Science group asks U.S. energy secretary to intervene in case of fired Los Alamos researcher

Science group asks U.S. energy secretary to intervene in case of fired Los Alamos researcher

David is a Deputy News Editor specializing in coverage of science policy, energy and the environment.

A science advocacy group is calling on Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to get involved in the case of political scientist James Doyle, who was fired by the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) after publishing a scholarly article questioning the value of nuclear weapons.

LANL officials have said that Doyle’s departure had nothing to do with the article and a subsequent procedural dispute that resulted in the lab retroactively classifying the paper, but was the result of budget reductions. But in a letter sent to Moniz yesterday, Charles Ferguson, the president of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) in Washington, D.C., expresses skepticism. “Although the Lab may deny it, it is hard to see this turn of events as anything but tacit retaliation against Doyle for his outspokenness and his embrace of what may be a dissenting view on national nuclear policy,” Ferguson writes.

FAS, an organization long associated with arms control efforts, urges Moniz “to take appropriate steps to see that Dr. Doyle is ‘made whole’ and that he is in no way penalized for his good faith efforts to participate in the national dialog over nuclear policy.” It also asks Moniz to review and clarify DOE’s classification guidance “to eliminate all potential ambiguity.”

“As things stand, the Doyle case represents an erosion of freedom of expression that could have long-lasting and pernicious consequences,” Ferguson writes. “Without remedial action, this episode is likely to have a chilling effect [on] the ability of the labs to conduct independent, impartial assessment of national policy options.”

The existence of the FAS letter was first reported by the Santa Fe New Mexican.

Earlier this week, Doyle’s attorney, Mark Zaid, submitted to DOE a formal appeal of an earlier decision that rejected Doyle’s claim that LANL officials had punished him for publishing the article by classifying it. DOE has not yet responded to that appeal.

Posted in People & Events, Scientific Community