Author Archive | Kathy Barker

Science is not just about competition

Wordsalad

 

      All over the USA, there is a steady drumbeat that says:

Math and science scores are low for K-12 students in the USA.

USA universities are not keeping up with the rest of the world.

The USA will not be competitive any more.

THERE IS A GATHERING STORM!

We need to run science like a business to be competitive!

 

Here is a local (Seattle) take on this theme:

Guest: How Seattle is falling behind other 21st century cities
The region must take aggressive actions to close the existing skills gap, according to guest columnists Randy Hodgins and Maud Daudon.
By Randy Hodgins and Maud Daudon
Special to The Times
IN preparation for the Seahawks’ Super Bowl run, quarterback Russell Wilson famously, and successfully, challenged his teammates with three words: “Why not us?”
Seattle business and civic leaders should be asking the same question, given what competing regions are doing to secure their positions in the rapidly changing, technologically driven global marketplace.
The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce recently took local leaders to New York City to study an ambitious initiative to strengthen the city’s offerings in applied sciences. Considering it a smart investment, city government offered publicly owned land and up to $100 million in capital to help attract a new $2 billion applied science and engineering campus to Roosevelt Island.
A unique partnership between Cornell University and Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, this new campus has already spurred complementary efforts by Columbia University, New York University and Carnegie Mellon University.
This initiative drives home two critical points. First, in the 21st century, enhancing a region’s economic health and creating great job opportunities depends on having highly skilled workers to offer to employers. Second, other regions are working hard to enhance their ability to provide this talent. The New York example was eye-opening, but hardly unique. At the chamber’s annual Regional Leadership Conference last fall, attendees heard about economic development initiatives in leading cities across the country and around the globe.
Few cities are positioned as strongly as Seattle to succeed in a fast-paced, interconnected and technological world. Our local innovation sector is the envy of other cities. In addition to established and valuable industry clusters such as aerospace and software, our region enjoys a thriving biotechnology and global health sector and we are seeing an emerging clean-energy sector.
The success of these and other industries is directly tied to our highly skilled workforce — nearly half of all local workers over 25 have a postsecondary degree.
Unfortunately, many of these talented individuals are currently being imported from other regions because local companies can’t find the talent they need here. According to a 2013 Boston Consulting Group and Washington Roundtable study, there are 34,000 unfilled local jobs because employers can’t find qualified candidates — and that number is projected to increase to 50,000 over the next three years.
This skills gap means that too many of our own young people can’t take advantage of some of the most exciting career opportunities being created by local employers.
The bottom line: Our region is in a great position now, but we can’t take our current economic health for granted. The infamous billboard asking the last person leaving Seattle to turn out the lights reminds us that continued success isn’t guaranteed.
For Seattle to secure its place among leading centers of global commerce and innovation in the coming years, aggressive actions must be taken to close the existing skills gap, create great new job opportunities for local residents, and attract international investment, research and collaboration.
In a knowledge-based economy, higher-education institutions play a key role in creating and sustaining economic opportunities, particularly in the critical fields of applied sciences and engineering that serve as the foundation of so many new economic and job opportunities.
In addition to their traditional research and degree production roles, higher-education institutions also must work with employers and the broader community to find new and innovative ways to offer students and faculty the ability to tackle real-world problems in a creative, global setting.
Remaining globally competitive will require all of us to work together. We can begin by asking ourselves some challenging questions:
Why can’t we transform our education system to prepare all kids for the global economy?
Why can’t our region lead the country in math, science and engineering degrees?
Why can’t the Puget Sound find new ways to stimulate research and innovation?
Other regions are answering these questions with smart investments and innovative programs.
Why not us?
Randy Hodgins is vice president for external affairs at the University of Washington. Maud Daudon is president and chief executive of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

 

Here is my venting reply in a letter to the editor:

What makes Seattle attractive to many of us is that we don’t live by the beliefs that the authors of this article do.

We do not see that their are 34,000 unfilled positions: we see that tech and science jobs get hundreds of applicants per position, and we don’t believe that all of these applicants are unqualified. Those of us with feet on the ground- how many unfilled positions have you run into, lately?

We believe in public schools- not in the “I -believe -in-public-schools-except- for-my-child”- way, but that public schools are the basis of democracy and the foundation of citizenship. We do not believe schools exist to produce workers for business. We work in and for the schools, and see how successful they can be. We are pretty tired of business people saying that the schools don’t work and something must be done. They usually have a solution to sell.

We are disappointed in the University of Washington state system, whose tuition is unreachable for so many students.

We are shocked that UW in Seattle has chosen to privatize many of the most desired and useful (for the world, as well as for students) degrees. UW Professional & Continuing Education programs (PCE) in Biotechnology & Biomedical, etc must be self-supporting, not even getting indirect costs from UW (unlike the Athletics Department), and PCE tuition can cost $50,000 for a Masters degree!

We see that a minimum wage of 15.00 would allow people to better support themselves.

We see that the way to lead in research and innovation is not to emulate what NYC or other places are doing. We have unique strengths.

We see many researchers who have lost their grant money to other federal priorities (war takes over 50% of the discretionary budget), and who must depend on the whims of the 1% for help. We know that many researchers (and teachers, etc) do those jobs because they want to help the world, not to be part of the race for global competitiveness.

While we believe in the power of science and technology, we don’t believe that science and technology alone will help the world or the city of Seattle. We certainly don’t think business has the answer. We need thoughtful, engaged global citizens who make decisions that will benefit everyone, not just themselves. We need everyone.

This is a beautiful city, rich in natural beauty and intentional citizens. The fear-based push for “competitiveness” is a race few are running, and is no basis for a viable city.

Kathy Barker
Seattle

————-

The editor at the Seattle Times asked if I could revise the letter to 200 words, which I did (and it sounds much better, with the venting removed!) and resubmitted the following:

Many of us don’t see 34,000 unfilled positions: we see that tech and science jobs get hundreds of applicants per position, and we don’t believe that all of these applicants are unqualified.

We believe public schools are the basis of democracy and the foundation of citizenship. We do not believe schools exist to produce workers for business.

We are disappointed in the University of Washington state system, whose tuition is unreachable for so many students.

We are shocked that UW Professional & Continuing Education programs (PCE) can cost $50,000 for a Masters degree.

We see that the way to lead in research and innovation is not to emulate what NYC or other places are doing. We have unique strengths.

We see many scientists who have lost their grant money to other federal priorities (war takes over 50% of the discretionary budget).

We know that many researchers (and teachers, etc) do their jobs because they want to help the world, not to be part of the race for global competitiveness.

This is a beautiful city, rich in natural beauty and intentional citizens. The fear-based push for “competitiveness” is a race few are running, and is no basis for a viable city.

Several lessons here for me:

-Check the word count before you send.

-Don’t vent.

– Don’t bring in issues or details not in the article you are responding to, unless your letter is solely about those details.

