1Michael Halpern is the manager of strategy and innovation at the Center for Science and Democracy, Union of Concerned Scientists, Cambridge, MA.
2Michael Mann is Distinguished Professor of Meteorology (with joint appointments in the Department of Geosciences and Earth and Environmental Systems Institute) at the Pennsylvania State University, State College, PA.
Open records laws worldwide are critical to holding public institutions, including universities, accountable. Such laws protect against inappropriate influence on the scientific enterprise and promote public trust in the integrity of science and scientists. But the growing use of electronic communications by researchers makes these laws vulnerable to misuse. Conversations that used to occur in person and by other less-recordable means are now electronically written. Increasingly, activists across the political spectrum in several countries are requesting not only records of discussions about the strengths and weaknesses of work, but also preliminary paper drafts and private constructive criticisms from colleagues. These requests can attack and intimidate academics, threatening their reputations, chilling their speech, disrupting their research, discouraging them from tackling contentious topics, and ultimately confusing the public.* So what level of disclosure is appropriate? How can public accountability be balanced with the privacy essential for scientific inquiry?