The following letter was sent to our USA members in regards to the Cornell Alliance for Science petition. This issue is extremely important regarding transparency concerning publicly-funded research and scientific investigations. Please read below to help support the plant science and research community with this issue.
On January 28th, 2015, 14 scientists from four universities were targeted by a Freedom of Information Act Request calling for the release of their email correspondence with a select group of trade groups, PR firms and agricultural companies. The American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) is committed to transparency concerning publicly-funded research and scientific investigations taking place at public institutions. We believe that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and similar state laws are critical to maintaining the public’s trust and providing an avenue for nongovernmental and citizen oversight of government activities.
ASPB is concerned however, by the potential use of FOIA as a means to intimidate and malign researchers. A major rationale for the public’s investment in research is that decision makers and the public sector can incorporate the best available scientific knowledge into the development of public policy and new technologies. Further, scientists play an essential role in providing fact-based information to the general public, both directly and through the media. Attempts to disrupt this free exchange of information will only further inhibit researchers from engaging and responding to the public and policy makers, and could dramatically diminish the rigor of public debate. The contributions that scientists can make are more critical than ever with the looming challenges of providing food, feed, fuel, and other important and more sustainable plant-derived materials in the face of increasing environmental stresses, stretched natural resources and a growing global population. ASPB encourages its members to communicate widely about the ways in which plant science research helps to address these challenges.
If you have not already done so, one of the things that you can do to show your solidarity with your colleagues is to sign the Cornell Alliance for Science #Science14 petition. The petition was conceived as a means to demonstrate support of the 14 researchers targeted by FOIA requests and for their efforts as leading representatives of our community in helping the public understand the importance of plant and agricultural science and also in participating in the public debate over the role of ag biotechnology in the global food production system. I hope that you will choose to lend your voice to this important effort.
If you are interested in some additional perspective on this matter, please read the recent article by ASPB member Kevin Folta (University of Florida) on the Plant Science Today Blog or in the May/June issue of the ASPB News. Kevin is one of the 14 researchers targeted by the FOIA request.
Julian Schroeder, Ph.D.