Archive | activism

Don’t let the government get in the way of your mission: 3 stories from today’s New York Times

A doctor(s), an engineer, and a poet were highlighted in different stories in today’s New York Times. The three were activists in different ways, proceeding with their chosen missions despite apparent obstacles such as government, regulations, and public opinion.

This is a short posting of good news.

Doctors without borders  Doctors Without Borders Evolves as It Forms the Vanguard in Ebola Fight. The New York Times, October 11, 2014, pA6.

“The group emerged in the late 1960s, as Nigerian forces fought a secessionist struggle in Biafra. When the government refused to allow some young French Red Cross doctors to deliver food to the famine-strien rebel territories, they revolted, breaking their Red Cross Pledge of neutrality and silence.

They founded the group that would, in 1971, become Medecins Sans Frontieres. Its first director, Dr. Bernard Kouchner, a media-savvy leftist who would become France’s foreign minister, described the mission: “It’s simple.Go where the patients are.”

Medical teams would tend to people wherever they suffered, regardless of political or military boundaries, with or without permission. The group’s workers would bear public witness to what they observed.

Today, Doctors Without Bordersis the largest of the relatively few organizations devoted to providing urgent care in medical crises caused by armed conflict or natural disasters..”

—–

Kailash satyarthis nobel prize caps decades of fighting child slavery in India. The New York Times, October 11, 2014, pA10

Kailish Satyarthi, one of the 2 recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, has worked for 3 decades to stop child slavery in India, using undercover operatives and camera crews to physically free children, on site, from enforced work in deplorable conditions. The organization he founded, Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Children Mission) has freed 70,000 children.

“Born about six and a half years after India won independence, Mr. Satyarthi, 60, was so deeply impressed with Gandhi’s teachings that, as a teenager, he invited a group of high-caste local bigwigs to a meal prepared by low-caste “untouchables”: the ivied guests boycotted the event and then shunned his family. Deeply upset, the boy dropped his Brahmin family name in favor of Satyarthi, which mean “seeker of truth,” according to an account on his website.

A few years later, Mr Satyarthi was studying engineering at college when Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency, cracking down on civil liberties and suspending elections. Already a Marxist, he mobilized students against the government and spent much of the period avoiding arrest warrants, said Prabhat Kumar, a longtime friend and fellow activist.”

——–

Carolyn Kizer, Pulitzer-Winning Poet, Dies at 89. The New York TImes, October 11, 2014, p A19.

And last, the obituary for poet Carolyn Kizer, whose poetry was personal, intellectual, and political.

“Ms. Kizer’s politics were not confined to paper. In 1998, for instance, she and Maxine Kumin resigned as chancellors of the Academy of American Poets to protest the lack of women and minority group members in its leadership. The organization has since diversified as a result.”

 

Ms. Kizer’s first collection, “The Ungrateful Garden,” published in 1961, left little doubt that to her, the poetical was the political. In a poem from the volume, “The Death of a Public Servant,” about McCarthyism, she wrote:

This is a day when good men die from windows,

Leap from a sill of one of the world’s eyes

Into the blind and deaf-and-dumb of time …

Dead friends, who were the servants of this world!

Once there was a place for gentle heroes.

Now they are madmen who, scuttling down corridors,

Eluding guards, climb lavatory walls

And squeeze through air-vents to their liberation.

 

 

 

 

 

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Scientists, the Nobel Peace Prize, and the Right Livelihood Award

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How many scientists have won Nobel Peace Prizes?

Not many, but more than most people- including scientists- can name. 

The Nobel prizes were started by the bequest of the will of Swedish scientist, chemist and industrialist Alfred Nobel, best known for his discovery of dynamite, and were first awarded in 1901. (The award for Economics was started after the others, in 1968, by the Swedish Bank Riksbank.) 5 of the awards (Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Economics) are given in Sweden, while the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded by the Norwegian Parliament. 

While in Oslo, I visited the Nobel Peace Center about Alfred Nobel and the Nobel Peace Prize, near the waterfront. Most of the area in the small museum was taken up with a tribute to the 2013 Nobel to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).  The organization is a diplomatic and legal one, and the exhibition was quite slanted in its emphasis on offenders since WWII- citing, for example, the use of mustard gas by the Germans in WWII, but making no mention of the use of Agent Orange by the USA in Vietnam.

