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BP Criticized for Nondisclosure Agreements with Researchers

BP has suffered close scrutiny and withering criticism over the past months concerning its safety policies, clean-up efforts and reimbursement of businesses that have been hurt by the massive Gulf oil spill. It is unlikely that it anticipated facing a backlash of public censure regarding charges that it is seeking to buy scientists' silence by forcing them to sign off on onerous nondisclosure agreements in order to do spill-related research.

In recent weeks, BP has offered marine scientists contracts that allegedly pay up to $250 per hour to investigate damage to the Gulf and work on a plan to remediate it. Researchers agreeing to work for BP are being required to first sign nondisclosure agreements stating that they will not publish their research, share it with third parties or even talk about it publicly for at least three years until after it is finished. Moreover, they are paid only for research that BP first approves in writing.

BP calls the curbs "customary" and necessary to protect its proprietary information. Many others call it unusual and excessively restrictive. "This is not an agreement to do research for BP," says one interested party. "This is an agreement to join BP's legal team."

So far, more than a dozen researchers from various universities have signed the agreement and offered BP their services. Other s refuse to do so. Says Cary Nelson of the American Association of University Professors: ""BP is trying to buy faculty silence in a comprehensive way." Bob Shipp, who heads marine sciences at the University of South Alabama, turned down BP's offer to hire his entire department, citing the confidentiality clause.

Related Resource: theweek.com "BP's scientist-'buying' plot" July 27, 2010

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