Riyadh Lafta, scientist, doctor, activist finally got a US visa to speak at the University of Washington

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When the US 2003 invasion of Iraq was underway, University of Washington (UW), Associate Professor of Global Health Amy Hagopian thought it would be a good idea to bring an academic from Iraq to explain what was actually happening to people in Iraq as a result of that invasion. She worked with other academics at UW, Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, and Johns Hopkins, as well as with community groups who worked with Iraq refugees and the anti-war movement. She spoke with politicians, and wrote letters, and in 2007, it almost seemed as if Lafta would be able to come. He was scheduled to give a talk at UW, but the USA still refused his visa. Canada agreed to give Lafta a visa, and he spoke at Simon Fraser University, with a crowd at UW in Seattle watching the lecture via the internet.

It is likely that one of the main reasons Lafta was denied an USA visa is his 2004  and 2006 Lancet papers  on the mortality of citizens in Iraq as a result of the US invasion. Doing rather dangerous door-to-door surveys, Lafta and colleagues found mortality to be far worse than that reported by the US, which downplayed the effects of war on civilians, and there was a hostile reaction to their papers.

Lafta continued to examine the effects of war on Iraq, and Hagopian continued to work with academic and community members to bring him over. After years of effort, Lafta was awarded a US visa in 2016. On October 27, Lafta gave a talk at the University of Washington.

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There was no pretending in the auditorium that politics was unconnected to science and research: lives are not saved by science or medicine alone. Hagopian and Pramila Jayapal (who is running for Wa State Senator) spoke of politics and war and healthcare, and the possibilities of change. Lafta himself was very clear about the origin of the health problems in Iraq, and about how difficult it would be to improve life for Iraqis. Physicians fear for their lives and most leave the country. With no functioning government, the country is run by militias. He ended his talk with a short film that showed before and after footage of Iraq, once busy streets and markets reduced to rubble. There was a lively question and answer session, and perhaps the sadness and hopelessness of the situation was summed up by Lafta in response to a question about his exceptions of the election on Iraq policy.

He answered simply, “No American President has ever done anything beneficial for Iraq.”

Lafta’s talk has been scheduled for November 3 at Simon Fraser University  in Vancouver, Canada- but as of October 28, his visa application has been refused. He will be speaking at the American Public Health Association meeting in Denver this week.

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October 28, 2016

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David Thouless wins Nobel Prize in Physics, and there is silence on his present life

Silence on dementia: privacy or stigma?

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David Thouless, emeritus professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, was on the three winners of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics. He won half of the prize for his work on topological phase transitions: Duncan Haldane and J. Michael Kosterlitz shared the other half for work in the same field.

The University of Washington has seen several Nobel Prize winners in the past few decades, but none were announced in such a muted fashion. Neither the University of Washington or the local Seattle Times  or Seattle P.I. told any stories about Thouless’s family, or about his reaction to hearing he had won. Announcements from Stockholm  and newspaper articles from the rest of the USA were also quiet on personal details.

Of course, some of the more personal stories do take time to appear. But yet, in a story about the three Physics Nobel Prize winners in The Telegraph in the UK  was a hint about the reason for the silence- However Prof Thouless is now suffering from dementia and may not be aware of the prize, colleagues said.”

      And from the same article: ” Prof Ray Jones, who worked under Prof Thouless at the University of Birmingham said: “I wonder if he will appreciate the prize to the same extent now. It is very sad that it has come so late because I know things have been getting very difficult with David.

“It’s rather tragic that is has been left so long, but it’s maybe the story of David’s life. He was 40 before he was elected to the Royal Society and I think it should have happened a long time before. He was ferociously talented, and had a very deep insight into physics.” 

       Adding dementia” to a search with Thouless and Seattle yielded not a newspaper story about the Nobel Prize winner, but TV and newspaper reports about David Thouless being one of 2 people in Seattle with dementia that were lost, and a police report announced that he had been found. Still, no word of family, struggles with dementia, or anything personal.

       Seattle press is remarkably restrained, saying little ever, for example, about local resident Bill Gates or his family, and this might be just part of the local culture to keep a health issue private. Perhaps it is Thouless request that dementia not be mentioned.  Hopefully, this is not due to the stigma that dementia still has, even (or especially?) in academia.

 

 

 
 

Dr. Riyadh Lafta Lecture_10-27-2016_Flyer.pdf

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Can a Katze “situation” happen to you? If bullying is tolerated, yes.

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Can a Katze “situation” happen to you? Of course it can.

The story of Michael Katze, of the Department of Microbiology at the University of Washington (UW), Seattle, is the latest in this year’s series of nasty academic sexual harassment and bystander inaction tales. Buzzfeed broke the story with copies of texts and other lurid details and Geekwire followed suit. 

 

As for the other stories of sexual harrassment by renowned male science faculty members, the details were shocking but folks at the involved universities were not surprised. Many people knew something. For months,some university members knew everything.

 

A UW statement on its investigation was very self-protective:

“When the sexual harassment complaints were made, Dr. Katze was removed from his lab and put on home assignment. A thorough investigation was commenced through UCIRO, the University’s complaint, investigation and resolution office. The investigation found that Dr. Katze had violated University sexual harassment policies.

