Scientists: Stay Quiet or Speak Up? post by Allison Lee

Scientists: Stay Quiet or Speak Up?

Scientists should not be ‘advocates’ or ‘activists’.

I’ve heard this argument over and over in the last couple of years, and more strongly since the elections and recent organization of the March for Science scheduled for April 22, 2017.

The discussion first came to my awareness back in January 2015, when I attended an Association for Women in Science (AWIS) panel called “Social Media and Activism in Science”.  The general feeling was that if you wanted to speak up, be careful about what you say. I was particularly inspired by Kathy Barker, author of At the Bench and At the Helm. She is an advocate for scientists being advocates.

During my 2016 summer graduate ethics course, we discussed that scientists, if they advocate or speak outside their scientific field, should make sure they explicitly state they are wearing different hats and sharing their opinions as “informed citizens”.

The conversation came up again in October during a panel at the inaugural celebration of California Leatherback Day hosted by NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center. One speaker adamantly stated that  scientists should not be advocates in any way to which one audience member publicly disagreed bringing up the point that scientists are the most informed and should be able to speak about what they know.

Then again, as tensions continued to stir amongst the scientific community with the new presidential administration disregard for science  (TimeThe Washington Post, The New York TimesThe GuardianScientific AmericanSnopes), scientists banded together to organize a march much like the Women’s March on Washington.

“The mischaracterization of science as a partisan issue, which has given policymakers permission to reject overwhelming evidence, is a critical and urgent matter. It is time for people who support scientific research and evidence-based policies to take a public stand and be counted.” ~March for Science 

I watched as my science friends circulated news of the march over Facebook.  Some shared confidently, others apprehensively. The reactions ranged, airing a plethora of concerns: from “A march will mischaracterize science”, “It will make science a political protest”, “A march will undermine [scientists] credibility”, to “Its a great thing”, “Shows solidarity”, “This will encourage the scientific community to publicly rally together”, “Science cannot be silenced”. Robert Young of the New York Times even wrote a widely circulated piece on why the march is a bad idea voicing his concerns and alternate suggestions for what scientists can do in the community.  In a Science article, Jeffrey Mervis shared Some Unsolicited Advice to the science march planners.

The whole time, I kept wondering: Why not? Why shouldn’t scientists speak up? And more importantly, I thought: WHO wants us to be silent? Our colleagues, the public, policy makers?

As a young researcher, with no credibility yet gained, figuring out how best to proceed on this facet of my career is a high priority for me.

In my reading of the freely available document On Being a Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research, I hadn’t come across any mention to keep quiet. On the contrary, the guide addresses this issue in the section titled, The Researcher in Society (see page 48; for copyright reasons I cannot reprint any text without charge, and since I’m a poor grad student, I’ll just paraphrase.).  Scientists have a responsibility to share their knowledge with society. Researchers CAN assume different roles in public discussions and provide expert opinion and advice; they have a right to express their views and to work for social change. The guide even acknowledges the concern that colleagues and members of the public may perceive scientists-gone-advocate as a biased individual, but this perception should not come at the expense of objectivity in the scientist’s work.

In my opinion, scientists have devoted their lives to studying certain issues in their field. Their ideas are scrutinized by peer-review and the scientific collective. As professionals and the most “informed citizens” on the issue, aren’t they the bestgroup of people TO be speaking up about what they know?

This might also strike a chord with me personally because I am a naturally shy person. Speaking up has been something I’ve worked on since the awkward stage of middle school.  It’s also reminiscent of the time when I was learning to speak French and we were told the French are very particular about their language and do not like it butchered. The first time I ever traveled to France I was so paranoid I would mess up the accent that I didn’t speak for the first couple of days. Then I realized, many travelers were visiting France doing their best to communicate, botching the language left and right, and guess what? No one died, no one got beat up, people were talking! So I started talking too.  I had fun interacting with Francophones, and I got better at it over time. As an adult, the idea of “someone” now saying I should be quiet on certain issues, to not ruffle feathers, for fear of being misinterpreted, actually feels like a threat to my own growth as a communicative human. The more we take opportunitites to practice sharing our ideas with a general audience, the better we will get at it over time.

