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

Scientists: Stay Quiet or Speak Up?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She reminded us that this is not a modern issue.

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

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

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

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

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

I want to echo what Naomi shared with us:

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

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


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

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


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 .


AGU- The Federal Budget Process and What you can do


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

Key points, in brief:

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

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

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

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

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


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



Riyadh Lafta, scientist, doctor, activist finally got a US visa to speak at the University of Washington

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When the US 2003 invasion of Iraq was underway, University of Washington (UW), Associate Professor of Global Health Amy Hagopian thought it would be a good idea to bring an academic from Iraq to explain what was actually happening to people in Iraq as a result of that invasion. She worked with other academics at UW, Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, and Johns Hopkins, as well as with community groups who worked with Iraq refugees and the anti-war movement. She spoke with politicians, and wrote letters, and in 2007, it almost seemed as if Lafta would be able to come. He was scheduled to give a talk at UW, but the USA still refused his visa. Canada agreed to give Lafta a visa, and he spoke at Simon Fraser University, with a crowd at UW in Seattle watching the lecture via the internet.

It is likely that one of the main reasons Lafta was denied an USA visa is his 2004  and 2006 Lancet papers  on the mortality of citizens in Iraq as a result of the US invasion. Doing rather dangerous door-to-door surveys, Lafta and colleagues found mortality to be far worse than that reported by the US, which downplayed the effects of war on civilians, and there was a hostile reaction to their papers.

Lafta continued to examine the effects of war on Iraq, and Hagopian continued to work with academic and community members to bring him over. After years of effort, Lafta was awarded a US visa in 2016. On October 27, Lafta gave a talk at the University of Washington.

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There was no pretending in the auditorium that politics was unconnected to science and research: lives are not saved by science or medicine alone. Hagopian and Pramila Jayapal (who is running for Wa State Senator) spoke of politics and war and healthcare, and the possibilities of change. Lafta himself was very clear about the origin of the health problems in Iraq, and about how difficult it would be to improve life for Iraqis. Physicians fear for their lives and most leave the country. With no functioning government, the country is run by militias. He ended his talk with a short film that showed before and after footage of Iraq, once busy streets and markets reduced to rubble. There was a lively question and answer session, and perhaps the sadness and hopelessness of the situation was summed up by Lafta in response to a question about his exceptions of the election on Iraq policy.

He answered simply, “No American President has ever done anything beneficial for Iraq.”

Lafta’s talk has been scheduled for November 3 at Simon Fraser University  in Vancouver, Canada- but as of October 28, his visa application has been refused. He will be speaking at the American Public Health Association meeting in Denver this week.



October 28, 2016

Riyadh Lafta’s talk can be viewed on YouTube.


Is animal experimentation really “cute”?


Today’s Scientist had an entertaining article  on holiday presents for scientists: Brain-slice coasters, silk scarves with red blood cells, bands of one’s own DNA blown up to portrait size, for example.

Another present suggestion was a package of knitting patterns of dissected animals available from a talented knitter at her company aKNITomy , where “biology no longer smells like formaldehyde, but like your favorite sweater.”

Of all the lovely objects available at aKNITomy, why would The Scientist choose animal dissections as the leading illustration for the article? Are dead frogs and dead rats, laid open as by 7th graders in class, cute? Fun? Happy reminders of high school?

A sense of humor is important, and a sense of humor about things that bother us can sometimes mitigate our nervousness….but it can also stop us from really looking at what is happening.

Hard to say what the artist’s motivation for cute and gruesome dissection knitting kits is, but The Scientist might well be trying to do what many scientist do- minimize the pain and cruelty of animal experimentation with humor.

Below is another illustration of this dark humor at the Narishige table in the exhibition hall at the 2015 Experimental Biology convention in Boston. Narishige makes equipment for micromanipulation in physiological research…for cells, yes, and for animals. To illustrate some of their devices for manipulation of live animals, they used little cuddly stuffed animals in place of pictures of real animals. Most scientists walked past the exhibit with little curiosity and no outrage or shame.

