Archive | policy

Censorship and denial in the March for Science

The March for Science may herald a new activism on the part of scientists, and that is tremendous. People are marching for a variety of reasons (for science, for funding and their jobs, against Trump, for more inclusion of scientists in the political process, to demonstrate a love for science, to change the culture of science away from sexism and racism, etc), and are not marching for a smaller variety of reasons (science shouldn’t be political, marching will send the wrong message and alienate people, scientists are partnering with the wrong people), all of which is typical of the beginning of a movement.

(Some of the many articles about the March for Science are curated at the end of the article, in categories according to approval or disapproval of the march and of activism among scientists.)

One of the most encouraging aspects of the march is that many of the organizers and participants are non-scientists who cherish the wonders of science. A world in which science is integrated with the humanities, social sciences, and other creative pursuits sounds pretty wonderful, and the partnerships being made through the march can bring new understanding and potential into all our endeavors.

But somehow, what the march isn’t is troubling. It isn’t honest. It rebrands itself constantly, to retain the good graces of…hard to say what- the public?

Shouldn’t scientists be more honest about their culture and enterprise to be sure the trust they are requesting from the public is earned? Shouldn’t discussions of the march be deep and provocative and brutally honest?

Instead, there is quiet, disapproval, censorship, in contradiction to the march motto, “Science, not silence.”

The D.C. March organizers deleted tweets about the massive bomb in Afghanistan, chemical weapons, and scientist involvement in weapons. Mention of that disappeared everywhere but in the right- wing press, where it was heralded as a typical anti- patriot left-wing statement, and is still getting air time a week later  (Here is a link to a April 19 National Review article.). This deletion is straight-forward censorship. Diversity may, shamefully, be controversial as a topic, but war is forbidden.

March organizers are deciding what is political, and what isn’t. We mustn’t offend anyone! Don’t mention conflicts of interest, weapons research, the harsh penalties for environmental activism or whistleblowing, the pervasive influence of sexism and racism on individuals and kind of science done…. Instead, the march is a pep rally, a Super Bowl extravaganza, an orchestrated national political convention. A look at the National Review article linked in the above paragraph suggests how effective tip-toeing around is in trying to change minds.

Nature just published a quick summary of the march, attributing the initial enthusiasm to post-Trump anger and fear, and then describing the insistence of organizers and supporters that the march is not political.

This decision to placate Republican politicians may be more than inexperience, or cowardice.

It might also be that scientists have great power in the United States, and they don’t want to perturb that power. While individuals are disposable, science in integrally associated with the military, with the government and regulatory agencies, with academia and with corporations. Perhaps they don’t want to challenge the status quo too much. A good summary of the funding for science that influences research can be found in the SGR statement for the March of Science issued by the UK Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR), which supports the march but calls for scientists to stand up for society.

Perhaps the majority make-up of the march -white, educated, perhaps mostly liberal- is not yet ready to be straightforward or to make sacrifices needed for real change in science and for science, for all (if, indeed, that is what they even want). A reminder from friend Jesse White pointed me to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham jail”  which King addressed to clergyman who objected to his activist stance.

It seems the March for Science is accepting a negative peace, not yet ready to spend their social capital. But individuals will march for what they believe, and may be able to leverage this opportunity to use science to better the world.


Support the march.

The Editors of a Major Scientific Publication Are Urging Readers to Attend the March for Science.” April 12, 2017. Time magazine write Charlotte Alter slightly implies it is okay to march as Nature says it is okay.

What Exactly are People Marching for When They March for Science? March 7, 2017. Science writer Ed Long for The Atlantic. There is confusion because of multiple goals of the march, but that’s okay.

Analyzing the March for Science Diversity Discourse. April 11, 2017. Applied sociologist and blogger Zuleyka Zevallos. People either approved or disapproved of discussion of diversity in science- interesting discussion why! March will be good to develop these issues.

I’m going to #sciencemarch in Washington. Here’s why. January 30, 2017. Scientist Sara Whitlock in STAT. Straightforward reasons for herself- marching against Trump-targetted scientists and policies, marching for open access to science and data.

Is #ScienceMarch Really Against Science? January 30, 2017. Medical and academic book editor Laurie Endicott Thomas, on her blog Not Trivial. As opposed to Steven Pinker, she emphasizes the use of science for bad purposes (each as war and genocide), and that scientists have often been complicit in racial and gender-bases oppression, and believes the march is a great way to stand against Trump, bad science, sexism and racism.

Q&Q: Marching for Science in Memphis: A conversation with activist and undergraduate student Sydney Bryant. March 22, 2017. Marine Biology student Sydney Bryant wants to bridge the gap between scientists, activists, and non-scientists. Celebrates connection of science with social justice.

Marchers around the World Tell Us Why They Are Taking to The Streets for science. April 13, 2017. By the Science News Staff. Scientists have a variety of reasons why they are marching: Egage public opinion, agitate vs Trump’s policies, protecting science from attack.

Putting Science into Practice: Why We Need To Play Our Part. March 8, 2017. Environmental sociologist Angie Carter for Union of Concerned Scientists.

