Archive | politics

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

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How many scientists have won Nobel Peace Prizes?

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

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

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

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

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

Scientists/Nobel Peace Prize Laureates

Name                                      Year of award                      Science focus

Wangari Maathai                     2004                                      Biologist

Joseph Rotblat                         1995                                       Physicist

Andrei Sakharov                      1975                                       Physicist

Norman Ernest Borlaug        1970                                       Botanist

Linus Carl Pauling                  1962                                       Chemist

(Albert Schweitzer                  1952                                      Physician )

Ralph Bunche                          1950                                      Social Scientist

John Boyd Orr                         1949                                     Physician and Biologist

Jane Addams                           1931                                      Sociologist

Fridtjof Nansen                      1922                                       Zoologist

 

Organization/Nobel Peace Prize                                                               Year

 (Médecins Sans Frontières                                                                         1999)

International Atomic Energy Agency                                                       2005

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)                   2007

International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War              1985

( ) denotes a medical person/organization. 

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

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

The Alternative Nobel Prize- the Right Livelihood Awards

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

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

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

The choices of awardees are not politically “safe.”

Right Livelihood awardees 

Name                                                           Year of Award                       Science Focus

Paul Walker                                                2013                                       Political scientist

(Denis Mukwege                                         2013                                       Physician)

Hans Herrin                                               2013                              Agronomist/entomologist                                     Biovision Foundation

(Sima Samar                                                2012                                       Physician)

Huang Ming                                               2011                                       Engineer

David Suzuki   Honorary                         2009                                       Zoologist

Rene Ngongo                                             2009                                       Biologist

(Catherine Hamlin                                     2009                                       Physician)

(Monika Hauser                                         2008                                        Physician)

Ruth Manorama                                       2006                                        Sociologist

Tony Clarke                                               2005                                        Sociologist

Asghar Ali                                                  2005                                        Engineer 

Raul Montenegro                                     2004                                        Evolutionary Biologist

Walden Bello                                            2003                                         Sociologist

Nicanor Perlas                                          2003                                         Agriculturalist

Ibrahim Abouleish                                  2003                                          Pharmacologist

Martin Green                                           2002                                          Engineer

Tewolde Berhan                                       2000                                         Botanist

Birsel Lemke                                            2000                                          Political scientist

Wes Jackson/The land Institute          2000                                    Geneticist-agronomist

Hermann Scheer                                     1999                                            Social Scientist

Juan Garces                                              1999                                            Political scientist

Samual Epstein                                       1998                                            Physician, Occupational Medicine

Juan Pablo Orrego                                 1998                                             Environmental Scientist

(Katarina Kruhonja                                 1998                                             Physician)

(Vesna Terselic                                         1998                                             Physician)

Jinzaburo Takagi                                    1997                                             Nuclear Chemist

Michael Succow                                      1997                                             Biologist   

(George Vithoulkas                                  1996                                            Homeopathic Physician)                     

Sulak Sivaraksa                                       1995                                             Social Scientist

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

Vandana Shiva                                        1993                                             Physicist

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

John Gofman                                          1992                       Nuclear Chemist and Physician

Edward Goldsmith  Honorary             1991                                             Ecologist/writer  

Bengt Danielsson                                    1991                                             Anthropologist                                                                                                (with Marie-Therese Danielsson)

Melaku Worede                                      1989                                             Agronomist

(Akilu Lemma                                          1989                                             Physician)

(Legesse Wolde-Yohannes                     1989                                            Physician)

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

Jose Lutzenberger 1988 Agronomist

Johan Galtung Honorary                     1987                  Mathematician, Social Scientist

Hans-Peter Durr                                    1987                                             Physicist

Mordechai Vanunu                                1987                            Geographer, philosopher 

Rosalie Bertell                                        1986                  Biometrics, Environmental Health

(Alice Stewart                                          1986                                              Physician)

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

Amory B. Lovins                                    1983                                      Experimental Physicist

Hunter Lovins                                        1983                     Political Scientists and Sociologist

Organization                                                                         Year of Award

Grain International                                                                                      2011
 

Grameen Shakti                                                                                            2007 

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

 

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

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

——
September 24th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.rightlivelihood.org/

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

 

 

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

 

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When should a journal use the enormous power it has?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iain Chalmers: James Lind Library, Oxford, UK

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

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

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

On behalf of 24 signatories.

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

—-

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

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

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

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

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

Horton uses his power.

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

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

Resolutions in professional societies.

Letters to the editor.

Divestment and boycott campaigns.

Talking.