“His conduct was inappropriate and not in any way reflective of the University’s values. This is why the matter is now in the faculty disciplinary process, through which an appropriate outcome will be adjudicated.” — Norm Arkans, UW spokesman and associate vice president for media relations and communications    

      

So which conduct was inappropriate? Calling people Negroes, fucking bitches, or cunts didn’t lose Katze his job. Sexual harassment, porn, bullying, alcohol, with an embezzlement investigation done back in 2007 didn’t really seem to matter in view of the 30 million dollars Katze brought in federal grants. Indeed, one theory discussed in the Katze fallout, suggests those considered especially intelligent are beyond reproach, even if bullying, embezzlement, and sexual harassment are known to be the other side of the so-called genius. (Genius= brings in grant money). Such a short time ago, UW raved about their wonderboy: for example, see the posting 26 faculty listed among the most influential scientific minds put out by UW news. It took outside exposure to daylight Katze’s escapades, and as of July 2, he hasn’t been fired yet.

If integrity, morality, and ethical behavior are not part of the framework of your self, your lab, or your department and institution, the chances that you will be pulled into the sphere of complicity with a Katze are high. Sexual harassment in the Katze lab was just one of the vile manifestations of entitlement and exceptionalism that protects those who treat their people badly.

Unfortunately, many universities and other workplaces consider ethical behavior to be the absence of research fraud. When it comes to protecting people, those who bring in the most money are first. There is absolutely nothing ethical about the way most universities are run.

Is your dean trustworthy? Does he or she keep promises made to new faculty- or not? This is extremely relevant at the Univeristy of Washington. 

Does your department have a code of ethics concerning treatment of personnel by administrators, superiors, or peers?

Does it make clear what happens if that code is broken? Is there a complaint process for faculty, students, technicians, and support staff?

Does the department protect faculty at the expense of others? Do non-faculty members feel heard?

Do faculty members believe they have more rights than any other members? Are exceptions often made for them?

Are the Human Resources personnel empowered to act if they hear of improper behavior or treatment?

Are rules about racism or sexism taken seriously? How about safety?

If most of the students and postdocs in a lab are unhappy or complain about the P.I., does anyone try to get to the bottom of the problem?

As a P.I.

Do you make clear that ethics are important in the lab, and explain what this means?

Do you correct people who make racist or sexist comments?

Do you listen when someone is worried or angry about the behavior of another person in the lab? Do you get involved?

Are you able to consider that problems in the lab might originate from your own behavior or actions?

Do you have your own process for mediating conflict?

Would you try to help someone in your lab whose personal life is affecting his work life?

Are you on time for meetings with your students, as you might expect them to be?

Would you sacrifice your students or postdocs in authorship disputes to advance your own career?

Students and postdocs

Do you know where to go for a medical or psychological emergency?

 

Do you feel your P.I. is an active advocate for your career?

Does the P.I. routinely evaluate your scientific, experimental, intellectual, communication, and lab citizen skills and give you advice in a way you can use to become a better scientist?

Does the P.I. have integrity? Do you trust her? Do you think you could have honest conversations without retaliation?

Does the P.I. make racist or sexist comments, or does he correct others that do? 

Have you ever encountered derision, mocking, “humor,” or nasty comments directed at yourself or anyone else? Did you feel free to speak up?

Where bullying runs unchecked, and people fear retaliation, the creation of a Katze is horribly likely. If department members or administrators do not follow the basic human kindness of protecting the weak, if bullying and favoritism are rampant, don’t just stand by, or you are complicit.  The loss of your job is minute compared to the loss of your self respect.

 

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Will scientists at Japanese universities again do military research? Article from The Japan Times about pending Science Council decision

The Japan Times: Science Council of Japan considers overturning long-held opposition to military research

The Japan Times

The nation’s largest and most powerful group of scientists has started discussing lifting its decades- old ban on defense-related research as the government seeks more collaboration with civilians in the development of weapons technology.

The move comes as the Defense Ministry, under the “proactive peace” policy of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is pushing for the development of dual-use technology by funding research that can be used for both civilian and military purposes.

It also comes on the heels of a report concluded this month by the national defense committee of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which recommended drastically increasing the ministry’s annual budget for dual-use grants to ¥10 billion from the current ¥600 million.

The Science Council of Japan, a group of some 2,000 scientists in fields ranging from engineering to the humanities to the natural sciences, announced last week it has set up a 15-member panel to discuss abandoning its long-held stance against military research.

Established in 1949 as a special organization under the jurisdiction of the prime minister but operating independently of the government, the SCJ has vowed “never to engage in scientific research to be used in war,” based on the bitter lessons of World War II, in which Japanese scientists contributed, directly or indirectly, to the ravages of war at home and abroad.

But in recent years, “it is becoming increasingly difficult to draw a clear line of demarcation between technologies and knowledge for military and civilian uses,” Takashi Onishi, president of SCJ and the president of Toyohashi University of Technology in Aichi Prefecture, wrote in his May 20 proposition to create the panel. “It has also been widely shared that such deepening of ties between academia and defense could threaten the foundations of science.”

page1image20576 page1image20736 page1image20896 page1image21056 The panel, comprising Onishi and 14 other people, including former astronaut Chiaki Mukai and Kyoto University President Juichi Yamagiwa, will discuss whether to amend statements by the council in 1950 and 1967, in which it vowed “never to engage in military research.”

It will also discuss the burgeoning field of dual-use technology.

Known for having spawned such innovations as the Internet and GPS, dual-use technology is common in the West but has long remained low-profile in postwar, pacifist Japan, with many institutions banning such research for fear of re-militarization.

