Author Archive | Kathy Barker

So long to the Seattle March for Science

I am so disappointed with the Seattle March for Science. Not surprised, but still disappointed. t

A few years ago, I rolled up to the parking booth to pay after shopping in Uwajimaya in Seattle. On the side of my car I had a sticker that said “Scientists Against War” and the parking attendant laughed and laughed at it. He asked me how I could have that sticker, as scientists were the people who came up with the nuclear bomb, who continued to work on weapons, and who continue therefore to support war.

Well, I am a scientist, but I don’t make weapons, and am an antiwar activist. We had a good, though brief talk- because we knew that we were both correct. Science is a process and a technique. It is not inherently good or bad: the users of science, and the people the science is used for/against bring the morality to the application of science.

This thought- that science nor its applications might not be perfect- was not allowed to sully the Seattle March for Science (SMfS) or its Facebook group. Solidarity in the belief that SCIENCE IS GREAT might have made a good banner or motivating phrase, but it sure falls short in effectiveness for change.

Donald Trump is blamed for everything, for bad science, or unscience, or ignoring science. Lordy, he is about as bad as could have been predicted. But he is a manifestation, not a cause, of political horror in the USA. Blaming him for everything might seem to build solidarity, but it isn’t true. Water quality has been terrible in Flint for years, for example. How can we approach problems with science if we don’t look at the origins of the issues?

SMfS has evolved its own list of what is allowed to be posted. The plight of the refugees in Europe is horrible, yes- that US and its scientists involvement in war might be responsible, no. The first is Truth, the latter is “political.”

GMO is GREAT, and pesticides are GREAT, and there is no discussion of good things that may be done badly. (Perhaps all corporations are also GREAT, as anything done with any test tube or chemical is science and is GREAT.) I realize that some of the MfS reaction is the way arguments go in the USA, partisan arguments in which no one will give an inch from the line they have drawn as that might imply their whole idea is wrong. And MfS folks can’t seem to admit that not all science is good.

There seems to be no shortage of men telling women just what science is. Someone yesterday posted a request from a woman from Indivisible, searching for an economics/tax professional to speak on a panel about the “TrumpTax scam.” Among the dozens and dozens of anti-Trump postings, it was a very small calm and small requests for an actual expert. One guy answered “This has nothing to do with science. Please refrain from using this page for such posts.” Another guy wrote “Everything can be studied by science- that does not mean it becomes de facto on topic. Trump’s tax dodging isn’t a science matter. You are not looking to talk about economics, you are looking to accuse someone of a scam. I hope you find the person you are looking for, but this isn’t the area to talk about that. Thanks for understanding”-and then an administrator (perhaps the same person commenting, one of the 2 hosts) turned off comments on the post, so no one could even point out how capricious the shut down was. Of course, there are many, many posts on Trumps’ plan to tax graduate students.

In the last couple of years there have been firings and scandals of scientists for sexual harassment. Despite all the women who have weighed in with their own stories, the interpretation persisted that these were aberrations. With the flow of stories from science as well as from politics, journalism, entertainment, and sports, I hope it is clear that the culture of science suffers the same systemic problems as those examples. Science is not special. It can be a marvelous tool, but it only has only as much integrity as we humans bring to it.

And it will require a lot less self-interest to be an international movement, a happening that seems as likely as hitting those C02 goals, and for the same reasons.

 

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Make Art not War- or Both? Poppy Kohner

Guest post by anthropologist and activist Poppy Kohner

Make Art Not War… or both?

Poppy Kohner

The Fringe festival has always been eclectic. Not an inch of Edinburgh is wasted as the whole city becomes a stage and all the people, merely players. But this year, on its 70th anniversary, the well-regarded Fringe venue Summerhall collaborated with a newcomer: the British Army. The Army Reserve Centre and Drill Hall in East Claremont Street transformed into a performance venue that was programmed and staffed by serving soldiers. This was billed as an opportunity to demystify the military, but should we be concerned that this particular kind of militainment is only the beginning of the Army’s engagement in the arts in Scotland and the UK?