Going back to the issue of scientists being ‘advocates’ if they speak up, I finally gained clarity on where I stand on the matter after hearing speakers at two public events:

On February 18th 2017, the Union of Concerned Scientists held a panel at the AAAS – The American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting titled Defending Science and Scientific Integrity in the Age of TrumpThe general consensus was that we should come together, stand up and speak up.

And most recently, I attended a very insightful public lecture by Naomi Oreskes on March 14th, 2017. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography Master of Advanced Studies in Climate Science and Policy (MAS-CSP) program  invited her to speak on “The Scientist as a Sentinel”.

Dr. Oreskes speaking at TED (Image credit: TED)

Naomi Oreskes is a historian of science, a Professor of the History of Science and Affiliated Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University. She is also well known for co-authoring Merchants of Doubt,  a book that was required reading during our summer course.

I was excited to hear in person her elaboration of the invitation teaser:

“Scientists are often reluctant to speak in public on contested issues, for fear that this will “politicize” their science and have a negative impact on their credibility. During the lecture, Dr. Oreskes will examine these concerns by exploring historical examples of scientists who have spoken up on scientific issues of broad importance, including nuclear weaponry, ozone depletion, and climate change.”

The talk was solidifying for me. The biggest take-away I jotted down addressed the following:

“Scientists will lose credibility. If we speak up we’ll be viewed as activists or advocates.” 

She reminded us that this is not a modern issue.

Scientists throughout history have dealt with their work being silenced and the need to speak out. Traditional thought has held that ‘facts speak for themselves’. If scientists just put the facts out there, all will be good.

But the catch is, they don’t. #AlternativeFacts

As a historian, Dr. Oreskes looked at many individuals who were well respected in science, and who became strong public figures.  In no historical cases did speaking out undermine their credibility, and no nobel prizes were revoked. In fact, she deduced that scientists weren’t targets because they spoke out. They became targets because of the great implications of the work they were doing (theory of evolution, nuclear weaponry, ozone hole depletion, atmospheric CO2, etc.), which then drew them to speak publicly exactly because their work was being attacked.

Instead of two extremes: keeping quiet, or being so outspoken you get arrested, she argued for a Responsible Scientists Ideal, urging that we as knowledgable professionals have an obligation to speak up and advocate for specific policies that control matters which threaten human health and life on this planet.

And while we cannot specifically answer questions outside of our field of expertise, we can forge collaborations with experts who are able to address policy, economic, and social questions.  She encouraged us that it is OK to do some extra homework and look into what experts of those fields are saying; to offer some potential solutions to our human-caused problems. If we come across situations where facts are totally disregarded, like with the denial of climate change, we can flip the argument and instead talk about values. About losing freedoms, fairness, accountability, realism, leadership in advanced technology, and good ole hard work.

I want to echo what Naomi shared with us:

The facts don’t speak for themselves. Someone has to speak up for them…and that is us, [the scientific community].

I would love to know what discussions you’ve had about this topic and how you’ve approached the argument ‘To speak, or not to speak’.

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Not even the proposed FY2018 discretionary budget can induce scientists to talk about war.

In spite of the growing realization that the political is part of science, that scientists can be activists and that racism and climate change are suitable topics for activism, that protection of refugees is paramount, and that research will be defunded as over half the discretionary budget already goes to war, there is a shocking silence from scientists against militarism and war.

Why?

It wasn’t always so. During the war against Vietnam, for example, scientists protested, started food banks, and worked to stopped military funding on campuses. Linus Pauling, who was awarded not only the 1954 Nobel Prize in Chemistry but also the 1962 (awarded in 1963) Nobel Peace Prize, famously in 1962 held a sign about the test ban treaty outside the White House, before going in to dine with President Kennedy to celebrate his Chemistry Nobel Prize with other laureates. Science for the People was only one of many scientific organizations that openly opposed the war and militarism.