A big turning point came in December 2013, when Abe, after returning to power the year before, had his Cabinet adopt the new National Defense Program Guidelines, said Morihisa Hamada, a volcanologist working at the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology and one of scores of scientists opposed to defense research.

The guidelines, in a marked departure from previous versions, spelled out the government’s plan to “actively utilize dual-use technologies in enhanced cooperation with universities and research institutes.”

In fiscal 2015, the Defense Ministry began seeking grant applications from civilian researchers for basic research in dual-use technology. The ¥300 million budget rose to ¥600 million this fiscal year.

Meanwhile, universities across the nation have faced a series of funding cuts from the central government, producing growing ranks of researchers starved for alternative funding.

Hamada said a range of universities and research institutes have conducted joint research with Defense Ministry-affiliated agencies in recent years.

For example, the Ground Systems Research Center, which conducts research on firearms, ammunition, ballistics and blast-resistant structures, vehicles and their fittings, and engineering equipment, has tied up with a range of academic institutions, including Kyushu University, Chiba Institute of Technology and Chiba University in such areas as explosives detection, robotics and engine simulation.

“The reason universities are now wavering is because research budgets have been slashed,” Hamada said.

He believes any research in the name of defense will end up aiding wars and urges concerned researchers to join an ongoing campaign led by Satoru Ikeuchi, an astrophysicist and professor emeritus at Nagoya University, to sign an online petition against military use of science.

While some scientists argue for lifting the research ban under certain conditions, such as using their technology only for defense, not offense, Hamada said such distinctions mean little.

“We should never forget the history of Japan, which waged a war under the name of self-defense,” he said. “All wars start with defense. To ban military research, the most nonconflicting stance to take is refuse any research funds from military institutions, be it the Defense Ministry or agencies tied to the U.S. military.”

The SCJ panel’s discussion will be open to the public, with the first meeting scheduled for June, an official with the group said.

The official added that it may take a year or so to reach a decision. 

——-

You can leave a comment on line at The Japan Times.
Please consider signing the Japanese anti-militarism declaration.

 

 

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The history of science is written by the “victors.” So find your own narrative.

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The chosen version of the history of science defines “science” and shapes the present culture.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. No one is in charge of defining science for all.

Very few graduate programs require even one class in the history of science: many do not even offer one. Individual labs or departments may tell their own history, and several books on the development of molecular biology are popular around labs, but the philosophical situating of science in society’s history or philosophy seldom is institutionally done.

Yet this history- in all of its various interpretations- shapes the day to day life of the present day scientist. Each individual’s choice of project, likelihood of getting funded, expectation of a job, and relationship to the larger culture, is entangled in and influenced by past events and present conceptions.

One way one can understand the forces that affect the 21st century scientist’s work is through an interpretation of the influences on the fields of molecular biology and biomedical research. One subjective list might be:

ïFrom amateur science to professionalism.

ïLand-grant universities and the Flexnerian revolution: improving academic education for all.

ï(The revolution in physics after 1900).

ïPeer review grows in importance.

ïWorld War II, the Manhattan Project, and the start of huge government commitment to science.

ïThe unraveling of the properties of DNA.

ïThe Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 and the beginning of biotech.

ïThe cloning of the human genome.

ïChanges in trainees: an overall increase in the numbers of science trainees, and changes in the make-up of the trainees to include more women, people of color, and foreign trainees. 

  • From amateur science to professionalism.                                                             The first few centuries of science in the USA were done by amateur scientists, funded by family money or wealthy sponsors, occasionally by the government. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) was a significant move for the definition and professionalism of science: The National Academy was founded in the mid 1863’s, furthering the interest in science. Around turn of the 20th century, professionalism was emphasized and the Bureau of Standards was founded to fit into the ongoing pattern of world commerce.

    Amateur science- performed by those without advanced science degrees- is still done in the U.S., but it wasn’t respected until the tech revolution, which revered the outsider.

– Land-grant universities and the Flexnerian revolution: improving academic education for all.

Science and other academic endeavors were generally available only to the wealthy, who could attend excellent private universities in the country, or abroad. Government commitment to higher education was boosted through the Morrill Act of 1862. Signed by President Abraham Lincoln, this act granted federal land to states on the basis of the size of the states’ congressional delegation. These lands were then to be sold to provide an endowment for the establishment of at least one college or university.

…the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as related to agriculture and the mechanic arts…in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.

The Morrill Act of 1862. Land-Grant Colleges and Universities. 2008. Education Encyclopedia,State University.com

    

By 1873, there were twenty four land grant institutions, which together enrolled 2,600 students, about 13% of the total US collegiate population. Agriculture was the most popular course in these early days. Engineering overtook agriculture as the most popular course of study through the 20th century. Practical and useful and applied education, available to all, funded by the federal government, became an assumption. 11 of the twenty top institutions in total research-and-development spending for fiscal year 1998 were land grant universities. [Land-grant Colleges and Universities 2008].

Peer review grows in importance. 

Peer review, the process through which scientists evaluate each others grant applications and manuscript submissions, is one of the cornerstones of research and science in the USA, and one that has enabled scientists to feel that the profession is and should be self regulating. Its origins are in England’s Royal Society, where members sometimes asked scientists to read submitted papers submitted to its Philosophical Transactions, and this ad hoc approach took place in American scientific journals as well. With the formation of the National Academy of Sciences in 1863, ad hoc committees were formed to oversee the dispensation of funds received as private gifts.

