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Abrupt termination of my research database access

October 2016


In my research I depend completely upon having access to the online academic database via a link to the University of Glasgow, my former employer. Upon retirement in 1998 I was granted the title of Emeritus Professor, and made an Honorary Senior Research Fellow. Both are for life; the fellowship means I am a member of the College of Science and Engineering, and thereby entitled by custom and practice, as well as by the small print in my retiral agreement, to access the library and other facilities. On or around 30 January 2016 this access was suddenly terminated without warning or explanation. The fundamental issue at stake here is freedom of academic expression.

In 2014 I had been subjected to disgraceful attacks on my reputation by The Times, Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail. The attacks (annotated copies here) were instigated by Professor Paul Younger of Glasgow University, who defamed me, by, in effect, calling me a fraud and a liar. He (and several other UK academic earth scientists) disagree with my views on fracking. The press is aided by the oil industry and by many UK earth science academics as well as Younger, some of whom depend upon industry and government for research grants.

In June 2016 investigative journalist Rob Edwards published a detailed article in The Ferret outlining the latest campaign against me. This article was picked up by Times Higher Education. I then obtained some dozens of internal University emails concerning me, under a Subject Access Request. This new information has been published in DeSmog UK, and reveals how the university has been aiming to suppress my work since 2014. The termination of my access is even more outrageous than the 2014 episode, because it strikes at the heart of academic freedom of expression.

Here is a brief summary.

The Secretary of the University Court had written to me out of the blue (16 July 2014), prior to Younger's attacks, stating:

"A number of my academic colleagues are concerned that the views which you have expressed, particularly on the subject of shale gas, are not consistent with work which is currently being undertaken at the University"

I responded politely that I never try to connect myself with any particular group at the University, and that academics, when speaking publicly, always do so on their own behalf. There is no such thing as a 'corporate' view , whatever the subject.

Then Paul Younger published his defamatory comments. The Secretary of the Court eventually replied to my complaint about him, denying that the comments were defamatory. The complete 2014 correspondence between myself and the University, marked up, is here.

On 27 January 2016 I published online an academic paper about fracking, in the respected online open-access earth science journal Solid Earth Discussions. I gave my affiliation as Glasgow University, as I am supposed to do when publishing such papers, but linked to my French home address. Three days later my university email address and my access to the library system were terminated, without explanation. An English solicitor, kindly acting pro bono for over three months, failed to obtain an adequate or convincing response from the University. The internal emails show that the termination is linked directly to the publication of my research article. No proper procedures were followed at arrive at the termination decision.

An internal report into my termination, written by a vice-principal, claimed that I had breached a condition of my retiral agreement by using my university affiliation inappropriately. This is incorrect, as a listing of the title pages of all my publications and reports since 1998 demonstrates. The University is quoted in The Ferret article as saying "His email access was terminated earlier this year, as part of a routine review of email accounts in the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences". This is disingenuous and misleading. I have no connection with the school mentioned - in fact on my retiral I was explicitly assigned just to the College of Science, and not to any particular department. The main issue is not an email address but access to the online library database. The termination was not routine, but occurred two days after the publication of my fracking paper. The University repeated the statement above in a live interview I had on 16 June 2016 with RT, the radical Russian TV channel, broadcast from London.

It appears to me that Professor Younger, a member of the University Court, may have used his power and influence within the senior management of the University, to have me silenced. Whatever the reason, this is an outrageous attack on freedom of expression, and is a sign of the low levels to which the pro-fracking academics in the UK (the 'frackademics') will stoop to when they meet informed and technical opposition from people like me.

The University should cease its hypocritical attitude towards rational dissent, and reinstate the rights accorded to me by my retiral agreement. Why not, when it costs the institution nothing?

In August 2016 I started a legal crowdfunding page to raise a minimum of 10,000 to challenge the University in court. This target was reached in just two and a half days, with the final sum being 14,121. At the time of writing the University has been offered one last chance to settle before a court action is raised.

The evidence of Glasgow University's behaviour is documented as follows:

Timeline of events: a summary, since the evidence is scattered through different documents.

Emails between Glasgow University, Cuadrilla and Lancashire County Council (LCC); these demonstrate that Younger and Westaway at Glasgow were trying to cultivate links with Cuadrilla, culminating in two Cuadrilla staff flying to Glasgow for a meeting in June 2015.

Emails between LCC and Paul Younger in October 2014 concerning my submissions to LCC, showing that yet again Younger made defamatory and incorrect remarks about me.

A letter and internal emails by way of response to my Subject Access Request. These show that the campaign to silence me has been going on since 2014. But the termination was never made with the full authority of the University Court, merely by the Court Secretary acting for a cabal of senior university employees. No formal procedure was ever adopted, and I was never given the opportunity to discuss the perceived problem.

David Smythe

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