with Schoen's correspondence, and everything to do with prestige. People not daring to admit they can't reproduce the results of the big star, and not daring asking uncomfortable questions, and not daring/being able to request answers to questions raised to a satisfactory degree. Seriously, either he could reproduce the results in a satisfactory manner or tell those who tried what they did wrong - which in turn should produce identical results - or he couldn't. If you fail at this, getting someones working materials won't help. Ever. It's just a red herring used by people digging for dirt.

        • by bosef1 (208943) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @01:47PM (#41528243)

          I'm not sure how "fast" fast enough is. Assuming the Wikipedia article you cite is accurate, Schon received his PhD and was hired by Bell Labs in 1997. He submitted his fraudulent papers over several years, and a committe was set up to investigate discrepancies in 2002, and submitted its report that year showing how Schon had lied. So in roughly five years, the peer-review system did its task to uncover deliberate, premeditated fraud in the field of basic semiconductor research. That seems like a reasonable time to me, given the nature of the research, and the time required to properly document failures to reproduce results and cross-check data. From the sound of things, the fraud may have not been that complicated, basically reusing the same graphs in different papers with different labels, so you would have hoped it would have been caught sooner. I'm not familiar enough with the case to know if Schon was careful to reuse graphs in papers in widely different journals to minimize the possibility of someone seeing the identical graph twice.

          Yes, it would have been better if the fraud was caught sooner, but I'm not sure how you would do it, short of something hella expensive like instituing a two-man rule for all research positions everywhere, and demanding independant experiemental validation of all papers before they can be published.

        • Hopefully something like http://openscienceframework.org/ [openscienceframework.org] will actually take off. It won't solve all problems but it might help move things in a positive direction by encouraging scientists to determine their methodology before data is collected, share that methodology more completely, and make their data more accessible. It will also provide a, hopefully, easy means for people to "publish" confirmation studies and work that wouldn't normally make it into journals but are still useful science.

          The framew

        • by ceoyoyo (59147)

          Meh. If a lot of innocent people wasted years of their PhD training trying to replicate his fraudulent results it just indicates that they and their supervisors were suffering from hero worship. If nobody can duplicate someone's results then it's time to stop trying.

          You point out a problem, all right, but it's not with the inadequacy of the system. It's with the hero worship common in some fields. If so and so said it, it must be right. If it's published in Nature or Science, it must be right. EVERY s

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The purpose may be allowing people to speculate more freely in internal email without having to worry about email quotes later being taken out of context. It's the same reason why I don't keep my customer CCed when I'm working with engineering or operations to resolve an issue.

      Sometimes it's nice to speak freely.

      • by jellomizer (103300) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @12:46PM (#41527419)

        Todays culture we have too much information, and most of us are not taught to leave it alone unless it really affects us.
        Yes a lot of the information is important, but it really isn't important to use to get all ruffled up about.

        We hear all this stuff back and forth digging up dirt on everyone. And what do we learn? Nothing, because this information really isn't important to us. We get emotional about it but we are not enlighten from it.

        During the engineering process we come up with small roadblocks. We need a little help an extra eye a new idea. It is one of those setbacks that you have already adjusted in your quote for... If the customer gets that information they will get all emotional about it... however they will not gain any real insight from it. I am going to use a plastic part instead of metal, because it will save the unit cost down, and the metal has a tendency to bend and will need more servicing. The customer will see this as just a cost cutting measure and they will be getting an inferior product, while it is just a case where plastic is a better material than metal for that component.
        The customer rarely understands the process and if shown to them will panic because there is a degree of testing and fixing a caos involved, and it isn't just draft, produce, and sell.

    • by eldavojohn (898314) * <.moc.liamg. .ta. .nhojovadle.> on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @12:13PM (#41526883) Journal

      It is Science folks... what purpose is served by keeping it secret? Unless someone is up to no good eh?

      Agreed comrade! Now, why are you not sharing your personal e-mails and work e-mails with me? Unless someone is up to no good, eh? Surely your business is as "pure" as Science?

