Archive | military

Will scientists at Japanese universities again do military research? Article from The Japan Times about pending Science Council decision

The Japan Times: Science Council of Japan considers overturning long-held opposition to military research

The Japan Times

The nation’s largest and most powerful group of scientists has started discussing lifting its decades- old ban on defense-related research as the government seeks more collaboration with civilians in the development of weapons technology.

The move comes as the Defense Ministry, under the “proactive peace” policy of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is pushing for the development of dual-use technology by funding research that can be used for both civilian and military purposes.

It also comes on the heels of a report concluded this month by the national defense committee of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which recommended drastically increasing the ministry’s annual budget for dual-use grants to ¥10 billion from the current ¥600 million.

The Science Council of Japan, a group of some 2,000 scientists in fields ranging from engineering to the humanities to the natural sciences, announced last week it has set up a 15-member panel to discuss abandoning its long-held stance against military research.

Established in 1949 as a special organization under the jurisdiction of the prime minister but operating independently of the government, the SCJ has vowed “never to engage in scientific research to be used in war,” based on the bitter lessons of World War II, in which Japanese scientists contributed, directly or indirectly, to the ravages of war at home and abroad.

But in recent years, “it is becoming increasingly difficult to draw a clear line of demarcation between technologies and knowledge for military and civilian uses,” Takashi Onishi, president of SCJ and the president of Toyohashi University of Technology in Aichi Prefecture, wrote in his May 20 proposition to create the panel. “It has also been widely shared that such deepening of ties between academia and defense could threaten the foundations of science.”

page1image20576 page1image20736 page1image20896 page1image21056 The panel, comprising Onishi and 14 other people, including former astronaut Chiaki Mukai and Kyoto University President Juichi Yamagiwa, will discuss whether to amend statements by the council in 1950 and 1967, in which it vowed “never to engage in military research.”

It will also discuss the burgeoning field of dual-use technology.

Known for having spawned such innovations as the Internet and GPS, dual-use technology is common in the West but has long remained low-profile in postwar, pacifist Japan, with many institutions banning such research for fear of re-militarization.

A big turning point came in December 2013, when Abe, after returning to power the year before, had his Cabinet adopt the new National Defense Program Guidelines, said Morihisa Hamada, a volcanologist working at the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology and one of scores of scientists opposed to defense research.

The guidelines, in a marked departure from previous versions, spelled out the government’s plan to “actively utilize dual-use technologies in enhanced cooperation with universities and research institutes.”

In fiscal 2015, the Defense Ministry began seeking grant applications from civilian researchers for basic research in dual-use technology. The ¥300 million budget rose to ¥600 million this fiscal year.

Meanwhile, universities across the nation have faced a series of funding cuts from the central government, producing growing ranks of researchers starved for alternative funding.

Hamada said a range of universities and research institutes have conducted joint research with Defense Ministry-affiliated agencies in recent years.

For example, the Ground Systems Research Center, which conducts research on firearms, ammunition, ballistics and blast-resistant structures, vehicles and their fittings, and engineering equipment, has tied up with a range of academic institutions, including Kyushu University, Chiba Institute of Technology and Chiba University in such areas as explosives detection, robotics and engine simulation.

“The reason universities are now wavering is because research budgets have been slashed,” Hamada said.

He believes any research in the name of defense will end up aiding wars and urges concerned researchers to join an ongoing campaign led by Satoru Ikeuchi, an astrophysicist and professor emeritus at Nagoya University, to sign an online petition against military use of science.

While some scientists argue for lifting the research ban under certain conditions, such as using their technology only for defense, not offense, Hamada said such distinctions mean little.

“We should never forget the history of Japan, which waged a war under the name of self-defense,” he said. “All wars start with defense. To ban military research, the most nonconflicting stance to take is refuse any research funds from military institutions, be it the Defense Ministry or agencies tied to the U.S. military.”

The SCJ panel’s discussion will be open to the public, with the first meeting scheduled for June, an official with the group said.

The official added that it may take a year or so to reach a decision. 

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You can leave a comment on line at The Japan Times.
Please consider signing the Japanese anti-militarism declaration.