Reasons to march for science in Seattle. Or not. April 17, 2017. David Hyde for KUOW, Seattle. Though several scientists give their reservations, more coverage is given to those who don’t mind that the march may appear to be political.

Science March: Above Politics? or Partisan for Humanity? April 18, 2017. Refuse Racism website. Defense of science should be non-partisan but should be political, and that is fine.

Scientists and Activists Look Beyond the March for Science. April 17, 2017. Nicholas St. Fleur for the New York Times. In looking toward the time post march, and how activism will continue, the article is very pro-march. Politics and diversity are worthwhile issues for science, and the march is likely to encourage more scientists to enter politics.

Should Scientists Engage in Activism? March 26, 2017. Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus, for The answer is yes. Pinker and Young are the unbelievable antagonists in this story: Many other scientists give good reasons to mix politics and science.

The March for Science is Political, and That’s a Good Thing. February 25, 2017. Miriam Kramer for Mashable. Science is and always was political. And to save it, you gotta be political now.

We Are the Scientists Against a Fascist Government. February 2, 2017. Scientists Chanda Pressed-Weinstein, Sarah Tuttle, and Joseph Osmundson in The Establishment. Very strong statement about failures of scientists to stand up against oppression, and the need to do so now.

When I March for Science, I’ll March for Equity, Inclusion, and Access. March 22, 2017. Gretchen Goldman, Center for Science and Democracy at Union of Concerned Scientists. Science is driven by values and politics, and hasn’t always been used for good. March for diversity and inclusion.

Why are Scientists So Averse to Public Engagement? It’s time to confront our demons. March 8, 2017. March 8, 2017. Climate science ph.D. student Ply Achakulwisut on the Scientific American blog. Anti-science forces were in play before Trump, and scientists feared losing their credibility by speaking up. March for Science is one of the hopeful signs that scientists are finally pushing themselves.

Support the march with qualifications

To March for Science, D.C. Satellite Marches in US and Around the World. April 18, 2017. Indigenous Scientists support the march, but urges acknowledgement of the contributions of indigenous scientists, and acceptance of multiple kinds of science and ways of knowing.

An Open Letter to the Center for Biological Diversity-re: March for Science. March 17, 2017. Stephan Neidenbach, middle school teacher posted to The Medium. Neidenback was worried when anti-GMO group Center for Biological Diversity was announced as a partner in March, but feels better because Cornell Alliance for Science partnership with the march was also announced.

March shouldn’t be political

Science march planners, here’s some unsolicited advice. January 27, 2017.  Science writer Jeffrey Mervis relies heavily on opinion of physics professor Michael Lobell, who was also head of the D.C. office of the American Physical Society until he pledged to work with Trump and society members objected and says to make it a march about science, not scientists.

The Science of Science Advocacy: Should researchers advocate for the inclusion of science in public policymaking? March 5, 2017. Joshua A. Krisch editor at The Scientist.  No, they shouldn’t = the bottom line.

Opinion: Let’s march to stress the value of science for the public good, not to engage in partisan politics. March 24, 2017. Catherine Rudder for Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.  Scientific method minimizes intrusion of politics and partisanship?!

Will a March Hurt Science?  As scientists and science advocates plan demonstrations in Washington, D.C., and around the world, some question the ability of such activism to enact change.  February 2, 2017. Diana Kwon for The Scientist. February 2, 2017.

Do not support the march.

A Scientists’ March on Washington is a Bad Idea. January 31, 2017. Scientist Robert Young said march would trivialize and politicize the science.

Why I Won’t Be Participating in the March for Science. March 19, 2017.  The Mad Virologist blog. The march is disorganized, co-opted by believers in pseudo-science, and I don’t want to give them any credibility. I believe in speaking out, but I won’t go.

March for Science: How Democracy Kills Expertise. March 20, 2017. Alex Berezow for American Council on Science and Health (ACSH). Corporate ACSH pats itself on the back for being an early hater of the march and lover of privately -funded research  and repeats idea that the march is political and unscientific with its support of social issues.

March for Science: Why scientists say this isn’t a political protest. February 3, 2017.  The Christian Science Monitor staff writer Ellen Powell. Federal scientists don’t support, others do.

March for ‘Science’ Say We Shouldn’t Bomb Isis…Because They’re “Marginalized”!? April 14, 2017, in response to March for Science tweet about bombing Afghanistan. Proud white idiot male Steven Crowder’s blog, anti-muslim, anti-feminist, etc etc.

March for Science blows it again: defends ISIS as “marginalized people.” 4/14, 2017 Scientist Jerry Coyne’s website Evolution is True. (for records of those tweets. See also Jerry Coyne’s “about” Coyne seems to dislike any mixing of social interests and science.

Do not support the march, with qualifications

Scientists’ march on Washington is a bad idea- here’s why. March 8, 2017.  Andrea Saltelli from the Centro for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities in The Conversation uses logic of scientist and philosopher Micheal Polanyi to say in presenting a united front, scientists are being dishonest and should clean up its own house .” Trump is not science’s main problem today- science is.”

