"Freedom of information laws are being misused to harass scientists and should be re-examined by the government, according to the president of the Royal Society.
Nobel laureate Sir Paul Nurse told the Guardian that some climate scientists were being targeted by organised campaigns of requests for data and other research materials, aimed at intimidating them and slowing down research. He said the behaviour was turning freedom of information laws into a way to intimidate some scientists.
Nurse's comments follow the launch of a major Royal Society study into how scientists' work can be made more open and better used to inform policy in society. The review – expected to be published next year – will examine ways of improving access to scientific data and research papers and how 'digital media offer a powerful means for the public to interrogate, question and re-analyse scientific priorities, evidence and conclusions'.
Nurse said that, in principle, scientific information should be made available as widely as possible as a matter of course, a practice common in biological research where gene sequences are routinely published in public databases. But he said freedom of information had 'opened a Pandora's box. It's released something that we hadn't imagined ... there have been cases of it being misused in the climate change debate to intimidate scientists.'"