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Michael Halpern

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Michael Halpern is deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) who campaigns against freedom of information laws (FOIA).[1][2] In 2015, Halpern began working to weaken FOIA laws with the release of a report titled, “Freedom to Bully: How Laws Intended to Free Information Are Used to Harass Researchers.”[3] Journalists Paul Thacker and Charles Seife wrote a commentary in PLOS criticizing the Union of Concerned Scientists “campaign to blunt the tools with which the public can investigate claims of scientific malfeasance.”[4] Their article reported that U.S. Right to Know had filed a FOIA on several scientists working with the biotech industry, including Kevin Folta, and that UCS called the request “inappropriate” even though emails showed Folta working in support of the agrichemical industry.[5] The reporters also wrote that several media outlets, including the NPR, The Washington Post, and the Associated Press, had opposed UCS attempts to limit the public’s access to academics’ emails.[6]

PLOS retracted the piece on the same day that Thacker and Seife wrote a similar opinion in the Los Angeles Times.[7][8] The reporters state that they stand behind the PLOS piece and retained a copy for the web.[9] In the Los Angeles Times, they wrote that U.S. Right to Know had uncovered emails that “revealed Kevin Folta had some of his expenses picked up by Monsanto, despite claiming that he had ‘nothing to do’ with the company.”[10]

Weeks afterwards, the New York Times wrote a front-page story exposing Kevin Folta and his work with Monsanto[11] Paul Thacker then wrote an op-ed for the New York Times commenting on the retraction and the Union of Concerned Scientist's push against transparency.[12]

In 2016, the Boston Globe wrote that Halpern was leading a campaign to limit disclosures by public scientists that “risks opening loopholes that could make it easier for officials and agencies to hide information from the public.”[13] David Cuillier, director of the University of Arizona School of Journalism and a member of the Society of Professional Journalists’ freedom of information committee criticized UCS and told the Globe, “It’s just gibberish to say these laws stifle research. These are government scientists funded by taxpayers, and the public is entitled to see what they’re working on.”[14]

California AB700

In February 2019, Michael Halpern began promoting a bill in California that would weaken that state’s FOIA law which is called the California Public Records Act (CPRA).[15] The Union of Concerned Scientists has retained California Advisors LLC to lobby in the bill’s support.[16] GM Watch reported that Halpern flew to California to lobby in support of the bill.[17]

The Los Angeles Times published an op-ed stating that AB700 will harm the public’s ability to uncover sexual harassment at public universities.[18] The bill has been opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Society of Professional Journalists/Los Angeles chapter, California News Publishers Association, San Diego Society of Professional Journalists, and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.[19][20] [21][22][23]

Attacks on US Right to Know and other Nonprofits

Halpern has made several belittling comments about the work of U.S. Right to Know and their work uncovering corruption in the food industry, and has attempted to draw a distinction between them and the reporters who rely on the documents they uncover.[24][25]

For example, Halpern has written that U.S. Right to Know sent a FOIA request that was a “hammer” while Eric Lipton with the New York Times used a “scalpel” to uncover the ties between University of Florida professor Kevin Folta and Monsanto. In a sworn deposition, Eric Lipton stated that he relied on documents made public by U.S. Right to Know.[26][27] GM Watch reported that Halpern has tweeted support for Kevin Folta's claim that releasing his emails was harassment.[28]

Halpern has also attempted to undermine the Sierra Club’s work on the Environmental Protection Agency, criticizing a letter they sent to the Inspector General as too broad. Halpern has no training in law and a former Inspector General of the National Reconnaissance Office and former Acting Deputy Director at the CIA, said that Halpern’s kibitzing on the Sierra Club request was picking an unnecessary fight. “Of course [the IG] can look into false statements made by an agency director. It gets to the core mission of the EPA.”[29]