I’m an anthropologist of militarism and a theatre-maker, so I felt I had to wander down Leith Walk and make a visit to the drill hall-cum-theatre venue to take a closer look.

Many of the shows programmed by Army@theFringe dealt with subject matters such as race, gender, disability, mental illness and even imperialism. But here I am not interested in reviewing the shows as much as I am reviewing the politics of the Army hosting audiences at the Fringe.

On entering the drill hall I am greeted by soldiers. Lots of soldiers – more than are necessary. There is a relaxed, jovial, slightly disorganised atmosphere that is fairly welcoming. From the research I have done inside military bases the playful banter between soldiers on shift feels fairly familiar to me. Contrary to the marketed image of travel and adventure, being in the army usually entails a lot of waiting around.

I chat to a small crowd of friendly soldiers loitering in the entrance by the makeshift box office. I ask if they are paid any extra on their normal salary to staff the venue. “No,” they tell me, “but we volunteered to do it.” A Superior Officer catches wind of our conversation and strides between us with a brisk yet casual air of importance. He extends his finger in the air and without stopping or looking in my direction he bellows, “All our British soldiers are volunteers! Every single one of them wants to be here!” and continues to walk out the front door.

Compared to a larger conscription army, a volunteer force is easier to train, discipline, and retain. A smaller army also allows for public perception to be controlled by the military public relations team, as a smaller percent of the population actually experience army life. This notion of a professional army full of patriotic volunteers bolsters the cogency of the hero myth that makes up a central tenant of militarism. Once inside the military, individuals have a different (and limited) set of rights compared to civilians, and it is extremely difficult to leave once a contract is signed. In an era of austerity, increasing precarity, and the privatisation of social services such as higher education and healthcare, the army successfully presents itself as a fast track means towards social and economic mobility. So in response to the Superior Officer, how free is a choice between a vanishing number of options?

Inside the drill hall’s Mess there are Chesterfield sofas, a long table complete with tartan tablecloths, cut glass, candelabras, statuettes, trophies and other silver ornaments. The massive stuffed head of a caribou stares over us with glazed eyes and sprawling antlers, framed either side by pictures of Queen Liz and Prince Phillip. Despite all the twee, it feels sterile, solemn and stuffy.

The exhibition at the venue was a celebration of soldiers in both training and operations, including a bigger-than-life-sized photograph of a small child in army camouflage crouching in long grass, without explanation. The Army were keen to assure me that this endeavor was not a recruitment exercise but about public engagement. Lt Col Jo Young, the British Army’s Officer for the Arts commented, “The impact of this is not something we can measure in terms of how many more people will join us as a result.” Lt Col Gordon McKenzie, head of public engagement, described it as “deepening the public understanding of who we are and what we do. So that people can know that behind the uniform we are also human beings”. But focusing on the person behind the uniform diverts the audience’s attention away from the Army as an institution. “Don’t worry about what we might be doing in the Middle East,” it says, “just remember: we’re people too.” In this way, the army’s engagement with the arts is a means to depoliticise the image of a soldier; a deeply political and strategic move.

Theatre is always in danger of becoming an apparatus of the state. Theatre operates on our sensibilities in ways that can evoke deep emotional responses and has the potential to change perceptions and consequential actions (or inaction). Aristotle called this catharsis: an empathetic connection towards the protagonist of a story, which, as the play comes to a resolution, arouses a potent mix of pity and fear in the hearts of the spectators.

Militarism is a kind of theatre in and of itself; a domestic military operation of public relations to recruit our hearts and minds. It communicates a simplified and highly censored story of British exceptionalism and moral righteousness of state sanctioned violence. It transforms violence into something to celebrate. The tragic heroes of this story are service members and we the civilians are a captive audience.

Lt Col Young commented that “Human spirit and human resilience is the common thread that runs throughout our programming. But we are also keen to have conversations with the public about what the forces looks like in the 21st Century. We want to show the public a different side of us. We are society’s army, and so its important that those we serve know about what the army does”.