There was an installation with all Nobel Peace Prize awardees, and here and there were was a winner identified as a scientist. I wouldn’t have necessarily expected more- the description of the qualifications for the award as given in Alfred Nobel’s will (” and one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses..”) is certainly not directed to scientists.

Still, scientists are in a great position of respect and power, are certainly implicated in the development of weapons and technology, and could take advantage of this privilege in promoting peace. I read the Nobel Peace Prize awardee biographies and made a list of scientists and science-related organizations who have won Nobel Peace Prizes. 

Scientists/Nobel Peace Prize Laureates

Name                                      Year of award                      Science focus

Wangari Maathai                     2004                                      Biologist

Joseph Rotblat                         1995                                       Physicist

Andrei Sakharov                      1975                                       Physicist

Norman Ernest Borlaug        1970                                       Botanist

Linus Carl Pauling                  1962                                       Chemist

(Albert Schweitzer                  1952                                      Physician )

Ralph Bunche                          1950                                      Social Scientist

John Boyd Orr                         1949                                     Physician and Biologist

Jane Addams                           1931                                      Sociologist

Fridtjof Nansen                      1922                                       Zoologist

 

Organization/Nobel Peace Prize                                                               Year

 (Médecins Sans Frontières                                                                         1999)

International Atomic Energy Agency                                                       2005

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)                   2007

International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War              1985

( ) denotes a medical person/organization. 

For some, the activism that led to the peace prize was their occupation; in others, it was beyond the job. As for the other Nobel Peace Prizes, the laureates are generally already very well known. The awards are primarily diplomatic, and this combined with the celebrity factor makes the paucity of scientists perhaps understandable. 

But this political focus of the Nobel Peace Prize has been bothersome. The prize has sometimes given to world leaders whose role in peace was dubious, and it is certainly difficult to take seriously a peace award given to, for example, Henry Kissinger, one of the architects of American’s war on Vietnam.

The Alternative Nobel Prize- the Right Livelihood Awards

Journalist and professional philatelist Jakob von Uexkull felt that the awards were narrow in scope and were unrealistic in focusing on the interests of industrialized countries. He approached the Nobel Foundation to establish awards more relevant to the problems of poverty and the destruction of resources, and was rebuffed. He then financed the first “Right Livelihood Award” in 1980, and in 1985 was invited to present the award in the Swedish Parliament. These awards are sometimes described as the “Alternative Nobel Prize” and tend to be given to activists in developing world countries.” There  are usually 4 winners a year, and sometimes an honorary winner who does not receive money. 

 There are many scientists among the winners of the Right Livelihood Awards. The winners are realistically inspirational, ordinary scientists with feet to the ground who made huge local (but often international) differences to people. It is obvious from reading the individual biographies that activism is very doable for a scientist, and can be very effective. 

They come from countries from all over the world. They organize, they collaborate, and those collaborations are often with people outside their own fields. They are multidimensional, and are often experts in several fields, learning what needed to be learned to accomplish their missions. Science is not an end onto itself, but is a powerful tool to effect change, peace, and a better world. Some are self-trained. Many are women.

The choices of awardees are not politically “safe.”

Right Livelihood awardees 

Name                                                           Year of Award                       Science Focus

Paul Walker                                                2013                                       Political scientist

(Denis Mukwege                                         2013                                       Physician)

Hans Herrin                                               2013                              Agronomist/entomologist                                     Biovision Foundation

(Sima Samar                                                2012                                       Physician)

Huang Ming                                               2011                                       Engineer

David Suzuki   Honorary                         2009                                       Zoologist

Rene Ngongo                                             2009                                       Biologist

(Catherine Hamlin                                     2009                                       Physician)

(Monika Hauser                                         2008                                        Physician)

Ruth Manorama                                       2006                                        Sociologist

Tony Clarke                                               2005                                        Sociologist

Asghar Ali                                                  2005                                        Engineer 

Raul Montenegro                                     2004                                        Evolutionary Biologist

Walden Bello                                            2003                                         Sociologist

Nicanor Perlas                                          2003                                         Agriculturalist

Ibrahim Abouleish                                  2003                                          Pharmacologist

Martin Green                                           2002                                          Engineer

Tewolde Berhan                                       2000                                         Botanist

Birsel Lemke                                            2000                                          Political scientist