But  right now, the silence is deafening. Scientists have spoken out against individual wars: many were activists against the Iraq Wars. But they spoke as if that particular war, and that particular president, were aberrations. Many have spoken out against nuclear weapons, but without even mentioned the military mindset and the war that would lead to the use of those weapons.

And it isn’t as if the military hasn’t already been taking up a huge portion of discretionary funding. In the Bush years, in the Obama years, there has been a steady increase in military funding. (The blue part of the pie is the over 50% of discretionary funding proposed for war by Obama.) Scientists have remained passive.

Scientists are speaking out about racism and the plight of refugees, but don’t mention that any come from the bombs, drones, weapons, “advisors” the USA has sent to the middle east and northern Africa. Stopping the devastation we are causing would go a long way towards helping refugees. It is terrific that scientists are finally speaking against the Muslim ban, but they need to explore the problem more deeply to be effective…and scientific.

Our organizations do not speak against war. Now, as deep cuts to research in favor of funding the military are put forward, there is still no protest against war. The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB)  statement on Trump’s proposed budget spoke against the 6 billion dollar cut to the NIH and other cuts made in favor of defense, and also mentioned that basic science research had helped many soldiers: this almost reads like a defense of war. The American Geophysical Union (AGU) in its statement about Trump’s budget also justifies the needs of the military (“Who will the military turn to when they need information to support effective troop movements?”) as a reason to support basic research. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest scientific organization, has said nothing about the madness of an increased military budget  and in their graphic, they list the increase in budget for the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons, apparently as a bright point.

The National Priorities Project (NPP), a non-partisan organization that looks at funding, issued a statement on Trumps FY2018 budget proposal does mention that the USA military budget is already larger than the next 7 countries combined.  The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) does not mention the deflection of money to the military in a blog statement on the budget, but does in the action center in its letter to Congress for scientists :

“This budget calls for a $54 billion increase in defense spending, while making cuts in the same amount to non-defense programs from science research to diplomacy efforts. At the same time, President Trump has endorsed the idea of a nuclear spending spree, which would be dangerous and wasteful. The United States should be investing more in diplomacy and science–not new nuclear weapons.”

I take heart from this.

But the organizational responses may just be completely honest on one level: scientific research walks arm in arm with the military and with war. Scientists are funded by war, they work on war, they are needed for war. If we called it genocide instead of war, would scientists feel less that they don’t need to rationalize their complicity with the military? Genocide is not an aberration is war, nor is rape, hunger, or torture. Or the creation of millions of forces refugees. War is the mass murder of civilians: 90% of the deaths are civilian deaths.

Graphic “Trump’s Budget: Winners and Losers” from the Los Angeles Times .

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AGU- The Federal Budget Process and What you can do

 

Federal Spending and What It Means for Science- AGU Webinar, March 9, 2016

Key points, in brief:

Knowledge of the budget process is necessary in order to interact with and influence policy makers.

The USA Federal Budget is composed of Mandatory Spending (Entitlements) and Discretionary Spending, which Congress determines for every year. Research spending is part of discretionary spending, and your input to Congresspeople is vital.

Mandatory spending is 2/3 of the total budget, discretionary is 1/3. The discretionary budget is over 50% defense, with research, education health, etc sharing the other almost 50%. Mysteriously, no one questions the defense budget, while research must compete with education, etc. for its little piece of the pie. Science gets 1% of the total.

AGU urges folks to try for input with legislators on the FY 2018 budget while your Congresspeople are back home in their districts during Congressional recess around April 10-17. (AGU can facilitate visits to Congresspeople in DC at other times.)