 

 

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Obituary: Arnold Relman and the medical industrial complex

 

4 Dr. Arnold Relman, 91, died on June 17, 2014.

Perhaps best known as the editor of The New England Journal of Medicine from 1977 to 2000, Arnold Relman was also an editor for the Journal of Clinical Investigation, a researcher on kidney function, a professor at Boston University, The University of Pennsylvania, Oxford, and Harvard. He contributed frequently to the New York Review of Books.

Relman was outspoken early in his position as editor at The New England Journal of Medicine. On October 23, 1980, he wrote an essay in the Journal in which he targeted profit-driven hospitals and other medical  industries. He was very clear that the desire for profit was adversely affecting patient treatment, and that investor-run companies could never have a primary goal other than profit. It was not a popular stance, and he had many critics who dismissed him as a conspiracy theorist or naive medical Don Quixote.

Aalg relman quote

Relman continued urging a reform of the American health care system, and suggested that a single-taxpayer-supported insurance system replace the private insurance companies. He considered the 2010 USA health care law to be only a partial reform, and said so.

The New England Journal  of Medicine, under Relman’s direction, was the first journal that required authors to disclose any financial arrangements that might affect their judgement of their research and publication. Many journals would follow this disclosure of conflicts of interest, and though there are those who still protest that the source of funding is irrelevant and that trying for such integrity was unrealistic, Relman’s stance was crucial in moving the medical and research culture to the expectation of accountability. (In 2002, under editor-in-chief Dr. Jefrey Drazen, The New England Journal of Medicine reversed the rule for authors for financial disclosure as so few authors had no industry financial ties.)

Relman was fortunate in having a work- and later, life-partner who agreed politically and philosophically with him, Dr. Marcia Angell. They worked together at The New England Journal of Medicine, lived together since 1994, and married in 2009. Together they won the George Polk Award for a 2002 article in The New Republic that documented how drug companies invested much more in advertising and lobbying than in research and development. Angell is now investigating the the influence of drug company money on the prescribing habits of physicians.

The New York Times obituary for Dr. Relman  and a New York Times 2012 interview with Relman and his wife, Dr. Marcia Zuger  are the source of the information of this short posting.

 

 

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Physicist William Davidon and the Media FBI break-in

 

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William Davidon was a pleasant Haverford College professor, a theoretical physicist and mathematician, with a wife and children, a home. He was also a committed civil rights (he had taken part in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, for example) and Vietnam war antiwar activist, often arrested for visible and peaceful antiwar protests.

But under the surface of academia and public protest Davidon lived an extreme activist life, only detailed recently in Betty Medsger’s well- written and absolutely significant book, “The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI.” (2014). Davidon was the instigator of the 1971 break-in at the Media, Pennsylvania FBI office, where secret FBI files were stolen and sent to the press (Author Betty Medsger was the first reporter to receive the files) in a pre-Watergate action. The published files were the first step in confirming that J. Edgar Hoover was operating the FBI outside the Constitution with a secret civilian counterintelligence program, “COINTELPRO,” that sought to destabilize anti -war and civil rights groups.

It was a desperate time. In some months, more than 500 American soldiers were killed: by the end, 58,152 American soldiers, 1.1 million Vietnamese soldiers, and 2 million Vietnamese civilians were killed. Nixon had just invaded Cambodia, extending the war further. During that time, the FBI was active in discrediting even Congress people who spoke out against the war. Even protesting the war peacefully could result in violence: 4 students were killed and 9 injured by the Ohio National Guard on the Kent State (Ohio) campus in April, 1970.

Medsger detailed the cruelty and pettiness of the FBI in the face of the civil rights movement, as well. The FBI treatment of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shows the harm the harm Hoover’s FBI was causing the nation. Office break-ins, informers, opening mail, wiretapping, and bugging the office and home and hotel room of King were some of the routine actions done over years. The FBI used information found about King’s extramarital affairs to threaten disclosure and suggested King commit suicide before receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. The FBI knew of threats against King’s life, but deliberately did not inform King of those threats. The details of the FBI’s deliberately induced paranoia and fear was not demonstrated in detail, though, until the Media FBI break-in.

Medsger said it was Davidon’s science-driven love of evidence that spawned the idea of breaking into an FBI office. He wanted proof the agency was spying on protesters, something many had suspected. It was a hunch that the bureaucratically-minded Hoover would document even the FBI’s illegal actions (Finley 2014)

Davidon approached committed activists he had worked with, and whom he thought likely to join him in a break-in  of the local FBI office in Media as an act of resistance. Though all had worked with the Catholic Peace Movement, only one was Catholic, 3 were Protestants, 4 were Jews. They ranged in age from 20 to 44. There were 3 women and 5 men. Several were professors, one was a daycare worker, another a social worker, one a graduate student, one a cab driver. Several had put their careers on hold to deal with what they saw as a political crisis. He was proud of his team. (One member would drop out a few days before the burglary took place, and would later consider turning the other members in.)

Though they all worked with other equally-committed activists, they told no one of their plans. They picked the day- March 8, 1971- because it was the night of the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier heavyweight title match, and many, many Americans (including, they hoped, local policemen) would be tied to their television sets. They talked on the phone as if they were being listened to (and only found out many years later that most phone conversations were being tapped). For several months before the set date, they studied the movement of traffic and people on the surrounding streets, the movement of people in the offices, the local transportation access point, the closing times of stores and bars and restaurants, and more, and only then set the hours for the burglary. They learned to pick locks from library books. One of the members, Bonnie Raines, pretended to be a college student doing research on a local project, and visited the office, taking note of the location of closets, files, and doors, and to see if there was an alarm system.

The night before the burglary, Davidon rented a car (his wife needed the family car that night) and a motel room near the FBI office to use as a staging area. The next day, he and everyone else went to work, as usual.

Then they broke into the Media FBI office.

The break-in didn’t start auspiciously, for there were 2 locks, and one for which the group lock breaker had no tool. He left, and returned, with the burglary already off schedule, but still coordinated with the fight. 4 members went inside and loaded suitcases with files, with a decoy member and the get-away cars outside. The group still didn’t know if they actually had any worthwhile files. They transferred the files to another car, and met at a small Quaker conference center about 40miles northwest of Philadelphia. They read, analyzed, and prepared the files for distribution to the press for the next 10 days. They knew, within an hour, that they had the information they needed. In a newsletter prepared for FBI agents, they read that agents were advised “to enhance the paranoia..and…get the point across that there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox.” Medsger p 108

When it was time to notify the press, 2 members of the group read a press release to a reporter from a phone booth on the northwest side of town, near Chestnut Hill. The documents were packaged for mailing, and the day before the last package was prepared, the group met for the last time and agreed that none of them would tell anyone what had happened.

The packages were sent to various politicians and journalists and the firestorm began that caused the Senate to investigate and castigate the FBI, reducing its powers.

 

-The Media Files

-Carl Stern’s (Stern was a legal affairs reporter for NBC) multi-year investigation and report on the nature of COINTELPRO.

-Assistant Attorney General Henry Peterson’s Department of Justice report on the FBI’s watered down files.

-Watergate revelations about the manipulation of intelligence agencies by the Nixon administration.