Wes Jackson/The land Institute          2000                                    Geneticist-agronomist

Hermann Scheer                                     1999                                            Social Scientist

Juan Garces                                              1999                                            Political scientist

Samual Epstein                                       1998                                            Physician, Occupational Medicine

Juan Pablo Orrego                                 1998                                             Environmental Scientist

(Katarina Kruhonja                                 1998                                             Physician)

(Vesna Terselic                                         1998                                             Physician)

Jinzaburo Takagi                                    1997                                             Nuclear Chemist

Michael Succow                                      1997                                             Biologist   

(George Vithoulkas                                  1996                                            Homeopathic Physician)                     

Sulak Sivaraksa                                       1995                                             Social Scientist

Hannumappa R Sudarshan/Vivekananda Girijana Kalyana Kendra (VGKK)    1994 Physician /org

Vandana Shiva                                        1993                                             Physicist

(Zafrullah Chowdhury                             1992                                            Physician)                                                             with Gonoshathaya Kendra (GK)

John Gofman                                          1992                       Nuclear Chemist and Physician

Edward Goldsmith  Honorary             1991                                             Ecologist/writer  

Bengt Danielsson                                    1991                                             Anthropologist                                                                                                (with Marie-Therese Danielsson)

Melaku Worede                                      1989                                             Agronomist

(Akilu Lemma                                          1989                                             Physician)

(Legesse Wolde-Yohannes                     1989                                            Physician)

(Inge Genefke    Honorary                      1988                                           Physician)                                                Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims

Jose Lutzenberger 1988 Agronomist

Johan Galtung Honorary                     1987                  Mathematician, Social Scientist

Hans-Peter Durr                                    1987                                             Physicist

Mordechai Vanunu                                1987                            Geographer, philosopher 

Rosalie Bertell                                        1986                  Biometrics, Environmental Health

(Alice Stewart                                          1986                                              Physician)

Wangari Maathai                                  1984                                               Biologist                                                                                                (Won Nobel Peace Prize in 2004)

Amory B. Lovins                                    1983                                      Experimental Physicist

Hunter Lovins                                        1983                     Political Scientists and Sociologist

Organization                                                                         Year of Award

Grain International                                                                                      2011
 

Grameen Shakti                                                                                            2007 

Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP) Org. of Science Writers        1996  

 

Reading only the biographies of the Nobel Peace Prize laureates would lead a scientist to believe that there isn’t much change of being an activist for peace.

Reading the biographies of the Right Livelihood Award would lead scientists to believe that they can be effective in activist efforts, and that their particular talents and training makes them very, very useful in a drive for peace and sustainability.

——
September 24th, 2014

Right Livelihood Award 2014
The „Alternative Nobel Prize“ is awarded annually by the Right Livelihood Award Foundation „for outstanding vision and work on behalf of our planet and its people“. This year, the Foundation has selected not four, but five Right Livelihood Award Laureates:

Edward Snowden (USA), Joint Honorary Award with Alan Rusbridger
„… for his courage and skill in revealing the unprecedented extent of state surveillance violating basic democratic processes and constitutional rights.“

Alan Rusbridger (UK), Joint Honorary Award with Edward Snowden
„… for building a global media organisation dedicated to responsible journalism in the public interest, undaunted by the challenges of exposing corporate and government malpractices.“

Asma Jahangir (Pakistan)
„… for defending, protecting and promoting human rights in Pakistan and more widely, often in very difficult and complex situations and at great personal risk.“

Basil Fernando / AHRC (Hong Kong SAR, China)
„… for his tireless and outstanding work to support and document the implementation of human rights in Asia.“

Bill McKibben / 350.org (USA)
„… for mobilising growing popular support in the USA and around the world for strong action to counter the threat of global climate change.“

We congratulate the Laureates and extend our cordial thanks for their outstanding enthusiasm and work for a more just, democratic and sustainable world!

http://www.rightlivelihood.org/

posted on http://www.inesglobal.com/news-2014.phtml
 

 

 

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Speaking out on Gaza in the Lancet: Utilizing the power of a journal.

 

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When should a journal use the enormous power it has?

It can sometimes be hard to say. Scientists act as though science means a lack of subjectivity and freedom from politics. We expect our journals to be objective, publishing only data free from bias. Journals and readers ignore the implicit bias of accepting mainstream political explanations.