My research has shown that there is often a disjuncture between imagined and lived military identities. As the protagonists in the narrative of militarism, soldiers and veterans are silenced by idealised notions of their lives and experiences. The more confounding and painful lived realities of post-9/11 military experience get blocked out by the noise of militarism and quickly become unspeakable, un-hearable and invisible. A romanticized public perception of military life can further injure soldiers who are trapped in a traumatic silence, unable to speak their contrary truths.

Lt Col Young and her team are proud to act as programmers, and not actors, writers or directors. Over a gin and tonic Lt Col McKenzie told me that if they become the theatre makers they would be more vulnerable to criticism, but they are not ruling this out for the future. The narratives of militarism that we find at Army@theFringe presents the Army as being inclusive, diverse and open to dialogue. However there is something more at work – the claim to inclusivity conceals the fact that the Army@theFringe is a carefully constructed, morally manageable, imitation of the Army which is difficult to challenge.

Public engagement exercises like the Army@TheFringe venue distance the military from the realities of what it does and disciplines the nation from critically engaging with war, and the implications of our arms trade. “What is often missing from theatre and film depictions of the army” says Iraqi-British playwright Hassan Abdulrazzak “is the voice of those who are/were at the receiving end of military power, namely Afghani, Iraqi, Libyan and Yemeni civilians.”

This is a beginning of much wider programme of work orientated around military engagement in the arts. Army@theFringe is a part of worrying trend of the British military using US-style techniques of garnering public support for the troops. Some of these include the creation of Armed Forces Day in 2009, the commercialization of the Remembrance Poppy, army engagement in schools, learning packs that celebrate British military history for school children, increasing cadet forces across the UK, and a recruitment campaign that exploits young people’s desire to belong.

The Fringe is an open access festival, and this is important for nurturing creative freedom and expression, as was the ethos it was borne out of 70 years ago. I am not advocating censorship or blacklisting. However, this entanglement between the arts and the forces is an issue of censorship – we need to ask, what becomes censored when elite institutions take on the programming and hosting of the arts? Can we really expect to have a meaningful dialogue when the armed forces are calling the shots? How critical can embedded artists really be when in a relationship of gratitude to their military hosts?

The MoD did not have direct influence on four of the shows in their programme, with the exception of Rosie Kay’s dance company for their production of 5 Soldiers: the body is the frontline and the writers of Wired, who visited in the army for a period of time in the research and development stages of their creative process.

So what’s the pull for producers to choose the Army drill hall as the venue to host their show? Lt Col Young tells me that many of the costs involved in putting on a show at the Drill Hall have been subsidised and artists have been further helped out with access to free rehearsal space. The Army@theFringe have already started planning for next year’s Fringe noting in their brief that 2018 is designated Year of the Young Person by the Scottish Government. As part of their package to attract artists they have promised: to organise visits to Army bases or exercises to assist development of productions; access to rehearsal space in army halls across the UK; army personnel and musicians to take part in productions; promotional support from army media and marketing teams, including free distribution of leaflets by uniformed flyer teams; army accommodation being made available for the duration of shows, free meals for casts at the venue; and the possibility of being selected for post-Fringe tours of the Scotland and the UK, supported by the Army.

How to resist being seduced by these offerings that give emerging artists opportunities in a competitive arena like the Fringe? I wanted to ask Summerhall whether, in a time of escalating fear, xenophobia and military activity, is it not the responsibility of arts institutions to make choices that counter, not aide, a growing culture that idolises militarism and war? Despite leaving many messages and sending emails, I’m yet to get an answer.

Militarism operates in innocuous ways that normalise military imaginaries as a part of our everyday lives. At these first stages of the British Armed Forces moving into arts engagement we have a moment to act. Now is the time for artists, writers, directors and arts organisations in the UK and Scotland to come together to make a collective and public declaration on the ethics of collaborating with the Army.

