Scientists: Resolve to Protect Yourself from Harassment in 2019
Guest commentary by Lauren Kurtz
The Climate Science Legal Defense Fund (CSLDF) protects the scientific endeavor from anti-science attacks. Since our founding in 2011, we’ve assisted hundreds of scientists with issues ranging from invasive open records requests to death threats.
As part of this work, our staff will be at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting from December 10-14, offering free legal services to scientists and leading sessions on how to get involved in the policymaking process and how to be an expert witness.
For those who won’t be at the meeting — and with 2019 around the corner — we put together a list of suggested New Year’s resolutions for scientists. Adopting these best practices will help you reduce your risk of being harassed or attacked.
- Separate personal and professional correspondence and activities.
Do not use professional email accounts for personal emails and vice versa.
Climate scientists and other researchers have been increasingly targeted via misuse of the legal system. Separating personal and professional emails can reduce the likelihood that your personal correspondence will be caught up in legal actions. For example, many publicly-funded scientists have been targeted under open records laws, which only affect records related to government-funded work. Keeping personal and professional correspondence separate helps ensure that your personal communications stay private.
It’s also important to be clear about when you are operating in your personal capacity versus your professional role. If you give an interview, post on a blog, write an op-ed, or sign a petition or open letter, make it obvious if you are speaking for yourself and not as part of your professional role.
In particular, any advocacy or activism that is not done on behalf of your institution should be done on your personal time, on your personal email account and personal devices, and without using your work affiliation (if possible). If you must state your title or employer for identification purposes, clarify that you do not speak on behalf of your institution. This will help to prevent any allegations of misuse of grant funding for non-grant related purposes, and help avoid allegations of employment violations.
- Know your rights.
In general, the First Amendment limits the government’s ability to suppress speech. It protects public employees who speak (i) in their private capacities, (ii) on their own time, (iii) about matters that concern the public, against improper censure by the government; it does not constrain private employers from disciplining employees for their public speech. (Public employees include federal agency workers, public university professors, and sometimes others who receive government funding.)
To better understand your legal rights, and legal obligations, please visit the resources section of our website, which has a variety of educational materials for scientists. If you would like printed copies of these resources, we’ll have some available at booth 1047 in the AGU Exhibit Hall.
- Call CSLDF if you have a legal question related to your work.
Seek counsel if you’re worried you’re becoming the target of harassment or intimidation (including receiving a legal notice that seems politically motivated), or if you want to better understand the legal landscape as it relates to your work. Your institution likely retains legal counsel that you can contact, but it is important to remember that your institution’s counsel represents the institution’s legal interests, which may differ from your own.
You can always contact CSLDF, where our mission is to provide free legal counsel to scientists targeted as a result of their work. Call us at (646) 801-0853 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We look forward to seeing many RealClimate readers at our AGU sessions and booth, and thank you for your continued support of our work.
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