As of July 30, 1,330 Palestians have been killed in Gaza since Israel’s latest assault, at least 3/4 of them civilians, according to the UN, and 1/3 of them children, according to UNICEF. 1 in 8 people are homeless.

3 civilians (2 Israeli, 1 Thai) and 53 Israeli soldiers have been killed.

This is not only an attack and a war, but a huge humanitarian crisis that is targeting Gaza civilians. And a humanitarian crisis is the time for a medical journal to spend the capital it has earned, and to make its own political and philosophical links to societal issues.

The Lancet did so, publishing on July 23, 2014 “An open letter for the people in Gaza,” written by a group of physicians and scientists. The letter points out the asynchronous deaths and injuries of the current attacks, and the appalling circumstances that Gazans having been living in after 8 years of blockade by Israel and Egypt.

An Open Letter for the People of Gaza   http://www.thelancet.com/gaza-letter-2014

by Paola Manduca, Iain Chalmers, Derek Summerfield, Mads Gilbert, and Swee Ang on behalf of 24 signatories

We are doctors and scientists, who spend our lives developing means to care and protect health and lives. We are also informed people; we teach the ethics of our professions, together with the knowledge and practice of it. We all have worked in and known the situation of Gaza for years.

On the basis of our ethics and practice, we are denouncing what we witness in the aggression of Gaza by Israel.

We ask our colleagues, old and young professionals, to denounce this Israeli aggression. We challenge the perversity of a propaganda that justifies the creation of an emergency to masquerade a massacre, a so-called “defensive aggression”. In reality it is a ruthless assault of unlimited duration, extent, and intensity. We wish to report the facts as we see them and their implications on the lives of the people.

We are appalled by the military onslaught on civilians in Gaza under the guise of punishing terrorists. This is the third large scale military assault on Gaza since 2008. Each time the death toll is borne mainly by innocent people in Gaza, especially women and children under the unacceptable pretext of Israel eradicating political parties and resistance to the occupation and siege they impose.

This action also terrifies those who are not directly hit, and wounds the soul, mind, and resilience of the young generation. Our condemnation and disgust are further compounded by the denial and prohibition for Gaza to receive external help and supplies to alleviate the dire circumstances.

The blockade on Gaza has tightened further since last year and this has worsened the toll on Gaza’s population. In Gaza, people suffer from hunger, thirst, pollution, shortage of medicines, electricity, and any means to get an income, not only by being bombed and shelled. Power crisis, gasoline shortage, water and food scarcity, sewage outflow and ever decreasing resources are disasters caused directly and indirectly by the siege.1

People in Gaza are resisting this aggression because they want a better and normal life and, even while crying in sorrow, pain, and terror, they reject a temporary truce that does not provide a real chance for a better future. A voice under the attacks in Gaza is that of Um Al Ramlawi who speaks for all in Gaza: “They are killing us all anyway—either a slow death by the siege, or a fast one by military attacks. We have nothing left to lose—we must fight for our rights, or die trying.”2

Gaza has been blockaded by sea and land since 2006. Any individual of Gaza, including fishermen venturing beyond 3 nautical miles of the coast of Gaza, face being shot by the Israeli Navy. No one from Gaza can leave from the only two checkpoints, Erez or Rafah, without special permission from the Israelis and the Egyptians, which is hard to come by for many, if not impossible. People in Gaza are unable to go abroad to study, work, visit families, or do business. Wounded and sick people cannot leave easily to get specialised treatment outside Gaza. Entries of food and medicines into Gaza have been restricted and many essential items for survival are prohibited.3 Before the present assault, medical stock items in Gaza were already at an all time low because of the blockade.3 They have run out now. Likewise, Gaza is unable to export its produce. Agriculture has been severely impaired by the imposition of a buffer zone, and agricultural products cannot be exported due to the blockade. 80% of Gaza’s population is dependent on food rations from the UN.

Much of Gaza’s buildings and infrastructure had been destroyed during Operation Cast Lead, 2008—09, and building materials have been blockaded so that schools, homes, and institutions cannot be properly rebuilt. Factories destroyed by bombardment have rarely been rebuilt adding unemployment to destitution.

