Is BP Silencing Researchers?

This is pretty amazing. BP — nobody’s favourite company, at this point — is apparently trying to limit the number of people qualified to testify to the extent of the damage done by the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill by cornering the market on marine scientists.

Here’s the story, by Ben Raines, writing for the Mobile Press-Register: BP buys up Gulf scientists for legal defense, roiling academic community

For the last few weeks, BP has been offering signing bonuses and lucrative pay to prominent scientists from public universities around the Gulf Coast to aid its defense against spill litigation.

BP PLC attempted to hire the entire marine sciences department at one Alabama university, according to scientists involved in discussions with the company’s lawyers. The university declined because of confidentiality restrictions that the company sought on any research….

The article is well worth reading in its entirety. It does a good job of highlighting the ethical concerns, here.

I’ll only add this: BP is well within its rights, of course, to try to hire scientists (including university-based researchers, at either public or private universities) to aid in its defence. Like any accused, BP has the right to defend itself vigorously in court, and the right to enlist aid in doing so. The all-too-obvious problem here is that BP seems to be trying to do more than that, by buying not just the services, but also the silence, of large numbers of scientists. Not that anyone expects ethical excellence of BP at this point. But what’s baffling is that they thought their strategy would go unnoticed.

This new move isn’t just ethically fishy. It’s a first-rate PR blunder.

~ by Chris MacDonald on July 16, 2010.

6 Responses to “Is BP Silencing Researchers?”

  1. WOW!

  2. Chris — thanks for pointing out the article. I have to say that this is not surprising in the least. Any company that is in the situation BP is in now would operate in exactly the same fashion (although they might be a little bit more savvy at managing the public relations part of things…).

    BP knows their liabilities run into the billions of dollars and a strong legal defense will be necessary to minimize those liabilities. As I pointed out in an earlier post in my “Business Detox Project” blog, “It is instructional to note that after 19 years of ongoing legal activities the fines imposed on Exxon after the Valdez incident have been reduced from $2.5B to around $500M. It cost Exxon about $188M in legal fees to achieve this outcome — which from a business perspective is money well spent.”

    From BP’s perspective, I would think a few million thrown around in the research community to secure expert positions and limit data from being more publicly available than it otherwise would be is money well-spent.

    I’m not arguing that we might question how ethical this all is — the real issue is that businesses don’t have an overriding ethical/social responsibility mission and we should probably quit being “surprised and outraged” when they prove that to us over and over again.

  3. […] and silence for their upcoming legal battles. The blog entry (and link to original article) is here. My comments on the article and blog posting (posted to Chris’s blog comments) […]

  4. Ryan:

    Thanks for your comment.

    I agree that “businesses don’t have (and shouldn’t be seen as having) an overriding ethical/social responsibility mission”, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have ethical/social responsibilities at all. Mission is different from constraints.

    I suspect that this is a rather ham-fisted move on their part, though I’m no expert on PR.


  5. Chris: As you pointed out. This is a continuation of one of the greatest PR disasters of all time. And while companies certainly aren’t legally bound to have an ethical/social responsibility mission, imagine how different BP”s public response and subsequent actions might have been if they did.

  6. […] and silence for their upcoming legal battles. The blog entry (and link to original article) is here. My comments on the article and blog posting (posted to Chris’s blog comments) […]

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