-New York Time reporter Seymour Hersh’s story on the CIA’s domestic operations against anti-war protesters.

-Congressional investigation/ Church Committee (and censure) of the FBI and other intelligence groups.

 

And the group never met together again. For months and years, the robbery was investigated, and several members lived in fear. Several never acted as activists again. Davidon never stopped.

Davidon’s activism started with the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as he recognized the potential for total annihilation at the hands of power-hungry leaders. Over the years, his activism increased and he gave public talks with other physicists about the danger of nuclear power.

He did consider silencing his protests after the Cuban Missile Crisis, and moving to New Zealand to focus on research and scholarship- but decided to remain at Haverford College and intensify his activism, not returning to theoretical physics until after the Vietnam War.

“Davidon thinks the silence of his generation after World War II, especially in the 1950’s, diminished an impotent part of the American spirit- the impulse to question and to understand what the government is doing in the name of its citizens. He sees a sad irony in the fact that many of the people who made up what became known a few decades later as the Greatest Generation were largely silent when leading American officials- Senator Joseph McCarthy and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover among them- labeled citizens who questioned government policies as un-American in the 1950s and early 1960’s. His generation’s silence, he thinks, created a habit of silence that by 1964 contributed to the fact that most Americans accepted without question the major decision by the administration of President Lyndon Johnson to send troops to Vietnam” Medsger p 439

Davidon continued his activism against the Vietnam war after the Media break in. In March, 1972, he was part of a group that made a local shipment of bombs in York County, Pennysylvania inoperable; this was done not ably to reduce the destruction destruction of Vietnam, but to point out to locals that their local economy depended on the production of weapons. In April, 1972, he and 44 other Philadelphia antiwar activists in aluminum canoes and light rowboats blockaded the munitions ship USS Nitro in Sandy Hook Bay, NJ. Some members were arrested, but Davidon was not, and he was not questioned in the March or May 1972 actions. In May, 1972, he helped to sabotage 3 Air Force jets on Memorial Day at the Willow Grove Naval Air Station by cutting electrical and hydraulic lines and painting BREAD NOT BOMBS on the exterior of one of the planes.

These were dangerous actions that could have resulted in many, many years of prison time. He regretted later that he never really thought through the implications of his actions on his family- yet he also thinks that contemplating the possible impact of one’s actions could lead to refusing to take risk. He believed a life should be useful, and that decreasing opposition to the Vietnam war would encourage Nixon and his advisors to think that people didn’t care- and here, he could be, and was, of great use. Medsger details how much Davidon disliked the idea of breaking and entering, of destroying property, of risking personal confrontation with  guards, with deception- but “he hated the escalation of war more.”

Though an FBI investigation did not find who had committed the break-in (the FBI did interview some of the group, but did not charge anyone) Betty Medsger, after receiving papers from the FBI break-in, continued to investigate the story while she still worked at the Washington Post, and after she left. Unexpectedly, while having dinner with two friends from Philadelphia- Bonnie and John Raines- those friends lightly told her that they had been part of the Media break-in. It was decades past the time when they could be prosecuted, Medsger talked them into telling their story and finding the other members. They found 7 of the 8 members. All agreed to participate and tell their stories, though only 5 agreed to be publicly identified.

Davidon spoke quite openly (and, in fact, had already mentioned his part in the break-in to Patrick Catt in 1997) and agreed to be identified, but did not live to see the publication of Medsger’s book, or the wonderful media attention the book, and the actual break-in, received. He died on November 8, 2013, of Parkinson’s disease.

So, in the face of such heroism, where does one start to be effective? One of the first actions Davidon did as a graduate student was to write (with a group of colleagues) a letter in response to an article in the New York Times by science writer Walter Sullivan about the role of natural uranium. (Catt 1997)

Davidon tried to keep his scientific and activism lives apart, but the two lives were quite entwined. He did feel some pressure from Haverford faculty, one of whom lamented that he would be getting more work done if he weren’t politically active. But he received tenure, with the understanding that a gap in his publications was due to a focus on activist work. In the last class of the year for his physics and math classes, he would devote the period to talk about nuclear weapons and the dangers they presented.

It has not escaped our notice that the activism of Edward Snowdon and Chelsea Manning has been similarly disturbing and effective.

1971 FBI burglary 211x300

 

 

The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI. Betty Medsger. 2014. Alfred A. Knopf, New York

 http://theburglary.com  Website for the book, reviews, etc

Interview of [Dr. William Davidon] by [Patrick Catt on [July 11, 1997],
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA, http://www.aip.org/history/ohilist/32356.html

Burglars Who Took On F.B.I. Abandon Shadows. Mark Mazzetti, January 7, 2014. The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/07/us/burglars-who-took-on-fbi-abandon-shadows.html?_r=0 

Recalling Haverford professor’s role in 1971 FBI break-in. Ben Finley. January 14, 2014. The Inquirer. http://articles.philly.com/2014-01-14/news/46153180_1_fbi-agent-burglars-engineering-professor 

Burglars who took on FBI abandon shadows. Mark Mazetti  The New York Times, January 7   2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/07/us/burglars-who-took-on-fbi-abandon-shadows.html?_r=0

What new revalations about the Media, PA FBI break-in teach us about intelligence reform today   Slate  Beverly Gage  January 9, 2014. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/history/2014/01/media_pa_fbi_break_in_revelations_what_we_can_learn_from_them_about_intelligence.html

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Chemist Bob Boikess: Condoleeza Rice should not give the Rutgers Commencement address

Boikess

 

Bob Boikess, Rutgers University organic chemist, was instrumental in preventing Condoleeza Rice, Secretary of State under George W. Bush,  from speaking at the Rutgers University Spring 2014 commencement.

The Board of Governor’s of Rutgers University voted in February, 2014, to award an honorary Doctor of Laws degree to Condoleeza Rice, and invited her to give the Commencement speech (and receive $35,000).

Organic Chemistry Professor Bob Boikess introduced a resolution to the Rutgers University New Brunswick Faculty Council that they urge the University’s Board of Governors to rescind its invitation to speak at Commencement because of Rice’s involvement in the Iraq War. The Faculty Council approved the resolution on March 2.

But Rutgers officials refused to rescind the invitation to Ms. Rice. But the faculty resolution, and the refusal of Rutgers to disinvite Ms. Rice, was publicized in newspapers and social media across the country.

The students requested meetings with the Rutgers administration, wrote letters, filed petitions, submitted op-eds in the local and national press, but the administration refused to meet with them. Approximately 160 held a student sit-in on April 28 at the Old Queens administration building to protest Rice’s invitation. Rutgers President Robert Barchi still refused to meet with the students or to respond to letters.

Karl Rove, Senior Advisor and Chief of Staff for George Bush, objected publicly to the treatment of Rice by faculty and students, and called the Rutgers faculty and Boikess out as a “nutty organic chem professor” on Fox News, saying that the pressure against Rice was “politically motivated, poetically aimed, ideologically driven and stupid.” “Shame of the little totalitarians on the left and their faculty agent who perpetuated this.”