Despite the difficult conditions, the people of Gaza and their political leaders have recently moved to resolve their conflicts “without arms and harm” through the process of reconciliation between factions, their leadership renouncing titles and positions, so that a unity government can be formed abolishing the divisive factional politics operating since 2007. This reconciliation, although accepted by many in the international community, was rejected by Israel. The present Israeli attacks stop this chance of political unity between Gaza and the West Bank and single out a part of the Palestinian society by destroying the lives of people of Gaza. Under the pretext of eliminating terrorism, Israel is trying to destroy the growing Palestinian unity. Among other lies, it is stated that civilians in Gaza are hostages of Hamas whereas the truth is that the Gaza Strip is sealed by the Israelis and Egyptians.

Gaza has been bombed continuously for the past 14 days followed now by invasion on land by tanks and thousands of Israeli troops. More than 60 000 civilians from Northern Gaza were ordered to leave their homes. These internally displaced people have nowhere to go since Central and Southern Gaza are also subjected to heavy artillery bombardment. The whole of Gaza is under attack. The only shelters in Gaza are the schools of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), uncertain shelters already targeted during Cast Lead, killing many.

According to Gaza Ministry of Health and UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA),1 as of July 21, 149 of the 558 killed in Gaza and 1100 of the 3504 wounded are children. Those buried under the rubble are not counted yet. As we write, the BBC reports of the bombing of another hospital, hitting the intensive care unit and operating theatres, with deaths of patients and staff. There are now fears for the main hospital Al Shifa. Moreover, most people are psychologically traumatised in Gaza. Anyone older than 6 years has already lived through their third military assault by Israel.

The massacre in Gaza spares no one, and includes the disabled and sick in hospitals, children playing on the beach or on the roof top, with a large majority of non-combatants. Hospitals, clinics, ambulances, mosques, schools, and press buildings have all been attacked, with thousands of private homes bombed, clearly directing fire to target whole families killing them within their homes, depriving families of their homes by chasing them out a few minutes before destruction. An entire area was destroyed on July 20, leaving thousands of displaced people homeless, beside wounding hundreds and killing at least 70—this is way beyond the purpose of finding tunnels. None of these are military objectives. These attacks aim to terrorise, wound the soul and the body of the people, and make their life impossible in the future, as well as also demolishing their homes and prohibiting the means to rebuild.

Weaponry known to cause long-term damages on health of the whole population are used; particularly non fragmentation weaponry and hard-head bombs.45 We witnessed targeted weaponry used indiscriminately and on children and we constantly see that so-called intelligent weapons fail to be precise, unless they are deliberately used to destroy innocent lives.

We denounce the myth propagated by Israel that the aggression is done caring about saving civilian lives and children’s wellbeing.

Israel’s behaviour has insulted our humanity, intelligence, and dignity as well as our professional ethics and efforts. Even those of us who want to go and help are unable to reach Gaza due to the blockade.

This “defensive aggression” of unlimited duration, extent, and intensity must be stopped.

Additionally, should the use of gas be further confirmed, this is unequivocally a war crime for which, before anything else, high sanctions will have to be taken immediately on Israel with cessation of any trade and collaborative agreements with Europe.

As we write, other massacres and threats to the medical personnel in emergency services and denial of entry for international humanitarian convoys are reported.6 We as scientists and doctors cannot keep silent while this crime against humanity continues. We urge readers not to be silent too. Gaza trapped under siege, is being killed by one of the world’s largest and most sophisticated modern military machines. The land is poisoned by weapon debris, with consequences for future generations. If those of us capable of speaking up fail to do so and take a stand against this war crime, we are also complicit in the destruction of the lives and homes of 1·8 million people in Gaza.

We register with dismay that only 5% of our Israeli academic colleagues signed an appeal to their government to stop the military operation against Gaza. We are tempted to conclude that with the exception of this 5%, the rest of the Israeli academics are complicit in the massacre and destruction of Gaza. We also see the complicity of our countries in Europe and North America in this massacre and the impotence once again of the international institutions and organisations to stop this massacre.

Paola Manduca:  New Weapons Research Group and University of Genoa, Genoa, Italy

Iain Chalmers: James Lind Library, Oxford, UK

Derek Summerfield: Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College, London, UK

Mads Gilbert: Clinic of Emergency Medicine, University Hospital of North Norway, Tromso, Norway

Swee Ang:  Barts and the Royal London Hospital, London, UK

On behalf of 24 signatories.

