“Attack on democracy”: Fracking academic prepares legal action against Glasgow University


Emeritus professor David Smythe raising money for legal action after being cut off by Glasgow University

AN EMERITUS PROFESSOR and fracking expert at Glasgow University has said that cutting him off from his academic work by denying him access to university databases could constitute an “attack on democracy” and impact the national debate on fracking.

David Smythe made the comments during attempts to raise funds for a possible legal action against Glasgow University after having his access to scientific journals and his university emails cut off, he claims because he wrote an article critical of the fracking industry under the name of his university.

He said: “This could have an effect on the outcome of the national debate about fracking, because if my view can’t be expressed, then one side of the argument can’t be heard. In that sense it could be seen as an attack on democracy.

Emeritus professor of geophysics at Glasgow University, David Smythe

“The university hasn’t told me I can’t speak about fracking, what they’ve done is cut my lifeline to the university database that I need for my research, on fracking or any other subject.”

Smythe believes that his access to university databases containing peer-reviewed academic journals was closed off after he published his specialist analysis on the problems associated with hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, on 27 January 2016.

Fracking is a controvertial technique for removing underground natural shale gas. Critics of the proceedure, which is currently under a moratorium by the Scottish Government, claim that it causes environmental damage and can be dangerous to people living near fracking sites.

Smythe, who had studied and taught geology and geophysics for 33 years, retired from Glasgow University in 1998, at which time he became an honorary lifelong member, as is common practice at universities around the world. Smythe used his university membership to access journals for 17 years before his email account and journal access was suddenly suspended.

He believes, based on email exchanges from the university he acquired via Freedom of Information (FoI), that the influence of another professor who has been critical of Smythe’s work and a fracking firm with links to the university played an instrumental part in his loss of access.

Background read: What is happening with the SNP and fracking?

“The university is now going about saying that my being cut off was a routine matter, which is nonsense. It’s clearly linked to the fact that I published a paper on fracking using the university address.

“I was surprised and shocked when I discovered this termination of my right of access which had been enshrined in my severance agreement, it’s a breach of contract by the university, and also a gross breach of trust.

“I never imagined in my whole career of 30 or more years that this would ever come to pass.”

Smythe, who has raised over £12,000 of £25,000 crowdfunding appeal on the crowdjustice website so far, said that he still hoped that the university will back down.

“Legal proceedings will take place in several stages, and I would hope that Glasgow university would step back. I’m not at liberty to discuss what my lawyers and myself propose to do.”

Smythe said that if he won out in his fight with the Glasgow University, it could send out a message to establishments across the country

He said: “The central issue is the right of academic expression.”

“I hope it would send a message that they have no right to try to suppress their member’s right to freely speak on any subject that they see fit.”

A spokesperson for Glasgow University said: “Professor Smythe’s email access was terminated earlier this year, as part of a routine review of email accounts in the School of Geographical & Earth Sciences. Professor Smythe left the University in 1998 and, while he retains the title of emeritus professor, he has no continuing practical association with the work of the University.”

The crowdfund can be accessed here.

Pictures courtesy of _skynet, twitter

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