 

 

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The House Armed Forces Services Committee debates blocks protection for ….the Sage Grouse.

The House Armed Forces Committee blocks protection for the Sage Grouse.

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How is it that the military, through Congress, is deciding on the future of the Greater Sage Grouse, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service believes warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act?

This is how.

Congress is currently hammering out the fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act. There is a provision recommended by the chair of the House Armed Services committee that prohibits the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from actually putting the Greater Sage Grouse, which suffers from loss of habitat, on the endangered list. This was a recommendation from the Army.

When Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass)  proposed to strip that provision, there was a contentious debate that ended in a vote to not protect the sage grouse. Democrats argued that the provision not only had no place in a defense bill, and that the provision was an attack on science and federal conservation areas.

Rep. Rob Bishop (Utah) (who actually heads the House Natural Resources Committee- isn’t that consoling?) was one of the Republican members who argued that the bird’s large population hampers military facilities throughout the USA.  The example he gave is that the Army at the Yakima Training Center in Washington spends around $1.5 million a year to manage (only) 250 birds.

Yakima is one of only 4 sage grouse populations in the state, but giving the Greater Sage Grouse protection under the Endangered Species Act (EPA) as an endangered species would restrict gunnery ranges part of the year.

Scientists have spoken out on the dangers of oil and gas projects to the Greater Sage Grouse breeding sites, as well.

The sage grouse has also become a pawn in the Republican move to reduce federal power: The U.S. House Armed Services Committee is considering a proposal to delay an Endangered Species Act listing for the Greater Sage Grouse for 10 years, as well as to transfer the management of millions of acres of federal lands to states in the west. Democrats countered that the provision has no place in the defense bill, seeing it as an attack on science and federal conservation efforts.

The militarization of science and nature marches on.

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Update

June 8, 2015  In an editorial, “G.O.P. Assault on Environmental Laws,” the New York Times blames republicans only for the disinterest in saving the habitat of the Great Sage Grouse. The editorial made no mention of the influence of the military, which (along with fossil fuel companies) rules both Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

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Military recruiting at the 2015 Experimental Biology convention

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Military recruiting at the 2015 Experimental Biology convention.

Curiously placed among the “Publishers” in the Exhibition Hall at the 2015 Experimental Biology Convention in Boston was the Army Medical Recruiting table.

Military recruiters are ubiquitous in high schools (the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 section 9528 stated that military recruiters must be allowed in high schools and must be given student home contact information or the school could lose federal funding.) They are present in colleges and universities, where the targets’ brains are closer to maturity, and where  there is still occasionally protest about their presence.

During and for several decades after the Vietnam War, many scientists refused to take military money for research, but no dissent was shown at this conference. Most passing scientists didn’t seem to notice the table or the 2 soldiers staffing it. But really, how could they miss the incongruity of a gigantic photo of a soldier with gun among the books and journals?

The Army section that was recruiting was the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, in nearby Natick. Its mission is to “Provide solutions to optimize Warfighter health and performance through medical research,” and the vision is “Recognized by the Department of Defense as the trusted leader in medical research for Warfighter health and performance optimization.”

Many partners are listed, from military, universities, and companies. For some, helping with the US’s constant wars might be deliberate and idealogical, but money is probably the main motivator: over half of the discretionary US budget goes to war, even as the NIH and NSF budgets barely move. This ready money has blinded scientists to the implications of taking Department of Defense (DoD) money for their research.

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There are 4 research divisions in USARIEM, and glossy pamphlets were available for each: Biophysics & Biomedical Modeling, Military Nutrition, Military Performance, and Thermal & Mountain Medicine. From traumatic brain injury to improving soldier’s running styles (!), the projects range from the mundane to the tragic, with a presumptive trickle-down benefit to civilians. Or not- do civilians even matter, these days?

We need to think more about war, and science’s (and our own) place in that war. We might have a range of opinions, but we need to be thoughtful and deliberate about participation in something as devastating and all-encompassing as war.

 

 

 

 

 

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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

Contents

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 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mission matters: DARPA’s inclusion in the BRAIN initiative is downright creepy.