References

1 United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Occupied Palestinian Territory: Gaza emergency situation report (as of 21 July 2014, 1500 hrs). http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_sitrep_22_07_2014.pdf. (accessed July 22, 2014).

2 Webb-Pullman J. Dignity or death—we cannot give up now. http://gaza.scoop.ps/2014/07/dignity-or-death-we-cannot-give-up-now/. (accessed July 22, 2014).

3 Gilbert M. Brief report to UNRWA: The Gaza Health Sector as of June 2014.http://www.unrwa.org/sites/default/files/final_report_-_gaza_health_sector_june-july_2014_-_mads_gilbert_2.pdf. (accessed July 22, 2014).

4 Naim A, Al Dalies H, El Balawi M, et al. Birth defects in Gaza: prevalence, types, familiarity and correlation with environmental factors. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2012; 9: 1732-1747. PubMed

5 Manduca P, Naim A, Signoriello S. Specific association of teratogen and toxicant metals in hair of newborns with congenital birth defects or developmentally premature birth in a cohort of couples with documented parental exposure to military attacks: observational study at Al Shifa Hospital, Gaza, Palestine. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2014; 11: 5208-5223. PubMed

6 Ma’an News Agency. 4 killed, over 50 injured as Israel targets al-Aqsa hospital.http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=715087. (accessed July 22, 2014).

—-

There has been outrage in response to the letter, with 2 examples being  The Lancet’s Latest Abuse of Medicine for Political Ends , and When Anti-Semitism Strikes Science and Medicine .

First author Paola Manduca, a geneticist at the University of Genoa who worked in Gaza in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014, has gone further than the Lancet article in a follow-up interview. For example, she is forthright about the tunnels to Israel, pointing out that these are not just roads for weapons, but are the main way any food or medical supplies get into Gaza past Israeli blockade. Dismayed that so few Israeli academics signed an appeal to the Israeli government about Gaza, she mentions the Israeli group “Physicians for Human Rights” and what a small minority they are in Israel: even though academics know full well that Palestinians cannot even participate in research freely, they still act as though Palestianians have the same rights as Israelis in Israel.

This is not the first time the Lancet has published letters and articles about Palestine as a humanitarian crisis. For example, in 2009, The Lancet launched a series of articles on “Health in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” , written by a team of health scientists in Palestine, as well as by people in WHO, the UN, and academic institutions in the USA, UK, Norway, and France. There was a follow-up series in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.

The Lancet editor Richard Horton wrote one of the opening articles of the series, “The occupied Palestinian territory: peace, justice, and health,” framing the healthcare issues as a direct consequence of the Israeli occupation.  He has visited Gaza, and has not only addressed the healthcare and humanitarian crisis by his own article authorship, and the editorial article choice in The Lancet, but by speaking out and writing in other forums. He is constantly attacked personally richardmillett.wordpress.com/tag/dr-richard-horton/ for his activism, with the charge of being anti-Semitic, and evangelical.

Horton speaks publicly on many other issues besides Palestine, for example, on GM food safety , the rationing of funds for science , and the need for scientists to engage with citizens .

Horton uses his power.

Here in the USA, which funds Israel weaponry, the carnage is still labeled as self-defense on the part of Israel.  Despite a growing lack of support for Israel government policy in Gaza, the US Senate voted unanimously to support Israel.

We need the Meducas and the Hortons of the scientific world to speak out, to realize that no scientist or health worker exists in a vacuum. There are avenues in which scientists as citizens can act to help in Gaza:

Resolutions in professional societies.

Letters to the editor.

Divestment and boycott campaigns.

Talking.

Neuroscientist and author Sam Harris has tried to look dispassionately/“scientifically” at the Israel-Palestine situation, seeing the present massacre as being a shame but a predicable and acceptable outcome. This is, in the face of the massacre that is occurring, is not acceptable.

Follow- up and activism- April 2015

There has continued to be enormous criticism of Richard Horton and The Lancet. A petition, initiated by British academics, scientists, and physicians, is currently requesting signatures. See http://handsoffthelancet.com/.

 

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Scientists spoke but no one listened: the Oso landslide

Scientists predicted the Oso landslide, but nothing was done. Over the years, they spoke out again and again, without effect on development in the area. And then, March 22 happened.