The US Federal government, through the National Research Council, began supporting scientists after WWI, and committees oversaw the distribution of funds. By the end of World War II, peer review was routine.

      “Thus, by the post-World War II science boom, peer review had become accepted practice. “It came into full force after the war with the establishments of the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health,” says Jonathan R. Cole, provost of Columbia and co-author of a number of works on the peer review system, including a 1981 National Academy of Sciences study on its ethical aspects. “That is where the principle of merit-based review was very clearly established and has been followed ever since.” Cole argues that, whatever its flaws, peer review has worked. “It’s been an essential part of the American science scene and one of the reasons why American science has done so well.”” Tom Abate. 1995. What’s the Verdict on Peer Review?

World War II, the Manhattan Project, and the start of huge government commitment to science.

Before WWII, science was funded by donors or industry. The Manhattan Project and the race for the atomic bomb was the first big government expenditure on research. Vannevar Bush, advisor to  President Roosevelt and leader of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, was responsible for the expectation of a government and science collaboration funded by the government after WWII. In 1950, the National Science Foundation was funded to promote science, advance health and prosperity, and secure the national defense.

The military continues to be very much involved with basic science, a collaboration that was protested in the 60’s and 70’s, but is now accepted passively….

“…in the first decade or two after 1945, the United States attempted to use its scientific and technological leadership, in conjunction with its economic, military, and industrial strength, to shape the research agendas, the institutions, and the allegiances of scientists in Western Europe in line with U.S. scientific, political, and ideological interests in the region.” P 3 American Hegemony and the Postwar Reconstruction of Science in Europe. John krige. MIT Press, Cambridge.

The unraveling of the properties of DNA and regulation of recombinant DNA work.

Watson’s and Crick’s paper on the structure of DNA was published in 1953, and started a revolution in biology and chemistry. The wild and heady times of the early work with DNA have perhaps more than anything else imprinted themselves on the research culture. Both in the lab and in interacting with the greater world, was a sense of discovery and also of activism, of that science could do well for the world.

“Chemistry was then a field with a strong conservative streak. Not only was there a fairly rigid view of what path one should take to be a chemist, but the social and political environment in chemistry departments was confining. The field seemed to have retained much of its authoritarian German roots. Biochemistry was more welcoming to me, although the origins of many of its practitioners in the field of chemistry made it only a slight improvement. It was during my graduate career that the emergence of the new field of molecular biology began to dramatically revolutionize sensibilities and the climate in the life sciences.

    “Molecular biology was anointed as a scientific discipline in the late 1950’s, formed from a gathering of scientists in the disparate fields of genetics, biochemistry, and biophysics. Its roots go back to the entry of a number of young physicists into biology in the 1940’s. These pioneers, convinced that the fundamental problems in physics had been solved, sought new scientific principles in the study of living organisms. “ [Beckwith 2002], p 16.

The first gene was spliced in 1971 and among themselves, scientists debated the implications of gene engineering. Soon the discussion moved to the public, however, and Congress heard testimony from scientists, for and against, the new technology. The Cambridge/Boston area was the center of the debate about recombinant DNA, and remains a center for molecular biology research.  The recombinant DNA Advisory Committee (RAC) was established by NIH in 1974 and still advises the NIH on issues involving basic and clinical research with recombinant DNA.

“To the consternation of the scientists and the confusion of policy-makers, recombinant DNA became a testing ground for emerging national concepts in public participation. In the early stages of the DNA debate (1973-975), policy-making was largely initiated and controlled by scientists and administrators involved in biological research, that is, by researchers with little experience or expertise in public participation. Their role was a reactive one, a succession of stopgaps, and finally a painful accommodation to increasingly “foreign” pieces of politics inserted in their normally private decision-making machinery.” [Goodell 1979], p 36.

The Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, bringing business to academia, and the beginning of biotech.

The Biotech industry and the incursion of business interests into the academic laboratory were jump-started by the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act of 1980. Named for its sponsors, Senators Birch Bayh and Bob Dole, the Bayh-Dole Act adjusted the U.S. patent and trademark law and transferred the title of all discoveries made with the help of federal research grants to the universities and small businesses (later, also to non-profits and large businesses) where they were made.

Now universities and other organizations could market inventions made there, and individual researchers could personally profit, and so both the organization and the researcher were encouraged to patent their discoveries. A wave of technology transfer offices were established in universities, and Congress created the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA).

In 1976, Genentech, the first biotech company, was founded by venture capitalist Robert Swanson and biochemist Dr. Herb Boyer. Genentech scientists produced the first human protein, somatostatin, in a microorganism in 1977, cloned human insulin in 1978, human growth hormone in 1979, and the company went public in 1980. The use of cells to make proteins and hormones which distinguished biotech companies from pharmaceutical companies could be done in small academic labs by individual scientists, and many patented their findings and formed companies.

The possibility of making money certainly brought a new wave of enthusiasm to the world of academic scientists, and biotech scientists gradually gained respectability. In the 80’s, scientists might refuse to attend a seminar given by an industrial or biotech scientist, but as patents and millionaire scientists and biotech products became more familiar, biotech gained respectability with scientists….that is, with some scientists.  Acceptance of the intrusion of patents and lawyers into basic research has been more difficult among the generations of pre-biotech scientists who don’t believe personal profit is valid motivation for a scientist.