      When did we drop the "privacy is a human right" mantra on Slashdot? I really miss that. Scientists are humans. Their work should be public if it was paid by the public. Their work should be public if they wish for it to be peer reviewed. But what purpose does opening up their communication hold? If they really wanted to be "up to no good" surely they would merely find another way to communicate than the e-mails that are published? Will this solve anything? Scientists are humans, not slaves. E-mails about picking their kid up from soccer at a time and place should be kept private, even if they use their work e-mail. E-mails where they call a colleague bad names in confidence to a lab assistant should be kept private. Etc. Etc.

      If their work involved wrong doing then it should be presented as evidence in court regardless of who paid for it. My biggest concern here is when these court investigations of scientists are politically motivated witch hunts [slashdot.org].

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        It is Science folks... what purpose is served by keeping it secret? Unless someone is up to no good eh?

        Agreed comrade! Now, why are you not sharing your personal e-mails and work e-mails with me? Unless someone is up to no good, eh? Surely your business is as "pure" as Science?

        When did we drop the "privacy is a human right" mantra on Slashdot? I really miss that. Scientists are humans. Their work should be public if it was paid by the public. Their work should be public if they wish for it to be peer reviewed. But what purpose does opening up their communication hold? If they really wanted to be "up to no good" surely they would merely find another way to communicate than the e-mails that are published? Will this solve anything? Scientists are humans, not slaves. E-mails about picking their kid up from soccer at a time and place should be kept private, even if they use their work e-mail. E-mails where they call a colleague bad names in confidence to a lab assistant should be kept private. Etc. Etc.

        If their work involved wrong doing then it should be presented as evidence in court regardless of who paid for it. My biggest concern here is when these court investigations of scientists are politically motivated witch hunts [slashdot.org].

        Nice straw man.

        He's not trying to convince you to spend trillions of dollars on something.

        Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.

        If you're "correcting" the raw data - you'd damn well better provide that raw data, and the method(s) used to correct it. Along with the reason(s).

        And if it can't withstand daylight - it's suspect.

      • by neonv (803374) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @12:38PM (#41527267)

        Research data should be made available to the public for the sake of peer review. Emails and other communication should not be because that would that create a biased opinion for those that read the emails, and emails need freedom to make conjecture without being held to those conjectures for final theories.

        • by AvitarX (172628)

          If this is about discovery, it's not about making it available to the public. Discovery is generally confidential, with a very small fraction of documents being made part of the public record (ones the judge determines are relevant and authentic).

          If at issue is whether or not someone could of foreseen a different outcome as a potential, then I certainly do think that the rejected theories and conjectures are relevant. This law will rapidly be used to help large businesses cover up problems.

      • by vlm (69642) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @12:42PM (#41527347)

        E-mails about picking their kid up from soccer at a time and place should be kept private, even if they use their work e-mail. E-mails where they call a colleague bad names in confidence to a lab assistant should be kept private.

        How do you handle NDAs? I make microwave amplifiers. In my daydream, I come up with a way to make the Worlds Best 1420 MHz preamp. For irrelevant business reasons I'm not able to capitalize on it or even afford the legal docs to patent. But I'll sell my one and only prototype to Big Ole Radio Telescope.gov outta the goodness of my heart and if they sign the usual NDA, I'll email discuss how to properly install it. Their emails get released because a bunch of cranks believe the world was created in 4000 BC so any discussion of stuff more than 6000 light years away is blasphemous hate speech they must use the legal system to stamp out. My signed NDAs can't keep my amplifier secret; I'm pissed.

        At a research lab, this is not as far fetched as you might think.

        • by sumdumass (711423)

          I would suggest you sell your amp to someone other then the government. Regardless of who is asking for the information, or what kind of slant you want to put on them, your right to profit does not override my right to know what my government is up to or how and why it is spending money it takes from me.

          But if you are really that worried about it, then take the profits from your sale and get the patent protections.

      • by Hentes (2461350)

        There is a difference between personal emails written at home and emails written during work. If that work is funded by the public, then they have a right to know.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It is Science folks... what purpose is served by keeping it secret? Unless someone is up to no good eh?

      They're not talking about keeping data or methods secret.

