Research Ethics Blog

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.