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Is Transparency Bad For Science?

December 1, 2011

As thousands more emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) are leaked on the internet, the latest issue of Index on Censorship magazine, ‘Dark Matter’, calls for a debate into science and transparency.

Emails were previously leaked from the CRU back in 2009. In his article, ‘Information Gap’, leading science writer Fred Pearce argues that ‘if CRU had been more open with its data from the start, a great deal of time and angst on the part of its scientists — and a great deal of public uttering of paranoid nonsense from climate deniers — would have been avoided’.

Within the scientific community, there is resistance to data sharing and the belief by some that transparency is damaging scientists’ work. Earlier this year, Nobel laureate and president of the Royal Society Sir Paul Nurse said that FOI was being used to harass scientists and has called for new guidelines. But Pearce argues that, ‘the world is increasingly unwilling to accept the message that “we are scientists; trust us”. Other people want to join the scientific conversation. Good scientists, interested in finding truth, should want to encourage them, not put up the shutters’. For the full article, go to: www.indexoncensorship.org/2011/11/climate-change-secrecy-freedom-information

In ‘Secret Trials’, Deborah Cohen from the British Medical Journal, reveals the consequences of what can happen when critical evidence is unavailable to the medical profession. The article brings together her investigations into secrecy within the pharmaceutical and medical devices industry for the BMJ, Panorama and Channel 4. For the full article, go to www.indexoncensorship.org/2011/11/science-medicine-secrecy-drug-studies-lives-risk

Also in this issue: Tracey Brown, managing director of Sense About Science, shows how damaging libel litigation can be for scientists and how frequently it has become a tool to intimidate and silence criticism. Richard Smith calls for open access, veteran whistleblower Peter Wilmshurst questions a culture of silence, Michael Blastland considers our fear of uncertainty and Sam Geall looks at environmental cover-ups in China.

The science issue will be launched with a high profile debate between Sir Mark Walport, the Director of the Wellcome Trust, author and journalist George Monbiot, Professor David Colquhoun and the philosopher Baroness Onora O’Neill. The Data Debate: is transparency bad for science? will be held on Tuesday 6 December, 6.30pm, at Imperial College London. To register for a free ticket, go to: http://fs16.formsite.com/indexoncensorship/form8/index.html

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