#1. Freedom of Information Act Used to Attack Scientists
In January, an anti-GMO group called US Right to Know sent out a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request targeting 14 scientists at four universities, seeking to uncover the scientists' assumed nefarious ties to the agriculture industry. As a result, researchers like the University of Florida's Kevin Folta were required to turn over their private emails.
This summer, it was revealed that Folta's university accepted a one-time $25,000 grant from Monsanto, which Folta and others used to pay for travel expenses, snacks, and other minor expenses as they conducted outreach activities about biotechnology.
Purveyors of pseudoscience like Vani Hari, a.k.a. The Food Babe, and Mike Adams, the creator of Natural News, gloated about the revelation as "irrefutable proof" that corporations work with scientists to manipulate the public. The reality, however, is much different.
"Vani Hari and Mike Adams make substantial personal money spreading their anti-science and nonsense. Kevin doesn’t make a dime correcting their misinformation... Anti-GMO activist Vandana Shiva gets personally paid $40,000 per lecture. Kevin gets sandwiches and gas money," Yale Neurologist Steven Novella wrote.
The Union of Concerned Scientists announced a different name for the Freedom of Information Act in the title of a report they published this year: "Freedom to Bully."
"When... email discussions are made public through records requests, the privacy that academics have long enjoyed in discussions with colleagues is compromised. This can have a chilling effect on the frank exchange of ideas and constructive criticism, a crucial part of the scientific process.
Abuse of open records requests can also hinder researchers simply by hijacking their schedule. Complying with requests may take dozens or even hundreds of hours of researchers' time, putting their real work on hold or on the back burner for a long while. This may often be the main purpose of such requests."
RealClearScience editor Alex Berezow believes the abuse of FOIA requests constitutes an attack on academia, itself. It remains to be seen if the assault will abate.
(Image: Dave Fayram)