Dr P Kohner is an anthropologist and has a PhD in Applied Social Science specializing in the anthropology of militarism and trauma from the University of Glasgow.  She is also a co-founder of The Workers Theatre cooperative.

https://www.forceswatch.net/blog/make-art-not-war-or-both  This article was posted first on Forces Watch, an activist UK group that works to mitigate the recruiting of minors.

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UMass Lowell Kuwait campus will be built to reward Raytheon weapon sales to Kuwait

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This story- that Raytheon would build a campus in Kuwait for Mass-Lowell  – is over 2 years old. But it is just as shocking as it was then, and makes more sense in light of the recent news that Qatar is being squeezed by 5 other Arab states  and is undoubtedly being pushed by the USA alliance with Saudi Arabia . Buried within that article is the interesting statement “Qutar has also built deep ties to American academia, providing funding and real estate to build Middle Eastern campuses for six major universities, including Cornell, Georgetown and Northwestern.”

Sounds innocent, right? Building universities is a win-win for all, it might seem, a way to bring people together from around the world, sharing expertise. Ah, but what expertise- and who is funding these universities? This is not easy information to find.

But sometimes, a window opens, and you can see all the way back in a dark, foul, smelly cave of vested interests.

The Mass Lowell campus is being funded by defense contractor Raytheon. It is being funded by a defense offset, a bribe that defense contractors use to convince a country to buy their weapons. So, in order to sell their weapons to Kuwait, Raytheon agreed to build a campus for Kuwait. And it is building in in partnership with the Lowell campus of the University of Massachusetts, with which it already has a close relationship. So the campus will be funded by the sale of weapons. Overtly, clearly, UMass Lowell is being built on the bloodshed of Yemen.

The Mass/Lowell campus doesn’t shirk from protest. The UMass system, including Lowell, was the first public university to divest from fossil fuels . They protested the visit of Donald Trump . Adjunct faculty protested their pay inequities and the high pay given to an outgoing president. But there hasn’t been a remark against this weapon-funded campus that I could find. I contacted reporter Rick Sobey, who writes about the deal for the Lowell Sun, and he has not heard of any protests. I also contacted the UMass Lowell Undergraduate Society of Science Students (USSS) , as several members were involved in the Trump protest, but received no answer. I am not surprised- it seems everything is fair game for protest except war and militarism. I would expect the same lack of response in dealing with Boeing- University of Washington relationships here in Seattle, for the same reason- defense contractors are a great source of funding.

It is not clear who, besides the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development  is funding the Cornell, Georgetown, Texas A&M, Virginia Commonwealth, Northwestern, and Carnegie Mellon Qatar campuses . We know the NYU- Abu Dhabi campus in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is funded by multiple UAE groups, and this includes The Innovation Institute (which does scientific research in collaboration with aerospace defense contractors who have sold weapons to the UAE): The Innovation Institute then grants funds to NYU research scientists for university research with military applications (Archer, John M, NYU in Abu Dhabi: The Future is Upon Us. The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 27, 2012. Letter to the Editor).  Though defense offsets must be reported to the Bureau of Industry and Security, part of the Department of Commerce, they do not have to be publicized and are difficult to find- for example, in the NYU example given above, Archer found out about the defense offset through the minutes of the NYU Faculty Senate. Undoubtedly, more are out there, with USA universities, contractors, and organizations.  The relentless and  cheerful championing of Saudi Arabia by the AAAS  sure is suggestive of, at least, a state department link.

I expect to read more about science, academia, and scientists profiting from defense offsets for weapons sales. And I am hoping for some protest against the increasing amount of military funding of academic research on campuses all over the country….

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Censorship and denial in the March for Science

The March for Science may herald a new activism on the part of scientists, and that is tremendous. People are marching for a variety of reasons (for science, for funding and their jobs, against Trump, for more inclusion of scientists in the political process, to demonstrate a love for science, to change the culture of science away from sexism and racism, etc), and are not marching for a smaller variety of reasons (science shouldn’t be political, marching will send the wrong message and alienate people, scientists are partnering with the wrong people), all of which is typical of the beginning of a movement.

(Some of the many articles about the March for Science are curated at the end of the article, in categories according to approval or disapproval of the march and of activism among scientists.)

