In spite of the growing realization that the political is part of science, that scientists can be activists and that racism and climate change are suitable topics for activism, that protection of refugees is paramount, and that research will be defunded as over half the discretionary budget already goes to war, there is a shocking silence from scientists against militarism and war.
It wasn’t always so. During the war against Vietnam, for example, scientists protested, started food banks, and worked to stopped military funding on campuses. Linus Pauling, who was awarded not only the 1954 Nobel Prize in Chemistry but also the 1962 (awarded in 1963) Nobel Peace Prize, famously in 1962 held a sign about the test ban treaty outside the White House, before going in to dine with President Kennedy to celebrate his Chemistry Nobel Prize with other laureates. Science for the People was only one of many scientific organizations that openly opposed the war and militarism.
But right now, the silence is deafening. Scientists have spoken out against individual wars: many were activists against the Iraq Wars. But they spoke as if that particular war, and that particular president, were aberrations. Many have spoken out against nuclear weapons, but without even mentioned the military mindset and the war that would lead to the use of those weapons.
And it isn’t as if the military hasn’t already been taking up a huge portion of discretionary funding. In the Bush years, in the Obama years, there has been a steady increase in military funding. (The blue part of the pie is the over 50% of discretionary funding proposed for war by Obama.) Scientists have remained passive.
Scientists are speaking out about racism and the plight of refugees, but don’t mention that any come from the bombs, drones, weapons, “advisors” the USA has sent to the middle east and northern Africa. Stopping the devastation we are causing would go a long way towards helping refugees. It is terrific that scientists are finally speaking against the Muslim ban, but they need to explore the problem more deeply to be effective…and scientific.
Our organizations do not speak against war. Now, as deep cuts to research in favor of funding the military are put forward, there is still no protest against war. The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) statement on Trump’s proposed budget spoke against the 6 billion dollar cut to the NIH and other cuts made in favor of defense, and also mentioned that basic science research had helped many soldiers: this almost reads like a defense of war. The American Geophysical Union (AGU) in its statement about Trump’s budget also justifies the needs of the military (“Who will the military turn to when they need information to support effective troop movements?”) as a reason to support basic research. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest scientific organization, has said nothing about the madness of an increased military budget and in their graphic, they list the increase in budget for the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons, apparently as a bright point.
The National Priorities Project (NPP), a non-partisan organization that looks at funding, issued a statement on Trumps FY2018 budget proposal does mention that the USA military budget is already larger than the next 7 countries combined. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) does not mention the deflection of money to the military in a blog statement on the budget, but does in the action center in its letter to Congress for scientists :
“This budget calls for a $54 billion increase in defense spending, while making cuts in the same amount to non-defense programs from science research to diplomacy efforts. At the same time, President Trump has endorsed the idea of a nuclear spending spree, which would be dangerous and wasteful. The United States should be investing more in diplomacy and science–not new nuclear weapons.”
I take heart from this.
But the organizational responses may just be completely honest on one level: scientific research walks arm in arm with the military and with war. Scientists are funded by war, they work on war, they are needed for war. If we called it genocide instead of war, would scientists feel less that they don’t need to rationalize their complicity with the military? Genocide is not an aberration is war, nor is rape, hunger, or torture. Or the creation of millions of forces refugees. War is the mass murder of civilians: 90% of the deaths are civilian deaths.
Graphic “Trump’s Budget: Winners and Losers” from the Los Angeles Times .
Federal Spending and What It Means for Science- AGU Webinar, March 9, 2016
Key points, in brief:
Knowledge of the budget process is necessary in order to interact with and influence policy makers.
The USA Federal Budget is composed of Mandatory Spending (Entitlements) and Discretionary Spending, which Congress determines for every year. Research spending is part of discretionary spending, and your input to Congresspeople is vital.
Mandatory spending is 2/3 of the total budget, discretionary is 1/3. The discretionary budget is over 50% defense, with research, education health, etc sharing the other almost 50%. Mysteriously, no one questions the defense budget, while research must compete with education, etc. for its little piece of the pie. Science gets 1% of the total.
AGU urges folks to try for input with legislators on the FY 2018 budget while your Congresspeople are back home in their districts during Congressional recess around April 10-17. (AGU can facilitate visits to Congresspeople in DC at other times.)