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The belief in the righteousness of humans’ right to dominion over the other creatures of the earth lies beneath much scientific training and practice. The devastation of rain forests, elimination of whole species, the poisoning of rivers and streams are actually akin the assumption that animals in labs are here just for us. For some mysterious reason, scientists seem to believe that the nobility of their quest to better human lives excuses causing pain and suffering to animals. For some mysterious reason, scientists seem to believe that the cruelty they cause is not the same as the cruelty caused by pit bull fighting or the abandonment and starvation of pets.

Somehow, many scientists seem to believe that the pain their own little poodles and kitties would feel is a fear more special and in need of prevention than the fear of all those beagles and cats and mice in the lab.

Shouldn’t the first law for scientists, as well as for physicians, be First, do no harm? Don’t cause pain? To anyone or any creature? Can science be a non-violent profession?

Animal experimentation is contrary to what many scientists believe and how they want live their lives, but cruelty to animals has become accepted as a part of science. It is insinuated that folks who do not believe in the use of animals for experiments cannot be serious about science. And so, people make jokes to mask the cognitive dissonance. They are quiet about animal experimentation, ashamed: They don’t tell their children or their dates how many mice they killed that day. They compartmentalize their scientific and family lives.

Rationalization is what scientists are trained to do. But it takes a toll when it is dishonest. Some people, including scientists, are unabashed believers of domination. Of dominance. But many people who are not dominance believers are somehow still convinced that animal experimentation is a given, without alternatives. Others think that animal experimentation should be carefully regulated- except for their own research.

There are groups that advocate for the use of animals in research. There are groups  that advocate against it. Read about it, if you will. But know the reality of what animal experimentation is about, and make sure your scientific side follows the same principles as your human side.

More humanity might even change the face of science and society.


Dealing with the neuroscience of unstable income- or not.

Whether you choose “Apps for Everything but Compassion” (print, 5/7) or “The Shaky Moral Compass of Silicon Valley” (web, 5/2) as your favorite title, the message is clear: the reputation that wealthy tech workers have little empathy for the poor is based in reality.

It may be lack of awareness, or it may be the sense of entitlement and self-interest that studies have shown are associated with access to money. See, it isn’t even their fault that they retreat from the poverty and homelessness of the Silicon Valley….but actually, as a nation, we ignore homeless folks, and it is only the shocking difference between poverty and google etc wealth  that makes the apparent lack of compassion in Silicon Valley so glaring.

Obviously, as stated in the article by Nick Bolton, there are rich techies who do reach out to help, but many are stymied by the lack of technical solutions. (There are economic ones, but no one wants consider higher taxes, or ceilings on wealth.)

But a very interesting Silicon Valley company actually does have a technical solution, an app that addresses income volatility.

Income volatility – income swings, with money coming in irregularly-  makes it very difficult for those living near the edge of survival and/or working at jobs that are seasonal or unpredictable to save money. While a person may make enough money over the year to cover costs, that money comes in a trickle or a flow, and there are often times when bills come due when the money isn’t there…bills such as rent and food purchases. Debt and penalties begins to accrue, hopelessness sets in.

Even, a for-profit company, floats its clients during hard times, and banks their surplus during good times with an app that smooths out the ups and downs of their earnings and enablles them to avoid debt. It is described in “Want a Steady Income? There’s an App for That,” by Anand Garidharadas in the April 29th, 2015 NY Times.

Even was conceived of by 28 year old techie Jon Schlossberg, who was influenced by a `2013 Science paper, “Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function,”  a collaboration between behavioral psychologists and economists to examine why those without money seemed to act in ways that would only compound poverty. According to Garidharadas, the Science paper rejected  “the left’s structural theories, the right’s theories about character- in favor of neuroscience,”  and explained that the complicated juggling that the poor must do to survive hampered the ability to focus.

Schlossberg partnered with entrepreneur Quinten Farmer, who brought in the idea of income volatility as a target to address poverty: Farmer recalled his own childhood, in which a divorce left he and his mother financially struggling. For a fee of $3 a week, those with volatile incomes are freed of the impossibility to pay debts with money that is not yet there, and hopefully, and that this can give them the psychological as well as physical space they need to solve problems.

As some reader comments mentioned, there are plenty of fundraisers and good works among techies in Silicon Valley: one reader mentioned Rippleworks, a non-profit that connects entrepreneurs in developing countries with Silicon Valley workers who mentor and give technical advice. It was clear from the comments that many people want to help, and don’t know how. It was also clear that most people don’t consider the deeper economic and social forces behind poverty, or behind their own successes, and that the moral compasses of the commenters were pretty darn shaky. Still, techie activists might be changing the culture.