Call your Congresspeople gently but persistently to request a meeting. The AGU website has info on key issues in their Tool Kits. Be prepared with some handouts, be brief, be appreciative of the Congressperson’s time. If the Congressperson can’t meet with you and you are instead scheduled with a staff member, be gracious and respectful and give your spiel.

 

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) website has many resources for scientists to use to communicate with policy makers. Their March 9 webinar,  The Federal Budget Process and What You Can Do, is available online, as are the slides.

 

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Can climate survive adherence to war and partisanship? By David Swanson

Can the Climate Survive Adherence to War and Partisanship?

By David Swanson
http://davidswanson.org/node/5448
For the past decade, the standard procedure for big coalition rallies and marches in Washington D.C. has been to gather together organizations representing labor, the environment, women’s rights, anti-racism, anti-bigotry of all sorts, and a wide array of liberal causes, including demands to fund this, that, and the other, and to halt the concentration of wealth.

At that point, some of us in the peace movement will generally begin lobbying the PEP (progressive except for peace) organizers to notice that the military is swallowing up enough money every month to fund all their wishes 100 times over for a year, that the biggest destroyer of the natural environment is the military, that war fuels and is fueled by racism while stripping our rights and militarizing our police and creating refugees.

When we give up on trying to explain the relevance of our society’s biggest project to the work of reforming our society, we generally point out that peace is popular, that it adds a mere 5 characters to a thousand-word laundry list of causes, and that we can mobilize peace groups to take part if peace is included.

Often this works. Several big coalition efforts have eventually conceded and included peace in some token way in their platforms. This success is most likely when the coalition’s organizing is most democratic (with a small d). So, Occupy, obviously, ended up including a demand for peace despite its primary focus on a certain type of war profiteers: bankers.

Other movements include a truly well informed analysis with no help from any lobbying that I’ve had to be part of. The Black Lives Matter platform is better on war and peace than most statements from the peace movement itself. Some advocates for refugees also seem to follow logic in opposing the wars that create more refugees.

Other big coalition actions simply will not include any preference for peace over war. This seems to be most likely to happen when the organizations involved are most Democratic (with a capital D). The Women’s March backs many other causes, but uses the word peace without suggesting any preference for peace: “We work peacefully while recognizing there is no true peace without justice and equity for all.” There is also, one might note, no justice or equity for anybody living under bombs.

Here’s a coalition currently trying to decide whether it dare say the word peace: https://peoplesclimate.org.

This group is planning a big march for the climate and many other unrelated causes, such as the right to organize unions, on April 29. Organizers claim some relationship among all the causes. But, of course, there isn’t really an obvious direct connection between protecting the climate and protecting gay rights or the rights of workers. They may all be good causes and all involve kindness and humility, but they can be won separately or together.

Peace is different. One cannot, in fact, protect the climate while allowing the military to drain away the funding needed for that task, dumping it into operations that consume more petroleum than any other and which lead the way in poisoning water, land, and air. Nor can a climate march credibly claim, as this one does, to be marching for “everything we love” and refuse to name peace, unless it loves war or is undecided between or uninterested in the benefits of mass murder versus those of nonviolent cooperation.

Here’s a petition you can sign to gently nudge the People’s Climate March in the right direction. Please do so soon, because they’re making a decision.

The struggle to save the climate faces other hurdles in addition to loyalty to militarism. I mean, beyond the mammoth greed and corruption and misinformation and laziness, there are other unnecessary handicaps put in place even by those who mean well. A big one is partisanship. When Republicans have finally proposed a carbon tax, many on the left simply won’t consider it, won’t even tackle the problem of making it actually work fairly and honestly and aggressively enough to succeed. Perhaps because some of the supporters seem untrustworthy. Or perhaps because some of the supporters likely don’t believe you need labor unions in order to tax carbon.

And which ones would you need, the ones advocating for more pipelines or the ones working in other fields?