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

Follow- up and activism- April 2015

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

 

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Scientists spoke but no one listened: the Oso landslide

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

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

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

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

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

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

1932       Aerial photographs showed recent slides.

1949       Landslide destroyed nearly half a mile of the riverbank.

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

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

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

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

1990’s     Investigations continued.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Not all scientists will be on your side.

 

 

 

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Physicist William Davidon and the Media FBI break-in

 

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William Davidon was a pleasant Haverford College professor, a theoretical physicist and mathematician, with a wife and children, a home. He was also a committed civil rights (he had taken part in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, for example) and Vietnam war antiwar activist, often arrested for visible and peaceful antiwar protests.

But under the surface of academia and public protest Davidon lived an extreme activist life, only detailed recently in Betty Medsger’s well- written and absolutely significant book, “The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI.” (2014). Davidon was the instigator of the 1971 break-in at the Media, Pennsylvania FBI office, where secret FBI files were stolen and sent to the press (Author Betty Medsger was the first reporter to receive the files) in a pre-Watergate action. The published files were the first step in confirming that J. Edgar Hoover was operating the FBI outside the Constitution with a secret civilian counterintelligence program, “COINTELPRO,” that sought to destabilize anti -war and civil rights groups.

It was a desperate time. In some months, more than 500 American soldiers were killed: by the end, 58,152 American soldiers, 1.1 million Vietnamese soldiers, and 2 million Vietnamese civilians were killed. Nixon had just invaded Cambodia, extending the war further. During that time, the FBI was active in discrediting even Congress people who spoke out against the war. Even protesting the war peacefully could result in violence: 4 students were killed and 9 injured by the Ohio National Guard on the Kent State (Ohio) campus in April, 1970.

Medsger detailed the cruelty and pettiness of the FBI in the face of the civil rights movement, as well. The FBI treatment of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shows the harm the harm Hoover’s FBI was causing the nation. Office break-ins, informers, opening mail, wiretapping, and bugging the office and home and hotel room of King were some of the routine actions done over years. The FBI used information found about King’s extramarital affairs to threaten disclosure and suggested King commit suicide before receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. The FBI knew of threats against King’s life, but deliberately did not inform King of those threats. The details of the FBI’s deliberately induced paranoia and fear was not demonstrated in detail, though, until the Media FBI break-in.

Medsger said it was Davidon’s science-driven love of evidence that spawned the idea of breaking into an FBI office. He wanted proof the agency was spying on protesters, something many had suspected. It was a hunch that the bureaucratically-minded Hoover would document even the FBI’s illegal actions (Finley 2014)

Davidon approached committed activists he had worked with, and whom he thought likely to join him in a break-in  of the local FBI office in Media as an act of resistance. Though all had worked with the Catholic Peace Movement, only one was Catholic, 3 were Protestants, 4 were Jews. They ranged in age from 20 to 44. There were 3 women and 5 men. Several were professors, one was a daycare worker, another a social worker, one a graduate student, one a cab driver. Several had put their careers on hold to deal with what they saw as a political crisis. He was proud of his team. (One member would drop out a few days before the burglary took place, and would later consider turning the other members in.)

Though they all worked with other equally-committed activists, they told no one of their plans. They picked the day- March 8, 1971- because it was the night of the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier heavyweight title match, and many, many Americans (including, they hoped, local policemen) would be tied to their television sets. They talked on the phone as if they were being listened to (and only found out many years later that most phone conversations were being tapped). For several months before the set date, they studied the movement of traffic and people on the surrounding streets, the movement of people in the offices, the local transportation access point, the closing times of stores and bars and restaurants, and more, and only then set the hours for the burglary. They learned to pick locks from library books. One of the members, Bonnie Raines, pretended to be a college student doing research on a local project, and visited the office, taking note of the location of closets, files, and doors, and to see if there was an alarm system.

The night before the burglary, Davidon rented a car (his wife needed the family car that night) and a motel room near the FBI office to use as a staging area. The next day, he and everyone else went to work, as usual.

Then they broke into the Media FBI office.

The break-in didn’t start auspiciously, for there were 2 locks, and one for which the group lock breaker had no tool. He left, and returned, with the burglary already off schedule, but still coordinated with the fight. 4 members went inside and loaded suitcases with files, with a decoy member and the get-away cars outside. The group still didn’t know if they actually had any worthwhile files. They transferred the files to another car, and met at a small Quaker conference center about 40miles northwest of Philadelphia. They read, analyzed, and prepared the files for distribution to the press for the next 10 days. They knew, within an hour, that they had the information they needed. In a newsletter prepared for FBI agents, they read that agents were advised “to enhance the paranoia..and…get the point across that there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox.” Medsger p 108

When it was time to notify the press, 2 members of the group read a press release to a reporter from a phone booth on the northwest side of town, near Chestnut Hill. The documents were packaged for mailing, and the day before the last package was prepared, the group met for the last time and agreed that none of them would tell anyone what had happened.