Call your Congresspeople gently but persistently to request a meeting. The AGU website has info on key issues in their Tool Kits. Be prepared with some handouts, be brief, be appreciative of the Congressperson’s time. If the Congressperson can’t meet with you and you are instead scheduled with a staff member, be gracious and respectful and give your spiel.
The American Geophysical Union (AGU) website has many resources for scientists to use to communicate with policy makers. Their March 9 webinar, The Federal Budget Process and What You Can Do, is available online, as are the slides.
Can the Climate Survive Adherence to War and Partisanship?
By David Swanson
For the past decade, the standard procedure for big coalition rallies and marches in Washington D.C. has been to gather together organizations representing labor, the environment, women’s rights, anti-racism, anti-bigotry of all sorts, and a wide array of liberal causes, including demands to fund this, that, and the other, and to halt the concentration of wealth.
At that point, some of us in the peace movement will generally begin lobbying the PEP (progressive except for peace) organizers to notice that the military is swallowing up enough money every month to fund all their wishes 100 times over for a year, that the biggest destroyer of the natural environment is the military, that war fuels and is fueled by racism while stripping our rights and militarizing our police and creating refugees.
When we give up on trying to explain the relevance of our society’s biggest project to the work of reforming our society, we generally point out that peace is popular, that it adds a mere 5 characters to a thousand-word laundry list of causes, and that we can mobilize peace groups to take part if peace is included.
Often this works. Several big coalition efforts have eventually conceded and included peace in some token way in their platforms. This success is most likely when the coalition’s organizing is most democratic (with a small d). So, Occupy, obviously, ended up including a demand for peace despite its primary focus on a certain type of war profiteers: bankers.
Other movements include a truly well informed analysis with no help from any lobbying that I’ve had to be part of. The Black Lives Matter platform is better on war and peace than most statements from the peace movement itself. Some advocates for refugees also seem to follow logic in opposing the wars that create more refugees.
Other big coalition actions simply will not include any preference for peace over war. This seems to be most likely to happen when the organizations involved are most Democratic (with a capital D). The Women’s March backs many other causes, but uses the word peace without suggesting any preference for peace: “We work peacefully while recognizing there is no true peace without justice and equity for all.” There is also, one might note, no justice or equity for anybody living under bombs.
Here’s a coalition currently trying to decide whether it dare say the word peace: https://peoplesclimate.org.
This group is planning a big march for the climate and many other unrelated causes, such as the right to organize unions, on April 29. Organizers claim some relationship among all the causes. But, of course, there isn’t really an obvious direct connection between protecting the climate and protecting gay rights or the rights of workers. They may all be good causes and all involve kindness and humility, but they can be won separately or together.
Peace is different. One cannot, in fact, protect the climate while allowing the military to drain away the funding needed for that task, dumping it into operations that consume more petroleum than any other and which lead the way in poisoning water, land, and air. Nor can a climate march credibly claim, as this one does, to be marching for “everything we love” and refuse to name peace, unless it loves war or is undecided between or uninterested in the benefits of mass murder versus those of nonviolent cooperation.
Here’s a petition you can sign to gently nudge the People’s Climate March in the right direction. Please do so soon, because they’re making a decision.
The struggle to save the climate faces other hurdles in addition to loyalty to militarism. I mean, beyond the mammoth greed and corruption and misinformation and laziness, there are other unnecessary handicaps put in place even by those who mean well. A big one is partisanship. When Republicans have finally proposed a carbon tax, many on the left simply won’t consider it, won’t even tackle the problem of making it actually work fairly and honestly and aggressively enough to succeed. Perhaps because some of the supporters seem untrustworthy. Or perhaps because some of the supporters likely don’t believe you need labor unions in order to tax carbon.
And which ones would you need, the ones advocating for more pipelines or the ones working in other fields?
Scientists, too, are planning to march on Washington. The scientific consensus on war has been around as long as that on climate change. But what about the popular acceptance? What about the appreciation among grant-writing foundations? What do the labor unions and big environmental groups feel about it? These are the important questions, I’m afraid, even for a scientists’ march.
But I appreciate the scientific method enough to hope my hypothesis is proven wrong.
David Swanson, who has already answered your concerns about impeaching Trump at http://firedonaldtrump.org, is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson’s books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. He is a 2015, 2016, 2017 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee.