References

  1. Union of Concerned Scientists website, accessed April 2019, https://www.ucsusa.org/bio/michael-halpern.html
  2. Paul D. Thacker, Pacific Standard, March 21, 2017, accessed April 2019, https://psmag.com/news/why-scientific-transparency-is-so-tricky
  3. Union of Concerned Scientists website, 2015, accessed April 2019, https://www.ucsusa.org/center-science-and-democracy/protecting-scientists-harassment/freedom-bully-how-laws
  4. PLOS, August 31,2015, accessed April 2019, https://archive.is/4kflm#selection-735.0-743.16
  5. PLOS, August 31,2015, accessed April 2019, https://archive.is/4kflm#selection-735.0-743.16
  6. Yale Climate Connections, February 20, 2104, accessed April 2019, https://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2014/02/strange-bedfellows-and-fear-of-broad-impacts-of-mann-uva-court-ruling/
  7. Retraction Watch, August 24, 2015, accessed April 2019, https://retractionwatch.com/2015/08/24/following-criticism-plos-removes-blog-defending-scrutiny-of-science/
  8. Los Angeles Times, August 21, 2015, accessed April 2019, https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-0821-seife-thacker-science-transparency-20150821-story.html
  9. PLOS, August 31,2015, accessed April 2019, https://archive.is/4kflm#selection-735.0-743.16
  10. Los Angeles Times, August 21, 2015, accessed April 2019, https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-0821-seife-thacker-science-transparency-20150821-story.html
  11. Eric Lipton, New York Times, September 5, 2015, accessed April 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/06/us/food-industry-enlisted-academics-in-gmo-lobbying-war-emails-show.html
  12. Paul D. Thacker, New York Times, January 9, 2016 accessed April 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/10/opinion/sunday/scientists-give-up-your-emails.html
  13. David Abel, Boston Globe, March 19, 2016 accessed April 2019, https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/03/19/union-concerned-scientists-seeks-shield-scientists-from-public-scrutiny/0c0BXl4MLAuyl35lZqTtqL/story.html
  14. David Abel, Boston Globe, March 19, 2016 accessed April 2019, https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/03/19/union-concerned-scientists-seeks-shield-scientists-from-public-scrutiny/0c0BXl4MLAuyl35lZqTtqL/story.html
  15. Michael Halpern, Union of Concerned Scientists, February 22, 2019 accessed April 2019, https://blog.ucsusa.org/michael-halpern/corporations-and-activists-are-exploiting-open-records-laws-california-is-trying-to-change-that
  16. Cal Access website, accessed April 2019 http://cal-access.sos.ca.gov/Lobbying/Firms/Detail.aspx?id=1334301
  17. GM Watch, March 26, 2019 accessed April 2019, https://gmwatch.org/en/news/latest-news/18835-why-does-the-union-for-concerned-scientists-keep-vilifying-us-right-to-know
  18. Los Angeles Times, April 1, 2019 accessed April 2019, https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-seife-ab-700-scientists-disclosure-20190401-story.html
  19. American Civil Liberties Union, March 26, 2019 accessed April 2019, https://gmwatch.org/en/news/latest-news/18835-why-does-the-union-for-concerned-scientists-keep-vilifying-us-right-to-know
  20. Society of Professional Journalists/Los Angeles Chapter, April 1, 2019 accessed April 2019, https://spjla.org/statement-opposing-proposed-changes-to-california-public-records-act/
  21. California News Publishers Association, March 28, 2019 accessed April 2019, https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/5783635-California-Newspapers-Oppose-UCS.html
  22. San Diego Society of Professional Journalists, April 1, 2019 accessed April 2019, https://spjsandiego.org/2019/04/01/ab-700-will-undermine-the-publics-right-to-know/
  23. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, March 28, 2019 accessed April 2019, https://ia801405.us.archive.org/20/items/LettersOfSupportOrOppositionToAB700-2019Session/2019_03_28_PETA-opposition-to-AB-700.pdf
  24. GM Watch, March 26, 2019 accessed April 2019, https://gmwatch.org/en/news/latest-news/18835-why-does-the-union-for-concerned-scientists-keep-vilifying-us-right-to-know
  25. Paul D. Thacker, March 12, 2019 accessed April 2019, https://medium.com/@thackerpd/the-union-of-concerned-scientists-quixotic-relentless-campaign-against-transparency-dca9cab68dab
  26. GM Watch, March 26, 2019 accessed April 2019, https://gmwatch.org/en/news/latest-news/18835-why-does-the-union-for-concerned-scientists-keep-vilifying-us-right-to-know
  27. Paul D. Thacker, March 12, 2019 accessed April 2019, https://medium.com/@thackerpd/the-union-of-concerned-scientists-quixotic-relentless-campaign-against-transparency-dca9cab68dab
  28. GM Watch, March 26, 2019 accessed April 2019, https://gmwatch.org/en/news/latest-news/18835-why-does-the-union-for-concerned-scientists-keep-vilifying-us-right-to-know
  29. Paul D. Thacker, March 12, 2019 accessed April 2019, https://medium.com/@thackerpd/the-union-of-concerned-scientists-quixotic-relentless-campaign-against-transparency-dca9cab68dab