NPR style of false equivalence.

Is the March for Science Bad for Scientists? March 1, 2017. Emily Atkin, staff writer at New Republic. Quotes scientist Jerry Coyne “Science cannot adjudicate issues of morality” and science writer Miriam Kramer, who “called ‘bullshit on the notion that scientists should avoid political action.”’

March for Science: Why scientists say this isn’t a political protest. February 3, 2017.  The Christian Science Monitor staff writer Ellen Powell. Federal scientists don’t support, others do.

The March for Science: Why Some Are Going, and Some Will Sit Out. April 17, 2017.  NY Times writer Michael Roston. Some like politics, some don’t. Some what to address diversity issues, some don’t. Some want to debate the public role of science. Others don’t.

Marching for Science: Effort gains backers and appears to build momentum, but some scientists worry that political fallout may not be what organizers want. March 8, 2017. Andrew Kreighbaum, federal policy reporter for Inside Higher Ed. Scientists should communicate with politicians, but not too much. Coyne and Young vs Rush Holt.

Don’t think scientists should be activists

Crossing the Imaginary Line. September 2, 2016. David Sediak, Chemist and Editor-in-chief of Environmental Science and Technology. Bottom line: could lose social support and financial backing.

Thinks scientists should be activists

Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public- but not if it threatens our funding?  October 10, 2016. Marc A. Edwards, Amy Pruden, Siddhartha Roy, and William J. Rhoads in Flint Water Study Updates. Unapologetic argument for engineers to speak out when people’s lives are threatened. Response to Sediak.

We Need Decolonial Scientists. November 10, 2016  Sociologist and Biological Anthropologist, Shay Akil Mclean. Scientists have been silent too long. Speak out on out structural and political problems!

Beyond the march

Opinion: Scientists Must Think Beyond Science: If we are to defend science, we must stand together with the other truth-tellers, including our non-scientist colleagues.  March 23, 2017. Evolutionary biologist Jon F. Wilkins, in The Scientist. Our defense of science should extend beyond ourselves.



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.



Trump is not the only bully in town! Who is the bully in your lab?

Trump is not the only bully in town.

Fullsizeoutput 776

The vulgarity of Donald Trump has outraged many in the USA. Thousands of women are planning to march tomorrow, January 21, the day after Inauguration Day: many are protesting today against sexism and racism. Everyone, including scientists, are tweeting and blogging about the way ahead.

(I have a bad case of deja vu, feeling that Bush was replaced with Trump as a target of partisan rage- and that policy runs second to personality politics.)

The next few years will likely be punctuated with protest, and hopefully, this protest will result in better policies in human rights throughout the country, and the world. But when we think of what we want to do, there are target areas we can clean up in our own institutions.

The last several years have been interesting ones in the public outing of overt sexism in the laboratory. Astronomer Geoff Marcy probably accrued the most national publicity, both because of his fame and the widespread and longterm range of his treatment of women. What became obvious was that Marcy’s actions were well known, and effectively supported, by other scientists for many years. Such sexism, such bullying, would not have been possible without this silent collaboration of bystander scientists and administrators.

Few are the departments that don’t have at least one bully, someone who abuses his or her power over someone with less power. It may the dean, the chairperson, head of the lab, or a member of faculty or staff who is know to make racist or sexist jokes, to be dismissive of some at meetings, to lie, to use lab and department members for his or her own glory, without giving credit. This goes on because people are quiet: they say nothing publicly, they wait for someone else to say something.

Call it out. Call it out at the time.

If you are the lab head, and don’t correct the behavior of a lab member at the time of a nasty statement, you are sending a bad, bad message. If it was done in public, correct it in public. Don’t ever let ugly behavior fester because you don’t want to hurt the perpetrator’s feelings, or cause embarrassment. Step up for the person who may not yet have the courage- or power- to speak up.

If you are dealing with one of the many narcissists in research, prepare for a nasty response. It may help to have allies, and a plan, when dealing with someone who will never think the rules apply to him, and who might mount a campaign against you. In this case, it may help to approach someone else to find an effective way to deal with the person. Don’t be surprised if leadership tries to protect a successful researcher, no matter how nasty the behavior is: you might have to approach HR, or the press, to help deal the situation. It can take a while to dislodge a person with power, and you must know what price you are willing to pay. Note: don’t be the guy who pops up 10 years later and says, oh, dear, I had to protect myself.

Try to stand up for people who aren’t even “your” folks, even outside the lab. Stay safe, be firm.

Trump is not responsible for the racism and sexism and militarism of the USA. Before taking office, he is being blamed for many, many heartbreaking actions, while the present administration is being treated as heroes. An excellent article by Thomas Harrington  describes the current obliviousness to the war crimes and domestic crimes that have been part of politics the last few years. American culture is violent, and the political acceptance of war, mass incarcerations, lack of health care signifie a nation run by bullies, as described in Bully Nation: How the American Establishment Creates a Bullying Society.



Can a Katze “situation” happen to you? If bullying is tolerated, yes.