      The main theme running through TFA is about a wrangle between some folks at WHOI and BP over the DeepWater Horizon spill. WHOI did a lot of work to gauge things like the amount of oil being released, and BP claim they need this data to wrangle out how much they have to pay in damages. An important quote from the article is:

      Before the BP subpoena, WHOI researchers had already voluntarily released 52,000 pages to BP, which they claim included all the

    • by FhnuZoag (875558) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @12:20PM (#41526997)

      Research data has to be shared for the sake of peer review. But the main problem I see with totally public access is that the public aren't ready for it. In a public arena where people jump on evolutionists for using the word 'theory', or pull all sorts of quotes out of context from leaked climate research emails, publication will just lead to a massive and distracting shitstorm that all scientists want to avoid.

      It's fine to ask scientists to show their working, but what's usually being asked in these cases is for scientists to expose all the minutiae of their thinking, their process of coming up with hypotheses, and so on, most of which is irrelevant to the final produce of Evidence->Conclusion. And really, no one can work in such an environment where you have to guard all your words and thoughts carefully lest someone picks it out at some later date. It would be a hugely oppressive work environment, subjected to a group of people who are generally kinda private individuals. Even the Soviet Union understood that they need to afford these people a little privacy.

      • by jonadab (583620) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @12:25PM (#41527091) Homepage Journal
        > But the main problem I see with totally public
        > access is that the public aren't ready for it.

        The public weren't (and aren't) ready for the internet, yet here it is. Previously, the public very manifestly weren't ready for the horseless carriage, but we take cars very much for granted now.

        Some things in life you don't get to be ready for.
      • But the main problem I see with totally public access is that the public aren't ready for it. In a public arena where people jump on evolutionists for using the word 'theory', or pull all sorts of quotes out of context from leaked climate research emails, publication will just lead to a massive and distracting shitstorm that all scientists want to avoid.

        Erasmus of Rotterdam told Martin Luther that allowing common people to read the Bible would open a "floodgate of iniquity".

        The bottom line is that people w

    • by jythie (914043) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @12:22PM (#41527031)
      Fishing expeditions like BP's are not looking for secrets,. they are looking to find sound bytes they can then take to the court of public opinion or regulators in order to convince non-scientists that 'those scientists are up to no good, see, they called it a statistical trick!'. They are not asking for the science, they are asking for the personal conversations between scientists... the same type of thing that the same companies argue would hamper national security or trade secrets if outsiders saw their's.
    • by breech1 (137095)

      Or it could be a work in progress. During research, there's lots of communication about the interpretation of data, what other values should be recorded, is this true data or a bug in the simulation, and so on. If you had a political axe to grind, you could easily cherry pick that communication to feed the stupid conspiracy theories. You could hope that the general public would be smart enough to understand that, but intelligence is the first casualty of politics.

    • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @12:41PM (#41527333)
      For one thing, I think scientists are generally more honest than, say, politicians. Full disclosure: I AM a scientist, so I'm biased, but scientists don't go into science for the money. They don't go into it to lie to people. My experience has been that most scientists will admit when they're wrong and will not try to publish fraudulent research, if for no other reason than people are going to likely be repeating their experiments if they're of any importance.

      For another, no one makes everything public in any profession. Why should scientists be held to such a high standard compared to law enforcement, lawyers, or politicians? Don't we provide a valuable enough service compared to politicians?

      Cost is also a concern in some cases. In terms of time and in terms of storage. In my thesis work, I generated about two terabytes of raw data, most of which was useless even to me. I'm sure the costs to store it wouldn't be monumental, but for how little value anyone would get out of it, it doesn't seem worth it right now. Sorting through e-mails relevant to the work and scrubbing all my personal data out of my lab notebook would also be time that would be wasted.

      Lastly, TFS touches on a good enough reason. "If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him." The loudest voices crying out for releasing everything are the global warming deniers and creationists, and they clearly want it not to pursue truth but to discredit legitimate science.
    • by Velex (120469)

      Helps them to be dishonest about results and the research.

      Let's look at a good example. The recent circumcision story is still coming up for me when I'm not logged in as a relevant story to a lot of articles. In the comments, many other Slashdotters and I trotted out one of the most pseudoscientific justifications for routine male genital mutilation: a "study" that showed that circumcision somehow reduces the risk of AIDS transmission.

