The sustained backlash against Dr. Georgiou is a clear violation of the ISC’s principle of Freedom and Responsibility in Science and threatens public trust in scientists around the world.
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Statement, 24 August 2021
The International Science Council’s Committee for Freedom and Responsibility in Science (CFRS) oversees the Council’s commitment to scientific freedom and responsibility, as enshrined in the ISC Statutes. The Committee monitors threats to scientific freedom through a portfolio of cases where the freedoms of individual scientists, or of a wider group of scientists, are restricted or at risk. We have been monitoring the case of Greek economist and statistician Dr. Andreas Georgiou since the Committee was formed in 2019.
The Principle of Freedom and Responsibility in Science: the free and responsible practice of science is fundamental to scientific advancement and human and environmental well-being. Such practice, in all its aspects, requires freedom of movement, association, expression and communication for scientists, as well as equitable access to data, information, and other resources for research. It requires responsibility at all levels to carry out and communicate scientific work with integrity, respect, fairness, trustworthiness, and transparency, recognizing its benefits and possible harms. In advocating the free and responsible practice of science, the Council promotes equitable opportunities for access to science and its benefits, and opposes discrimination based on such factors as ethnic origin, religion, citizenship, language, political or other opinion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, or age.
Firstly, Dr. Georgiou has been investigated, tried, and acquitted on three separate occasions on identical charges of conspiring to artificially inflate Greece’s deficit statistics. These statistics have however been continuously validated by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, since they were first produced in 2010. While his acquittal was finally allowed to stand in 2019, an additional criminal investigation was opened in 2016 for the same crime—allegedly inflating the 2009 deficit—but also implicating officials from Eurostat and the International Monetary Fund.
Dr. Georgiou has also been first acquitted and then subsequently convicted for violation of duty for not submitting Greece’s 2009 deficit statistics to a vote. However, his decision not to submit these statistics to a vote was in keeping with European statistical principles and thus Greek and EU law. In addition, he has been subject to criminal investigations for seeking to protect statistical confidentiality of the information of households and enterprises, again in accordance with statistical principles.
Finally, Dr. Georgiou has been found liable for simple slander for defending, as required again by statistical principles, the 2009 deficit statistics produced by the national statistics office under his leadership. Dr. Georgiou’s appeal of this civil suit judgment against him has recently been rejected, and the charge of simple slander has been upheld by the Greek Court of Appeals. The charge of simple slander recognizes that the statements made by Dr. Georgiou to defend these statistics were factually correct. Thus, he has been repeatedly penalized for upholding professional standards of honesty, accuracy and integrity. Dr. Georgiou now faces a demand for immediate “obligatory execution” of the conditions of the judgement, which include a fine of several thousand euros in damages and publication of a public apology by Dr. Georgiou.
These charges are part of a sustained, politically motivated backlash against Dr. Georgiou, and threaten the values of scientific freedom and responsibility in Greece and across the European Union. Accordingly, CFRS has written on two occasions to His Excellency Kyriakos Mitsotakis Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic, as well as to the Presidents of the European Parliament, the European Council and the European Commission, to express our concerns for Dr. Georgiou and the implications of his situation for the wider scientific community.
The ISC is deeply concerned that Dr. Georgiou continues to face these legal proceedings despite performing his work in compliance with the EU statistical framework. We are particularly concerned about the objectivity, fairness, and political independence of these ongoing judicial processes, and we note that human rights observers list Dr. Georgiou’s situation under “Denial of Fair Public Trial” in the US State Department’s 2020 Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Greece. Accordingly, CFRS has raised this case with the Office of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights.
The integrity and accuracy of national statistics, and the independence of statistical authorities, are critical for evidence-based policymaking and reporting, not only in Greece, but also in the EU and around the world. Dr. Georgiou’s conviction for violation of duty amounts to a severe curtailment of scientific freedom. If it is allowed to stand, the damage to scientific process in official European statistics will be long lasting. Furthermore, his punishment for making factually correct statements to defend fully validated statistics, if maintained, will cast a shadow on fundamental rights such as freedom of expression in Greece and the EU as a whole.
The ongoing and repeated harassment of Dr. Georgiou as a result of professionally conducting his role at ELSTAT, in line with recognized best practice, is a clear violation of the ISC’s principle of Freedom and Responsibility in Science. It not only brings unjustified harm to Dr Georgiou himself; it also results in reputational damage to economics and statistics in the EU as well as around the world, deters qualified economists and statisticians in the international scientific community from taking up such critical positions in the future, and generally lowers public trust and confidence in scientists.