Help support DavidSwanson.org, WarIsACrime.org, and TalkNationRadio.org by clicking here: http://davidswanson.org/donate.
Trump is not the only bully in town.
The vulgarity of Donald Trump has outraged many in the USA. Thousands of women are planning to march tomorrow, January 21, the day after Inauguration Day: many are protesting today against sexism and racism. Everyone, including scientists, are tweeting and blogging about the way ahead.
(I have a bad case of deja vu, feeling that Bush was replaced with Trump as a target of partisan rage- and that policy runs second to personality politics.)
The next few years will likely be punctuated with protest, and hopefully, this protest will result in better policies in human rights throughout the country, and the world. But when we think of what we want to do, there are target areas we can clean up in our own institutions.
The last several years have been interesting ones in the public outing of overt sexism in the laboratory. Astronomer Geoff Marcy probably accrued the most national publicity, both because of his fame and the widespread and longterm range of his treatment of women. What became obvious was that Marcy’s actions were well known, and effectively supported, by other scientists for many years. Such sexism, such bullying, would not have been possible without this silent collaboration of bystander scientists and administrators.
Few are the departments that don’t have at least one bully, someone who abuses his or her power over someone with less power. It may the dean, the chairperson, head of the lab, or a member of faculty or staff who is know to make racist or sexist jokes, to be dismissive of some at meetings, to lie, to use lab and department members for his or her own glory, without giving credit. This goes on because people are quiet: they say nothing publicly, they wait for someone else to say something.
Call it out. Call it out at the time.
If you are the lab head, and don’t correct the behavior of a lab member at the time of a nasty statement, you are sending a bad, bad message. If it was done in public, correct it in public. Don’t ever let ugly behavior fester because you don’t want to hurt the perpetrator’s feelings, or cause embarrassment. Step up for the person who may not yet have the courage- or power- to speak up.
If you are dealing with one of the many narcissists in research, prepare for a nasty response. It may help to have allies, and a plan, when dealing with someone who will never think the rules apply to him, and who might mount a campaign against you. In this case, it may help to approach someone else to find an effective way to deal with the person. Don’t be surprised if leadership tries to protect a successful researcher, no matter how nasty the behavior is: you might have to approach HR, or the press, to help deal the situation. It can take a while to dislodge a person with power, and you must know what price you are willing to pay. Note: don’t be the guy who pops up 10 years later and says, oh, dear, I had to protect myself.
Try to stand up for people who aren’t even “your” folks, even outside the lab. Stay safe, be firm.
Trump is not responsible for the racism and sexism and militarism of the USA. Before taking office, he is being blamed for many, many heartbreaking actions, while the present administration is being treated as heroes. An excellent article by Thomas Harrington describes the current obliviousness to the war crimes and domestic crimes that have been part of politics the last few years. American culture is violent, and the political acceptance of war, mass incarcerations, lack of health care signifie a nation run by bullies, as described in Bully Nation: How the American Establishment Creates a Bullying Society.
Write an op-ed! Op-eds and other newspaper articles are very effective ways to communicate a new idea or synthesis of ideas, or to remind a large audience of an issue you think they should consider.
But what should you write about? Easy- something you care about. It could be your work, someone else’s research, or a political issue.
Just some of the op-eds in the New York Times that are written by scientists in the last couple of years (2013- 2016), with the except of physicist Freeman Dyson’s 2000 op-ed “Science, Guided by Ethics, Can Lift Up the Poor,” are listed below. Many of the headline issues are here: elections, same-sex marriage, climate change, common core standards in public schools.
There are several observations one could make by a brief look. Op-ed contributors come from all over the world, though a majority are east coast scientists. Many of the articles are written by scientists who also have written a book or are in a non-profit in the field on which they are writing: perhaps they are comfortable with talking with the public. More cynically, I wondered, perhaps they are promoting new books? But I think many of these authors try to communicate a burning issue in every way they can, and so write books, write op-eds, give talks.
Sometimes people write about a concern not in a field of work that relates to their training. For example, Physicist Michael Riordan wrote an op-ed “Don’t Sell Cheap Coal to Asia” on the effect of such a policy decision on carbon dioxide emissions. But most write and relate their topic to their own experiences.
It isn’t terribly easy to have your op-ed published in the New York Times. Many issues are local, and writing op-eds for local papers might be a better way (and good practice) to communicate your thoughts as a scientist and citizen.
