Dr Russ Lea talks about BP’s attempt to buy the silence of researchers.
From part of the transcript via MSNBC
00:07:28 >>> Let’s turn now to russ lee, vice president for research at the university of south alabama in mobile.
00:07:35 lee, I should explain that the mobile press register obtained a copy of a contract bp offered your institution, a contract that you turned down.
00:07:45 We’re going get to that in a moment.
00:07:48 But could you first explain what bp wanted you to do.
00:07:53 >> Bp approached our scientists in the process of trying to engage them to become part of their expert witness team both for the process by which damages are assessed eventually against the spill, and for interpretation and potentially legal proceedings in the future.
00:08:13 So they had a discussion with our scientists.
00:08:16 They were concerned about the terms and conditions, and they came to the university and expressed their concerns.
00:08:22 >> Is it common for universities to be contacted to be expert witnesses in litigation?
00:08:29 >> Faculty are often contacted to be expert witnesses just because they are on the cutting edge so often of the technologies that evolve in courtroom discussions and litigations.
00:08:41 So it’s not unusual at all for our faculty to be on plaintiff sides or defendant sides of lawsuits.
00:08:48 >> And why did you turn it down?
00:08:51 >> Well, in this instance, the contract was specific in terms that bp had the right to fund research at the university which would be conducted by our faculty and our faculty’s grad students using the laboratories of the university.
00:09:07 And in the process of conducting research, then our researchers would want all that information to be subject to transparency, peer review and sharing with the public in relation to the spill.
00:09:19 And they wanted to keep that confidential for up to three years.
00:09:22 >> Now bp says they only wanted to keep legal matters confidential.
00:09:26 Is that something you could actually separate in research like this, something that was a legal matter and something that wasn’t?
00:09:34 >> It would have been very difficult for fisheries biologist in conducting new research using bp funds under this contract to determine what might have been a legal matter and subject to their interpretation as a legal matter and what might not have been a legal matter.
00:09:49 And it was totally subject to their interpretations.
00:09:52 And our faculty would have been mightily confused by that.
00:09:55 >> Do you know if other research institutions and universities are doing these deals with bp?
00:10:01 >> Yeah, from what I’ve been able to determine, there have been individuals and others within universities that have signed these contracts.
00:10:10 Some have felt uncomfortable with some of the pressure that has been put upon them and have backed out of that.
00:10:16 But from what I understand, several individuals or potentially even universities signed those.
00:10:20 >> And is it possible that some of them negotiated terms that could be acceptable in an academic setting?
00:10:29 >> That I have no knowledge of.
00:10:32 But we tried to do likewise.
00:10:34 We tried to steer bp back in their research in support of our university scientists to be — allow us to be transparent, allow us to publish and not tie up the new research results that they might have funded.
00:10:47 So we came right back to them with a different set of terms and conditions that were favorable to doing research in the manner by which we normally do that.
00:10:54 >> How much money was bp offering in these kinds of contracts?
00:10:58 Is it — were they being very generous in their offers?
00:11:05 >> Well, the eventual contract that I saw had a blank line for the compensation basis.
00:11:11 But typically I think faculty consult anywhere from 250 to $500 in environmental kinds of cases.
00:11:18 If you’re talking medical malpractice, it could be much, much higher.
00:11:22 But from my experience, environmental consultants tend to be in that range.
00:11:26 >> And when they do this kind of work in other litigation cases, are they allowed to publish as they would with peer review research?
00:11:38 >> Yeah, I think the difference here is we had a single contract.
00:11:41 And within that single contract that was trying to tie up expertise as an expert witness or someone that would help them eventually in litigation or part of this damages assessment process.
00:11:53 And also buried in the contract was the right of bp to have our scientists conduct research.
00:11:59 So it was all in one contract and really it should have been separated out.
00:12:03 We should have had a contract by which we can do our research and publish.
00:12:07 And if they wanted experts to line up on their side which would be a natural thing, everybody is looking to experts related to scientific interpretations of this disaster, I think they put it in all agreement, and that was very troublesome to the academic university.
00:12:26 russ lea of the university of alabama, I think we all appreciate you maintaining the research standards of your institution.
00:12:31 Thanks for joining us tonight.
See also: BP TRYING TO SILENCE SCIENCE ON OIL SPILL? (Scientists and academics are accusing the energy giant of trying to buy influence to protect itself after the spill.)