July 2010, Week 4


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Sun, 25 Jul 2010 19:46:15 -0400
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BP, Scientists, and Gag Agreements
by Mike
Mike the Mad Biologist
July 19, 2010  

Last week, I wrote about a column by biologist Marc
Lipsitch, who described a conflict of interest for
scientists that has not been discussed: gag agreements
for scientists who accept industry funding. In other
words, if the corporate funder doesn't like the results,
nobody will hear about them. These agreements also
present other problems, such as reviewing grant
proposals or receiving federal funding, as the scientist
will have access to information that is unknown and

Well (pun intended), BP appears to have tried this
strategy too (italics mine):

    BP has been trying to hire marine scientists from
    universities around the Gulf Coast in an apparent
    move to bolster the company's legal defense against
    anticipated lawsuits related to the Gulf oil spill,
    according to a report from The Press-Register in
    Mobile, Ala.

    Scientists from Louisiana State University,
    Mississippi State University and Texas A&M have
    reportedly accepted BP's offer, according to the

    Robert Wiygul, an Ocean Springs lawyer who
    specializes in environmental law, said BP is in
    effect denying the government access to valuable
    information by hiring the scientists and adding them
    to its legal team. "It also buys silence," Wiygul
    told the Press-Register, "thanks to confidentiality
    clauses in the contracts."

    Scientists who sign the contract to work for BP will
    be subject to a strict confidentiality agreement.
    They will be barred from publishing, sharing or even
    speaking about data they collected for at least
    three years.

    George Crozier, director of the Dauphin Island Sea
    Lab, who was approached by BP, told the paper: "It
    makes me feel like they were more interested in
    making sure we couldn't testify against them than in
    having us testify for them."

    BP even tried to hire the entire marine sciences
    department at the University of South Alabama,
    according to the report. Bob Shipp, the head of the
    department, said he declined the offer because of
    the confidentiality clause.

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