One of the most encouraging aspects of the march is that many of the organizers and participants are non-scientists who cherish the wonders of science. A world in which science is integrated with the humanities, social sciences, and other creative pursuits sounds pretty wonderful, and the partnerships being made through the march can bring new understanding and potential into all our endeavors.

But somehow, what the march isn’t is troubling. It isn’t honest. It rebrands itself constantly, to retain the good graces of…hard to say what- the public?

Shouldn’t scientists be more honest about their culture and enterprise to be sure the trust they are requesting from the public is earned? Shouldn’t discussions of the march be deep and provocative and brutally honest?

Instead, there is quiet, disapproval, censorship, in contradiction to the march motto, “Science, not silence.”

The D.C. March organizers deleted tweets about the massive bomb in Afghanistan, chemical weapons, and scientist involvement in weapons. Mention of that disappeared everywhere but in the right- wing press, where it was heralded as a typical anti- patriot left-wing statement, and is still getting air time a week later  (Here is a link to a April 19 National Review article.). This deletion is straight-forward censorship. Diversity may, shamefully, be controversial as a topic, but war is forbidden.

March organizers are deciding what is political, and what isn’t. We mustn’t offend anyone! Don’t mention conflicts of interest, weapons research, the harsh penalties for environmental activism or whistleblowing, the pervasive influence of sexism and racism on individuals and kind of science done…. Instead, the march is a pep rally, a Super Bowl extravaganza, an orchestrated national political convention. A look at the National Review article linked in the above paragraph suggests how effective tip-toeing around is in trying to change minds.

Nature just published a quick summary of the march, attributing the initial enthusiasm to post-Trump anger and fear, and then describing the insistence of organizers and supporters that the march is not political.

This decision to placate Republican politicians may be more than inexperience, or cowardice.

It might also be that scientists have great power in the United States, and they don’t want to perturb that power. While individuals are disposable, science in integrally associated with the military, with the government and regulatory agencies, with academia and with corporations. Perhaps they don’t want to challenge the status quo too much. A good summary of the funding for science that influences research can be found in the SGR statement for the March of Science issued by the UK Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR), which supports the march but calls for scientists to stand up for society.

Perhaps the majority make-up of the march -white, educated, perhaps mostly liberal- is not yet ready to be straightforward or to make sacrifices needed for real change in science and for science, for all (if, indeed, that is what they even want). A reminder from friend Jesse White pointed me to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham jail”  which King addressed to clergyman who objected to his activist stance.

It seems the March for Science is accepting a negative peace, not yet ready to spend their social capital. But individuals will march for what they believe, and may be able to leverage this opportunity to use science to better the world.

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Support the march.

The Editors of a Major Scientific Publication Are Urging Readers to Attend the March for Science.” April 12, 2017. Time magazine write Charlotte Alter slightly implies it is okay to march as Nature says it is okay.

What Exactly are People Marching for When They March for Science? March 7, 2017. Science writer Ed Long for The Atlantic. There is confusion because of multiple goals of the march, but that’s okay.

Analyzing the March for Science Diversity Discourse. April 11, 2017. Applied sociologist and blogger Zuleyka Zevallos. People either approved or disapproved of discussion of diversity in science- interesting discussion why! March will be good to develop these issues.

I’m going to #sciencemarch in Washington. Here’s why. January 30, 2017. Scientist Sara Whitlock in STAT. Straightforward reasons for herself- marching against Trump-targetted scientists and policies, marching for open access to science and data.

Is #ScienceMarch Really Against Science? January 30, 2017. Medical and academic book editor Laurie Endicott Thomas, on her blog Not Trivial. As opposed to Steven Pinker, she emphasizes the use of science for bad purposes (each as war and genocide), and that scientists have often been complicit in racial and gender-bases oppression, and believes the march is a great way to stand against Trump, bad science, sexism and racism.

