A university sent a letter requesting/advising its staff members not to interact with or promote a media coverage of a research study by a another university.

The letter didn't include any explanation. Some colleagues believed it undermined academic freedom.

Apart from this specific case, is such request common? What are good reasons, if any, for it?

  • I would say the ONLY good reason is if somebody at the other university was caught falsifying something. If it's for political reasons (as I suspect), or because somebody at your university has a competing project, or some other personal reason, that's B.S. imo. – iammax Jan 23 '18 at 20:16
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    I can imagine this coming from a legal conflict (e.g. a patent battle) between the two institutions. Either way, I wouldn't think much of such a request and would break it if I had reasons to (such as citing relevant work). – darij grinberg Jan 23 '18 at 20:19
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    @darijgrinberg I would actually not even think about counting citing any work to be included in "interacting with or promoting media coverage". That sounds more like they asked their staff to not make comments to the "mainstream" media (newspapers, TV stations,... not scientific journals) about this. Is the topic/result of the study (ethically) controversial? – skymningen Jan 24 '18 at 10:47
  • I think more details are required. i.e. what do you suspect the explanation is? – Myridium Jan 24 '18 at 11:12

The only reason why you should not promote another university's research should lie in science itself.

(fell free to add more examples!)

Acceptable reasons:

  • Severe scientific misconduct by the other university (made up data)
  • Their results are too weak and do not support their conclusions
  • Their research is done incorrectly (bad methods, etc.)
  • ...

Not acceptable:

  • Your professor does not like their professor
  • They got their project funded but you did not
  • They are more advanced on the topic than you
  • ...
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    Also, note that the "acceptable" reasons are all matters of professional judgment. Individual researchers should be left to reach their own conclusions as to whether the data is made up, the results are weak, etc., and then be able to speak out as to their professional opinion. Different researchers from the same university should be able to disagree on these questions, and to do so publicly if they wish. I think it's a clear violation of academic freedom to tell researchers what to think, or to restrict them from saying what they think on scientific matters. – Nate Eldredge Jan 23 '18 at 20:40
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    @NateEldredge So how about industry funding « research » for the « independant » results that they want with no consequences for future funding... – Solar Mike Jan 23 '18 at 21:02
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    @SolarMike: We handle that by requiring researchers to disclose their funding sources and conflicts of interest, and by encouraging other researchers to critically examine the claimed results and identify flaws and biases, both during and after peer review. But in any case we don't try to censor researchers from publicly speaking about their work. – Nate Eldredge Jan 23 '18 at 23:02

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