“I’m troubled that many researchers are becoming less productive because they divert their skills away from the goals of producing quality science and technology. Too many people in the scientific community are now driven by motives aside from the desire to make practical or basic discoveries. The accoutrements of success-large laboratories, significant funding, travel to many meetings at home and abroad- have overshadowed the joy of discovery. And too many scientists feel tempted to cut corners due to competitive pressures and the rapid pace of contemporary science. Science advances most productively when we focus on scientific merit rather than on the potential for attracting fame or increased funding.”  Yalow 1993 p 3

The opening of entrepreneurship to the academic world brought another kind of excitement, that of individual achievement and profit. It brought other source of income to universities, and opened job choices for researchers. It also raised conflict of interest issues to both individual researchers and to institutions, and started the commercialization and privitization of universities.

      The collaboration between molecular biologists and industry and government also set molecular biology apart from other biological sciences. In the reductionist times of the molecular biology revolution, ecology, population genetics, community ecology, were slighted in funding, and “important science” was linked to profit.

Sequencing of the human genome and consideration of ethical issues.

The sequencing of the human genome in 2003 had a huge influence on how science is viewed, and ushered in a shift to systems thinking, the integration of the parts, the ecology of components. Reductivism became less prestigious. Technology was directed towards systems, although one could also argue that development of the technology influenced the philosophy.

This change in looking at systems rather than at isolated components is, interestingly, reflected in changes in the sociology of how science is done.  Science has become more collaborative, more interdisciplinary, almost as if communication styles have paralleled the philosophy of experimentation.

The Human Genome Project was launched in 1990 by the NIH and the DOE, after several meetings and talks through the 80’s. Reportedly, the DOE interest in the project developed from its study of genetic damage to survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Human Genome Project was extremely controversial among scientists, some of whom worried about the ethical implications of the research, and others who feared that other science would no longer be well funded as so many resources were put into the genome project. As well, the tradition of the independent investigator in a small lab was challenged, as the importance of collaborative science to the genome project became manifest, and industry and academic labs teamed up on different aspects of the project.

 In 1998, Ventor started Celera with the intention of competing with NIH to sequence the human genome. The two groups announced the completion of their sequencing in separate journals (Ventor in Science, NIH in Nature) in 2001.

The collaborations of the Human Genome Project, across multiple labs and with academia and industry, became a model to continue to follow: business provided the big machines, academia the ideas. Numerous institutes and centers based on this model were begun.

 – Changes in trainees and greater commitment to diversity : An overall increase in the numbers of science trainees, and changes in the make-up of the trainees to include more women, minorities, and foreign trainees. 

With money pouring into academic institutions, more trainees were accepted. The increase in the number of biomedical and other Ph.D.s is putting a severe strain on the resources of NIH and of other funding agencies and institutions, and fewer people get academic jobs.

There has been not only been an overall increase in the number of students entering graduate school in the biological sciences, but also in the make up of the trainees. There are now more women, minorities, and foreign trainees.

    This diversity of scientists has helped to bring new approaches and questions to science and perhaps new and hopefully better ways of collaboration and communication. The importance of mentoring has become clear. But mentoring such a large and varied group of scientists has been a challenge, and there are huge variations in the quality and quantity of training received.

The feminization of the research environment is said to be responsible for many of the rules that help all with work-life integration. Parental leave, the expectation of a 9-5 job, job-sharing, are all effects of women’s (mainly) desire to work and to have a family. Boundaries have softened- the work and home environments are not as tightly compartmentalized. New trainees tend to appreciate this more than many older scientists, who see a less-than-total dedication to research.

There are many interpretations of history, and the above story was told with an emphasis on the cultural changes causing and being affected by research in cell and molecular biology. It could be told with entirely different events:

Through the story of the development of a technology.

Through the personal stories of individuals.

Through the high points of a specific field.

Through medical discoveries.

History is written by the victor, and the history of even modern science is the same, with the victor claiming objectivity. But there are many different interpretations of science that are shunted aside in business-as-usual science. These interpretations challenge the mainstream idea of the role scientists should play in society.

“Awareness of our subjectivity and context must be part of doing science because there is no way we can eliminate them. We come to the objects we study with our particular personal and social backgrounds and with inevitable interests. Once we acknowledge those, we can try to understand the world, so to speak, from inside instead of pretending to be objective outsiders looking in.”   “Science, Facts, and Feminism”, p 127, pp 119-131. Ruth Hubbard, in Feminism & Science.

The mainstream culture of science assumes  and partially defines itself as having an objective view of the world, and seems to many to be not amenable to other interpretations. But there are feminist interpretations as well that suggest the projects selected, the way problems are chosen, and the ways people communicate could be different. There are Marxist interpretations of science that most Americans would immediately dismiss not only because they are non-mainstream, but also because of the shadow of decades of anti-communist teachings in schools.

Still, there have been times when Marxist analyses of science have been tolerated. For example, with the strong Marxist political movements active in the 1930’s and 40’s in the USA, Britain, and France, there was a flurry of Marxist critiques of the history, philosophy, and politics of science, which faded with the collapse of the political movement in the 50’s. Again, Marxist criticism of science arose again in the 60’s and 70’s, and collapsed in the 80’s.  Gary Werskey, ‘The Marxist Critique of Capitalist Science: A History in Three Movements

The dark side of science, and how it may influence your communications.