Image 1

Can a Katze “situation” happen to you? Of course it can.

The story of Michael Katze, of the Department of Microbiology at the University of Washington (UW), Seattle, is the latest in this year’s series of nasty academic sexual harassment and bystander inaction tales. Buzzfeed broke the story with copies of texts and other lurid details and Geekwire followed suit. 


As for the other stories of sexual harrassment by renowned male science faculty members, the details were shocking but folks at the involved universities were not surprised. Many people knew something. For months,some university members knew everything.


A UW statement on its investigation was very self-protective:

“When the sexual harassment complaints were made, Dr. Katze was removed from his lab and put on home assignment. A thorough investigation was commenced through UCIRO, the University’s complaint, investigation and resolution office. The investigation found that Dr. Katze had violated University sexual harassment policies.

“His conduct was inappropriate and not in any way reflective of the University’s values. This is why the matter is now in the faculty disciplinary process, through which an appropriate outcome will be adjudicated.” — Norm Arkans, UW spokesman and associate vice president for media relations and communications    


So which conduct was inappropriate? Calling people Negroes, fucking bitches, or cunts didn’t lose Katze his job. Sexual harassment, porn, bullying, alcohol, with an embezzlement investigation done back in 2007 didn’t really seem to matter in view of the 30 million dollars Katze brought in federal grants. Indeed, one theory discussed in the Katze fallout, suggests those considered especially intelligent are beyond reproach, even if bullying, embezzlement, and sexual harassment are known to be the other side of the so-called genius. (Genius= brings in grant money). Such a short time ago, UW raved about their wonderboy: for example, see the posting 26 faculty listed among the most influential scientific minds put out by UW news. It took outside exposure to daylight Katze’s escapades, and as of July 2, he hasn’t been fired yet.

If integrity, morality, and ethical behavior are not part of the framework of your self, your lab, or your department and institution, the chances that you will be pulled into the sphere of complicity with a Katze are high. Sexual harassment in the Katze lab was just one of the vile manifestations of entitlement and exceptionalism that protects those who treat their people badly.

Unfortunately, many universities and other workplaces consider ethical behavior to be the absence of research fraud. When it comes to protecting people, those who bring in the most money are first. There is absolutely nothing ethical about the way most universities are run.

Is your dean trustworthy? Does he or she keep promises made to new faculty- or not? This is extremely relevant at the Univeristy of Washington. 

Does your department have a code of ethics concerning treatment of personnel by administrators, superiors, or peers?

Does it make clear what happens if that code is broken? Is there a complaint process for faculty, students, technicians, and support staff?

Does the department protect faculty at the expense of others? Do non-faculty members feel heard?

Do faculty members believe they have more rights than any other members? Are exceptions often made for them?

Are the Human Resources personnel empowered to act if they hear of improper behavior or treatment?

Are rules about racism or sexism taken seriously? How about safety?

If most of the students and postdocs in a lab are unhappy or complain about the P.I., does anyone try to get to the bottom of the problem?

As a P.I.

Do you make clear that ethics are important in the lab, and explain what this means?

Do you correct people who make racist or sexist comments?

Do you listen when someone is worried or angry about the behavior of another person in the lab? Do you get involved?

Are you able to consider that problems in the lab might originate from your own behavior or actions?

Do you have your own process for mediating conflict?

Would you try to help someone in your lab whose personal life is affecting his work life?

Are you on time for meetings with your students, as you might expect them to be?

Would you sacrifice your students or postdocs in authorship disputes to advance your own career?

Students and postdocs

Do you know where to go for a medical or psychological emergency?


Do you feel your P.I. is an active advocate for your career?

Does the P.I. routinely evaluate your scientific, experimental, intellectual, communication, and lab citizen skills and give you advice in a way you can use to become a better scientist?

Does the P.I. have integrity? Do you trust her? Do you think you could have honest conversations without retaliation?

Does the P.I. make racist or sexist comments, or does he correct others that do? 

Have you ever encountered derision, mocking, “humor,” or nasty comments directed at yourself or anyone else? Did you feel free to speak up?

Where bullying runs unchecked, and people fear retaliation, the creation of a Katze is horribly likely. If department members or administrators do not follow the basic human kindness of protecting the weak, if bullying and favoritism are rampant, don’t just stand by, or you are complicit.  The loss of your job is minute compared to the loss of your self respect.



Academic scientists and NIMBY: unionization, sexual harassment, “aspirational peers,” and other regressive 2015 moves

Academic scientists: Not in my backyard!

Union copy

2015 was an exciting and activist year in the USA, with campuses alive once more with students and faculty campaigning against racism, and for divestment of endowments from fossil fuel companies and from the Occupied Territories.

But with progress comes pushback and regression. Science is a conservative behemoth, and while academics are generally considered to be liberal, academic scientists and clinicians are often the most socially conservative members on campus.

How discouraging to see how few scientists see themselves as citizens of the world, but rather as individuals out of an Ayn Rand novel.

The University of Washington: no union for us.