Osa1

And from the looks of the latest report by the Geotechnical Extreme Events Reconnaissance Association (you can read about it in yesterday’s New York Times in “Washington Mudslide Report Cites Rain, but doesn’t Give Cause or Assign Blame,” there aren’t a lot of take-home lessons to prevent another catastrophe.  The report did say that heavy rain in the weeks before the landslide were a factor. It suggested that the destabilization of soil from a 2006 slide in the same place and logging.

“But the authors stopped short of naming a specific cause or assigning blame, saying that a slide of such devastating size and force was not predictable.”  How strange, and how useless…..isn’t there an awful lot of room between finding causes and prediction?

Not only in retrospect, the Oso, Washington landslide in the North Cascade foothills that killed 43 people on March 22, 2014 was a catastrophe-in-waiting. While scientists issued reports on the landslide dangers, the town continued to issue building permits and to minimize the chances of a landslide.

The Northern Cascades in Washington State, an area with a history of landslides, high annual rainfall, logging in the area, the fast-moving Stillaquamish River undercutting the hill….all of these factors were indicators of potential instability and were pointed out, documented, analyzed, and reported.

Engineering geologist Robert Thorson from the Univeristy of Connecticut studied in the Oso area, and has outlined some of the history of pessimistic scientists’ reports, local media often responsive to the scientists, and resultant action in denial of the scientific reports.

1932       Aerial photographs showed recent slides.

1949       Landslide destroyed nearly half a mile of the riverbank.

1950’s    Hillside named Slide Hill. Various geological reports predicted more landslides.

1951       Causes of mudflows from 1949 slide shown to be unstable glacial material, undercutting of the hill by the river, heavy rainfall that caused small landslides which then dammed the river and made it more powerful.

1960       By this time, berms, dikes, ditches, revetments, and walls had been built in  attempts to prevent slides. All were destroyed.

1969       Engineering geologists from the University of Washington and the State Department of Natural Resources wrote reports and  memos highlighting “a grave and unstoppable problem.”

1990’s     Investigations continued.

1997        Dan Miller, in a report to the Washington State Department of Ecology and the Tulalip Tribes, warned of a looming disaster.

1999        Dan and Lynne Miller, in a report to the Army Corp of Engineers, warned to the potential for a large catastrophic failure.

2006        Massive landslide on hillside above Oso. Houses were being built, and building continued to 2013.

Still, as Thorson reported, 2 days after the 2014 Oso slide, John Pennington (the head of the Department of Emergency management for Snohomish County)  told the Seattle Times that “It was considered very safe….this was a completely unforeseen slide. This came out of nowhere.”

In August, 2004, the State Department of Nature Resources approved the plan of logging company Grandy Lake Forest to cut adjacent to the plateau above the known slide area. The cut appears to have gone beyond the permitted area. In 2009 and 2011, Grandy Lake were approved to take more logs in the area.

Snohomish County continued to allow houses and trailers to be located on Steelhead Drive after scientists pointed out the unstable hillside just across the Stillaquamish River.

That was the pattern: in spite of warnings by scientists and engineers, local government allowed logging and development to continue in the Oso area.

There were times when government agencies, developers, or loggers heeded scientists’ warnings. In 1988, for example, local company Summit Timber applied to log above the slope over Oso. Paul Kennard, a geologist for the Tulalip Tribes, Noel Wolff, a hydrologist who worked for the state, and Lee Benda, a geologist at the Univeristy of Washington, all spoke out of the danger to the hillside. The Department of Natural Resources stopped the logging. Summit persisted in seeking a permit, but stopped after finally appreciating the risk.

The popular Gold Basin Campground in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, is 15 miles away from Oso and is under a hill (Gold Basin Hill) with geology similar to Oso. As for Oso, there have been documented landslides since the 1940’s and many requests and proposals to move the campground. Environmental engineer Tracy Drury, hired by the Stillaquamish Tribe, warned in 2001 of a catastrophic landslide that could cover the campground: Drury had also warned of the potential for a catastrophic landslide at Oso in 2000.

In the immediate wake of Oso, the U.S. Forest Service still refused to move the campground, a dependable source of revenue. But, by May, soon after concerns of a potential landslide at the Gold Basin Campground had made the national press, the Forest Service announced that it would delay the opening of Gold Basin Campground while they studies the landslide danger. The campground is still not open.