      It is likely that most scientists believe they are working for the good of mankind. It is also likely that most non-scientists believe in the good of science- but many do not. Both scientists and non-scientists might mention the Tuskegee syphilis study in the USA as an example of the misuse of science, but there are many other stories that have alienated groups of people to science. For example:

-The American Eugenics movement and its influence on the eugenics policies of Nazi Germany. (Lombardo, Paul A. 2008. Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court, and Buck v. Bell.

-The deliberate infection of approximately 700 Guatamalans with syphilis by the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare in the 1940’s.

Not all non-scientists believe science is inherently good, or even valueless, but is the force that creates wars, that helps some and not others. Not all workplaces are ethically run, not all personnel are ethical.

Establish your own history. In your own lab, group, or department, a shared sense of history will clarify and enrich the culture.

– Make a library to define culture of science. For yourself, your lab, your department, your colleagues, keep and circulate journals and books that will give thought and perspective to science as you practice it.

– 1 x month non-technical journal clubs.

– 1 x month journal clubs with the original papers that defined the field.

– Teach a mini-course in culture and history. Or politics.

In my untenured days, I did one supremely foolish thing. I developed and taught a “science for poets” course. (I haven’t the space here to explain why it was foolish.) The class read much of the original literature and commentary on The Double Helix–including original papers, meeting reports, Watson’s funny and irreverent book, Anne Sayer’s biography of Rosalind Franklin, and Crick’s later work, What Mad Pursuit. We did background reading on Mendelian genetics and examined what was known about DNA in 1954 to get a feel for what Watson and Crick had to work with. We read the later memoirs of some other central figures in the story. We watched the film The Race for the Double Helix, in which Jeff Goldblum cleverly plays Jim Watson. I even tried to have Anne Sayer speak to the class, but, regrettably, her health forbade it.     Gerald Harbison,  Guest comment: Genes, Girls, and Gender Politics. Science Insights 6:6.  National Association of Scholars.

Resources

A traditional view via slideshare of the history of science 

The American Eugenics movement and its influence on the eugenics policies of Nazi Germany. (See Lombardo, Paul A. 2008. Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court, and Buck v. Bell. The Johns Hopkins Univeristy Press, Baltimore.

Harriet Washington. Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present

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Communication with community activists: class matters

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Whether applying to a foundation for a grant, or working with local environmental activists on a gas leak, you will need to be able to speak with a variety of people- and they won’t all appreciate your emphasis on data and agendas. And if your work outside the lab involves solidarity with people from a variety of walks of life, you will need to be aware of class differences in your behavior and communication if you want to be effective.

With a deep belief in the meritocracy of academia, and perhaps a belief in the commonly taught narrative of the USA is that there are no class divisions and that the founders came to avoid such class divisions, many scientists feel that a consideration of class (or race) is not necessary, that everyone regardless of background is on equal footing with everyone else. In a community setting, you may feel completely comfortable with everyone there- but that doesn’t mean everyone is comfortable with you.

For those who want to understand class issues, “Class Matters: Cross-class Alliance Building for Middle-class Activists” authored by sociologist and economic justice activist Betsy Leondar-Wright (2nd edition in 2014) is an amazing resource.

The Table of Contents (below) shows the comprehensiveness and detail of the book. From vocabulary to the race/class intersection to meeting behavior and on, “Class Matters” will help not just with your communication, but with your understanding of the world beyond the bench.

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Scientists may find immediately relatable  insights in “An Interview with Barbara Ehrenreich” in the “Obstacles to Alliances” chapter. Barbara Ehrenreich is an author and political activist, and her books have been instrumental in understanding the impact of poverty in the USA. She has a Ph.D. in Cell Biology and Immunology from Rockefeller University , where she was Zan Cohn’s first student.

Ehrenreich discusses the effect of the professional middle class (and scientists would fit right in there) ethos, and the deferred gratification and workaholism that is common among academics. Not everyone, though, has the luxury of believing in delayed gratification, and may look upon those struggling as undisciplined. Most truly believe that because they struggled through school, everyone could do the same thing, not realizing the advantages and privileges that gave them this ethic.

The academic mindset will even influence scientists’ expectations of meetings. Agendas, plenary speakers, and break-out sessions are not always the venue of choice, and and often not useful for a meeting designed to instill camaraderie, for example. There will be meetings without experts, which may seem rudderless to those used to academic conferences.

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Last tips- Don’t assume people are different than you, don’t assume they are the same. Don’t hide your class or be ashamed of it. Remember that you aren’t in charge and that there are many, many kinds of expertise. Don’t take hostility personally.

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Scientist Peter Doherty writes “The Knowledge Wars” for citizen scientists.

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Peter Doherty won a Nobel Prize for his co-discovery  that T-cells must recognize both virus and MHC antigens on the cell surface to kill virus-infected cells. He continues in his immunological research. But he is making perhaps an even greater contribution by authoring books that explain the process and uses of science to both scientists and nonscientists.

“The Knowledge Wars” is written for the non-scientist (though there is much to learn for all), examining and explaining the culture of science through the prism of environmental change. Rather than another tedious description of the scientific method, he explains the culture though history, both the way knowledge is defined and publicized, and the times the scientific culture has been perverted by fraud or greed or stupidity. Doherty makes it clear that scientists are human, that anyone can be a scientist (“And don’t think you have to attend a fancy school or Ivy League university….”, and that plenty of non-scientists are contributing in a major way to scientific knowledge. He does this without being patronizing, using the huge amounts of vital data gathered by birdwatchers as an example of science that could not be done without non-scientists.