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On April 2, 2013, President Obama announced the BRAIN initiative (BRAIN is actually an an acronym for Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies- too cute),  a 100 million dollar investment (later increased) by 10 groups, with the 3 main US government groups being NSF, NIH, and DARPA. DARPA would be responsible for 50 million of the 100 million to be invested. Private sector partners, such as The Allen Institute for Brain Research, HHMI, Kavli Foundation, and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, are also involved.

DARPA? That acronym stands for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the research wing of the Department of Defense. This is their mission: Creating breakthrough technologies for national security. As it says on the DARPA website, you can read “Better Understanding of Human Brain Supports National Security: DARPA plans $50 million in 2014 investments to increase understanding of brain function and create new capabilities.”

New capabilities for what? It is pretty clear from DAPRA’s past exploits and present plans that its mission contradicts the mission of most

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scientific organizations- to do good science for mankind. Not for some, who happen to be americans. Not for war to protect US “interests.”

Jonathan Moreno has examined this intersection of neuroscience and DARPA in his 2006 book, Brain Wars: Brain Research and National Defense, and the 2012 update, Mind Wars: Brain Science and the Military in the 21st Century.

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It is well worth reading for all scientists, but should be mandatory for neuroscientists, and certainly for the ones involved in this initiative. Moreno gives lists of DARPA research proposals that read like the CIA want ads. Brain control? Better warriors who can stay awake and fight without pain? Reading the minds of your enemy? Technology to predict the behavior of individuals and groups?  I don’t agree with Moreno’s pragmatic conclusion- that basic scientists and the military should work together in order to maintain openness and restrict the possible dastardly applications of DARPA’s brain research. I don’t agree that the trickle down benefits- that is, innovation for the public that may merge from a DARPA-funded discovery- are worth it. But Moreno does point out the ethical dangers of this kind of work, and encourages scientists to consider the end result of their research.

Nature Magazine blog reporter Vivien Marx, and the response of attendees at the 2013 Society for Neuroscience in San Diego to DARPA’s inclusion in the BRAIN initiative show a rather scary pragmatism. In an article reporting on a town hall meeting at the Neuroscience meeting, “Brain initiatives galore, smiles aplenty,” Marx describes with enthusiasm the different funding model of DARPA (DARPA uses contracts rather than grants, allowing it to be more nimble), and seems fine with quoting Colonel Geoffrey Ling of DARPA in saying, “Yes, we build guns and bombs, that is true.” Perhaps there was more disagreement with DARPA at the meeting than indicated.

But why would scientists think it is okay to be partners with an agency whose mission is contrary to peace and health?

Why is it okay for basic research funds to be channeled through DARPA instead of through NSF or NIH? Why on earth should the Department of Defense be dictating what research is done?

DARPA says it is committed to sharing results- does anyone really think that is going to happen?

People seem to be most enthusiastic about DARPA’s intent to “develop solutions to prevent, treat, or even reverse the harmful effects of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and Traumatic Brain Injury in returning war veterans.” Ah, remember tobacco companies and their interest in health issues? Stop making cigarettes. Stop sending kids to wars. PTSD cannot be cured: it is a physiological response to trauma, and the trauma of killing is overwhelming.

Gary Marcus, professor of psychology at New York University in a recent NY Times  op-ed, pointed out that there is little discussion of what we will/should do with the information collected from the BRAIN initiative. Yes, we hope results will go towards understanding the brain and helping those with mental illness and brain injury. Yes, it is complicated. But perhaps one of the reasons is that DARPA’s mission wouldn’t fit well in with what most people want from an initiative this expansive and expensive. Telling the public that their money will be put to the Department of Defense’s mind control experiments might not be as happily accepted as it is by the scientists who are part of the initiative.

The potential to understand ourselves better, to prevent and heal mental illness and brain injury for all people, is immense. The Department of Defense and DARPA do not belong in the BRAIN initiative.

Readings about DARPA and the brain-

John Horgan May 22, 2013. Crosscheck (Scientific American blog)   Why you should care about Pentagon funding of Obama’s BRAIN initiative.