      What interesting things might come to light if we had access to the private communications of the AAP when they came to their

    • by meerling (1487879)
      Of course disclosing patentable, but not yet ready for patenting information is one.
      Another is the occasionally cutthroat race to publish first, and no, legal filings and such don't qualify, and yes, there will be unscrupulous people that will use this as a means to obtain an advantage on other researchers.
      How about the entire spiel of activist idiots not knowing, or caring, about what the research actually says, they are just looking for something they can misconstrue in an attempt to vilify either the res
    • by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @01:15PM (#41527791)

      You didn't read the article. They're not asking to hide the data, they're asking to not reveal the email communication that goes on about the data and the research. Slashdot got the headline completely wrong (shocking, I know).

      This is nothing but a fishing expedition on the part of BP to find any juicy nugget they can point at and say "see, even they knew the data was flawed!" I hate to pull out this quote, because it's most likely apocryphal, but it is still true: "Give me six lines written by the most honorable of men, and I will find an excuse in them to hang him."

      If the data is bad, discuss the data. Everything related to the data has been released. There's no need for email communication, which, as someone else already pointed out, is absolutely not for public consumption: people won't understand the purpose of the emails, their context, or even what they mean.

    • If they've nothing to hide, they've got nothing to fear, right? /s

      Maybe you're familiar with the expression to "go on a fishing trip"? In the SCO/IBM lawsuit, it was used, both as a delaying tactic and as an attemt to get the proverbial five lines that can get an honest man hanged. Not all who ask for such information do so in good faith.

    • I imagine the purpose in keeping these communications confidential is to encourage frank discussion and the open exchange of information among scientists. Similarly, our society recognizes the privileged nature of communications between a doctor and patient and between an attorney and client for exactly the same reason. When a scientist's emails and preliminary results become routinely subject to subpoena for use in litigation by politically and/or financially motivated parties, this only discourages scient
  • That's the point (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jiro (131519) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @12:02PM (#41526769)

    Being able to subpoena anything pretty much means having it done by people who have an ax to grind, or to benefit someone with an ax to grind.

    It's like asking "should the police be able to arrest suspects?" The answer is that clearly it's not a good idea for the police to arrest anyone they want to, and that we need to make rules about who the police can arrest, but on the other hand, we shouldn't just say "the police should never arrest anyone". Arrests are necessary to catch suspects, and catching suspects is necessary because some of them will turn out to be criminals.

    Sometimes people with an ax to grind will need to see scientists' documents, and actually use them to discredit the scientists--but that's not a reason not to do it--that's the whole point of doing it, just like sometimes people will be arrested, tried, and put in jail.

  • by BMOC (2478408) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @12:04PM (#41526795)

    Then any e-mail that pertains to the research that the public paid for is public information.

    Why any scientist would request privacy protections is beyond me. Science is, by definition, supposed to be an open process of record.

    • by 0racle (667029) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @12:32PM (#41527191)
      Scientist 1 email: "I don't see how this supports your hypothesis"
      Scientist 2 email: "Ya, it was a little messy, I didn't explain it clearly. Here you go"
      Scientist 1 email: "A yes, I see what you're seeing now."

      Group opposed to Scientist 1 and 2's work subpoenas their emails, public hears this:
      Group releases only Scientist 1's first email.
      Group: "See Scientist 1 says the data doesn't support their claims. They're lying, follow the money" and so on.
      • by readin (838620)
        So you're saying it's like anyone else who uses email whether it be businessmen, families, politicians or public servants. I certainly agree that the ability to subpoena can be abused, but I think that applies to everyone not just to scientists. We should be careful to respect everyone's privacy, not just scientists.
        • by 0racle (667029)
          Very good, and I did not intend to suggest that scientists deserve anything special. The GP however, went the other way, scientists getting pubic funding deserve no privacy.
    • by nbauman (624611) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @12:32PM (#41527193) Homepage Journal

      Because there are people like James O'Keefe around http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ACORN_2009_undercover_videos_controversy [wikipedia.org] who aren't interested in science, and don't even understand the science, but want to use information to damage their opponents in elections.