Researchers’ animal cruelty at U.S. Meat Animal Research Center



The treatment of experimental animal is not a topic many scientists are willing to talk about, other than to say that animal models are necessary for understanding human biology. With this belief and the belief that it is being done for the good of people, a critical look at the practice (and certainly not the morality) of animal experimentation is not systemically done.

Would knowing that animals are being treated extraordinarily cruelly in order to further the needs of the meat industry make a difference in considering the realities of animal experimentation?

“In Quest for More Meat Profits, U.S. Lab lets Animals Suffer,”  an article on page 1 of the January, 20, 2015 New York Times, reporter Michael Moss exposed the abuse of animals at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center.

The U.S. Meat Animal Research Center is a federal institution in Nebraska (associated with the Univeristy of Nebraska) that centralizes animal research in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It began about 50 years ago with the mission of helping producers of beef, pork, and lab turn a higher profit. And in the name of profit, gruesome experiments and horrible deaths are routine, as leaked by U.S. Meat Animal Research Center veterinarian scientist James Keen, who worked with the New York Times for a year for this article.

“Months into his new job at the center in 1989, Dr. Keen said, he got a call from a fellow worker asking him to help with a ‘downed cow.’

“There was a young cow, a teenager, with as many as six bulls,” he recalled. “The bulls were being studied for their sexual libido, and normally  you would do that by putting a single bull in with a cow for 15 minutes. But these bulls had been in there for hours mounting her.”

The cow’s head was locked in a cage-like device to keep her immobile, he said. “Her back legs were broken. Her body was just torn up.”

Dr. Keen wanted to euthanize the animal, but the scientist in charge could not be tracked down for permission. A few hours later, the cow died.”

44 scientists and 73 technicians currently work at the Center. Two dozen employees were interviewed by the New York Times, some of whom had left the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center. Some defended the practices, but others were unhappy with the sloppy conditions in which thousands of animals have starved to death, where pain was not a deterrent to surgeries and experiments, and animals were operated on without anaesthesia. These researchers, as well as technicians and other workers, spoke with the New York Times reporter, giving shocking testimony of callousness.

The Times points out that the meat business is a rough one, where even the successes are brutal: for example, 10 million piglets are crushed by their mothers every year because pigs have been breed for large litters and the mothers are kept alive so long to do nothing but reproduce. But even to other meat producers, the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center stood out for its cruel practices.

The work at the center is not subject to the provisions of the Animal Welfare Act of 1966, which protects against animal abuse, but excludes farm animals used in research to benefit agriculture. Other farm animal experimenters have sought out oversight, anyway- but not the U.S. Meant Animal Research Center.

(Nor does the Animal Welfare Act protect birds, rats, and mice bred for research, for example.)

This was an unusual article for a mainstream newspaper to print, as the machinery of justice in the USA exerts itself to protect the businesses that profit from animals, and those that expose abuse are subject to legal action. The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) of 2006 forbids any action “for the purpose of damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise.” Lauren Gazzola, who exposed animal mistreatment at Huntington Life Sciences, was convicted in 2006 through provisions of the weaker, pre-2006 Act because she and others ran a website that “reported on and endorsed legal and illegal protests that caused the company to lose money.”

In addition, “Ag-Gag” state laws- laws that forbid photography and other exposure of conditions in the agriculture industry are on the books in several states, and are being pushed for passage in other states.

This article is in the New York Times, not Science or Nature or another science journal- yet. Mainstream scientific journals and organizations protect scientists’ “right” to experiment on animals. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Association of American Universities (AAU) …the list is fairly endless. Perhaps scientists, and the scientific press, will one day speak out as the New York Times has done. Instead, they are reactive, with better treatment of animals following the exposures and actions of non-scientist activists and organizations.

When the Center heard that Keen had brought a reporter into a secure area, he was told that he would no longer be allowed in the Center. Presumably, he lost his job, and it is commendable that Keen spent a year helping the NY Times get this story out. But Keen had been there for 24 years, and most of the others who spoke out against the Center had already left. Fear and habit keep us silent.

Speak out when you see cruelty.



Update- Public shaming in the form of this NY Times article worked.