EXAMPLES OF NY TIMES OP-EDS WRITTEN BY SCIENTISTS.
Science, Guided by Ethics, Can Lift Up the Poor. Freeman Dyson, Professor of Physics at the Institute for Advanced Study and the author of books on science and philosophy. May 29, 2000.
How to Handle the Vaccine Skeptics. Saad B. Omer, Associate Professor of Global Health, Epidemiology and Pediatrics at Emory University. February 6, 2015.
The Roots of Implicit Bias. Daniel A Yudkin, graduate student and Jay Van Bavel, Associate Professor, New York University in the Psychology Department. December 11, 2016.
Second Thoughts of an Animal Researcher. John P. Gluck, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of New Mexico. September 4, 2016.
There’s Such a Thing as Too Much Neuroscience. John C. Markowitx, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Columbia University and a research psychiatrist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. October 14, 2016.
Medicating a Prophet. Medicating a Prophet.Irene Hurford, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and director of a psychosis program at Horizon House. October 1, 2016.
If You See Something, Say Something. Michael E. Mann, Director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University and the author of “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines.” January 17, 2014.
How to Stop Overprescribing Antibiotics. Craig R. Fox, Jeffrey A. Wonder, and Jason N. Doctor. Craig Fox is a Professor of Management, Psychology, and Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. Jessfrey Linder is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Jason Doctor is an Associate Professor of Pharmaceutical and Health Economics at the University of Southern California. March 25, 2016.
Evolution is Happening Faster Than We Thought. Menno Schilthuizen, Evolutionary Biologist at the Naturalis BioDiversity Center in the Netherlands and the author of “Nature’s Nether Regions” and the forthcoming “Darwin Comes to Town.” July 23, 2016.
Are You in Despair? That’s Good. Lisa Feldman Barrett, Professor of Psychology at Northeastern University and the author of the forthcoming “How Emotions Are Made.” June 3, 2016.
The Lost Culture of Whales. Shane Hero, Behavioral Ecologist and founder of the Dominica Sperm Whale Project. October 9, 2016
Eliminate the TB Scourge. Uvistra Naidoo, Pediatrician and Research Scientist in Cape Town, South Africa. May 19, 2016
Climate Change in Trump’s Age of Ignorance. Robert N. Proctor, Professor of the History of Science at Stanford and the Author of “Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition.” November 20, 2016
The Math of March Madness. Jordan Ellenburg, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Wisconsin and the author, most recently, of “How Not To Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking.” March 22, 2015.
‘Run, Hide, Fight’ Is Not How Our Brains Work. Joseph Ledoux, Professor of Science at New York University and the author of “Anxious” Using the Brain to Understand and Treat Fear and Anxiety.” December 20, 2015.
Unequal, Yet Happy. Steven Quartz, Professor of Philosophy and Neuroscience and Anette Asp, a political scientist, both the authors of “Cool: How the Brain’s Hidden Quest for Cool Drives Our Economy and Shapes Our World.”. April 11, 2015
How I Got Converted to G.M.O. Food. Mark Lynas, researcher at the Cornell Alliance for Science and the author, most recently, of “The God Species: How the Planet Can Survive the Age of Humans.” April 26, 2015
A Bird Whose Life Depends on a Crab. Deborah Cramer, visiting scholar at the M.I.T. Earth System Initiative and the author, most recently, of “Smithsonian Ocean: Our Water Our World.” November 27, 2013
Academic Science Isn’t Sexist. Wendy M. Williams and Stephen J. Ceci, Professors of Human Development at Cornell. November 2, 2014
An Epidemic of Thyroid Cancer? H. Gilbert Welch, Professor of Medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for health Policy and Clinical Practice and an author of “Overdiagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health.” November 6, 2014
Beware Marauding Carp. David Strayer, a Senior Scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and the author of “The Hudson River Primer: Ecology of an Iconic River” and John Waldman, Professor of Biology at Queens College, City University of New York and the author of “Running Silver: Restoring Atlantic Rivers and Their Great Fish Migrations.” November 19, 2013.
Bring Back the Lyme Vaccine. Stanley A. Plotkin, Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania. September 18, 2013
Don’t Sell Cheap U.S. Coal to Asia. Michael Riordan, physicist and author of “The Hunting of the Quark.” February 13, 2014.
