Amicus Brief in Support of Climate Scientists

By Aaron Nisenson

In July, the AAUP submitted an amicus brief in support of faculty members who have been subjected to intrusive public records requests for e-mails related to their climate-science research. The AAUP brief, filed with the Arizona Court of Appeals in the case Energy & Environment Legal Institute v. Arizona Board of Regents, argues that, because the academic freedom to conduct research is essential to a vital university system and to the common good, certain research records should be protected from disclosure.

The case arose from an extensive public records request made by the Energy and Environment Legal Institute, which uses public records requests in its campaign against climate science. In similar past cases, AAUP briefs have been key factors in court decisions rejecting the requests.

In this case, the Energy and Environment Legal Institute submitted public records requests that targeted two University of Arizona faculty members, climate researchers Malcolm Hughes and Jonathan Overpeck. The institute’s counsel said the suit was intended to “put false science on trial,” and the organization vowed to “keep peppering universities around the country with similar requests under state open records laws.”

The current brief urges courts to “consider the best interests of the state to maintain a free and vital university system, which depends on the protection of academic freedom to engage in the free and open scientific debate necessary to create high quality academic research.” It warns that, “where the requests seek prepublication communications and other unpublished academic research materials, as in the case at bar, compelled disclosure would have a severe chilling effect on intellectual debate among researchers and scientists.”

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