      One of the problems with the East Anglia climate change emails was that people who didn't understand (or care about) the science took snippits out of context and used them in misleading and defamatory ways. For example, they seized on the term "trick", and claimed that it meant that he was trying to deceive people, when actually it was referring to a mathematical trick. Those scientists lost about 2 years defending themselves against baseless accusations.

      Scientist don't want to spend hundreds of hours fending off phone calls and ambush journalists from Fox News. That's not the open process of science, it's just harassment by people who don't intend to give you a fair hearing in the first place, and don't understand or care about the science.

      A lot of times, these people are working for corporations or industries that are trying to attack the science even when they know that the science is right.

      A lot of times, as in the lead poisoning cases, these requests can lead to legal depositions, where in addition to hundreds of hours of time, they can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees. And they don't get the legal fees back from the other side.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      What a stupid statement. I bought a product from whatever company you work for. I get to see all your e-mail and other documents now, right?

  • by ajdlinux (913987) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @12:05PM (#41526809) Homepage Journal
    As much as this may be beneficial to scientists, I feel that in the case of publicly-funded institutions, it would set a bad precedent for the overall cause of public sector transparency. It has been a long, hard fight for increased transparency in government (FOI laws and such) and I think creating an exception for scientific agencies doesn't send the right message.
    • by Bigby (659157)

      Anything funded directly by public money or directly influences public policy should be public itself.

  • Can we really trust people with all this information? Scientists usually have good intentions; it’s how the rest of the bad people use it for their own evil purposes. I think there should be some oversight, but I don't we can just trust everyone with potentially dangerous ideas.
    • by mpoulton (689851)

      Can we really trust people with all this information? Scientists usually have good intentions; it’s how the rest of the bad people use it for their own evil purposes. I think there should be some oversight, but I don't we can just trust everyone with potentially dangerous ideas.

      Jesus, man. What country are you from? To an American, this sounds like Orwell's dystopia. Trusting people with potentially dangerous ideas???

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @12:10PM (#41526849)

    When scientists publish their results, they publish their methods and data along with it. Their personal emails are not peer reviewed science and should not have to be published for everyone to read. If there's something wrong with their methods then you should find it in the work they actually published, not some random email they sent out at 4 am without thinking about.

    • by E-Rock (84950) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @12:32PM (#41527201) Homepage

      Unless you're suing them and this lets them shield the e-mail to their lab tech that says "sample set B is really screwing up our results, go ahead and shred any copies you have and I'll update the findings."

    • One would think that personal emails should not be mixed in with work product, no? If you are discussing -- via email -- how to clean up your data with a colleague because your results are not matching with your intuition, the fact that you had that discussion is relevant to your research. The fact that you added a postscript passing along your wife's complements about what a wonderful time she had last night during your wife-swap doesn't make the email less relevant to your work, it's just poor judgement.

    • On the other hand, if someone steps forward and says "Our team falsified data, everyone on the team knew about it, and the emails would prove it" there needs to be a way legally get access to those emails. Access shouldn't be about the email at 4AM that someone didn't think hard enough before sending, but access should be granted for the email sent at 2 in the afternoon, detailing how/what/which data should be changed.

    • Except that requires experts in the field to be able to spot very fine details in scientific findings. This is often times hard to do. Not to mention when two expert scientists differ on items, it becomes hard for anyone outside that field to really have any idea whose actually right.

      In these cases, it is absolutely valuable to be able to get access to the personal emails and other items relating to the finding. If you see emails like:

      "Hey Joe. I don't like those findings. See if you can change the grap

  • The problem they are trying to stop is frivilous lawsuits intented to harrass or waste their time, ala Scentology

  • by swb (14022) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @12:18PM (#41526973)

    Is the issue the scientific process, or is the issue the legal system?

    It strikes me as the latter. It seems like a reasonable person would easily conclude that a scientific work in progress would contain a lot of incomplete data, a lot of conflicting theories, explanations and incomplete analysis of the data and the project itself.

    However, the "reasonable person" conclusion doesn't seem like any kind of barrier from a legal system which makes it very easy for nearly anyone of means to file broad lawsuits by cherry-picking information and forcing defendants to organize expensive, complex defenses.