Fix the Flaws in Forensic Science. Eric S. Lander, Director of the Broad Institute of M.I.T. and Harvard and the co-chairman of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. April 21, 2015
Give the Data to the People. Harlan M. Krumholz, Professor of Cardiology and Public health at the Yale School of Medicine. February 2, 2014
God, Darwin and My College Biology Class. David P. Barash, Evolutionary Biologist and Professor of Psychology at the University of Washington. September 27, 2014.
How to Fall in Love with Math. Manil Sure, Mathematics Professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the author, most recently, of the novel “The City of Devi.” September 16, 2013
Iowa in the Amazon. Stephen Porder, Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Brown University. November 24, 2013.
Is the Universe a Simulation? Edward Frenkel, Professor of Mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley and the author of “Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality.” February 16, 2014.
Let Math Save Our Democracy. Sam Wang, Professor of Neuroscience and Molecular Biology at Princeton and the founder of the Princeton Election Consortium. December 5, 2015.
Meet the New Common Core. Jordan Ellenburg, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Wisconsin and the author of “How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking.” June 16, 2015.
Nature’s Case for Same Sex Marriage. David George Haskell, Professor of Biology at Sewanee, the University of the South and the author of “the Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature.” March 30, 2013.
New Blood Donor policy, Same Gay Stigma. I. GlennCohen, Professor at Harvard Law School and the faculty director of the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology and Bioethics, and Eli Y. Akashi, a professor and former dean of Medical Science at Brown University. May 21, 2015.
Our Lonely Home in Nature. Alan Lightman, Physicist who teaches Humanities at M.I.T. and most recently the author of “The Accidental Universe.” May 2, 2014.
Reefer Madness, an Unfortunate Redux. Carl. L. Hart, Associate Professor of Psychology at Columbia University and the author of “High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self Discovery That Challenges Everything Your Know about Drugs and Society.” July 11, 2013
Predator and Prey, a Delicate Dance. John A. Vucetich is a population biologist at Michigan Tech , Michael P. Nelson is an environmental ethicist at Oregon State University, and Rolf O. Peterson is a Wildlife Ecologist at Michigan Tech. May 8, 2013.
Stopping the Next Amphibian Apocalypse. Karen R. Lips, Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Maryland. November 15, 2014.
Can a Katze “situation” happen to you? Of course it can.
The story of Michael Katze, of the Department of Microbiology at the University of Washington (UW), Seattle, is the latest in this year’s series of nasty academic sexual harassment and bystander inaction tales. Buzzfeed broke the story with copies of texts and other lurid details and Geekwire followed suit.
As for the other stories of sexual harrassment by renowned male science faculty members, the details were shocking but folks at the involved universities were not surprised. Many people knew something. For months,some university members knew everything.
A UW statement on its investigation was very self-protective:
“When the sexual harassment complaints were made, Dr. Katze was removed from his lab and put on home assignment. A thorough investigation was commenced through UCIRO, the University’s complaint, investigation and resolution office. The investigation found that Dr. Katze had violated University sexual harassment policies.
“His conduct was inappropriate and not in any way reflective of the University’s values. This is why the matter is now in the faculty disciplinary process, through which an appropriate outcome will be adjudicated.” — Norm Arkans, UW spokesman and associate vice president for media relations and communications
So which conduct was inappropriate? Calling people Negroes, fucking bitches, or cunts didn’t lose Katze his job. Sexual harassment, porn, bullying, alcohol, with an embezzlement investigation done back in 2007 didn’t really seem to matter in view of the 30 million dollars Katze brought in federal grants. Indeed, one theory discussed in the Katze fallout, suggests those considered especially intelligent are beyond reproach, even if bullying, embezzlement, and sexual harassment are known to be the other side of the so-called genius. (Genius= brings in grant money). Such a short time ago, UW raved about their wonderboy: for example, see the posting 26 faculty listed among the most influential scientific minds put out by UW news. It took outside exposure to daylight Katze’s escapades, and as of July 2, he hasn’t been fired yet.
If integrity, morality, and ethical behavior are not part of the framework of your self, your lab, or your department and institution, the chances that you will be pulled into the sphere of complicity with a Katze are high. Sexual harassment in the Katze lab was just one of the vile manifestations of entitlement and exceptionalism that protects those who treat their people badly.