One example is the unionization campaign going on the at the University of Washington, where the 750 or so faculty are debating the pros and cons of joining the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). As universities have relied more and more on adjuncts and other non-tenured faculty (tenure and tenure track make up less than 25% of university faculty ) , and have ignored the input of university members in favor of the desires of donors and trustees, the need for unionization and collective bargaining has become more and more apparent. Non- academic university workers, students, postdocs, and faculty members at universities all over the country have unionized or are considering unionization as a way to weather the current climate of corporatization .

Some of the 42 campuses that have unionized the last couple of years are Georgetown University, Howard University, and the University of Chicago…..but the University of Washington anti-union movement says that  “No premier research-intensive university in the U.S.- no true peer of the University of Washington, and no institution of a quality to which we aspire- has a unionized tenure track faculty.”  And they refer to the lack of unions among their “aspirational peers” of further proof that unions are not a good idea.

Led by spokespersons Paul B. Hopkins (Chemistry) and Ed Lazowska  (Computer Science and Engineering), the anti-union campaign is heavily, heavily weighted with basic and medical science signees of the Statement of Opposition .

There are several recurring threads running through the Statement of Opposition – entitlement, exceptionalism,  and not- in- my -backyard (NIMBY) being the most obvious. Basically, the statement complains that SIEU, the Service Employees International Union, represents caregivers in hospitals, janitors, bus drivers,etc,  not people with the same cares that we have. There is no evidence that our salaries would be higher with unionization. And unions in general try to get better salaries across the board and if that happens, we the signers, won’t have the money to attract great faculty and it won’t be a good university any more. We would have to follow union rules, such as limited out-of-cycle raises.

“Many of the undersigned recognize the positive role played by labor unions in our country. But…..”  Yes, unions are, in principle, a great idea, but we don’t think it helps us right now- and us is a small, special group. There is no mention that some faculty are profiting by the lack of benefits, pay, and security that others function under.

The statement of opposition ends with a fantastic thought- that unions are historically associated with the Democratic Party in the USA, and many of the signers are not democrats and don’t want to be to be part of this political activity.

A comprehensive view of the pros and cons of unionization with a focus on the perspective for unionization from Amy Hagopian (Public Health) can be found here.

The University of Maryland: more postdocs at less pay for us.

Another regressive move spearheaded by scientists this year took place at the University of Maryland, College Park (incidentally, the most militarized university in the USA). Norma Andrews ( Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics) and Iqbal Hamza ( Animal and Avian Sciences ) wrote a letter which was signed by 131 tenured/tenure-track life science faculty) to explain why some postdoc positions should not come with the same benefits of other postdoc positions- that is, to allow lab heads to pay less so they could have more postdocs . At a time when many senior scientists are trying to help postdocs, the University of Maryland faculty, as are the University of Washington faculty, are trying very hard to better themselves at the benefit of others.

Aspeers copy

Of course, they don’t put it that way, but explain that it is better for Science, you see. And, interestingly, the bizarre phrase “aspirational peers” that appeared in the University of Washington letter made an earlier appearance in the University of Maryland letter as a reason to not better fund all postdocs…because it is not done by their “aspirational peers”.  Jonathan Dinman’s (chair of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics) reiterated the aspirational peer defense at a University Senate meeting. Postdocs, seeing that faculty will not help them, may look to the success of postdoc unions  to find fair labor treatment.

Mike the Mad Biologist has an interesting blogpost on postdoc pay, with comments from postdocs- and you can see how against the grain the faculty at the University of Maryland are going in their quest to take care of themselves, first.

The University of California at Berkeley: He is ours, he is famous, and what he is doing isn’t that bad.

Through the years, women complained of harassment by Geoff Marcy (Astronomy), colleagues turned a blind eye , and while the University of California investigation of sexual harassment claims declared Marcy guilty, it also determined that Marcy’s actions warranted only a warning and strong parameters.

Social media from faculty, postdocs and the public started a wave of judgement, and finally, Marcy was forced to resign .

It was a victory, but it was a disturbingly hard-won victory. For at least 20 years , first at San Francisco State and later at Berkeley Marcy felt entitled to do what he wanted, and the silence of his colleagues, and the powers that be at San Francisco State and Berkeley protected him only until public and academic outcry made his forced resignation inevitable.

Harvard University: More recognition for me.

Being able to stand up for yourself is an important part of being a successful person and scientist. But when your reverence for yourself becomes your main task, it might be time to advocate for others. George Church tried to correct the mistake of the world in not giving enough recognition to- George Church.  Petty, and pathetic, to see a well-known and well-awarded scientist scrabble to get more for himself.

Perhaps Church is politicking to be one of the probably CRISPR Nobel laureates. His case is certainly one of the lighter cases of  2015 regressive scientist behavior, and won’t need to inspire the wonderful activism that is associated with unionization, reduction of post doc benefits, or sexual harassment.


Do the scientific data on fracking damage matter to policy makers? Sometimes!

Do the scientific data on fracking damage matter to policy makers?