Q&Q: Marching for Science in Memphis: A conversation with activist and undergraduate student Sydney Bryant. March 22, 2017. Marine Biology student Sydney Bryant wants to bridge the gap between scientists, activists, and non-scientists. Celebrates connection of science with social justice.

Marchers around the World Tell Us Why They Are Taking to The Streets for science. April 13, 2017. By the Science News Staff. Scientists have a variety of reasons why they are marching: Egage public opinion, agitate vs Trump’s policies, protecting science from attack.

Putting Science into Practice: Why We Need To Play Our Part. March 8, 2017. Environmental sociologist Angie Carter for Union of Concerned Scientists.

Reasons to march for science in Seattle. Or not. April 17, 2017. David Hyde for KUOW, Seattle. Though several scientists give their reservations, more coverage is given to those who don’t mind that the march may appear to be political.

Science March: Above Politics? or Partisan for Humanity? April 18, 2017. Refuse Racism website. Defense of science should be non-partisan but should be political, and that is fine.

Scientists and Activists Look Beyond the March for Science. April 17, 2017. Nicholas St. Fleur for the New York Times. In looking toward the time post march, and how activism will continue, the article is very pro-march. Politics and diversity are worthwhile issues for science, and the march is likely to encourage more scientists to enter politics.

Should Scientists Engage in Activism? March 26, 2017. Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus, for  theConversation.com. The answer is yes. Pinker and Young are the unbelievable antagonists in this story: Many other scientists give good reasons to mix politics and science.

The March for Science is Political, and That’s a Good Thing. February 25, 2017. Miriam Kramer for Mashable. Science is and always was political. And to save it, you gotta be political now.

We Are the Scientists Against a Fascist Government. February 2, 2017. Scientists Chanda Pressed-Weinstein, Sarah Tuttle, and Joseph Osmundson in The Establishment. Very strong statement about failures of scientists to stand up against oppression, and the need to do so now.

When I March for Science, I’ll March for Equity, Inclusion, and Access. March 22, 2017. Gretchen Goldman, Center for Science and Democracy at Union of Concerned Scientists. Science is driven by values and politics, and hasn’t always been used for good. March for diversity and inclusion.

Why are Scientists So Averse to Public Engagement? It’s time to confront our demons. March 8, 2017. March 8, 2017. Climate science ph.D. student Ply Achakulwisut on the Scientific American blog. Anti-science forces were in play before Trump, and scientists feared losing their credibility by speaking up. March for Science is one of the hopeful signs that scientists are finally pushing themselves.

Support the march with qualifications

To March for Science, D.C. Satellite Marches in US and Around the World. April 18, 2017. Indigenous Scientists support the march, but urges acknowledgement of the contributions of indigenous scientists, and acceptance of multiple kinds of science and ways of knowing.

An Open Letter to the Center for Biological Diversity-re: March for Science. March 17, 2017. Stephan Neidenbach, middle school teacher posted to The Medium. Neidenback was worried when anti-GMO group Center for Biological Diversity was announced as a partner in March, but feels better because Cornell Alliance for Science partnership with the march was also announced.

March shouldn’t be political

Science march planners, here’s some unsolicited advice. January 27, 2017.  Science writer Jeffrey Mervis relies heavily on opinion of physics professor Michael Lobell, who was also head of the D.C. office of the American Physical Society until he pledged to work with Trump and society members objected and says to make it a march about science, not scientists.

The Science of Science Advocacy: Should researchers advocate for the inclusion of science in public policymaking? March 5, 2017. Joshua A. Krisch editor at The Scientist.  No, they shouldn’t = the bottom line.

Opinion: Let’s march to stress the value of science for the public good, not to engage in partisan politics. March 24, 2017. Catherine Rudder for Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.  Scientific method minimizes intrusion of politics and partisanship?!

Will a March Hurt Science?  As scientists and science advocates plan demonstrations in Washington, D.C., and around the world, some question the ability of such activism to enact change.  February 2, 2017. Diana Kwon for The Scientist. February 2, 2017.

Do not support the march.

A Scientists’ March on Washington is a Bad Idea. January 31, 2017. Scientist Robert Young said march would trivialize and politicize the science.