Unfortunately, many universities and other workplaces consider ethical behavior to be the absence of research fraud. When it comes to protecting people, those who bring in the most money are first. There is absolutely nothing ethical about the way most universities are run.
Is your dean trustworthy? Does he or she keep promises made to new faculty- or not? This is extremely relevant at the Univeristy of Washington.
Does your department have a code of ethics concerning treatment of personnel by administrators, superiors, or peers?
Does it make clear what happens if that code is broken? Is there a complaint process for faculty, students, technicians, and support staff?
Does the department protect faculty at the expense of others? Do non-faculty members feel heard?
Do faculty members believe they have more rights than any other members? Are exceptions often made for them?
Are the Human Resources personnel empowered to act if they hear of improper behavior or treatment?
Are rules about racism or sexism taken seriously? How about safety?
If most of the students and postdocs in a lab are unhappy or complain about the P.I., does anyone try to get to the bottom of the problem?
As a P.I.
Do you make clear that ethics are important in the lab, and explain what this means?
Do you correct people who make racist or sexist comments?
Do you listen when someone is worried or angry about the behavior of another person in the lab? Do you get involved?
Are you able to consider that problems in the lab might originate from your own behavior or actions?
Do you have your own process for mediating conflict?
Would you try to help someone in your lab whose personal life is affecting his work life?
Are you on time for meetings with your students, as you might expect them to be?
Would you sacrifice your students or postdocs in authorship disputes to advance your own career?
Students and postdocs
Do you know where to go for a medical or psychological emergency?
Do you feel your P.I. is an active advocate for your career?
Does the P.I. routinely evaluate your scientific, experimental, intellectual, communication, and lab citizen skills and give you advice in a way you can use to become a better scientist?
Does the P.I. have integrity? Do you trust her? Do you think you could have honest conversations without retaliation?
Does the P.I. make racist or sexist comments, or does he correct others that do?
Have you ever encountered derision, mocking, “humor,” or nasty comments directed at yourself or anyone else? Did you feel free to speak up?
Where bullying runs unchecked, and people fear retaliation, the creation of a Katze is horribly likely. If department members or administrators do not follow the basic human kindness of protecting the weak, if bullying and favoritism are rampant, don’t just stand by, or you are complicit. The loss of your job is minute compared to the loss of your self respect.
Whether applying to a foundation for a grant, or working with local environmental activists on a gas leak, you will need to be able to speak with a variety of people- and they won’t all appreciate your emphasis on data and agendas. And if your work outside the lab involves solidarity with people from a variety of walks of life, you will need to be aware of class differences in your behavior and communication if you want to be effective.
With a deep belief in the meritocracy of academia, and perhaps a belief in the commonly taught narrative of the USA is that there are no class divisions and that the founders came to avoid such class divisions, many scientists feel that a consideration of class (or race) is not necessary, that everyone regardless of background is on equal footing with everyone else. In a community setting, you may feel completely comfortable with everyone there- but that doesn’t mean everyone is comfortable with you.
For those who want to understand class issues, “Class Matters: Cross-class Alliance Building for Middle-class Activists” authored by sociologist and economic justice activist Betsy Leondar-Wright (2nd edition in 2014) is an amazing resource.
The Table of Contents (below) shows the comprehensiveness and detail of the book. From vocabulary to the race/class intersection to meeting behavior and on, “Class Matters” will help not just with your communication, but with your understanding of the world beyond the bench.
Scientists may find immediately relatable insights in “An Interview with Barbara Ehrenreich” in the “Obstacles to Alliances” chapter. Barbara Ehrenreich is an author and political activist, and her books have been instrumental in understanding the impact of poverty in the USA. She has a Ph.D. in Cell Biology and Immunology from Rockefeller University , where she was Zan Cohn’s first student.
Ehrenreich discusses the effect of the professional middle class (and scientists would fit right in there) ethos, and the deferred gratification and workaholism that is common among academics. Not everyone, though, has the luxury of believing in delayed gratification, and may look upon those struggling as undisciplined. Most truly believe that because they struggled through school, everyone could do the same thing, not realizing the advantages and privileges that gave them this ethic.
The academic mindset will even influence scientists’ expectations of meetings. Agendas, plenary speakers, and break-out sessions are not always the venue of choice, and and often not useful for a meeting designed to instill camaraderie, for example. There will be meetings without experts, which may seem rudderless to those used to academic conferences.