Discussion on the health and environmental damage of fracking, initiated by scientists, journalists, and activists, is moving fast. Will it matter? It did in New York state, where scientists and activists working together convinced the governor to ban fracking. Scientists have not yet been as effective in Oklahoma in getting the message out about the dangers of fracking, and fracking continues although it has been linked to recent earthquakes. (See update at the end of this post.)

You wouldn’t think fracking was a problem from today’s New York Times. Energy and business correspondent Clifford Krauss’s article, “New Balance of Power,” gives cursory mention of the environment in his fracking-happy discussion.

The US is now responsible for 10% of global production of oil, and oil from the fracking of US shale fields since 2008 accounts for roughly half of the world’s oil production growth. The US is overtaking the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in oil production, weakening OPEC’s control (the goal of most US energy businesses and politicians) of the price of oil. But rather than reduce oil outout to keep demand (and price) high, OPEC has maintain production in order to retain market share- and the price of oil and gas has plummeted. Krauss sees the marginalization of OPEC and the lowered oil and gas prices as excellent outcomes. He also seems quite delighted that oil-producing “foreign foes” like Venezuela and Russia have been weakened by the drop in oil prices.

What about the environment?

Oh, well, there is some distant discussion of the environment. Krauss mentions that environmentalists believe the low oil and gas prices will drive consumption up. He says that “President Obama has applauded the drop in gasoline prices, but he still straddles the interests of environmentalists with those of the oil companies when it comes to hot-button issues like offshore drilling and expanding exports of United States oil and natural gas.”

And Krauss does say that hydraulic fracking is “still considered risky by many environmentalists because of the escape of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere during exploration, production and transport, along with potential seepage of toxic fluids into water supplies.”

But this completely misrepresents the dangers of fracking. He writes off damage to people and to the fracking areas as an example of the “interests of environmentalists.”  He alludes to “potential” seepage of toxic fluids. He says nothing about the many scientific studies that have linked health and environmental damage to the technique of fracking. The article is an excellent description of what activists and scientists are facing when the health and environmental issues of oil and gas production are pitted against business and political issues.

Hydraulic fracking is the process of pumping large amounts of water, chemicals, and sand at high pressure into a well and surrounding rock formations to extract deep reserves of gas or oil. Its use increased in use in 2003, and more so after 2004 (when the FDA found that fracking did not harm underwater drinking water and 2005 (when fracking was exempted from the Safe Water Drinking Act by the Bush Administration).

It is a messy, dirty process, and problems just keep coming.

Problems such as earthquakes, fires, contaminated water, and radon generation. Problems scientists have been documenting for years.

Scientists from Johns Hopkins recently found that fracking may cause the release of radon. Uranium occurs naturally in soil and bedrock and decays to radium-226, which then decays to radon, an inert, odorless, and carcinogenic gas. It is the 2nd leading cause of lung cancer worldwide. Indoor radon levels in Pennsylvania were correlated with fracking, as well as with well water (and with weather and a rural versus a town location).

NBC news reported flammable tap water in homes located near fracking sites in Portage County, Ohio. The injection sites themselves are dirty and dangerous. A few days ago, a fracking waste-water injection site in Greeley, Colorado exploded in flames, not far from the site of an injection well that had been linked to earthquakes  in 2014. The stored oil and gas wastewater that is used for injection contained hydrocarbons that can vaporize and it is thought that a lightening strike caused the the explosion.  On and on, in scientific publications and on the media, the problems of fracking are described and decried.

But it is the earthquakes associated with fracking that perhaps have been best documented and are drawing the most attention from the scientific and environmental world.

In November, 2011, several earthquakes- including one of 5.7 magnitude- struck Prague, Oklahoma, destroying more than a dozen homes. The quakes were located near wells where fracking has been ongoing for 20 years.

The mainstream press  reported on studies showing that a 2011 earthquake in central Oklahoma was linked to fracking. One of these was a March, 2013  paper in Geology by scientists at the University of Oklahoma, Columbia University, and the United States Geological Study (USGA),  examined the  correlation between wastewater injection and the 5.7 magnitude earthquake.

A more recent article in the NY Times, online titled as “As Quakes Rattle Oklahoma, Fingers point to Oil and Gas Industry,” gives a bleak and excellent description of the interplay between scientists, citizens, the oil industry, and local politicians.

It mentions some to the earthquakes seen associated with fracking in other states, such as Colorado, New Mexico, Arkansas, and Kansas. Nowhere though, have the earthquakes approached the number and scope of Oklahoma’s, and scientists believe this is because Oklahoma’s main waster disposal site is a bed of porous limestone thousands of feet underground that lies close to the hard and stressed rock that contains faults. The soaked limestone expands and gets heavier, and impacts these faults directly or indirectly, by nearby pressure.

