Scientists whose work has unwelcome implications for powerful vested interests have increasingly found themselves under attack: hounded in online forums, threatened and harassed via email, subjected to intrusive open-records claims—even, in at least one notorious case, investigated under fraud statutes for their research. The Center for Science and Democracy is monitoring these cases and helping targeted scientists fight back, because attacks on independent science threaten us all.

Stories of harassment: Michael Mann and others

Harassment of scientists whose work threatens or embarrasses the powerful is not a new problem, of course. Famous cases in the 20th century included John Yudkin, Irving Selikoff and Herbert Needleman, whose work challenged the sugar, asbestos and lead industries respectively.

One of the most prominent recent cases involves climate scientist Michael Mann, who was subjected to a four-year legal battle after Virginia's attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, launched an investigation alleging that Mann's research while at the University of Virginia amounted to a fraudulent misuse of public funds. Mann's ordeal was compounded when the American Tradition Institute launched a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for Mann's emails. Both the fraud investigation and the FOIA request were eventually defeated in court.

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Providing resources and support for targeted scientists

UCS has been providing advice and support to scientists facing harassment for years. In 2012, we drew on this experience to produce Science in an Age of Scrutiny, a concise, practical guide featuring best practices for responding to harassing correspondence, hostile bloggers, intrusive information demands, or attacks in the mainstream press. The Center will continue to be a resource for scientists who find themselves targets of personal attacks.

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Protecting whistleblowers

For more than a decade, UCS has worked to protect government whistleblowers—employees who expose wrongdoing in their organization—from dismissal, demotion and other forms of official retaliation. In recent years we have achieved tremendous progress on this front, as the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 provided new protections for scientists and technical analysts. And we will work to strengthen these protections further. But with cases of whistleblowers under attack continuing to emerge, vigilance is still needed.

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