[Just to declare interest: I’ve supported the crowdfunder for Prof. Smythe’s case]
I think this story really needs some far deeper arguments to be brought out than appears to have happened thus far. In particular, the David vs Goliath aspect is very simplistic. On Glasgow Uni (GU)‘s side, they have a twenty-year-retired ex-member of staff “trading” on his connection with them. Yes, he used to be Chair of Geophysics, but that was a while ago, the science may have moved on, and staff there question whether his expertise covers the areas in which he’s speaking. Among recommendations he’s made (if I understand correctly) is use of a 3D scanning technology that used to be a private business of his. On the flip side, it seems abundantly clear to me that retirement is often the only point at which you become truly free from sponsors’ interests, no longer having “skin in the game”, and there are many stories of universities punishing their staff for “free” speech which might threaten corporate or public funding streams.
The criticism of the paper Prof. Smythe attempted to publish in January, which resulted in removal of his access from GU’s systems, includes some valid points, such as its being important to distinguish between science and policy; his paper does seem to intertwine the two, which makes it difficult to separate evidence-based scientific argument from what might be claimed to be political opinion. Now as it happens my reading of the fracking situation is that it’s a positive disaster of dodgy enmeshed policy and science, where corporations and bankrupt governments with vested interests are writing policy without obvious regard for the public interest. That entanglement is the thing we should be worried about before we even get into the science, and that too is an argument to be brought out.
So this particular fight skims over the surface of a really deep and crucially important debate for our democracy, of how we establish trust and (where possible) truth, and how we generate justifiable policy in the public interest.
It seems clear to me that the professor’s access to research which his emeritus status grants him should be returned, but in a world where the public may not be so good at understanding the difference between a “professor” and an “emeritus professor”, I have some sympathy for GU’s wanting control over the use of their name. That said, their apparent failure to have any guidelines for same, and their private desire to strip Prof. Smythe of his emeritus status (as evidenced in the FoI emails) is exactly the kind of silencing of dissent that justifies public distrust of companies and institutions.