Why I Won’t Be Participating in the March for Science. March 19, 2017.  The Mad Virologist blog. The march is disorganized, co-opted by believers in pseudo-science, and I don’t want to give them any credibility. I believe in speaking out, but I won’t go.

March for Science: How Democracy Kills Expertise. March 20, 2017. Alex Berezow for American Council on Science and Health (ACSH). Corporate ACSH pats itself on the back for being an early hater of the march and lover of privately -funded research  and repeats idea that the march is political and unscientific with its support of social issues.

March for Science: Why scientists say this isn’t a political protest. February 3, 2017.  The Christian Science Monitor staff writer Ellen Powell. Federal scientists don’t support, others do.

March for ‘Science’ Say We Shouldn’t Bomb Isis…Because They’re “Marginalized”!? April 14, 2017, in response to March for Science tweet about bombing Afghanistan. Proud white idiot male Steven Crowder’s blog, anti-muslim, anti-feminist, etc etc.

March for Science blows it again: defends ISIS as “marginalized people.” 4/14, 2017 Scientist Jerry Coyne’s website Evolution is True. (for records of those tweets. See also Jerry Coyne’s “about” Coyne seems to dislike any mixing of social interests and science.

Do not support the march, with qualifications

Scientists’ march on Washington is a bad idea- here’s why. March 8, 2017.  Andrea Saltelli from the Centro for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities in The Conversation uses logic of scientist and philosopher Micheal Polanyi to say in presenting a united front, scientists are being dishonest and should clean up its own house .” Trump is not science’s main problem today- science is.”

NPR style of false equivalence.

Is the March for Science Bad for Scientists? March 1, 2017. Emily Atkin, staff writer at New Republic. Quotes scientist Jerry Coyne “Science cannot adjudicate issues of morality” and science writer Miriam Kramer, who “called ‘bullshit on the notion that scientists should avoid political action.”’

March for Science: Why scientists say this isn’t a political protest. February 3, 2017.  The Christian Science Monitor staff writer Ellen Powell. Federal scientists don’t support, others do.

The March for Science: Why Some Are Going, and Some Will Sit Out. April 17, 2017.  NY Times writer Michael Roston. Some like politics, some don’t. Some what to address diversity issues, some don’t. Some want to debate the public role of science. Others don’t.

Marching for Science: Effort gains backers and appears to build momentum, but some scientists worry that political fallout may not be what organizers want. March 8, 2017. Andrew Kreighbaum, federal policy reporter for Inside Higher Ed. Scientists should communicate with politicians, but not too much. Coyne and Young vs Rush Holt.

Don’t think scientists should be activists

Crossing the Imaginary Line. September 2, 2016. David Sediak, Chemist and Editor-in-chief of Environmental Science and Technology. Bottom line: could lose social support and financial backing.

Thinks scientists should be activists

Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public- but not if it threatens our funding?  October 10, 2016. Marc A. Edwards, Amy Pruden, Siddhartha Roy, and William J. Rhoads in Flint Water Study Updates. Unapologetic argument for engineers to speak out when people’s lives are threatened. Response to Sediak.

We Need Decolonial Scientists. November 10, 2016  Sociologist and Biological Anthropologist, Shay Akil Mclean. Scientists have been silent too long. Speak out on out structural and political problems!

Beyond the march

Opinion: Scientists Must Think Beyond Science: If we are to defend science, we must stand together with the other truth-tellers, including our non-scientist colleagues.  March 23, 2017. Evolutionary biologist Jon F. Wilkins, in The Scientist. Our defense of science should extend beyond ourselves.

 

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The Personal Pop-up Protest

What if…..instead of (rather, as well as) large protests with many people, individuals stand on roads and highways with protest signs?

So as you travelled to work one day, you would see people here and there with different signs, on different corners. And you could stand at a corner, on the way home or during lunch, protesting?

It would be an eerie sight, those scattered people, quietly protesting. It’s a little odd, the first time you stage your own protest, but your temporary discomfort is small, compared to what sacrifices many activists make. It builds character!

