from the nothing-up-my-sleeve dept.
Submitted via IRC for SoyCow8317
Private emails between scientists working on a controversial genetic technology called "gene drive" were released last week. Obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, their publication has been criticized by some as an attempt to discredit the science community.
[...] The emails themselves, however, are news, and they were obtained in a lawful, straightforward way and were reported on by respected traditional news sources, such as The Guardian, which gave proper context to the files.
The release of these emails by [biosafety consultant Edward Hammond] who has a clear point-of-view on the issue, however, has led to yet another discussion of the proper way of publishing raw documents. Nature, one of the more respected and widely read science publishers, mentions the release of these emails in the same breath as emails that were obtained by illegal hacking in an editorial published this week:
The release of the e-mails echoes the way in which hackers released documents stolen from climate scientists before a major UN meeting in 2009. Much commentary on those documents suggested—wrongly—that scientists were up to no good. Still, damage was done and public trust in scientists declined. It would be unfortunate if the trick were repeated here, not least because it is scientists working on gene drives who have raised many of the concerns.
The 2009 hack that Nature mentions was terrible for scientists—climate scientists, in particular. When an email server at University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit was breached, as part of a climate change denier campaign, emails were dishonestly misrepresented to suggest a conspiracy was afoot.
It is reasonable and fair game for Nature to take issue with the way Hammond framed the documents, but juxtaposing the use of FOIA—a crucial process by which citizens hold their governments accountable—alongside a major incident of criminal hacking is bizarre, and was handled poorly.
If Nature meant to say that Hammond's FOIA trove was presented with malicious intent, then it failed to make that point clear.
"In our view, the editorial did not imply that FOIA—including the publishing of FOIA documents—is comparable to illegal hacking," Nature senior press manager Rebecca Walton told Motherboard.