Scientists, too, are planning to march on Washington. The scientific consensus on war has been around as long as that on climate change. But what about the popular acceptance? What about the appreciation among grant-writing foundations? What do the labor unions and big environmental groups feel about it? These are the important questions, I’m afraid, even for a scientists’ march.

But I appreciate the scientific method enough to hope my hypothesis is proven wrong.

David Swanson, who has already answered your concerns about impeaching Trump at http://firedonaldtrump.org, is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson’s books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. He is a 2015, 2016, 2017 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee.

Help support DavidSwanson.org, WarIsACrime.org, and TalkNationRadio.org by clicking here: http://davidswanson.org/donate.

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Trump is not the only bully in town! Who is the bully in your lab?

Trump is not the only bully in town.

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The vulgarity of Donald Trump has outraged many in the USA. Thousands of women are planning to march tomorrow, January 21, the day after Inauguration Day: many are protesting today against sexism and racism. Everyone, including scientists, are tweeting and blogging about the way ahead.

(I have a bad case of deja vu, feeling that Bush was replaced with Trump as a target of partisan rage- and that policy runs second to personality politics.)

The next few years will likely be punctuated with protest, and hopefully, this protest will result in better policies in human rights throughout the country, and the world. But when we think of what we want to do, there are target areas we can clean up in our own institutions.

The last several years have been interesting ones in the public outing of overt sexism in the laboratory. Astronomer Geoff Marcy probably accrued the most national publicity, both because of his fame and the widespread and longterm range of his treatment of women. What became obvious was that Marcy’s actions were well known, and effectively supported, by other scientists for many years. Such sexism, such bullying, would not have been possible without this silent collaboration of bystander scientists and administrators.

Few are the departments that don’t have at least one bully, someone who abuses his or her power over someone with less power. It may the dean, the chairperson, head of the lab, or a member of faculty or staff who is know to make racist or sexist jokes, to be dismissive of some at meetings, to lie, to use lab and department members for his or her own glory, without giving credit. This goes on because people are quiet: they say nothing publicly, they wait for someone else to say something.

Call it out. Call it out at the time.

If you are the lab head, and don’t correct the behavior of a lab member at the time of a nasty statement, you are sending a bad, bad message. If it was done in public, correct it in public. Don’t ever let ugly behavior fester because you don’t want to hurt the perpetrator’s feelings, or cause embarrassment. Step up for the person who may not yet have the courage- or power- to speak up.

If you are dealing with one of the many narcissists in research, prepare for a nasty response. It may help to have allies, and a plan, when dealing with someone who will never think the rules apply to him, and who might mount a campaign against you. In this case, it may help to approach someone else to find an effective way to deal with the person. Don’t be surprised if leadership tries to protect a successful researcher, no matter how nasty the behavior is: you might have to approach HR, or the press, to help deal the situation. It can take a while to dislodge a person with power, and you must know what price you are willing to pay. Note: don’t be the guy who pops up 10 years later and says, oh, dear, I had to protect myself.

Try to stand up for people who aren’t even “your” folks, even outside the lab. Stay safe, be firm.

Trump is not responsible for the racism and sexism and militarism of the USA. Before taking office, he is being blamed for many, many heartbreaking actions, while the present administration is being treated as heroes. An excellent article by Thomas Harrington  describes the current obliviousness to the war crimes and domestic crimes that have been part of politics the last few years. American culture is violent, and the political acceptance of war, mass incarcerations, lack of health care signifie a nation run by bullies, as described in Bully Nation: How the American Establishment Creates a Bullying Society.

 

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What should I write about? Examples from other scientists’ op-ed articles in the New York Times

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Write an op-ed! Op-eds and other newspaper articles are very effective ways to communicate a new idea or synthesis of ideas, or to remind a large audience of an issue you think they should consider.

But what should you write about? Easy- something you care about. It could be your work, someone else’s research, or a political issue.

