December 3, 2013

Climate Science Legal Defense Fund: Protecting the Scientific Endeavor

Posted by Erik Hankin

So you are having a great time at the AGU Fall Meeting. You are meeting science colleagues from around the world, you are seeing cutting edge research presented in the scientific program, and you are enjoying the sights and sounds of beautiful San Francisco.

Then you check your email and the blood drains from your face.

Your institution’s legal counsel explains that a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request has been presented to your institution asking you to release numerous emails related to a newspaper interview you did a few weeks ago. Due to the very weak FOIL protection in your state your institutional attorney tells you that must comply within days. You feel violated and are concerned about protecting the privacy of your colleagues and students. You are also worried that although your emails have always been conducted in a professional manner, it might be possible that snippets of these emails might be publicly presented out of context such as those from the stolen emails of the Climate Research Unit in 2009.

This is a true story that one of your AGU colleagues faced last year and that other colleagues have faced many times over the years. Fortunately, the scientist in this case contacted Climate Science Legal Defense Fund (CSLDF) and asked for help. CSLDF called back that evening and connected your colleague to legal experts from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), an individual from Union of Concerned Scientists who has helped other scientists with this issue many times in the past, and a law firm in his state who offered pro bono legal representation.

Although your AGU colleague did have to offer up the emails, he felt great relief that he had a legal plan B to go to when he needed one. It may not always be the case that your institution has your interests as its top priority.

CSLDF began in September 2011 to help raise funds for Dr. Michael E. Mann’s legal battle to protect the privacy of numerous climate scientists. CSLDF was founded with the understanding that free and open debate within the scientific community is essential to progress and innovation. Scientists need to be able to conduct their work without fear that their findings will come under attack. In January of 2012, CSLDF became a project under PEER, a non-profit organization whose mission it is to protect employees who protect our environment. Since then, with the support of AGU, CSLDF has expanded its legal education outreach by offering numerous webinars in the past two years as well as workshops and one-on-one time with an attorney at conference meetings.

Kit Douglass is an attorney with PEER.

Kit Douglass is an attorney with PEER.

At this year’s 2013 Fall Meeting, AGU and CSLDF have arranged once again for members to take advantage of free one-on-one meetings with attorney Kit Douglass of PEER. Have a legal question? Get answers in a private meeting in a comfortable setting with Kit. Just reserve a time slot via email or sign-in sheet at Moscone South Mezzanine, Room 264 between 8:00 AM and 3:00 PM, Monday through Thursday. You can do so while being completely anonymous. Last year, ten AGU members took advantage of the free advice. We expect many more to do so this year.

You also do not want to miss Facing Legal Attack: Scientists Tell Their Stories, a brown bag lunch panel presentation offered on Thursday December 12 from 12:30 – 1:30 PM in Moscone North, Rooms 130-131. Hear first-hand how Andrew Dessler, Katherine Hayhoe, Michael Mann, Naomi Oreskes, Ben Santer, and Kevin Trenberth have dealt with various legal challenges. Jeff Ruch, Executive Director of PEER, will also be speaking. A lively Q&A session is expected in the second half of the session that you do not want to miss.

Jeff Ruch, Executive Director of PEER, will speak at "Facing Legal Attack: Scientists Tell Their Stories"

Jeff Ruch, Executive Director of PEER, will speak at “Facing Legal Attack: Scientists Tell Their Stories”

While at AGU please stop by the CLSDF booth in the exhibit hall to say hello. An attorney from PEER will be staffing this booth most of the week, and yes, we do have some handouts for your exhibit hall bags. 🙂

Joshua Wolfe and I wish to thank AGU for their continued support and we want you to know that AGU and CSLDF are here to support and protect the scientific endeavor. You are not alone. Far from it.

-Scott Mandia & Joshua Wolfe, co-founders of CSLDF