But knowledge is power, and knowledge becomes a tool for those who want power. So politicians, individuals, and corporations whose profit or loss depends on data will do their best to obscure the public message and promote the interpretation of data that they want. Doherty explains how layfolk can interpret these coded messages, and he added an appendix with advice on how to judge the credibility of particular scientists via web information, and to read a scientific paper.

Knowledge is power!

 

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Academic scientists and NIMBY: unionization, sexual harassment, “aspirational peers,” and other regressive 2015 moves

Academic scientists: Not in my backyard!

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2015 was an exciting and activist year in the USA, with campuses alive once more with students and faculty campaigning against racism, and for divestment of endowments from fossil fuel companies and from the Occupied Territories.

But with progress comes pushback and regression. Science is a conservative behemoth, and while academics are generally considered to be liberal, academic scientists and clinicians are often the most socially conservative members on campus.

How discouraging to see how few scientists see themselves as citizens of the world, but rather as individuals out of an Ayn Rand novel.

The University of Washington: no union for us.

One example is the unionization campaign going on the at the University of Washington, where the 750 or so faculty are debating the pros and cons of joining the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). As universities have relied more and more on adjuncts and other non-tenured faculty (tenure and tenure track make up less than 25% of university faculty ) , and have ignored the input of university members in favor of the desires of donors and trustees, the need for unionization and collective bargaining has become more and more apparent. Non- academic university workers, students, postdocs, and faculty members at universities all over the country have unionized or are considering unionization as a way to weather the current climate of corporatization .

Some of the 42 campuses that have unionized the last couple of years are Georgetown University, Howard University, and the University of Chicago…..but the University of Washington anti-union movement says that  “No premier research-intensive university in the U.S.- no true peer of the University of Washington, and no institution of a quality to which we aspire- has a unionized tenure track faculty.”  And they refer to the lack of unions among their “aspirational peers” of further proof that unions are not a good idea.

Led by spokespersons Paul B. Hopkins (Chemistry) and Ed Lazowska  (Computer Science and Engineering), the anti-union campaign is heavily, heavily weighted with basic and medical science signees of the Statement of Opposition .

There are several recurring threads running through the Statement of Opposition – entitlement, exceptionalism,  and not- in- my -backyard (NIMBY) being the most obvious. Basically, the statement complains that SIEU, the Service Employees International Union, represents caregivers in hospitals, janitors, bus drivers,etc,  not people with the same cares that we have. There is no evidence that our salaries would be higher with unionization. And unions in general try to get better salaries across the board and if that happens, we the signers, won’t have the money to attract great faculty and it won’t be a good university any more. We would have to follow union rules, such as limited out-of-cycle raises.

“Many of the undersigned recognize the positive role played by labor unions in our country. But…..”  Yes, unions are, in principle, a great idea, but we don’t think it helps us right now- and us is a small, special group. There is no mention that some faculty are profiting by the lack of benefits, pay, and security that others function under.

The statement of opposition ends with a fantastic thought- that unions are historically associated with the Democratic Party in the USA, and many of the signers are not democrats and don’t want to be to be part of this political activity.

A comprehensive view of the pros and cons of unionization with a focus on the perspective for unionization from Amy Hagopian (Public Health) can be found here.

The University of Maryland: more postdocs at less pay for us.

Another regressive move spearheaded by scientists this year took place at the University of Maryland, College Park (incidentally, the most militarized university in the USA). Norma Andrews ( Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics) and Iqbal Hamza ( Animal and Avian Sciences ) wrote a letter which was signed by 131 tenured/tenure-track life science faculty) to explain why some postdoc positions should not come with the same benefits of other postdoc positions- that is, to allow lab heads to pay less so they could have more postdocs . At a time when many senior scientists are trying to help postdocs, the University of Maryland faculty, as are the University of Washington faculty, are trying very hard to better themselves at the benefit of others.

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Of course, they don’t put it that way, but explain that it is better for Science, you see. And, interestingly, the bizarre phrase “aspirational peers” that appeared in the University of Washington letter made an earlier appearance in the University of Maryland letter as a reason to not better fund all postdocs…because it is not done by their “aspirational peers”.  Jonathan Dinman’s (chair of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics) reiterated the aspirational peer defense at a University Senate meeting. Postdocs, seeing that faculty will not help them, may look to the success of postdoc unions  to find fair labor treatment.

Mike the Mad Biologist has an interesting blogpost on postdoc pay, with comments from postdocs- and you can see how against the grain the faculty at the University of Maryland are going in their quest to take care of themselves, first.

The University of California at Berkeley: He is ours, he is famous, and what he is doing isn’t that bad.

Through the years, women complained of harassment by Geoff Marcy (Astronomy), colleagues turned a blind eye , and while the University of California investigation of sexual harassment claims declared Marcy guilty, it also determined that Marcy’s actions warranted only a warning and strong parameters.

Social media from faculty, postdocs and the public started a wave of judgement, and finally, Marcy was forced to resign .

It was a victory, but it was a disturbingly hard-won victory. For at least 20 years , first at San Francisco State and later at Berkeley Marcy felt entitled to do what he wanted, and the silence of his colleagues, and the powers that be at San Francisco State and Berkeley protected him only until public and academic outcry made his forced resignation inevitable.

Harvard University: More recognition for me.