Peter Freed, M.D. April 3, 2013. Eisenhower’s ghost and Obama’s brain.  Neuroself.

Peter Freed, M.D.  May 23, 2013.  Neuroself.   DARPA follow up: Where the scientific-military-industrial complex is headed. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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).

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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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Battelle- military contractor and “global health organization?” Really?

Battelle

Battelle Memorial Institute? No.

Not if you believe global health is for all people. War is pretty much the opposite of global health.

The Washington Global Health Alliance (WGHA)  was formed in 2007 with money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to connect the many organizations in Washington State that work on global health. It lists Battelle as a “Global Health Organization” in the alliance.

The mission of the Washington Global Health Alliance: “WGHA invites and activates every sector in our region to advance global health equity.” Every sector?

The core objectives:

1. Mobilizing the dynamic global health sector to increase visibility and impact

2. Advocating and educating lawmakers and business leaders about the importance of global health for our economy, international relationships and communities (Missing that serial comma….)

3. Cultivating global health champions through innovative partnerships among traditional and unexpected organizations and people to expand impact

“Unexpected organizations?”

It may sound pretty good to get all sectors of academic, business, and civil life to agree that the health of everyone across the globe is a variety.  It sounds reasonable that any participant that will help with advancing global health equity is welcome at the table. We all know that businesses and academia and civic leaders are so bound up in political and economic maneuvering as well as with each other that looking for only the purest of organizations would lead to an alliance of none.

But somewhere, you have to draw a line in order to make your mission clear, and drawing the line on organizations that profit through making weapons and advancing war seems an obvious boundary.

Battelle is the world’s largest non-profit independent research and development organization (though is also has Battelle Ventures, L.P., and its affiliate fund, Innovation Valley Partners that invest in early stage tech companies). Based in Ohio, it has 130 locations around the world.

It does everything.

Battelle has four global businesses: Health and Life Sciences, National Security, Energy Technology, and Laboratory Management. Many scientists know of them  as they oversee 7 national (USA) laboratories for the U.S. Department of Home Security and the U.S. Department of Energy and 2 overseas laboratories. They promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education for K-12 schools through programs at the National Labs, and through working with groups on the next generation science standards and common core.They do public health and global health projects, have done so with CDC, NIH, running programs, coordinating data, doing epidemiologic surveilling through their 7 Centers for Public Health Research and Evaluation, one of which is located in Seattle.

So, it would seem that being in the Washington Global Health Alliance makes a lot of sense.

But there is another side to the monolithic Battelle- it is the 26th largest (in revenue) military contractor in the USA, with almost 25% of its 2013  annual revenue being for defense. It has received over 3 billion dollars from military contracts since 1990. It does projects on advanced weapons, enrgetics/expolosive operations, missile defense, and weapons development as well as  its biological and chemical defense work.

90% of people killed in war are civilians. The best thing Battelle could do for public health is to stop its defense contractor business. The best thing the Washington Global Health Alliance could do is remove Battelle from the rolls of global health organizations.

 

 

 

 

 

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Benjamin Kuipers: Your actions should reflect your values.

 

aanewkuiper

Military money funds many projects in the field of qualitative simulation. During his postdoc, which was funded by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, part of the Department of Defense), computer scientist Benjamin Kuipers realized that the military wanted to apply his work on cognitive maps towards building intelligent cruise missiles. Kuipers, now Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Michigan, had done two years of alternate service in the Psychology Department at Harvard as a conscientious objector, and made the decision then not to accept funding that would contribute to war. 

An essay he wrote some years later to explain his decision is reprinted below, with his permission.

Kuipers is clear that this is a personal stance, and not that of his workplace. He does not evangelize for his position. However, he believes that everyone should think carefully about the values they want their life’s work to represent, and make sure that their actions reflect those values. He does not see himself as an activist, but regards his position against military funding as a testimony, or witness, that other people can join with, or not, as they choose.

 “Why don’t I take military funding?” explains more about his background, the effect his decision has had on his research, and how others can fund their research without military money.

 

Why don’t I take military funding?http://web.eecs.umich.edu/~kuipers/opinions/no-military-funding.html

Benjamin Kuipers

I don’t take funding from military agencies. Why not?