Just some of the op-eds in the New York Times that are written by scientists in the last couple of years (2013- 2016), with the except of physicist Freeman Dyson’s 2000 op-ed “Science, Guided by Ethics, Can Lift Up the Poor,” are listed below. Many of the headline issues are here: elections, same-sex marriage, climate change, common core standards in public schools.

There are several observations one could make by a brief look. Op-ed contributors come from all over the world, though a majority are east coast scientists. Many of the articles are written by scientists who also have written a book or are in a non-profit in the field on which they are writing: perhaps they are comfortable with talking with the public. More cynically, I wondered, perhaps they are promoting new books? But I think many of these authors try to communicate a burning issue in every way they can, and so write books, write op-eds, give talks.

Sometimes people write about a concern not in a field of work that relates to their training. For example, Physicist Michael Riordan wrote an op-ed “Don’t Sell Cheap Coal to Asia” on the effect of such a policy decision on carbon dioxide emissions. But most write and relate their topic to their own experiences.

It isn’t terribly easy to have your op-ed published in the New York Times. Many issues are local, and writing op-eds for local papers might be a better way (and good practice) to communicate your thoughts as a scientist and citizen.

EXAMPLES OF NY TIMES OP-EDS WRITTEN BY SCIENTISTS.

Science, Guided by Ethics, Can Lift Up the Poor. Freeman Dyson, Professor of Physics at the Institute for Advanced Study and the author of books on science and philosophy.  May 29, 2000.

How to Handle the Vaccine Skeptics. Saad B. Omer, Associate Professor of Global Health, Epidemiology and Pediatrics at Emory University.  February 6, 2015.

The Roots of Implicit Bias. Daniel A Yudkin, graduate student and Jay Van Bavel, Associate Professor, New York University in the Psychology Department. December 11, 2016.

Second Thoughts of an Animal Researcher. John P. Gluck, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of New Mexico. September 4, 2016.

There’s Such a Thing as Too Much Neuroscience. John C. Markowitx, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Columbia University and a research psychiatrist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. October 14, 2016.

Medicating a Prophet. Medicating a Prophet.Irene Hurford, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and director of a psychosis program at Horizon House. October 1, 2016.

If You See Something, Say Something. Michael E. Mann, Director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University and the author of “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines.”  January 17, 2014.

How to Stop Overprescribing Antibiotics. Craig R. Fox, Jeffrey A. Wonder, and Jason N. Doctor.  Craig Fox is a Professor of Management, Psychology, and Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. Jessfrey Linder is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Jason Doctor is an Associate Professor of Pharmaceutical and Health Economics at the University of Southern California. March 25, 2016.

Evolution is Happening Faster Than We Thought. Menno Schilthuizen, Evolutionary Biologist at the Naturalis BioDiversity Center in the Netherlands and the author of “Nature’s Nether Regions” and the forthcoming “Darwin Comes to Town.”  July 23, 2016.

Are You in Despair? That’s Good. Lisa Feldman Barrett, Professor of Psychology at Northeastern University and the author of the forthcoming “How Emotions Are Made.” June 3, 2016.

The Lost Culture of Whales. Shane Hero, Behavioral Ecologist and founder of the Dominica Sperm Whale Project.  October 9, 2016

Eliminate the TB Scourge. Uvistra Naidoo, Pediatrician and Research Scientist in Cape Town, South Africa. May 19, 2016

Climate Change in Trump’s Age of Ignorance. Robert N. Proctor, Professor of the History of Science at Stanford and the Author of “Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition.” November 20, 2016

The Math of March Madness. Jordan Ellenburg, Professor of Mathematics at the  University of Wisconsin and the author, most recently, of “How Not To Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking.” March 22, 2015.

‘Run, Hide, Fight’ Is Not How Our Brains Work. Joseph Ledoux, Professor of Science at New York University and the author of “Anxious” Using the Brain to Understand and Treat Fear and Anxiety.”  December 20, 2015.