Push to protect farm animals

Science. This weeks session February 13, 2015

The U.S. Congress last week proposed new protections for farm animals used in scientific research. The move comes in response to an exposé published in The New York Times last month, which documented numerous cases of animal suffering and death at a Department of Agriculture facility that has been trying to create larger and more fecund farm animals for several decades. Lawmakers from both parties are backing a bill—called the AWARE Act—that would expand the scope of the Animal Welfare Act, which governs the humane treatment of laboratory animals. Farm animals are currently excluded from the act, unless they’re used in biomedical research or exhibition. The new law would require closer monitoring—and more inspections—of research involving cows, pigs, and other livestock.


March 13, 2015

USDA promises better oversight

New research projects have been halted at a controversial U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) facility, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced 9 March. The agency’s Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Nebraska, has come under fire for allegedly causing suffering and death while trying to create larger and more fecund farm animals. Last month, Congress proposed new protections for farm animals, backing a bill called the AWARE Act that would expand the Animal Welfare Act (Science, 13 February, p. 696). A draft of a USDA report released 9 March says “no instances of animal abuse, misuse, or mistreatment were observed” at the facility, but that the center had not provided proper oversight of animal care. Vilsack said no new research would be conducted until oversight is improved.

This Week’s Section Science 13 March 2015:
Vol. 347 no. 6227 pp. 1180-1182

But yet, the town where the Meat Laboratory is does not seem to believe there is any cruelty happening in the Laboratory. The local TV station, in response to investigations of the lab, reported an “anti-ag agenda” on the part of the NY Times. Deans and cattlemen spoke up to deny any wrongdoing. Cattleman Dave Nichols had this bit of nonsense to say in response to allegations of animal cruelty: “Too many people are too far removed from producing food. Too many are poorly informed. Too many do not understand the difference between domesticated animals and their wild ancestors from 50,000 years ago. Most domesticated dogs would not last long in the wild, nor would most domesticated livestock. Not many humans would either. This is the world we live in.”

So anything goes.

Yesterday on the supposedly more gentle west coast, USDA inspectors (really) reported cruelty at a research facility in Seattle: Research animals at Seattle’s Children’s denied care. Seattle Children’s spokesperson Alyse Bernal had her own bit of irrelevance in response: “Seattle Children’s Research Institute is committed to upholding the highest standards for animal research.”

If you say it enough times, perhaps cruelty isn’t really cruelty.


Scientists for Global Responsibility- YES!

Scientists for global responsibility

How could one not be thrilled to find (via a message from activist and friend Linda Jansen) to find the UK- based group Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR), whose priorities are so relevant to the needs of world citizens, and so on target with the protests going on all over the earth?

Here is a list of project categories from the website:

Corporate Influence on Science and Technology

Military Influence on Science and Technology

Nuclear Weapons Threat

Ethical Careers

Other projects- Population, Climate, Peace, etc.

What’s not to love?

There are currently about 900 members in SGR, and though the organization is UK centered, international members are welcome, according to Stuart Parkinson, Executive Director since 2003. Parkinson earned his bachelors’ degree in physics and engineering, but so many applications were military, with deep ethical implications, and he did his PhD work in climate change modeling. Even here there were ethical problems for Parkinson, as much funding for environmental work was from corporations, and their need to turn a profit was in conflict with preservation of the environment. SGR was a place where he could discuss these ethical issues with other scientists, something that unfortunately doesn’t occur in most scientific workplaces or training grounds.

To demonstrate the various pathways a scientist could choose to imbue life and work with ethical integrity, SGR put out a booklet, “Critical Paths: 12 inspiring cases of ethical careers in science and technology.”  The booklet can be downloaded as a pdf, or purchased as hard copy. Below is the list of scientists in the booklet, which the varied issues they’ve embedded in their life’s work. It would be great to have this booklet distributed in undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate programs, to be used for inspiration and discussion of options.