On May 3 Ms. Rice informed Rutgers President Robert Barchi that she had decided not to give the Commencement address.

There have been repercussions for Boikess through mail, email, and phone hate messages. His scientific “objectivity” (Aren’t we yet done with the idea that this is possible?) has been questioned, as has his science. Many faculty and students have publicly disagreed with the Faculty Senate action. But Boikess has been an activist all his life, and hate and criticism are part of the package, not important in the bigger scheme of things. The verbal attack by Karl Rove was actually a positive in the eyes of Boikess’ friends and family.

“I’m certainly not personally offended because I learned a very long time ago to ‘always consider the source,’” he said in an interview by Politico. “the senior advisor to arguably the worst president in American history is not a very reliable source.”

Boikess has been an activist since his teens, with a commitment to social justice. He was brought up to be an activist, but was only really propelled into activism by the U.S. war on Vietnam. His activism has taken different forms.

At Stony Brook University, during the duration of the Vietnam War, he was overtly antiwar. For example, when recruiters from Dow Chemical (the manufacturers of napalm) came to the Stony Brook campus to offer deferments to those who took jobs with them, Boikess and Dr. Goldfarb, both members of the Chemistry department and the Organization for Progressive Thought, held a class to discuss the chemical structure of napalm and its effects on people. While at Stony Brook, he also was also invoked in the court decision Boikess vs Aspland, which concerned faculty privacy.

He practiced academic activism through various positions in the University Senate and other campus organizations and committees. He participated in the Student Judicial process and was an advisor to several student organizations. He was also active in the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), a group that functions as a union as well as a foundation and a professional organization. That Boikess is is obviously a committed member of the community and a full participant in university life has no doubt helped in being taken seriously as being someone with more than a personal agenda, and has served perhaps as some protection.

He is involved in Big Pharma and climate change issues, in which his expertise as a scientist is part of the the activism. Most of his activism has not stemmed from his research, but has gone on- side by side- with his scientific work. Bob does not feel that activism has helped or hindered in his scientific career. But he does recommend that scientists wait until after tenure to really get into activism mostly because activism takes so much time.

Bob’s bottom line for young scientists who are considering taking on controversial issues-

“If you don’t do and say what you believe to be right, you’ll regret it later.”

May 28, 2014 email interview

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Margaret Palmer: Actionable Science

Palmer1

Stream bed restoration and watershed preservation, testimony in a federal court on the harm done by mountain top removal of coal, an appearance on the Colbert Report in January, 2010: in a fantastic article by Erik Stokstad in Science (Science 343: 592-595, February 7, 2014), you can read about the career and life of Margaret Palmer. Save the article to read again for inspiration. 

That article brought me to interview Margaret, with a focus on her activism and advice for other scientists. But Erik’s Stokstad’s article, with its coverage of the reasons for and complexities of Margaret’s activism, reads as a primer for the ups and downs of a scientific life entwined with politics and policy.

Margaret Palmer received her Ph.D. in coastal oceanography, but soon shifted her work to streams and now runs a laboratory on stream bed restoration at the University of Maryland. This work led her to documenting the effect of the mountain top removal of coal upon streams, and into the political mire of competing interests in the environment. She is now also the director of the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center in Annapolis.

In an institute named the “National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center,” (SESYNC) you might assume that activism is an important component of work and research. You would be right. But the balancing act between maintaining scientific credibility in stream bed research while being involved with political and legal protection of the environment is a constant personal challenge, even with institutional credibility.

SESYNC and Margaret’s science are run separately, funded separately, and have different purposes that must be transparent in order for all participants to retain integrity.

Around 1995, NSF first put out an RFP for restoration studies: rather than observation, which had been the core of ecology, NSF would now fund experimentation on ecological solutions. This itself was controversial, as how ecology even defined natural systems was not seen as a social construct open to interpretation. Timing was crucial, though, and as the changing environment was noted more and more by scientists an citizens, the wall between science and public action was lowered.

 Collaborators Margaret, John Cramer, and Jim Boyd recognized the role of social dynamics in environmental outcomes, and convinced NSF to fund an experimental program that would integrate public input with scientific results. SESYNC is a unique core program, funded by NSF (National Science Foundation)  to help the external community do actionable science. They would fund actionable science.

Note the use of the word “actionable.” “Activism” and “advocacy” are still seen as subjective and therefore, unscientific. “Applied” is palatable, but while it includes the public in outcome, it does not consider the public to be part of application.  Every proposal at SESYNC must include and describe consideration of the end user. Yet the federal government, and government organizations such as NSF, do not fund activism, so language must be considered. And boundaries made.

The center does not prohibit advocacy. But Margaret feels she must be careful about activism beyond the actionable science. Though her heart might be there, she does not go to rallies or fundraisers that promote causes she believes in. Participation in overt advocacy or activism could be used against what she sees as her place of highest effectiveness- testifying for science. And with her eyes on the outcomes she wants, she must be effective.

One of the ways Margaret tries to maintain actionability versus advocacy to is deliver the results of analysis without suggesting a particular action- that is, to say “if x is done, y is likely to occur, ” rather than “you need to do/not do x.” But In spite of the care to keep the activism out of actionable science, there are risks, especially to funding from NGO and non-profit organizations, who may see implied criticism of their policies in data. Because of her actionable science, and the perception that she must then be biased, Margaret has been disqualified from being on professional teams such as EPA panels, exclusions that can hurt a scientist’s career.

Staying professional publicly can mean masking personal views. Only once, on a panel at Brigham Young University, did Margaret give her truest answer to the question, “Why do you do what you do?” She answered simply, “I really care about the earth and about our future.” Being in nature, Margaret feels, is deep need not only for herself, but for many humans, and she does not want to see that destroyed.

Advice for activists:

You may not be able to be an activist early in your career. It takes a great deal of time, and will take time away from your science. Academics and academia are conservative, and there is generally no reward system for scientists doing activism or even actionable science. So, in order to be an effective science-activist, be sure you are an effective scientist.

Keep up your science. This is what gives you credibility in the activist world as well as in the scientific arena.

 Consider where you can be most effective! This is outstandingly important advice. What is the outcome you want? Choose the path and tools you need for that outcome.

Make the most of your opportunities. The 6 or so minutes on the Colbert show  brought notice (negative and positive) and funders. Many scientists are worried about saying something wrong, but any activism will involve communication, and you can find, for any medium, advice and suggestion for effectiveness. Even negative notoriety can be leveraged into positive interpretations.

Have a thick skin and look for resources to protect yourself. Any involvement with politics can bring very personal attacks, as opponents try to discredit you to reduce your effectiveness. Through the Freedom of Information Act (FOYA), lawyers for the mining industry requested not only Margaret’s emails, but documents such as reviews written  by in response to Margaret’s journal submissions. You do need advice and protection.

(All of your emails, even your personal accounts, can be requested. So telling the truth in all communications is good both morally and strategically!)