Mostly it’s a testimony that it’s possible to have a successful career in computer science without taking military funding. My position has its roots in the Vietnam War, when I was a conscientious objector, did alternative service instead of submitting to the draft, and joined the Society of Friends (Quakers). During the 1980s and 90s, the position seemed to lose some of its urgency, so it became more of a testimony about career paths.

Since September 11, 2001, all the urgency is back. The defense of our country is at stake, so this testimony becomes critical. In short, I believe that non-violent methods of conflict resolution provide the only methods for protecting our country against the deadly threats we face in the long run. Military action, with its inevitable consequences to civilian populations, creates and fuels deadly threats, and therefore increases the danger that our country faces.

I will come back to this, but first some other thoughts.

How did you get started with this?

In 1978, after completing my PhD thesis on cognitive maps, I found that the only funding agency that was interested in supporting my research wanted to build smart cruise missiles that could find their way to their targets. This was not what I wanted my life’s work to support. So I changed areas, and started working on AI in Medicine, which led to some very productive work on qualitative reasoning about physical systems with incomplete knowledge.

Well before that, I had been a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War, and had done alternative service to the draft from 1970 to 1972 before starting grad school. Since most of my graduate studies were funded by an NSF Fellowship, I didn’t think much about military funding and AI research at that time. After finishing my PhD, I did a year of post-doctoral research funded by a grant that Al Stevens and I negotiated directly with Craig Fields at DARPA. It was at the end of that year, looking for continuation funding, that I confronted the cruise missile scenario and had to decide what my research life is for, and who I am willing to have pay for it.

But how can you fund your research?

Defense Department agencies like DARPA, ONR, AFOSR, and ARO are certainly among the larger pots of money out there, and I have put these off limits for myself.

I have had funding from NSF, NASA, and NIH instead. There is a State of Texas Advanced Research Program that has supported several of my projects. And I have had small amounts of funding from several companies such as Tivoli and IBM.

These other agencies typically don’t provide grants as large as one can get from DARPA, for example. So, there are limits to the size of research group I can have. With very few exceptions, I have decided that I will fund only grad students, and not try to support research staff or post-docs, who are much more expensive than grad students. I have sometimes had quite a few grad students, and a large lab, but the funding requirements remain moderate.

When I first decided to refuse military funding, I felt I would be making a serious sacrifice. As it has worked out, research money has sometimes been tight, but never disastrously so. And as I watched my colleagues dealing with DARPA’s demands for reports, PI meetings, bake-offs, delays and reductions in promised funding, and other hassles, I began to wonder whether I hadn’t gotten the best side of the deal after all.

It’s important to remember that the bottom line in research is productivity of ideas, not dollars brought in. At some point, the hassle of dealing with an agency may decrease one’s intellectual productivity more than the money they provide increases it. But that’s a practical issue, not a matter of conscience.

The bottom line here is that refusing military funding puts a limit on how large a research budget I can sustain. But that’s not the same as limiting my intellectual productivity.

What’s wrong with taking military money? They have funded lots of great research!

Certainly so: AI and the Internet being two large categories of them. That kind of research is enormously important, and I am glad that our society finds a way to fund it.

However, the goal of the military is to settle international conflict through violence. As a friend of mine was told by a general, “Everything we do ultimately has one of two goals: killing people or destroying things.” I believe that this attitude towards conflict resolution has become a “clear and present danger” to our world and our country. The world has become so small through transportation and communication, and our weapons have become so deadly, nuclear and biological, that we cannot afford the illusion that violence makes us safer.

A true defense of our country would require both resources and research into non-violent conflict resolution methods. Both of these exist, but are starved compared with the technologies of warfare.

My stand is a testimony, saying “I will not devote my life’s work toward making warfare more effective.” I am also trying to show, by example, that one can be a successful and productive computer scientist, even while taking this stand.

Do you try to keep others from taking military funding?

No. Mine is an individual testimony, and each person makes an individual decision about how they will spend their life’s work.