Last tips- Don’t assume people are different than you, don’t assume they are the same. Don’t hide your class or be ashamed of it. Remember that you aren’t in charge and that there are many, many kinds of expertise. Don’t take hostility personally.
Peter Doherty won a Nobel Prize for his co-discovery that T-cells must recognize both virus and MHC antigens on the cell surface to kill virus-infected cells. He continues in his immunological research. But he is making perhaps an even greater contribution by authoring books that explain the process and uses of science to both scientists and nonscientists.
“The Knowledge Wars” is written for the non-scientist (though there is much to learn for all), examining and explaining the culture of science through the prism of environmental change. Rather than another tedious description of the scientific method, he explains the culture though history, both the way knowledge is defined and publicized, and the times the scientific culture has been perverted by fraud or greed or stupidity. Doherty makes it clear that scientists are human, that anyone can be a scientist (“And don’t think you have to attend a fancy school or Ivy League university….”, and that plenty of non-scientists are contributing in a major way to scientific knowledge. He does this without being patronizing, using the huge amounts of vital data gathered by birdwatchers as an example of science that could not be done without non-scientists.
But knowledge is power, and knowledge becomes a tool for those who want power. So politicians, individuals, and corporations whose profit or loss depends on data will do their best to obscure the public message and promote the interpretation of data that they want. Doherty explains how layfolk can interpret these coded messages, and he added an appendix with advice on how to judge the credibility of particular scientists via web information, and to read a scientific paper.
Knowledge is power!
So a Nobel Prize winner goes to the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul, and says at lunch:
“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls … three things happen when they are in the lab … You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry.”
and added that he was “in favour of single-sex labs” but “doesn’t want to stand in the way of women.” He also described himself as a chauvinist pig .
Tim Hunt was forced to resign from his honorary post at University College London after a world-wide storm of publicity.
8 Nobel Prize winners and the mayor of London came to his defense, several saying that the firing of Hunt was a blow against academic freedom. Sir Andre Geim, who shared the Nobel with Hunt, said that Hunt had been crucified by ideological fanatics.
Idealogical fanatics? Right, that equality issue is so far out there that only a fanatic would defend it.
Hunt’s self-serving defense suggested he knew was trying in his way to be honest but spoke too lightly, felt badly, but he gave no indication that he understood why people were bothered.
“I did mean the part about having trouble with girls. It is true that people – I have fallen in love with people in the lab and people in the lab have fallen in love with me and it’s very disruptive to the science because it’s terribly important that in a lab people are on a level playing field.”
It is true that people fall in love in the lab. Hunt met his wife, Mary Collins, when he supervised her at Cambridge. Scientists meet scientists in labs, but when one is the boss, and male, there is not likely to be a level playing field.
The Hunt debacle followed by only a few weeks another media firestorm, centered around Alice Huang. Huang, who served in many scientific and administrative positions, writes a column for Science Careers. A postdoc wrote to ask advice about her advisor, who continually tried to look down her shirt. Huang answered with a little riff about how good it is that there are people of the opposite sex in labs, and that the behavior of the advisor was common but did not rise to the definition of sexual harassment.
Huang then advised the postdoc to take it with good humor, to be sure her advisor listened to her ideas and her science, and ended by saying, “His attention on your chest may be unwelcome, but you need his attention on on your science and his best advice.”
Yes, she does, but this sounds a lot like “put up and shut up,” a real disappointment in view of Huang’s usual strong positions in favor of gender equality in the lab. And while there was a fuss and so many complaints that Science removed the article , the level of discontent came nowhere reaching the magnitude of the reaction that Hunt’s remarks did. Much of the anger seemed to be directed against AAAS and Science for removing the article.
Huang apologized for putting AAAS and Science in the firing line, and said she was trying, in view of all the harassment she had seen, to give a realistic response. She said she intends to take reader’s comments and write another column.
What were Hunt and Huang thinking, to say what they said? Did they think it was okay?
Perhaps Hunt was thinking…Look, love in the lab is tough on everyone. I myself didn’t deal well with it, and didn’t always deal well with women. They caused me inconvenience. It may have cost them more than that, and that isn’t fair. (But he didn’t say that.)