But transporting signs can be a problem. Cardboard wrinkles when it folds. Wooden stakes are forbidden. And even small visible signs are sometimes not allowed into ostensibly public places.

I was searching the web for ways to make a foldable fabric sign, and came upon a wonderful idea for making signs out of foldable windshield sunscreens: this is on the website of a San Francisco activist along with instructions for making several kinds of signs. Thanks, Valerie Aurora!

Purchase a set of foldable windshield screens (2 piece solar shield 25 ” by 28″ nylon loop sunshade) from an auto supply store, office supply store, or from Amazon.  Right now, a package of 2 screens and one holder cost about $6.00 from Amazon.

This is how the screens come, 2 in one holder (black clips are additional):

 

This is how the screens look when removed from the circular holder:

 

Take the screens out of the holder, open them and lay them on a flat service. With a Sharpie, write your message on the light-colored side. Keep it readable, and make sure the sharpie dries before you twist the screens (one on top of the other) and put them back into the holder.

This is what the screens look like when you’ve written on them:

 

These are the screens folded back together, before being put back in the bag:

 

 

 

You can either use the signs individually, or use black clips to hold the signs together. This not only gives you a message on both sides of your sign, but also makes a firmly sign that is easier to hold.

 

Obviously, these are also terrific at large protests. You can take them on airplanes and buses, as they are small enough to fit in a purse or small backpack.

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Japanese scientists are leading a path to peace- and see dual use research as an obstacle.

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April 10, 2017

The Science Council of Japan (the equivalent of the National Academies of Science in the USA) has released a statement that calls for academic scientists to refuse funding for military research.

They have done this not for a political reason, but for a deeply ethical and philosophical one- to avoid war.

The Japanese scientists on the Science Council understand that they, as scientists, bear responsibility in the effort to avoid war. Scientists are very much part of the technological part of waging war, and must look to themselves as one of the forces that must police itself. But few scientists across the world are willing to risk they power they hold as advisors to the military, or the money they receive from the government, to speak against war.

Some scientists simply haven’t questioned the effectiveness or morality of war. This is particularly easy to do in the USA, which has not had a massive war in its borders since the civil war in the 1860’s, and which hides its huge and expensive militarism (with the largest military in the world) behind a facade of consumerism. Although WW2 was over half a century ago, the atomic bomb devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the firebombing of Tokyo and other large cities have left psychological scars that have helped support a culture of pacifism.

Not all people in Japan are determined not to go to war. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, citing concerns about North Korea and China (and supported in this by the United States ), has been trying to justify a polity of re-militarization. He has arrested activists still protesting the many military installations the US military has in Japan, particularly the ones in Okinawa . In 2015, Abe’s governing legislative coalition made changes to the pacifist post WW2 constitution to allow it to rearm and fight beside allies. Geochemist Morihisa Hamada has noted that these changes to the constitution also permit the manufacture and sale of weapons, sales that can bring lots of money into the country.

Abe  has tried to re-introduce military research on university campuses in Japan through funding for dual use projects. Curiously to Americans (who seldom question funding from the military), it was the concept of funding dual-use research in academia that caused such agitation among Japanese scientists. Dual use research is constantly being redefined: it originally meant research that brought benefit to both the military and to civilians , but has come to mean in the USA and Europe the hostile use of a biological agent that is usually used to promote health.  It is the first, pure definition- research that can benefit the military as well as civilians- that is the subject of the Japanese scientists’ proposed boycott.

So the funding for research that has military as well as civilian application has been offered since 2015 to scientists in Japan through the government’s Acquisition & Logistics Agency, and the money was increased dramatically this year. Each university must decide whether or not to accept funds: so far, 10 universities allow researchers to accept defense grants, and 15 do not allow it. The temptation to take the money will be strong, and so the Science Council of Japan has called upon academics to decide for themselves whether it is moral to accept the money, a step they believe will bring closer the likelihood  of war.

Imagine the National Academies of Science doing the same!

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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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