The University of Maryland seemed proud of Margaret’s activism, but they did not protect her against the attacks by the coal mining industries during court testimony days- they protected themselves. This is what universities do, so don’t take that personally, either. Margaret found support through PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) (http://www.peer.org), an alliance of state and federal legal and communication experts who protect employees who work on environmental issues.

Look for non-profits to work with also in non-crisis mode as collaborators. Non-profits want scientists to work with them, but don’t know how to find them. Don’t wait for an invitation, but contact organizations who share a mindset or mission with you.

I would add that working with or within an organization such as SESYNC can greatly give a mantle of actionable science (an thus, trust for some agencies) that advocacy/activism does not. Scientists working in traditional environments have no way to fund and publicize actionable science, and so all efforts will be activism to the world. It is very difficult to be a lone and effective activist, and it might be impossible.

April 2, 2014 interview.

 

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Academics and scientists on preventing war

Academics and scientists on preventing war.

I was fortunate to work with a group of public health folks on looking for ways that public health workers  might not not just repair the effects of war, but be able to actually prevent it. The resulting paper in the American Journal of Public Health gives the reasons why war is rationalized, and suggests a curriculum and competencies that could reverse the presumption that war is inevitable.

The Role of Public Health in the Prevention of War: Rationale and Competencies

William H. Wiist, DHSc, MPH, MS, Kathy Barker, PhD, Neil Arya, MD, Jon Rohde, MD, Martin Donohoe, MD, Shelley White, PhD, MPH, Pauline Lubens, MPH, Geraldine Gorman, RN, PhD, and Amy Hagopian, PhD

American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 104, No. 6, June 2014: e34-e47.

http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/pdf/10.2105/AJPH.2013.301778  to access AJPH website.

(AJPH charges authors $2,500 to make the papers open access. Many academics pay for this through grants, but we were unable to do so- antiwar research isn’t exactly a hot topic for government funding. AJPH refused to waive the fee.)

email kbarkerbtb@gmail.com to see a personal copy of the paper.

Here is a posting by antiwar author David Swanson on the AJPH paper:

Public Health Experts Identify Militarism As Threat

By David Swanson
http://warisacrime.org/content/public-health-experts-identify-militarism-threat
A remarkable article appears in the June 2014 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

The authors, experts in public health, are listed with all their academic credentials: William H. Wiist, DHSc, MPH, MS, Kathy Barker, PhD, Neil Arya, MD, Jon Rohde, MD, Martin Donohoe, MD, Shelley White, PhD, MPH, Pauline Lubens, MPH, Geraldine Gorman, RN, PhD, and Amy Hagopian, PhD.

Some highlights and commentary:

“In 2009 the American Public Health Association (APHA) approved the policy statement, ‘The Role of Public Health Practitioners, Academics, and Advocates in Relation to Armed Conflict and War.’ . . . In response to the APHA policy, in 2011, a working group on Teaching the Primary Prevention of War, which included the authors of this article, grew . . . .”

“Since the end of World War II, there have been 248 armed conflicts in 153 locations around the world. The United States launched 201 overseas military operations between the end of World War II and 2001, and since then, others, including Afghanistan and Iraq. During the 20th century, 190 million deaths could be directly and indirectly related to war — more than in the previous 4 centuries.”

These facts, footnoted in the article, are more useful than ever in the face of the current academic trend in the United States of proclaiming the death of war. By re-categorizing many wars as other things, minimizing death counts, and viewing deaths as proportions of the global population rather than of a local population or as absolute numbers, various authors have tried to claim that war is vanishing. Of course, war could and should vanish, but that is only likely to happen if we find the drive and the resources to make it happen.

“The proportion of civilian deaths and the methods for classifying deaths as civilian are debated, but civilian war deaths constitute 85% to 90% of casualties caused by war, with about 10 civilians dying for every combatant killed in battle. The death toll (mostly civilian) resulting from the recent war in Iraq is contested, with estimates of 124,000 to 655,000 to more than
a million, and finally most recently settling on roughly a half million. Civilians have been targeted for death and for sexual violence in some contemporary conflicts. Seventy percent to 90% of the victims of the 110 million landmines planted since 1960 in 70 countries were civilians.”

This, too, is critical, as a top defense of war is that it must be used to prevent something worse, called genocide. Not only does militarism generate genocide rather than preventing it, but the distinction between war and genocide is a very fine one at best. The article goes on to cite just some of the health effects of war, of which I will cite just some highlights:

“The World Health Organization (WHO) Commission on the Social Determinants of Health pointed out that war affects children’s health, leads to displacement and migration, and diminishes agricultural productivity. Child and maternal mortality, vaccination rates, birth outcomes, and water quality and sanitation are worse in conflict zones. War has contributed to preventing eradication of polio, may facilitate the spread of HIV/ AIDS, and has decreased availability of health professionals. In addition, landmines cause psychosocial and physical consequences, and pose a threat to food security by rendering agricultural land useless. . . .

“Approximately 17,300 nuclear weapons are presently deployed in at least 9 countries (including 4300 US and Russian operational warheads, many of which can be launched and reach their targets within 45 minutes). Even an accidental missile launch could lead to the greatest global public health disaster in recorded history.

“Despite the many health effects of war, there are no grant funds from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the National Institutes of Health devoted to the prevention of war, and most schools of public health do not include the prevention of war in the curriculum.”

Now, there is a huge gap in our society that I bet most readers hadn’t noticed, despite its perfect logic and obvious importance! Why should public health professionals be working to prevent war? The authors explain:

“Public health professionals are uniquely qualified for involvement in the prevention of war on the basis of their skills in epidemiology; identifying risk and protective factors; planning, developing, monitoring, and evaluating prevention strategies; management of programs and services; policy analysis and development; environmental assessment and remediation; and health advocacy. Some public health workers have knowledge of the effects of war from personal exposure to violent conflict or from working with patients and communities in armed conflict situations. Public health also provides a common ground around which many disciplines are willing to come together to form alliances for the prevention of war. The voice of public health is often heard as a force for public good.
 Through regular collection and review of health indicators public health can provide early warnings of the risk for violent conflict. Public health can also describe the health effects of war, frame the discussion about wars and their funding . . . and expose the militarism that often leads to armed conflict and incites public fervor for war.”

About that militarism. What is it?

“Militarism is the deliberate extension of military objectives and rationale into shaping the culture, politics, and economics of civilian life so that war and the preparation for war is normalized, and the development and maintenance of strong military institutions is prioritized. Militarism is an excessive reliance on
a strong military power and the threat of force as a legitimate means of pursuing policy goals in difficult international relations. It glorifies warriors, gives strong allegiance to the military as the ultimate guarantor of freedom and safety, and reveres military morals and ethics as being above criticism. Militarism instigates civilian society’s adoption of military concepts, behaviors, myths, and language as its own. Studies show that militarism is positively correlated with conservatism, nationalism, religiosity, patriotism, and with an authoritarian personality, and negatively related to respect for civil liberties, tolerance of dissent, democratic principles, sympathy and welfare toward the troubled and poor, and foreign aid for poorer nations. Militarism subordinates other societal interests, including health, to the interests of the military.”