Many years ago, when William Penn converted to Quakerism and pacifism, he was troubled by the thought of having to give up the sword that he wore, a great honor at the time. He asked George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, what he should do. Fox told him, “William, wear thy sword as long as thee can.”

Why not use military funding for virtuous research?

First, it’s a testimony, and a testimony has to be clear and visible to be useful. Certainly there is virtuous research funded by military agencies. Many colleagues whom I respect highly take this approach and I honor them for it. But it doesn’t send a clear message to others, and I want to do that.

Second, there’s a slippery slope. You can start with a research project as pure as the driven snow. But a few years later, money is tight in the pure research category, and you get offered a research grant from a more applied office within the same agency. Do research on the same topic, but frame it in terms of a military mission. Step by step, you can slide into battlefield management and smart cruise missiles. One thing that makes the slope so slippery is that you have accumulated responsibility for a lab full of graduate students, and the consequences of a major drop in funding will be even more painful for them than it is for you.

Another thing that makes the slope slippery is that military problems are often very interesting. It’s easy to get caught up in an interesting technical challenge, and lose sight of what is actually happening: that the objects in the plan are human beings, and that the actions that are being planned are to kill them.

With a little cleverness, you can find similarly fascinating problems in the space program, where there is NASA funding, or in the economic sphere, where there is private funding. Or in other areas of science, where NSF and NIH do the funding.

Is everything the military does tainted?

Certainly not. Most people don’t realize that the US military is perhaps the largest educational institution in the world. It provides valuable academic and vocational training to a huge population, many of whom might not have access to it otherwise. It also provides training in character and discipline that are hard to match elsewhere.

There are even signs that the professional military is reaching a clearer understanding than civilian policy-makers of the weaknesses of violence, and the strengths of non-violent approaches to conflict resolution. We may be moving toward the day when trained, disciplined soldiers will be able to move into a situation of conflict and restore civility and peace without loss of life.

That’s a day worth working for.

The military can use your research anyway, from the open literature. Why not have them pay for it?

Many things have both good and evil uses. If I create new knowledge that can be used for either good or evil, and present it and evaluate in terms of the good purposes, then someone who converts it to evil use bears that responsibility. If I present it and evaluate it in terms of the evil purpose, then I make it that much easier and more likely for it to be used for evil. I must then bear the responsibility.

This argument is not very robust against speciousness and rationalization. If I make a rapid-fire machine gun firing armor-piercing bullets, and present it and evaluate it for the sport of target- shooting, I am deceiving myself (or more likely, not). Whoever funds the work, I am responsible for anticipating who is likely to use it.

At the same time, if I develop a new scheduling methodology for industrial processes, the military is likely to benefit, since it includes many industrial processes. But peaceful economic activity will benefit more, and the military benefits only in the aspects it shares with peaceful enterprises.

Do work that makes the world a better place. The fact that the military becomes better too is not a problem.

(From a graduating senior) Should I consider military involvement when I choose a graduate school?

Probably not too much, but keep your eyes and ears open when you visit the different schools. Most top graduate schools in computer science will have substantial amounts of military funding, but most will also have faculty who are seriously concerned about the militarization of research. You should look for a balance that leads to productive discussions, rather than a “party line.”

Look for faculty members who can guide you in directions you want to go. This means looking for both intellect and integrity.

Are you ever tempted by large military grants?

Yes, of course. Recently a friend of mine, whom I respect highly, took a leadership position in a major agency, and created a research program I find enormously attractive.

After struggling with the question for several weeks, I decided that the need for testimonies like mine was becoming greater, not less, in these difficult times, so I have reluctantly passed on this possibility. Sigh.

The fact that a course of action is right does not necessarily make it easy.

What about September 11? We’re under attack!

Our country suffered horrific losses from a terrible attack. The criminal gang responsible must be brought to justice, and we must protect ourselves against possible future attacks.

However, violent actions taken in the name of defense against terrorism are very likely to increase the likelihood and magnitude of future terrorist attacks. We need a combination of short-term vigilance and protection, and long-term efforts to reduce the problems that breed terrorism, both in non-violent ways.

