Britain's freedom of information (FOI) laws are being used as an aggressive "tool of intimidation" against university researchers engaged in controversial studies that have political implications, according to Sir Paul Nurse, the President of the Royal Society.
The country's top scientist has told The Independent that he wants to review the way the FOI Act is being used by a well-organised and "zealous" minority to intimidate scientists engaged in contentious research, such as studies into tobacco use and climate change.
Sir Paul said he and many other leading scientists did not anticipate the extent to which raw scientific data and unpublished scientific manuscripts would be subject to FOI requests.
As The Independent revealed in September, Stirling University is currently fighting an FOI request by the tobacco giant Philip Morris International, which wants access to thousands of confidential interviews with British teenagers that Stirling researchers have compiled as part of their investigation into tobacco use among young people.
Sir Paul said this was not an isolated example. Animal rights activists were also using the law to discover information on scientists carrying out studies involving the use of laboratory animals, he said.
"I never anticipated this. I thought FOI was a way of exposing when some politician was being slippery. It never occurred to me that it could be used as a tool for intimidation, which I think it is," he said.
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