Unequal, Yet Happy. Steven Quartz, Professor of Philosophy and Neuroscience and Anette Asp, a political scientist, both the authors of “Cool: How the Brain’s Hidden Quest for Cool Drives Our Economy and Shapes Our World.”.    April 11, 2015

How I Got Converted to G.M.O. Food. Mark Lynas, researcher at the Cornell Alliance for Science and the author, most recently, of “The God Species: How the Planet Can Survive the Age of Humans.” April 26, 2015

A Bird Whose Life Depends on a Crab. Deborah Cramer, visiting scholar at the M.I.T. Earth System Initiative and the author, most recently, of “Smithsonian Ocean: Our Water Our World.” November 27, 2013

Academic Science Isn’t Sexist. Wendy M. Williams and Stephen J. Ceci, Professors of Human Development at Cornell. November 2, 2014

An Epidemic of Thyroid Cancer? H. Gilbert Welch, Professor of Medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for health Policy and Clinical Practice and an author of “Overdiagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health.” November 6, 2014

Beware Marauding Carp. David Strayer, a Senior Scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and the author of “The Hudson River Primer: Ecology of an Iconic River” and John Waldman, Professor of Biology at Queens College, City University of New York and the author of “Running Silver: Restoring Atlantic Rivers and Their Great Fish Migrations.” November 19, 2013.

Bring Back the Lyme Vaccine. Stanley A. Plotkin, Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania.  September 18, 2013

Don’t Sell Cheap U.S. Coal to Asia. Michael Riordan, physicist and author of “The Hunting of the Quark.” February 13, 2014.

Fix the Flaws in Forensic Science. Eric S. Lander, Director of the Broad Institute of M.I.T. and Harvard and the co-chairman of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. April 21, 2015

Give the Data to the People. Harlan M. Krumholz, Professor of Cardiology and Public health at the Yale School of Medicine. February 2, 2014

God, Darwin and My College Biology Class. David P. Barash, Evolutionary Biologist and Professor of Psychology at the University of Washington. September 27, 2014.

How to Fall in Love with Math. Manil Sure, Mathematics Professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the author, most recently, of the novel “The City of Devi.” September 16, 2013

Iowa in the Amazon. Stephen Porder, Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Brown University.   November 24, 2013.

Is the Universe a Simulation? Edward Frenkel, Professor of Mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley and the author of “Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality.” February 16, 2014.

Let Math Save Our Democracy. Sam Wang, Professor of Neuroscience and Molecular Biology at Princeton and the founder of the Princeton Election Consortium. December 5, 2015.

Meet the New Common Core. Jordan Ellenburg, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Wisconsin and the author of “How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking.”  June 16, 2015.

Nature’s Case for Same Sex Marriage.  David George Haskell, Professor of Biology at Sewanee, the University of the South and the author of “the Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature.”  March 30, 2013.

New Blood Donor policy, Same Gay Stigma. I. GlennCohen, Professor at Harvard Law School and the faculty director of the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology and Bioethics, and Eli Y. Akashi, a professor and former dean of Medical Science at Brown University. May 21, 2015.

Our Lonely Home in Nature. Alan Lightman, Physicist who teaches Humanities at M.I.T. and most recently the author of “The Accidental Universe.” May 2, 2014.

Reefer Madness, an Unfortunate Redux. Carl. L. Hart, Associate Professor of Psychology at Columbia University and the author of “High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self Discovery That Challenges Everything Your Know about Drugs and Society.” July 11, 2013

Predator and Prey, a Delicate Dance. John A. Vucetich is a population biologist at Michigan Tech , Michael P. Nelson is an environmental ethicist at Oregon State University,  and Rolf O. Peterson is a Wildlife Ecologist at Michigan Tech. May 8, 2013.

Stopping the Next Amphibian Apocalypse. Karen R. Lips, Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Maryland. November 15, 2014.

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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

Riyadh Lafta’s talk can be viewed on YouTube.

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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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