Also in May, Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark, who leads the Department of Natural Resources, announced  that logging could not take place without a review if the proposed site is even close to a potential landslide area. Formerly, state rules only required the logging companies  to submit their own report to the Department of Natural Resources. Goldmark also encouraged the use of more modern technology to map potential landslide areas.

If the pattern of the past 80 years persists, anxiety about landslides will fade, and rules will again grow lax. What can scientists do to get their information to the public, and to the agencies that can act on the information?

It is hard to take lessons from Oso. Scientists did speak out. The press and media did often respond. As for climate change, and antibiotic resistance, and a host of persistent problems that seem never to get addressed, there are small victories, and steps backwards, and sometimes, catastrophies.

-Use the catastrophies. That is often the only time you get press interested.

-Use the press. Write op-eds. Volunteer for a local radio show. Sign petitions. Be persistent.

-Get your message out to multiple agencies. It is clear that in Oso there are overlapping federal agencies, sometimes oblivious to the other, sometimes competing with each other, and it was all too easy for action to fall between the cracks. Try to find the one person who will listen and step beyond the usual timid boundaries of the job.

– Act locally. It is usually state or town agencies that can act on environmental and safety issues, not national ones. Local business folk might be more inclined to listened to neighbors about issues than a national company would.

-Carry on even when you are shocked by the greed that can make people oblivious to danger, and the tendency of  your own neighbors to believe that their situation will be the exception to your data.

– Not all scientists will be on your side.

 

 

 

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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

 

3

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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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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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.

NewImage

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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Obituary: Lee Lorch, mathematician and civil rights activist

lee jpgLee Lorch died on February 28, 2013, in Toronto, Canada, at the age of 98. A well-respected mathematician as well as a dedicated civil rights activist, his activism and the effect of that activism are the focus of his obituary in the New York Times. Generally, scientists overestimate the professional risk to themselves for speaking out on political and social issues, but Lorch was treated badly at every place he worked in the USA. He moved to Canada- first to the University of Alberta in 1959 and later to York University in Toronto- when it was clear that, despite his stellar mathematic research and teaching, no American college would employ him.

Late in his life, Lorch received many honors from institutions, organizations, and fellow mathematicians, including an honorary degree from City College, a college that had blocked his promotion early in his career. In most of his activist endeavors, he was back by colleagues, but not by boards or administrators. Students protested for him, Albert Einstein protested for him, newspapers and professional organizations backed him- but he still was not allowed to keep his academic jobs.

His crimes….

At his first job after WWII, City College in New York City, he worked with tenants at Stuyvesant Town, a large housing complex , to eliminate the “No Negroes Allowed” policy. This initial work was vital in the eventual passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. His promotion was blocked by the appointments committee.

At Penn State University, he was denied reappointment for having invited a black family to live with them in Stuyvesant Town. That family stayed on when the Lorches (both Lorch’s wife and daughter were activists as well) were forced out, starting the integration of Stuyvesant Town.

At Fisk University, a historic black college in Nashville Tennessee, Lorch tried to enroll his daughter in an all black school, and refused to answer questions for the House Un-American Activities Committee about his interest in communism. At Fisk he taught 3 of the first blacks to get doctorates in mathematics. He was let go.

At Philander Smith College, in Little Rock, Arkansas, a small all-black institution, his prior interaction with the House Un-American Activities Committee, the activism of his wife, Grace, and daughter Alice in assisting the first black child, Elizabeth Eckford, to enter the all-white public school, and his own work in accompanying other black students to schools through angry crowds, caused Philander leadership to refuse to renew his appointment in 1957. A photograph of Elizabeth Eckford won a Pulitzer Prize, and Little Rock was a touchstone in school integration.

There are no lessons here for what he could have done “differently” that would have allowed him to keep working in academia in the USA. Considering black people to be equal to white people was considered to be subversive. Compromise would have made board members rest easy, but it would not have been effective.

A magnificent life.

Lee Lorch, Rights Activist Who Fought For Housing Desegregation, Dies at 98. David Margolick. March 3, 2014. The New York Times p A21. http://nyti.ms/1eNJA1D

See also: An appreciation to Lee Lorch. Mathematics Department of the State University of New York at Buffalo. Scott W. Williams. May 28, 1995. http://www.math.buffalo.edu/mad/special/lorch-lee.html

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