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Transparency in the Lab

Since much of scientific research is funded by public money, journalists Charles Seife and Paul Thacker argue at in a Los Angeles Times op-ed that publicly funded researchers are subject to transparency laws, just like any other civil servant.

About a decade ago, there was a move to increase transparency in research, especially in noting when researchers might have financial ties that could color their objectivity, but Seife and Thacker say there's recently been a backlash against transparency requirement. They note that as the Union of Concerned Scientists said in a report that "[s]nooping on researchers' emails has become the 21st century equivalent of tapping their phone lines or bugging a lab's water cooler."

Seife and Thacker argue that Freedom of Information Act requests have uncovered financial entanglements between researchers and corporations as well as found that researchers were letting a medical device company edit and write parts of studies of its product. They add that while FOIA requests have been used to bully researchers like climate scientist Michael Mann, such instances are few and far between. Rolling back transparency laws to prevent such abuse, they say, may be more harmful than keeping them in place.

"Why should scientists have a privileged position when it comes to freedom of information requests?" Seife and Thacker add. "Taxpayers have the right — the duty — to try to understand what they're doing. Scientists should be subject to the same rules as every other civil servant."