Maybe Huang was thinking….Look, it is absolutely wrong that your advisor is staring at your chest. But frankly, there isn’t much you can do that isn’t going to put you in a worse position if you complain. It isn’t right, and we need to find a way to deal with situations that seem petty but could change someone’s career. (But she didn’t say that.)
Huang’s and Hunt’s remarks show the still-present sexism and the penalty women pay to be in the lab. But I think Huang’s remark, though better-intentioned and less-selfish, caused much more harm. It seems to be an admission of hopelessness.
That postdoc should be able to say- with the humor Huang recommends- Hey, please stop looking at my breasts. And the advisor should be able to say- Gosh, I am sorry, that is so rude! It won’t happen again! So, let’s look at those results…..and he would never mention it again, or act resentful, or withdraw, or be passive-aggressive. Or look at her chest.
The most likely thing that would happen if the postdoc speaks up is that the advisor makes the atmosphere so uncomfortable that the postdoc must seek another work situation. If she wants to remain in the lab and wants a good recommendation, she has to keep her mouth shut.
There are no structures in academia that do not bow to power, usually male. That is what Huang should have mentioned. This needs to be changed. Lab heads in power probably could use some emotional and social counseling.
Huang also met her husband, Nobel-prize winning David Baltimore, through research, and he was her supervisor at the Salk and at MIT. Did this make for an even playing field for others in the lab? If not, would there be a way to quietly seek justice? Will it remain that the person with the lesser power will always have to move labs or projects or universities?
Both Hunt’s and Huang’s remarks indicate the reality of what many lab heads feel about their female lab members. But Huang’s remarks, with her advice that will keep the good old boy system in place, is much more harmful. I hope she dedicates a column to heads of labs.
So, what can one do, for oneself, and to change the culture so people can talk more openly about sexism and power and the sometimes abuse of human and always present sexual attraction?
Know who you are and what your boundaries are. Know the implications of breaking those boundaries, no matter what your position. To those in creative careers, even the concept of boundaries is anathema, but without universal self-awareness and openness, boundary-breaking ends up getting handled by policy and regulation. Human Resource (HR) representatives are the usual mediators. But don’t substitute mediation for being thoughtful and clear about your own actions.
If you are in theposition of the postdoc who wrote to Huang, go talk to your Human Resources rep. Abuse of power, as all abuse, thrives in secrecy. It could be that the particular chest-gazer has already generated complaints, and you will be validated, and won’t be questioning your sanity for being troubled by what everyone is telling you is a minor issue.
It is also good to get another opinion, see what another person’s reaction would be, and to find whether HR and your institution will back you up.
Your goal, presumably, is to have a solid professional relationship with your advisor. HR can help guide you through a conversation that is direct, calm, and still non-confrontational.
(Of course, if there is blatant harassment and you have reason to worry that your position in that lab is in jeopardy, document even before you go to HR.)
Keeping silent about something that is wrong will sap your confidence in science as well as the rest of your personal life.
If you are the advisor, and a postdoc comes to you with a complaint, listen. Really listen. Avoid an emotional reaction- you might not even have known you did/do anything. Apologize. You might not be ready to apologize for something you don’t think you did, yet an apology with reservations is no apology at all: try something such as “I am shocked to hear that, and I will make sure I am always careful not to compromise our professional relationship.”
You, too, as a lab head, should go to HR and report on that conversation, and whether or not you feel it is justified.
Sexual attraction is part of life and lab, but you are abusing your position when you mix that with the power advantage you have.
As the person in power, you can simply not engage if one of your advisees crosses a boundary. Speak to HR for advice before a conversation.
And if you are the HR rep, or chairperson, or dean, who is handed the problem, face it as you would face a charge of racism. There are various cultural reasons why someone might be sensitized to even a look from a supervisor: there are certainly embedded cultural reasons why some folks will not believe it matters. Even small happenings deserve your input- and don’t let someone’s Nobel Prize get in the way of having a difficult conversation.
Update: A Buzzfeed article reported on a letter to Science and AAAS, written by Aradhna Tripoli and Jennifer Glass, and signed by 600 academics. The letter detailed 4 issues with Science: Huang’s column, above; a Science cover and its implied assumptions of HIV transmission among transgendered people, prostitutes, and people of color; ScienceCareer editor Jim Austin’s dismissive tweet about scientists upset about the Science cover, and an article by a scientist at the University of Toronto and his casual mention that he did well because his wife assumed domestic duties.