Don’t Silence Scientists on Important Issues

uk cabinet office the prime minister's office

Target: Prime Minister David Cameron

Goal: Protect the right of scientists doing government-funded research in the U.K. to speak publicly about their work.

The United Kingdom is about to place severe restrictions on the free speech rights of scientists whose work is sponsored by the government. A decision announced in February by Prime Minister David Cameron’s Cabinet Office would prevent scientists from lobbying for changes in laws or regulations based on their government-funded research. Though the option of a waiver system for exemptions was supposed to be considered following the initial announcement, the cabinet has dragged its feet on a decision. Prime Minister Cameron should take action to reverse this plan in order to protect the free speech rights of scientists in the U.K.

The Cabinet Office claims that the purpose of the edict is to stop Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) from lobbying government officials using the state’s own funds. However, the effects of the rule will be felt by all scientists regardless of their relationships with the NGO community. The fear among many scientists in the U.K. is that the government wants to silence researchers whose government-sponsored work produces evidence that contradicts official policies. This will create an information vacuum. On important issues such as housing regulations, environmental planning laws, and energy policies, the educated voices of scholars across the country will be silenced by this edict.

Even if a waiver system for exemptions is agreed upon, there is no guarantee that such a system would be fair. Filtering state-sponsored research through a waiver system in this way would still allow the government to muzzle opinions that challenge official positions taken up by the party in power. Simply put, the government should not be restricting the free speech rights of scientists regardless of who funds their research. Prime Minister Cameron should drop the anti-lobbying clause from his Cabinet Office’s edict.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Prime Minister David Cameron,

The decision announced by your Cabinet Office in February to prevent government-funded researchers from lobbying is an assault on academic freedom. Researchers have the right to publicly express conclusions from their work. Moreover, the voices of these scientists are vital to ensuring that policy debates are both open and informed. The anti-lobbying clause must be dropped from your Cabinet Office’s edict.

There is little time to waste in reversing your decision. Scientists across the U.K. are growing increasingly worried and frustrated. Isolating the brightest minds in your country in the face of such urgent issues as climate change and homelessness would be a massive mistake. It would only prevent the government from pursuing much-needed, evidence-based solutions to major problems.

The free speech rights of scientists in the U.K. need to be protected. I urge you to drop the anti-lobbying clause from your Cabinet Office’s edict.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: The Prime Minister’s Office

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