Scientists are speaking out in Oklahoma and elsewhere, but many are unable to hear or deal with the implications of the dangers of fracking. The oil and gas wells bring money to Oklahoma, to corporate owners but also royalties to farmers and landholders and taxes to the state. The oil and gas industry gives millions to Oklahoma universities, a situation that may be an incredible conflict of interest for academic scientists and administrators. Another conflict of interest is that the oil and gas industries are major political contributors to Oklahoma legislators, and to all three elected members of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which oversees many regulatory aspects of fracking. It is estimated that 1 out of 5 jobs in Oklahoma are dependent on the oil and gas industry. It is not a good atmosphere in which to examine and act on data.

Thumb aafracking quote copy 1024

Governor Mary Fallin has named a council to “exchange information” about the tremors.

Activists have been working in Oklahoma to point out the dangers of fracking, but Oklahoma law enforcement has come down hard. In a widely publicized case, activists protested fracking at Devon Energy headquarters in Oklahoma City, and two were charged for enacting a terrorism hoax after hanging two banners with glitter (That’s right! Could have been bioterrorism!) and two were arrested for trespassing.

The state of New York is listening a bit better.

New York state and Governor Cuomo’s administrations’s decision to ban fracking at the end of 2014 are a blueprint for scientists and activists to modify for their own towns and areas. New York was the first state with significant natural gas resources to ban fracking.

New York state under Governor Paterson had a virtual ban on fracking for 6 years while the state studied the health effects of fracking that were being brought up again and again. But communities, worried the state would give in to pressure from energy companies, used zoning laws to ban fracking: this was upheld by the Court of appeals in June, 2014.

When the decision to ban fracking was announced, Dr. Howard A Zucker, the acting state health commissioner, not only said his department had found insufficient scientific evidence to affirm the safety of fracking (itself an unusual decision in a business in which health dangers have to be proven before a ban would be issued), but that he would not want his family to live in a community in which fracking was taking place. His words as a scientist and a community member were quoted widely.

But none of the science would have been acted upon without the many members of activist groups who have been researching, educating, and protesting for the past 6 years. Some see this as a bad thing, a dilution of the science. For example, as described in “Fracking Movement Wins as NY Bans Fracking  in Popular Resistance, Tom Wilber, who writes Shell Gas Review  said, “Science is part of the calculus. But despite what Cuomo would like us to believe, scientists don’t make these kind of decisions. The full equation is Science + politics + policy. Cuomo finally got tired of being hounded on the issue by his political base. The movement in New York against shale gas was relentless and it was focused on him.”

Ecologist and activist Sandra Steingraber, speaking at a victory party after the inauguration of Governor Cuomo talked of the synergy between scientists and activists that was so effective. She described the 400+ peer reviewed scientific articles that documented the danger of fracking, and the citizen activism that brought the data to the public.

“First, you issued invitations to scientists to come into your communities—into your church basements, town halls, middle school gymnasiums, chambers of commerce, and Rotary Clubs. Thus, for a couple years running, some of us PhDs and MDs spent a lot of Friday nights and Sunday afternoons in one small town or another in upstate New York, giving Powerpoint presentations and laying out the data for audiences of common folks and town board members.

“Every church and town hall became a seminar. This cadre of traveling scientists and health professionals included Tony Ingraffea, Bob Howarth, Adam Law, Bill Podulka, Larysa Dyrszka, Kathy Nolan, Mary Menapace, Sheila Buskin, and Yuri Gorby, among many others.

The second way science was disseminated to and by the people was through the public comment process. Do you recall the 30 Days of Fracking “Regs? Remember those days? A few of us laid out the science like a trail of breadcrumbs, and you all followed. In these and other ways, we sent 204,000 well-informed, scientifically grounded comments to Albany. They spoke very loudly.

“Science alone is just a lot of black dots on white mathematical space. Like a musical score that sits on a shelf, it doesn’t become a song until someone picks up the score and sings it. And you sang it! You informed your friends and neighbors about the science and so pushed the needle on public opinion. You changed providence itself.”

Other states are trying to emulate the successful model of the New York State fracking ban. The model must be modified for each state- New York, for example, may not have the shale reserves of other states such as Oklahoma, and resistance by those who profit by the oil and gas industry might be more difficult in more oil-rich states. But it is a useful and inspiring model for scientist citizens.

A list of worldwide bans against fracking, as well as activist tools, can be found at “Keep Tap Water Safe.”  Not all countries are as hesitant as the US in acting on the dangers of fracking. France and Bulgaria have banned it,  as have Wales and Scotland , and Germany has signed off on a draft law to do so .

Of course, the bottom line is that fracking and conventional extraction methods must be sharply minimized, even if they weren’t immediate dangers. British scientists Christophe McGlade and Paul Elkins recently published paper in Nature early this year that strongly suggested that 1/3 of the world’s oil reserves, and half of its gas reserves (as well as over 80% of the coal) must be left in the ground until 2050 to prevent greenhouse gas emissions and the resulting earth warming of 2 degrees Celsius.

It is vital that scientists who either investigate fracking, see the dangers of it through other’s data, or take part in citizen activism, do not accept the judgement of those who deem activism to be contrary to science. Scientists working as citizens with activists are powerful- and that is why criticism is so passionate.