And does the United States suffer from it?

“Militarism is intercalated into many aspects of life in the United States and, since the military draft was eliminated, makes few overt demands of the public except the costs in taxpayer funding. Its expression, magnitude, and implications have become invisible to a large proportion of the civilian population, with little recognition of the human costs or the negative image held by other countries. Militarism has been called a ‘psychosocial disease,’ making it amenable to population-wide interventions. . . .

“The United States is responsible for 41% of the world’s total military spending. The next largest in spending are China, accounting for 8.2%; Russia, 4.1%; and the United Kingdom and France, both 3.6%. . . . If all military . . . costs are included, annual [US] spending amounts to $1 trillion . . . . According to the DOD fiscal year 2012 base structure report, ‘The DOD manages global property of more than 555,000 facilities at more than 5,000 sites, covering more than 28 million acres.’ The United States maintains 700 to 1000 military bases or sites in more than 100 countries. . . .

“In 2011 the United States ranked first in worldwide conventional weapons sales, accounting for 78% ($66 billion). Russia was second with $4.8 billion. . . .

“In 2011-2012, the top-7 US arms producing and service companies contributed $9.8 million to federal election campaigns. Five of the top-10 [military] aerospace corporations in the world (3 US, 2 UK and Europe) spent $53 million lobbying the US government in 2011. . . .

“The main source of young recruits is the US public school system, where recruiting focuses on rural and impoverished youths, and thus forms an effective poverty draft that is invisible to most middle- and upper-class families. . . . In contradiction of the United States’ signature on the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict treaty, the military recruits minors in public high schools, and does not inform students or parents of their right to withhold home contact information. The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery is given in public high schools as a career aptitude test and is compulsory in many high schools, with students’ contact information forwarded to the military, except in Maryland where the state legislature mandated that schools no longer automatically forward the information.”

Public health advocates also lament the tradeoffs in types of research the United States invests in:

“Resources consumed by military . . . research, production, and services divert human expertise away from other societal needs. The DOD is the largest funder of research and development in the federal government. The National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allocate large amounts of funding to programs such as ‘BioDefense.’ . . . The lack of other funding sources drives some researchers to pursue military or security funding, and some subsequently become desensitized to the influence of the military. One leading university in the United Kingdom recently announced, however, it would end its £1.2 million investment in
a . . . company that makes components for lethal US drones because it said the business was not ‘socially responsible.'”

Even in President Eisenhower’s day, militarism was pervasive: “The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government.” The disease has spread:

“The militaristic ethic and methods have extended into the civilian law enforcement and justice systems. . . .

“By promoting military solutions to political problems and portraying military action as inevitable, the military often influences news media coverage, which in turn, creates public acceptance of war or a fervor for war. . . .”

The authors describe programs that are beginning to work on war prevention from a public health perspective, and they conclude with recommendations for what should be done. Take a look.

David Swansons wants you to declare peace at http://WorldBeyondWar.org His new book is War No More: The Case for Abolition. He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for http://rootsaction.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @davidcnswanson and FaceBook.

Sign up for occasional important activist alerts here http://davidswanson.org/signup

Sign up for articles or press releases here http://davidswanson.org/lists

This email may be unlawfully collected, held, and read by the NSA which violates our freedoms using the justification of immoral, illegal wars absurdly described as being somehow for freedom.

 

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Notoriety pays: Cliff Mass

Cliff mass 1 Influenced by mentors Carl Sagan and Steve Sneider, University of Washington atmospheric meteorologist Cliff Mass has always happily considered himself to be an activist. As a university professor, he already saw himself as more than a scientist in being an educator. His list of outreach activities- and especially, his very public firing by radio station KUOW – has made him quite well known in Seattle.

The reasons Cliff was fired are political and comical.

For 15 years, Cliff had a segment on public radio station KUOW, where he gave the weather forecast and discussed Pacific Northwest weather, climate, and education-related topics. His show had a large following, and audience response to his descriptions of the need for coastal radar played a large role in the establishment of that system. But then Cliff made a big mistake- he spoke about math.

Through the years, he had notice a diminution of math skills in the K-12 schools and in entering freshman at the university, which he blamed partially on the discovery math curricula that was recommended by many Schools of Education, including the University of Washington School of Education. The problem here was that the University of Washington School of Education was a big donor to KUOW. So KUOW issued a no-math warning.

Cliff complied reluctantly, having other avenues (such as a popular blog) where he could discuss math. But on another show, a Seattle Times article about the rejection of in-state A student applicants (the University of Washington is a state university) in favor of higher-paying out-of-state students came up. As a faculty member who was an undergraduate advisor with colleagues on the admissions committee, Cliff knew this urban legend to be untrue, and said so. And the next day, he was fired, primed by speaking out about math. You can read Cliff’s account of this here. http://cliffmass.blogspot.com/2011/05/no-more-weather-on-kuow-weekday.html

Another radio station, KPLU, picked up Cliff’s segment, and there he enjoys free rein of expression and a larger audience. Another windfall is that many people cancelled donations to KUOW, sending them instead to Cliff, for his lab, or to KPLU. He is yet better known, and this notoriety can be very, very useful.

True citizen, Cliff is constantly involved in one civic issue after another, often controversial. As part of his crusade for better math education, Cliff has worked on the elections of 3 pro-math Seattle Public Schools board member elections, and has seen all 3 candidates win despite money poured into opponents’ elections by business interests in town.

He is also activist in his field, speaking out publicly on science issues. Early in his career he began advocating for better weather prediction in the USA, which was seen as criticism of NOAA. On April 1, H.R. 2413, The Weather Forecasting Improvement Act passed a vote in the House of Representatives and has gone to the Senate, a gratifying and long-coming result.

While a believer in anthropogenic climate change, Cliff is outraged that many people, including scientists, overhype and overstate data, and has publicly dissected scientific literature that exaggerate the data. He is particularly annoyed at scientists and media who attribute specific weather events to long term climate change. (See http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/07/15/texas-tall-tales-and-global-warming/ on the Texas heatwave and  http://cliffmass.blogspot.com/2011/06/scary-snowpack-stories.html on snowpack association with climate change.)

“Careers are made and lots of research money comes to the ‘right’ position,” he says. “And the media loves global warming. But if you don’t know the facts, you can’t fight it. It isn’t worth it to do the right thing with the wrong information.”

An unfortunate side of Cliff’s responses to exaggeration is that climate change deniers quote him to demonstrate lack of scientific consensus on climate change, or even as a disbeliever. But being as honest and accurate trumps the occasional misuse of words.

(This is a very important point, and I like Cliff’s take on it. Many scientists refuse to speak with media representatives, as they fear being misquoted. This is a shortsighted fear of little actual significance. Your credibility can ultimately be more hurt by staying silent.)

Still, Cliff says, you have to protect yourself, and you can’t let activism get in the way of developing your career. He advises academics to get tenure before taking on too much controversy. Universities can, as Cliff’s did, put pressure on a faculty member because of their own vested interests, and won’t always protect their faculty in public conflicts.

