Since President Trump’s election, the federal government has engaged in an unprecedented number of attempts to silence science.
Yet much dangerous anti-science action has historically happened—and continues to happen—at the state level. One of the most pernicious, ongoing issues is the abuse of state open records laws to target state university researchers and other publicly-funded scientists.
To increase awareness of state open records laws—and how they’re lacking—today we released the second edition of our report, “Research Protections in Open Records Laws: An Analysis and Ranking.” The publication includes a detailed breakdown of how each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia treat scientific and academic research under their open records laws.
Open records laws serve a critical purpose in promoting government transparency by enabling the public to request documents related to government-funded activities. However, the laws are increasingly misused by groups seeking to harass publicly-funded scientists and inhibit progress in climate science, biomedicine, epidemiology, and other critical areas of research.
The misuse of open records laws damages the scientific endeavor in many ways. It diverts researchers’ time, threatens their privacy, and chills free scientific inquiry and candid debate. It also provides opportunities for hostile actors to misconstrue phrases, including scientific jargon, and use these to mislead or confuse the public.
Unfortunately, state open records laws have not improved since we published the first edition of the report in 2017. Once again, just three states earned an A grade for their treatment of research: Delaware, Maine, and Pennsylvania. Most states received a C or D; the four states that earned an F have no open records protections for science.
The report is intended to help scientists and attorneys understand the best way to manage and respond to a (Freedom of Information Act) FOIA request, and encourage policymakers to consider the special issues of scientific transparency and enact policies that protect these important materials.
Our attorneys are available to help individual researchers or university general counsels who are facing invasive open records laws. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free, confidential consultation.