    I think it's important from a justice perspective for anyone to be able to bring a civil suit, however, I think in some cases the rules should be changed to force some kind of automatic review of civil cases whenever some set of standards, like a large asymmetry between plaintiff and defendant resources or damage claims and require "the big guy" to more clearly explain their losses.

    All that being said, I think a lot of scientists need to stick to science and be a little more muted with their political opinions. When scientists are extremely strident with their political views it automatically calls into question the accuracy of their science, especially in light of news stories like the huge increase in fraudulent results (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/02/science/study-finds-fraud-is-widespread-in-retracted-scientific-papers.html).

    Scientists who stick to science will tend to be seen more as neutral experts explaining phenomenon and not as biased experts structuring their science to fit their opinions. Furthermore it probably helps the scientists as well, since having a strong political opinion on your research subject is only likely to increase the risk that you'll be tempted to massage your results, conclusions or worse instead of having to face some humiliation for both your theories and your opinions from being repudiated by your own science.

    Gary Taubes has done some great reporting in the nutrition field and its remarkable how much the science is weakened when scientists hold strong opinions without strong science to back them up. See his article in Science on salt research for an example.

  • by jamesl (106902) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @12:24PM (#41527061)

    Why should these scientists be treated any different from government or corporate employees or private citizens with respect to court orders to release private documents. Everybody needs to learn that all written communications, lab notes, memos, emails, pictures, videos and audio recordings are fair game and should be created with that in mind. If scientists don't like it then change the laws for everyone. Meanwhile, don't do dumb stuff.

    • by trewornan (608722)

      I learned this working for the uk government - everything we wrote could be released under the FOIA and as a result we were careful about what we wrote. I'm glad I had that experience - I don't put anything in an email (or any other written communication) that I would be bothered by having published on the web, read by MI5 or my employer, or even plastered over the tabloids. It doesn't hamper my ability to discuss things with friends or colleagues it just means I'm a little more aware of what I'm writing a

  • allow the day to day stuff (not the Reports) be private on an ongoing project but have it accessible after the project (or for more long term projects after say 120 days).

    Now it should also be a given that %stupid statement% should be thrown out of any court proceedings IF THAT IS THE ONLY EVIDENCE OF WRONGDOING. This is to prevent something said on hour 30 (without any sleep) from hanging a scientist.

    and of course anything that is obviously Personal should be redacted from The Public Record (do i really ne

  • Currently the public at large is trusting scientists less and less as a group.

    If you wan to regain trust, you don't do that by asking to hide more of what you are doing and thinking. You gain that trust back by being more open, more transparent about every step.

    Science as a whole would be hurt by efforts like this to make scientists even less accountable for how they conduct research.

    • by gstoddart (321705)

      Science as a whole would be hurt by efforts like this to make scientists even less accountable for how they conduct research.

      Is this about being less accountable, or muddying the waters by attacking the process of science by which people work through to their final conclusion?

      Part of the process is to take a contrary position to try to poke holes in your argument ... if some lawyer latches onto something from that process, and focuses on it instead of the final results, they can do a really good job of mudd

    • by tbannist (230135)

      That seems like a reasonable argument, but the question is where do you draw the line?

      The article indicates the researchers have already provided 52,000 pages of documentation to BP. BP wants more. Where do we draw the line? the drafts of the reseach papers? official correspondance about the research? Personal email (just in case they reference the work)? Minute meetings from any meetings about the research? Should the scientists be forced to take minutes at every meeting? Should we force them to wor

      • My biggest problem is that I think we should be talking about science, not the researchers.

        And yet look at the Slashdot story that just came up:

        "Misconduct, Not Error, Is the Main Cause of Scientific Retractions"

        Yes researchers ARE the problem. As they are the main problem they are the thing we should be focusing on figuring out how to keep honest.

