How free is Freedom of Speech in academia?

I’ve been hearing a lot about freedom of speech for scientists these last few weeks, inspired mainly by the efforts of the new US government to silence scientists and state employees, particularly on the topic of climate change. It’s been interesting: I’ve learned about what rights government employees have when it comes to freedom of speech, read some interesting comparisons with Canadian science (where government researchers were in a similar bind under the Harper administration, some good reads here and here), absolutely loved the “rogue” National Park Service twitter accounts and of course, I’m looking forward to the March For Science in April. I truly believe that Freedom of Speech should be a thing. Government agencies (or academic institutions in general) should not have the right to gag scientists based on idealogical or political interests.

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Speech by PineLife via flickr.

However, there’s this thing that’s been kind of bugging me: I remember the Tim Hunt scandal two years ago (in case you don’t remember, you can read more here and a follow-up from 6 months later) and the Jim Watson one before that, when everyone was up in arms that renown, Nobel-prize-winning, member-of-a-gazillion-scientific organisations-and-boards scientists should NOT be allowed to say certain things. Which makes me wonder: what exactly are the rules of free speech for scientists? Continue reading