Muchmoretobesaidaboutthis,probablyinotheropinionpieces.

I am writing to ask for advice. I am one year away from graduating with a BS in computer science and am considering graduate school. When I started looking around my department for some research to get involved in, I was surprised to find how much of it relies on military funding. This lead me to find your essay on why you don’t take military funding. I share your views and as tempting as it is, and as much as I feel I’m missing out on some really interesting projects, I’ve decided I will not work on anything that receives military support. So, I’m hoping you can offer further advice on how and where to look for grad programs. How do I find other faculty who share this concern for the militarization of research? Will I find more options overseas? How and when do I tell prospective schools about my decision?

Let me applaud you for your principled stand. As you have surely noticed, these are times that require good people to stand up and be counted, publically.

Although I did alternative service as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam war, I did not decide to avoid military funding until a year after completing my PhD. I was fortunate to have obtained NSF and Danforth Fellowships that funded almost all of my graduate studies. After I became a faculty member, I got quite good at raising grants from NSF, NIH, NASA, and other places.

You will need to do similar things, just starting earlier. There are a number of competitive fellowships for graduate study that you can apply for as an individual, and carry with you to your choice of graduate school. Many of these, like the NSF, the Hertz, the Gates, etc, are very competitive. It is a big advantage in such competitions to be clear on your own beliefs and your

own priorities. Make sure you can express yourself in a clear and compelling way, and you have a significantly better chance. If you succeed in obtaining your own funding, it makes you much more desirable at top graduate programs.

A couple of useful quotes for this enterprise are, “Momma may have, and Poppa may have, but God bless the child who’s got his own!” and “Be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.” (Look them up.)

Even if you don’t get this kind of fellowship, there are plenty of options for supporting yourself through graduate school without military funding. You can be a teaching assistant; you can be a research assistant to a faculty member with other kinds of funding; you can find work maintaining computers for a lab in another department; you can get a part-time outside job; and so on. Generally, rejecting the single largest funder will require you to be more creative about looking at other funding possibilities. This creativity will serve you well. One of the fortunate things about working in computer science is that you have a practical skill that is needed by people in many different areas, and they are often willing to pay for your services.

On finding faculty with similar beliefs, I would suggest just asking. A quick scan of each faculty member’s web page, and especially the acknowledgements on publications, will tell you where they get their funding. Find a few people whose research you find attractive who have non-military funding, and talk to them.

Personally, I find it most productive to be clear and straight-forward, without being judgmental or confrontational. You will very likely find plenty of people who are very sympathetic to your values, but who aren’t willing to make what they perceive as too large a sacrifice. In my personal opinion, it is more important to encourage people to see their choice of work, how it’s funded, and what it’s used for as an important moral decision that must reflect their own fundamental values, than to pressure them to make the same moral decisions that I have.

I doubt you will find better options overseas. I believe there is generally less funding available outside the US, and little of that would be available to a US student. There are some very fine graduate schools in other countries, but on average, the US has the best graduate schools in the world. Again, personally, I love this country, and I want my work and my life to help strengthen its good parts and help fix its problems. So I wouldn’t want to leave.

How and when to tell is another judgment call. It depends on your own style, and how vocal a testimony you want to make. You may legitimately decide that this point is not relevant on the application for graduate school, or on the other hand, you may feel that it is central. You are not obliged to explain or justify every belief you have, however strongly held or controversial, to everyone you meet. You have to decide when you think it is relevant.

A final point. I think you are doing a good and noble thing. Following this path will be demanding, and maybe quite difficult, but I believe and hope it will also be rewarding in many ways, including practical ones. However, getting the education you need to make the best use of your gifts through the rest of your life is also an important value. You should not participate in activities that you believe are morally wrong, but there may be times in your life when preparing yourself for your future takes priority over making a visible testimony. There will be time and need for that later, you can be sure.

With my best wishes, Ben Kuipers 

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

 

Discretionary desk

Today is tax day.

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

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

The USA Federal budget is divided into 3 main categories:

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

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

Interest on federal debt  (approximately 6%).

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

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

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

 

FY2015 pie chart front  web

 

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

How about from the military?

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

 

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