Being able to stand up for yourself is an important part of being a successful person and scientist. But when your reverence for yourself becomes your main task, it might be time to advocate for others. George Church tried to correct the mistake of the world in not giving enough recognition to- George Church.  Petty, and pathetic, to see a well-known and well-awarded scientist scrabble to get more for himself.

Perhaps Church is politicking to be one of the probably CRISPR Nobel laureates. His case is certainly one of the lighter cases of  2015 regressive scientist behavior, and won’t need to inspire the wonderful activism that is associated with unionization, reduction of post doc benefits, or sexual harassment.

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Is animal experimentation really “cute”?

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Today’s Scientist had an entertaining article  on holiday presents for scientists: Brain-slice coasters, silk scarves with red blood cells, bands of one’s own DNA blown up to portrait size, for example.

Another present suggestion was a package of knitting patterns of dissected animals available from a talented knitter at her company aKNITomy , where “biology no longer smells like formaldehyde, but like your favorite sweater.”

Of all the lovely objects available at aKNITomy, why would The Scientist choose animal dissections as the leading illustration for the article? Are dead frogs and dead rats, laid open as by 7th graders in class, cute? Fun? Happy reminders of high school?

A sense of humor is important, and a sense of humor about things that bother us can sometimes mitigate our nervousness….but it can also stop us from really looking at what is happening.

Hard to say what the artist’s motivation for cute and gruesome dissection knitting kits is, but The Scientist might well be trying to do what many scientist do- minimize the pain and cruelty of animal experimentation with humor.

Below is another illustration of this dark humor at the Narishige table in the exhibition hall at the 2015 Experimental Biology convention in Boston. Narishige makes equipment for micromanipulation in physiological research…for cells, yes, and for animals. To illustrate some of their devices for manipulation of live animals, they used little cuddly stuffed animals in place of pictures of real animals. Most scientists walked past the exhibit with little curiosity and no outrage or shame.

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The belief in the righteousness of humans’ right to dominion over the other creatures of the earth lies beneath much scientific training and practice. The devastation of rain forests, elimination of whole species, the poisoning of rivers and streams are actually akin the assumption that animals in labs are here just for us. For some mysterious reason, scientists seem to believe that the nobility of their quest to better human lives excuses causing pain and suffering to animals. For some mysterious reason, scientists seem to believe that the cruelty they cause is not the same as the cruelty caused by pit bull fighting or the abandonment and starvation of pets.

Somehow, many scientists seem to believe that the pain their own little poodles and kitties would feel is a fear more special and in need of prevention than the fear of all those beagles and cats and mice in the lab.

Shouldn’t the first law for scientists, as well as for physicians, be First, do no harm? Don’t cause pain? To anyone or any creature? Can science be a non-violent profession?

Animal experimentation is contrary to what many scientists believe and how they want live their lives, but cruelty to animals has become accepted as a part of science. It is insinuated that folks who do not believe in the use of animals for experiments cannot be serious about science. And so, people make jokes to mask the cognitive dissonance. They are quiet about animal experimentation, ashamed: They don’t tell their children or their dates how many mice they killed that day. They compartmentalize their scientific and family lives.

Rationalization is what scientists are trained to do. But it takes a toll when it is dishonest. Some people, including scientists, are unabashed believers of domination. Of dominance. But many people who are not dominance believers are somehow still convinced that animal experimentation is a given, without alternatives. Others think that animal experimentation should be carefully regulated- except for their own research.

There are groups that advocate for the use of animals in research. There are groups  that advocate against it. Read about it, if you will. But know the reality of what animal experimentation is about, and make sure your scientific side follows the same principles as your human side.

More humanity might even change the face of science and society.

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Academia is twitching with activism

Campuses are coming alive. Finally.

 

It’s been happening all along, but almost 5 years after Occupy, several years after protests against college endowment investments in fossil fuel companies and spirited boycott and divestment programs against Israel and its occupation of Palestine, and less than year after Black Lives Matter went from a hashtag to a movement, 

students and faculty at colleges and universities are moving to change harmful and racist behavior.

 

It has been easy for mainstream press to dismiss Occupy, as there haven’t been national policy changes that can easily be attributed to Occupy. But the local movements were hugely empowering, and participants have become committed and skilled members of other campaigns. For example, scientist Jess Spear of Occupy Seattle was successful as head of a campaign for the implementation of a $15.00 minimum wage, a movement that is itself now sweeping the country.

 

Over the past few years, more and more campuses protested environmental problems

 This April, for example, there was a standoff at Washington University against Peabody Oil and a week-long sit-in at Harvard to call for disinvestment of the endowment from fossil fuel companies. Students at Stanford just began an indefinite sit-down protest against the slow pace of its divestment of its 22.2 BILLION dollar endowment fund from fossil fuel companies. 13 universities or their foundations have divested from fossil fuels.

Black Lives Matter  is started as a hashtag in protest of brutal police actions against African Americans, and is now a movement with 26 chapters in the USA, and protests about racism on campus are growing.

 

Students at Occidental College are asking that the president step down as part of their demands to counter sexism and racism on campus, and students at Amherst have delivered a list of demands to administration to deal with racism. Protests have led to resignations. The dean of Claremont McKenna College resigned this month after students protested treatment of low-income and minority students , as did the President of the Univeristy of Missouri for racist policies. Protests at Yale as well as the University of Missouri have led to mixed reactions, of course. 

It’s happening.

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