British Universities Struggle to Preserve Researchers’ Anonymity

Universities are finding it difficult to comply with the new British Freedom of Information Act and also preserve the privacy/anonymity of their researchers.

Universities like Oxford obviously want to prevent researchers from becoming targets of animal rights extremists, but guidelines are still a bit vague as to how much they have to disclose in Freedom of Information Act requests and whether or not they can refuse such requests by certain individuals.

The Times Higher Education Supplement recently reported that,

The Freedom of Information requests that universities are dealing with have been described as “very specific.’ Universities are concerned that the Act does not allow an institution or government department to refuse an application simply because it comes from a person with a criminal record for animal-rights activism.

Which seems like a pretty silly objection — after all, if you prevent someone with a criminal record from having access to such information, it has to be near-trivial for that person to simply enlist a friend who does not have a criminal record to file the request.

Oxford has posted nine summaries of animal research projects on its website that it received Freedom of Information requests about.

ON the one hand, Nancy Rothwell of Manchester University tells the Times that it would be easy to guess who the individual researcher is based on the summary,

I’m pretty sure I could identify some of the license holders because their work is so specialized. I do not see a way of maintaining anonymity yet retaining a summary that has value.

On the other hand the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection complains that the summaries do not contain enough details. Adolfo Sansolini, chief executive of BUAV, told The Times,

This is a smokescreen for further secrecy by the Government.

Look, at some point the research is going to be made public if the results are ever published. Its silly to sit back and try to keep animal rights activists from learning the names of individuals working on animal research projects. The problem is not that this sort of information might be public, but rather that the government has done such a poor job protecting researchers and containing animal rights extremism.


UK scientists seek anonymity. Anna Fazackerley, The Times Higher Education Supplement, January 28, 2005.

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