Update: On June 3rd, Cliff’s choice for elementary school curriculum was voted in by the School Board, throwing over the District choice.

 

 

 

 

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Military funding and the discretionary budget- the bigger picture in science funding.

 

Discretionary desk

Today is tax day.

We know little money is going to NIH and NSF (or social support programs), but who is getting it?

A peek at the discretionary budget, compiled by the National Priorities Project, will tell.

The USA Federal budget is divided into 3 main categories:

Mandatory funding (approximately 64%), entitlement programs such as Social Security with eligibility rules.

Discretionary spending (approximately 30%), determined by appropriations process in Congress yearly.

Interest on federal debt  (approximately 6%).

Science gets 2.5% of the discretionary budget. Food and agriculture- and this, with loud pronouncement by scientists and the White House on the effects of climate change- is 1.1%

The military gets 55.2 %. That’s about 640 billion dollars.

It’s really unclear exactly how much money is where. Below is another chart, from the War Resisters League which shows the total federal budget for 2015. Contributions to science are sprinkled about, and military money is embedded within other categories in some cases. The web site will give a great deal more information on the budget, and explain how high a priority military spending is.

 

FY2015 pie chart front  web

 

So, when wanting more money for NSF and NIH, considered from what other source it might be coming from… Food stamps? Education?

How about from the military?

And yes, this is an issue scientists can be involved with. The War Resisters League has terrific suggestions on whom you can contact to express your opinion about federal spending.

 

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Union of Concerned Scientists: How to talk with journalists.

Wordsalad Scientists are urged to communicate, to talk with journalists about their own work as well as larger political and scientific issues, but it isn’t so easy to know how to do it. Great help is available from the Union of Concerned Scientists, and 3 of their latest webinars are a jumpstart to getting your thoughts and your research out there in the bigger world beyond the the bench.

“Communication science amid confusion: How to deal with tough questions,” was given on September 17th by Nick Schrope and Rich Hayes, who wrote one of my favorite communication books, “A Scientist’s Guide to Talking with the Media.” (2006, Rutgers University Press). This theme was carried further on September 19 with “A Scientist’s Guide to the Media: Sharing a Compelling Message with the Press.” Rich Hayes gave this webinar as well, joined this time by Brenda Equizol.

Some of the key points of these lectures are:

Be prepared to actively seek out opportunities to communicate.  Make sure the communication center at your workplace knows about your work, and understands the significance of interesting results: they may put out, with your help, a press release. Pitch your own stories and ideas directly, as well. If you want to comment on issues beyond your immediate research, consider writing an op-ed or letter to the editor to your local paper. Contact a local reporter, offer to be a resource, or suggest stories.

Know your core message. Before a media interview, find out from the reporter or interviewer what the topic will be. Never, if possible, do any interview without at least a few minutes preparation time: it is quite okay to say on the phone, “Could you call me back in 30 minutes.” Use the time to think about what you want to say- and what you don’t want to say.

Prepare your message for the audience, not the reporter, and help the reporter give your message. Have a quote or two ready- reporters will almost always like to have a quote for the story. Perhaps have an astute quip or metaphor ready, even a cliche, if that will help the audience understand your point. Avoid science jargon, however- even words as seemingly innocent and clear as aerosols might mean only spray cans to some members of the public. Anticipate questions: you can ask your public affairs office, or a non-scientist friend, what questions they would have for your topic.

Everything is on the record! (Even if the reporter says it isn’t.)

Practice the bridge! Transition back to your core message! The reporter may have another agenda (sometimes curiosity, sometimes hostility), or you may see that the point of the interview is getting lost in unrelated or difficult questions. Acknowledge the question, and redirect the topic. The bridge can also be used if you don’t know the answer. Some examples might be: “That is a matter that is still confusing to scientists. But what I can tell you is that…” or “The short term effects are certainly a problem, but the long term effect has been described in this study…”

Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. Our fears are greater than reality here, as journalists are generally trying to honestly reflect scientist’s views. Prepare, and make sure your core message comes through, and don’t worry too much about being misquoted. There is a slight chance someone may push your words to enhance controversy, but at the worse scenario, you can ask for a retraction. As for fear of omission, very common among scientist’s- prepare beforehand, and remember that no one

Don’t be afraid to say what you don’t know! One attribute of science (and scientists) that is often misunderstood is the changing nature of what is known.  I heard a great example last week of this at a seminar given by Peter Doherty, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1996. He has written several books for the public and was in Seattle on a book tour. He urges scientists to speak out about climate change, and said about himself, “With climate change, I don’t follow all the math, and tend to accept the conclusions, but with biology, I can understand it and see the effects.”

Think like a scientist- and a citizen. You are both.

The 3rd seminar in the mini-series, “Advocacy for the Aware but Busy Expert,” perhaps should have been the first seminar, as it was a good introduction to both the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), and a bit of the history of scientists speaking out to the public about science issues. Speaking were Peter C. Frumhoff, Director of Science and Policy at UCS, and Michael Halpern, Program Manager for the Center for Science and Democracy at the UCS.

Whether or not scientists should be involved in the use of science in society is still debated, but the UCS always made such activist work central to the organization. UCS was founded by physicists at M.I.T. in 1969, while the U.S. war on Vietnam was being waged to great protest in the U.S. The founders wanted to advocate as physics practitioners  for environmental protection, and this continues as the mission today, with a focus on climate change and clean energy sources.

Peter Frumhoff gave the introduction to UCS, and to some of the opposing viewpoints scientists working on climate science encounter today. He gave two quotes from scientists with differing opinions on the role of scientists as activists:

“If you believe that you have found something that can affect the environment, isn’t it your responsibility [as a scientist] to actually do something about it, enough so that action actually takes place….we just have to be clear when we are speaking as scientists and when we are expressing values.” 2001, Mario Molino, UCS member and 1995 Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry for the study of depletion of stratospheric ozone.

versus

“I became a climate scientist because I care about the environment but we have a moral obligation to be impartial” said Tamsin Edmonds of the University of Bristol in the UK, quoted in The Guardian on July 13, 2013.

Speaking out, not speaking out- each is framed as a moral issue. Our training is in objectivity in observation and decision making, and this idea that we must be impartial is deep, almost as deep as the idea that science is done to better mankind.  Peter noted an important addition to the arguments: that scientists are members of the public and have a right to express their convictions (found in the 2009 3rd edition of “On Being a Scientist,” by the  National Research Council). They are citizens and scientists, both, with the rights and responsibilities of both.

Michael discussed the practical aspects of being an outspoken scientist, as the question he often hears at UCS is “What can I do?” It is not always immediately obvious what an individual can do in any particular place, and he suggest each person consider the following points:

1. What issues interest me? Obesity, drug addiction, etc.

2. What parts of my skill set do I want to share? Analyze data, speak out, etc.

3. What time commitment am I willing to make? Long or short term, want to work steadily or in bursts, etc.

4 What activities fit me best? Public speaking, assistant to non-profit, resource for journalists.

5. How do I want to benefit? Build your profile, become a better communicator, shape public opinion, etc.

Michael emphasized that is is a process to know what you want to work on, and gave (besides suggesting contacting USC to plug into already organized and ongoing initiatives) sources of information for getting engaged, such as the American Geophysical Union (agu.org) and Nature (nature.org).