Critical paths


Introduction …………………………………………………………………………………………….. 3

Elizabeth Martin………………………………………………………………………………………. 4

Discipline: geography
Issues: sustainable development; politics; corporations

Annie Brown……………………………………………………………………………………………. 6

Disciplines: mechanical and civil engineering
Issues: sustainable building; sustainable energy; corporations

Laurence Kenney …………………………………………………………………………………….. 8

Disciplines: mechanical engineering; biology Issues: the military; health

Dave Harper ……………………………………………………………………………………………. 10

Discipline: psychology
Issues: mental health; social justice; the military

Emily Heath …………………………………………………………………………………………….. 12

Disciplines: environmental and geo-sciences
Issues: environmental protection; politics; social justice

Caroline Smith…………………………………………………………………………………………. 14

Disciplines: chemistry; plant biology Issue: sustainable agriculture

Yacob Mulugetta……………………………………………………………………………………… 16

Disciplines: environmental sciences; environmental management Issues: international development; sustainable energy; corporations

Birgit Völlm ……………………………………………………………………………………………… 18

Discipline: medicine
Issues: animal experiments; health

Karl Brazier……………………………………………………………………………………………… 20

Disciplines: mathematics; IT; physics
Issues: the military; sustainable energy; social justice; corporations

Steve Dealler …………………………………………………………………………………………… 22

Discipline: microbiology Issues: food safety; politics

Wendy Maria Phelps………………………………………………………………………………… 24

Discipline: electrical engineering
Issues: the military; sustainable energy; social justice

Sue Mayer……………………………………………………………………………………………….. 26

Disciplines: biological and veterinary sciences Issues: the military; genetics; politics 










Biochemist Lynne Quarmby arrested at Burnaby Trans-Mountain pipeline

Q lab

Scientist and activist Lynne Quarmby mixes her research life (at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia) and her civic life straightforwardly, as shown on her website . A video of her labs’ work with Chlamydomonas is side by side with her Twitter posts (@LynneQuarmby) on the Burnaby protest against a tar sands pipeline. Quarmby, with dozens of other community members, was arrested today in the ongoing protests against the proposed Trans-Mountain pipeline from Calgary through Burnaby.

Kinder Morgan (KM), based in Texas, proposed a doubling of the oil sands pipeline that already runs under Burnaby, and wanted to test the feasibility of building a tunnel under the mountain.  Not only would this immediately disturb the local mountain environment, but the bigger picture- that the extraction of oil from tar sands and the burning of that oil contribute to carbon dioxide production and so, to global warming- was even more controversial. (This connection of government actions with the science of climate change is a message that Quarmby constantly communicated.) The announcement was met by protest by First Nations and other Burnaby citizens and then by a constitutional challenge by the town.

The National Energy Board (NEB) ruled the City of Burnaby couldn’t impede the project, and protests on Burnaby intensified after that October 24th decision.

Quarmby had been working with her community: marching, writing letters, contacting politicians, and protesting in the Burnaby park. She was, with others, arrested on October 25th.

On October 30, KM named 6 residents, including Quarmby, in a 5.6 million dollar lawsuit, saying that they were losing money every day of protest. Quarmby believes she was targeted because she was dangerous from a PR perspective as an outspoken professional willing to stand up and protest, not just about the pipeline, but about the link of the destruction on the mountain to climate change.

“”Maybe it’s because I’m reasonable and level and just speaking about the scientific realities of climate change,” she said . “I am writing and speaking at rallies, and maybe they feel like I’m starting to get people’s attention about this issue. They don’t want people to pay attention to climate change, that’s for sure.”

Quarmby and I were supposed to talk Thursday afternoon, but she asked if we could postpone the talk, as a call had gone out for supporters to come to Burnaby Mountain, where the police were arresting protesters in the park. Best reason to postpone I’ve ever heard!

And this morning, after a short and stirring speech, citizen and scientist Lynne Quarmby walked up the hill to the police line and was arrested again. She did not mince words before she left. She blamed Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the present conservative government of Canada for suspending environmental regulation in 2012. She linked the madness of expanding a pipeline in the face of the surety of climate change. She expressed her horror at the Canadian government for its dismissiveness to the First Peoples of the region, who were not even consulted about the pipeline project. She emphasized that the act of civil disobedience she was about to commit was the act of a citizen whose votes, testimonies, and data were ignored. Her three minute speech is a marvel of clear intention and love of community.

The court costs to face Kinder Morgan in the civil suit court are huge, and though Quarmby is prepared to lose her house, funds are being raised by two crowd-funding groups.  GoFund Me campaign  Legal support for Burnaby Mountain Defenders