Kathy Barker

April 23, 2015


Update April 24, 2015

Yesterday, the USGA released its first comprehensive analysis of the link between oil and gas operations and thousands of earthquakes in the U.S. ( ). 17 areas were identified in 9 states, and Oklahoma was determined to be the hardest hit. Interestingly, though fracking itself garners most of the press, it is the injection of water to dispose of the waste from drilling or production that is the greatest contributor to earthquakes.

2 days before the report was released to the public, the Oklahoma state government acknowledged the scientific data saying that wastewater disposal linked to oil and gas drilling was to blame for the hundreds-fold (!) increase in earthquakes there.

Update May 5, 2015

An analysis of drinking water from 3 homes in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, found  organic compounds used in shale gas development in wells. The PNAS paper, “Evaluating a groundwater supply contamination incident attributed to Marcellus Shale gas development,” was published on May 4 by scientists from Penn State University, the Leco Corporation, and the Appalachia Hydrogeologic and Environmental Consulting, and used instrumentation not commonly available in commercial labs. This was not an anti-fracking paper: authors suggested that better analysis and management could prevent contamination of aquifers.







Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, research subjects, and lack of universal health care in the USA.


The headline: “Research Partnership Will Seek Human Subjects for Cancer Work.” (Hartocollis, Anemone, The New York Times, Friday, April 3, 2015, p A16-17.)

The happy content: The basic researcher at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) on Long Island are collaborating with North Shore-L.I.J. to access human subjects. What’s not to like?

It is hard to say why this is a news article, as there are already many medical centers that combine basic and clinical research, including Memorial Sloan Kettering in Manhattan. As the article points out, this is exciting especially for the CSHL scientists who are excited to be involved in work that is closer to achieving an actual cure in patients, and to be dealing with patients who are not necessarily white and affluent.

But perhaps it is that the patients are not affluent (translation- may not have health insurance) that this supposedly exciting news is disturbing. And the following sentence from the article says it all:

“Although the researchers will not know the identities of the patients who have given tissue samples, if a breakthrough discovery were made, it would be possible to retrace the identity of the donor and perhaps apply the new knowledge to that person’s treatment.”

This is not good enough. “Perhaps” is not good enough.

People donate their time and their health for the idea of cures, and generally will not receive any personal return. Altruism and wanting to make a difference are wonderful traits, and don’t need a reward. But this is happening in a system in which industries and personal fortunes and jobs are build on the basis of clinical trials, and in which many people do not have good health care. Really, do we want to make the most vulnerable- those sick and without the funds to explore experimental treatments- the only folks in the system who will see no benefit for their sacrifice?

Having a universal health care system where all folks receive health care is the start to ensuring all people will see the benefits of research. Patient information, which is now bought and sold and protected and hoarded as its analysis can potentially yield more insights than experimental manipulation, might also be more readily contributed if everyone had access to emergent treatments.




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 










GMO labeled food, AAAS, Big corporations, and Citizens United

final gmox

“Two States Reject GMO Labeling. Voters in two U.S. states rejected referenda that would have made it mandatory to label genetically modified foods. Measure 92 was narrowly defeated by Oregon voters, while Colorado’s Proposition 105  was rejected by roughly two thirds of voters.”  This is what the 11/12/14 AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) Policy Alert newsletter.  That’s it. 

We know AAAS does not believe GMO foods should be labeled. (See “Statement by the AAAS Board of Directors on Labeling of Genetically Modified Foods “, October 20, 2012.) Their reason is that GMO foods are safe, that FDA policy says labeling is only required if the absence of the information poses a special health or environmental risk, and that is that.

But his issue is not just about risk, and it is disingenuous of AAAS to pretend it is all risk and science. This is a political and ideological issue, and the AAAS’ political and idealogical statement puts in squarely in the camp with Big Food Companies.

The 2010 Supreme Court Citizen’s United decision allowed corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited funds in elections. The effect of this on spending can be seen in the chart, below, in a January 2014 article  in the Washington Post. City and state campaigns are targets of out-of-state organizations and individuals seeking to influence the vote. 

Untitledelection funding

And so food companies, worried that shoppers won’t buy GMO products, pour money into state campaigns seeking to avoid labeling of GMO foods.

In the Colorado measure, the Right to Know campaign raised less than $500,000 dollars, and had no TV or radio ads to promote the Proposition 105 campaign. Monsanto  gave more than 4.7 million dollars itself, and Pepsico and Coco-Cola and other food companies gave a total of 1.9 million. 

In Oregon, the Yes on 92 campaign argued that the public has a right to know whether food contains genetically engineered ingredients, and raised 9 million dollars. The No on 92 Coalition raised 20 million dollars with almost 6 million dollars contributed from Monsanto alone.

AAAS, you’d have a lot more credence with people if you would separate the questionable business and unethical actions of companies such as Monsanto from the science when making a statement. The murky pools of vested interests already obscure what the science is. Make clear the science – but also make clear you do not endorse the machinations of large food companies in influencing elections to maintain profits. It would also help the credibility of AAAS and scientists, in general, to address the known health risks of herbicide overuse caused by plants engineered for herbicide resistance.