The session ended as did the others with questions from the web audience, many of which concerned communication worries and interacting with members of the media. One subtlety that might be very useful to many is that scientists should not start with uncertainty in dealing with the public, even when trying to counteract political pundits who conversely push certainty without  evidence.

Remember that it is not necessary to transmit every detail of every possible exception, but be as accurate and honest as you can.

Communicating Science Amid Confusion: https://s3.amazonaws.com/ucs-webinars/SN-workshop-9-17-13/index.htm

A Scientist’s Guide to the Media: https://s3.amazonaws.com/ucs-webinars/SN-workshop-9-19-13/index.htm

Advocacy for the Aware but Busy Expert: https://s3.amazonaws.com/ucs-webinars/SN-workshop-9-30-13/index.htm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Suicide- Turning grief to action.

suicide 2 On February 18, 2011, Matt Adler, a successful lawyer and father of 2 young children, killed himself.

His wife, Jennifer Stuber, was stunned. Although Matt was suffering with a dark bout of depression, he was being treated, and Jennifer assumed he was being treated thoughtfully. But when she sought Matt’s medical records to try to understand what had happened, she ran into difficulty. No one wanted to give her the records.

As Jennifer herself points out, she was in a position to find out more. An academic and sociologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, she had plenty of experts to consult when she finally did obtain some records. She found that the medical personnel knew Matt was a suicide risk, and actually labeled him as a “risky patient’ as a lawyer with a potential lawsuit, but did not act to prevent suicide.  7 suicide prevention experts Jennifer consulted sadly said they were sorry, but were not surprised: few mental health professionals had training in suicide prevention.

This was not acceptable. Not only had Matt’s death been avoidable, but other people would be left at risk. How could what seemed to be a systematic hole in the medical system be fixed?

As a sociologist, Jennifer had a background in policy, and knew how the legislative process worked. (Lobbyist? for what?)  In July, a time when the state legislature was in recess and representatives had time to speak locally with constituents, she made an appointment with State Representative Tina Orwell, who represented the 33rd district. Jenniifer chose Orwell because she was a social worker, and so would know of the devastating effects of suicide on families: she was also a University of Washington alumnus.

Along with Sue Eastguard, a suicide prevention advocate, and with a lawyer from her husbands firm, Jennifer met with Orwell- and after they explained to Orwell what they had learned about the treatment of people who were suicide risks, Orwell said, “Let’s work on a piece of legislation.”

The legislation was written by Orwell and her colleagues with the help of Jennifer and her collaborators and was submitted for its first reading in the House in January as HB 2366- Requiring certain health professionals to complete education in suicide assessment, treatment, and management. The bill went through the House Health Care & Wellness, was passed by the House in on Feb 10, an amended version passed by the Senate on February 28, and was the Matt Adler Suicide, Assessment, Treatment and Management Act of 2012 (ESHB) was signed into law by the Governor on March 29, 2012, not even a year after its conception and initiation.

This bill required mental health professionals to receive training every 6 years in identifying and treating those at risk for suicide, which might have saved Matt, and would undoubtedly save other people. But the more one looked at the hugeness of the impact of suicide- over 36,000 people in the USA kill themselves every year- it was clear that there were many other pipelines to stop. Washington is one of only two states (Kentucky is the other)  that require that mental  health professionals be trained in suicide prevention.

Jennifer and her collaborators, with allies Tina Orwell and other state representatives, passed 2 more bills in the next 2 years: HB 1336, Increasing the capacity of school districts to recognize and respond to troubled youth, and HB 2325, concerning suicide prevention, which requires primary care medical professionals, among others, to be trained in recognizing and treating those at risk for suicide.

It was HB 2315 that was the most difficult to pass.

Approximately 50% of people who commit suicide have been to their primary care doctor in the month before they died. Surely, training would improve knowledge of suicide and would reduced the suicide rate. There was opposition from professional organizations and lobbyists serving doctors and nurses, who protested that they did not want anyone telling them how to use their CME (Continuing Medical Education) hours. There was opposition in the Washington State Senate, as the chair of the Healthcare Committee was aligned with the medical professional associations.

Because the bill would have have more trouble in the Senate,where there was organized opposition, Forefront focused on the Senate on the February 25th 2014 Lobby Day at the state capital. In that one day, 40 people whose lives had been affected by suicide spoke with 36 state senators. This testimony, which showed the life-or-death essence of the issue, was xxxx, and an amended form of the bill was unanimously passed on March 6. The bill signing by the governor took place on March 27th, 2014, making the bill law.

3 bills through the state legislature in 3 years is astounding activist success.  What enabled this success (and what other activists can learn from this) is, according to Jennifer:

Go local!  While suicide is not just a local issue, addressing the problem in the legislature is much more efficient at the city or state level. You can more easily find collaborators with whom you can work. You know the other issues the legislators face. The local victories have great potential to become other local, or national, causes.

Follow the “textbook” of activism in policy change: Know how the system works. Take advantage of a focusing event (in this case, the suicide of Matt Aler) and run with it. Find an effective champion in the legislature, someone who is sympathetic to the issue and is effective at making and keeping coalitions. Be adept yourself at making and keeping coalitions and collaborators (Over 300 people collaborated on getting the bills through the legislature.)

Know the rules, not just in the legislature, but in the other venues of your activism. For example, Jennifer is faculty at  the University of Washington, a state school. State schools follow state rules, and the University of Washington made it clear that there could be no grass roots lobbying in class or during a “regular” 9-5 day on the issue of lobbying for suicide prevention.

Jennifer continues to work with Forefront (http://www.intheforefront.org), the non-profit organization she and Sue Eastguard began in 2013 at the University of Washington, in developing evidence-based approaches to suicide prevention. Forefront not only works on legislation for suicide prevention, but on developing and setting up suicide prevention curricula, and helping families and organizations find help in prevention of and healing from suicide.

For a more personal look at the frustration Jennifer felt at the stigma of suicide even with the health care system, and her inability to find help for her husband, see http://www.washington.edu/alumni/columns-magazine/march-2014/features/stuber/  .

Know where to get help for family, yourself, co-workers.

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2015 update

Campus suicide prevention law passes

Last month, on April 23, Governor Jay Inslee signed into law SHB 1138 to create a suicide prevention task force across Washington’s 54 college campuses. The leadership of Rep. Tina Orwall and the persistence of many Forefront volunteers, some of whom lost a college-age child or a sibling to suicide, were essential to the bill’s success. Read more about the new law and the Husky Help and Hope (H3) initiative for promoting mental health and suicide prevention at the University of Washington in Faculty Director Jenn Stuber’s recent post on Forefront’s Insight Blog.

 

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