        You make a good point about how far do we go. It's a hard question to answer but the way to go is not to say we can trust researches implicitly, because they ha

  • If the output of scientific research is going to be used as input in the creation of public policy, as it increasingly is, then it's in the public interest to know exactly how the results were arrived at and any potential conflicts of interest that the researchers might have been subjected to. Scientists are just as capable of bias, conflicts, stupidity, and corruption as anyone else, and the way you uncover any of that is thru disclosure and, yes, an adversarial process. That process might take the form of

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @12:33PM (#41527215)

    The organization I work for (which shall go nameless so I can continue to get my paycheck) has this same issue: lots of documents, emails, and the like express opinions and emotions that may not reflect accurately upon the final product. They might even (typically incorrectly) indicate the product is unsafe or dangerous. As you might expect, lawyers in lawsuits LOVE to find those emails and documents. Our corporate solutions? Destroy all documents after about 90 days that are not deemed business critical. The emails and the like just get wiped out. It has vastly reduced the corporate risk. Though, we also regularly have classes about how important it is to avoid emotional emails with words like "failure" and "disaster" in them. Often, the lawyer-speak in these meetings is hilarious. HIghly recommended as a way to ease into your Monday morning.

    • by roc97007 (608802)

      I'm not an accountant, but don't you have to keep correspondence longer than 90 days for Sarbox requirements?

  • by gerardrj (207690) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @12:43PM (#41527371) Journal

    The process is ugly, but that's not a valid reason to hide the process from the world. If scientists are just going to provide the end result as a decree to which we are all supposed to adhere, then what you have is a religion.

    When you decide to obscure or hide away the scientific process, you kill science.

    • by jo_ham (604554)

      They're not doing that though. They're arguing that BP'd request for all their personal inter-office communication be provided to them along with the 50,000 pages of data that they willingly provided to BP that makes up the backbone of their research work.

  • If drug companies and tobacco companies must share their raw research and correspondence (as they should), then everyone has to. Making it legal to hide raw data and correspondence from the public might be possible, but limiting it only to the kind of research you like would be problematic.

    I think the last thing we need is a special kind of secret achievable by putting a label of "science" on something.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Drug companies don't share their raw data. It's illegal for them to do so because it involves human subjects. Their raw data is archived for potential review by official organizations if there's a problem, but never for release to the public. They certainly don't share the minutiae of interoffice e-mails, except in extraordinary circumstances.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Science is dedicated to the idea that the observer doesn't change the observation. That a scientific fact isn't just observable by liberals but also by conservatives. That the math used to reach a conclusion should be visible to all and not pruned to reach a specific conclusion.

    Any emails that legitimately show pruning of data towards a thesis or biasing of tests towards a thesis are not matters of science privacy. They are a matter of charlatans pretending to be scientists and should not be protected us

  • by TemporalBeing (803363) <bm_witness@yaho o . c om> on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @01:53PM (#41528317) Homepage Journal
    Reality is that anything that is part of what leads up to the scientific finding out to be available when asked for. Sure, they'll only publish what they want to, but in investigating it, all the materials do need to be available; and when investigating related matters (e.g. judicial matters) everything must be on the table.

    If scientists do work for the government, then in the US FOIA (Freedom Of Information Act) requests should be sufficient to compel the information so outside observers can investigate the work and findings for whatever reason they so choose. The scientists are, of course, free to challenge any results by said requesting party - e.g. challenge the credentials of the person(s) reviewing the work so as to show that they are or are not capable of understanding what they are looking at. (For instance, a chemist reviewing biology notes may have some insights but would not necessariy be fully qualified to comment on them in whole.)

    If the scientists do work for private organizations without any money from government, then standard work practices ought to apply - if requested by subpeona they should comply. Again, the organization and its lawyers can challenge the credentials of the person(s) reviewing it.

    The only thing to be gained by hiding the work is to hide the biases, intents, and motives behind it, and to hide any fraudulent results; and to prohibit others from making further findings based on the work (e.g. someone noticing a special attribute that was overlooked).

    Yes, peer reviewing has its place; but so does the abilities of others to review scientific work. The other option, of course, is they can do the work, publish, but be prohibited from having it taught about anywhere - without full access its just as useless.
  • by peter303 (12292) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @02:20PM (#41528711)
    and no more after that. There is a "gray area" of data in science publishing. A scientific paper usually contains a summary of the raw data converted in graphs and figures. The raw data and computer programs for generating the paper and figures should be kept around and perhaps loaded onto tio some public archive for replication. Some research groups (I was in one) already do this. Dead ends, bad data, bad runs should not necessary be published. No one wants to replicate that. And it clogs up the archives.

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