The packages were sent to various politicians and journalists and the firestorm began that caused the Senate to investigate and castigate the FBI, reducing its powers.

 

-The Media Files

-Carl Stern’s (Stern was a legal affairs reporter for NBC) multi-year investigation and report on the nature of COINTELPRO.

-Assistant Attorney General Henry Peterson’s Department of Justice report on the FBI’s watered down files.

-Watergate revelations about the manipulation of intelligence agencies by the Nixon administration.

-New York Time reporter Seymour Hersh’s story on the CIA’s domestic operations against anti-war protesters.

-Congressional investigation/ Church Committee (and censure) of the FBI and other intelligence groups.

 

And the group never met together again. For months and years, the robbery was investigated, and several members lived in fear. Several never acted as activists again. Davidon never stopped.

Davidon’s activism started with the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as he recognized the potential for total annihilation at the hands of power-hungry leaders. Over the years, his activism increased and he gave public talks with other physicists about the danger of nuclear power.

He did consider silencing his protests after the Cuban Missile Crisis, and moving to New Zealand to focus on research and scholarship- but decided to remain at Haverford College and intensify his activism, not returning to theoretical physics until after the Vietnam War.

“Davidon thinks the silence of his generation after World War II, especially in the 1950’s, diminished an impotent part of the American spirit- the impulse to question and to understand what the government is doing in the name of its citizens. He sees a sad irony in the fact that many of the people who made up what became known a few decades later as the Greatest Generation were largely silent when leading American officials- Senator Joseph McCarthy and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover among them- labeled citizens who questioned government policies as un-American in the 1950s and early 1960’s. His generation’s silence, he thinks, created a habit of silence that by 1964 contributed to the fact that most Americans accepted without question the major decision by the administration of President Lyndon Johnson to send troops to Vietnam” Medsger p 439

Davidon continued his activism against the Vietnam war after the Media break in. In March, 1972, he was part of a group that made a local shipment of bombs in York County, Pennysylvania inoperable; this was done not ably to reduce the destruction destruction of Vietnam, but to point out to locals that their local economy depended on the production of weapons. In April, 1972, he and 44 other Philadelphia antiwar activists in aluminum canoes and light rowboats blockaded the munitions ship USS Nitro in Sandy Hook Bay, NJ. Some members were arrested, but Davidon was not, and he was not questioned in the March or May 1972 actions. In May, 1972, he helped to sabotage 3 Air Force jets on Memorial Day at the Willow Grove Naval Air Station by cutting electrical and hydraulic lines and painting BREAD NOT BOMBS on the exterior of one of the planes.

These were dangerous actions that could have resulted in many, many years of prison time. He regretted later that he never really thought through the implications of his actions on his family- yet he also thinks that contemplating the possible impact of one’s actions could lead to refusing to take risk. He believed a life should be useful, and that decreasing opposition to the Vietnam war would encourage Nixon and his advisors to think that people didn’t care- and here, he could be, and was, of great use. Medsger details how much Davidon disliked the idea of breaking and entering, of destroying property, of risking personal confrontation with  guards, with deception- but “he hated the escalation of war more.”

Though an FBI investigation did not find who had committed the break-in (the FBI did interview some of the group, but did not charge anyone) Betty Medsger, after receiving papers from the FBI break-in, continued to investigate the story while she still worked at the Washington Post, and after she left. Unexpectedly, while having dinner with two friends from Philadelphia- Bonnie and John Raines- those friends lightly told her that they had been part of the Media break-in. It was decades past the time when they could be prosecuted, Medsger talked them into telling their story and finding the other members. They found 7 of the 8 members. All agreed to participate and tell their stories, though only 5 agreed to be publicly identified.

Davidon spoke quite openly (and, in fact, had already mentioned his part in the break-in to Patrick Catt in 1997) and agreed to be identified, but did not live to see the publication of Medsger’s book, or the wonderful media attention the book, and the actual break-in, received. He died on November 8, 2013, of Parkinson’s disease.

So, in the face of such heroism, where does one start to be effective? One of the first actions Davidon did as a graduate student was to write (with a group of colleagues) a letter in response to an article in the New York Times by science writer Walter Sullivan about the role of natural uranium. (Catt 1997)

Davidon tried to keep his scientific and activism lives apart, but the two lives were quite entwined. He did feel some pressure from Haverford faculty, one of whom lamented that he would be getting more work done if he weren’t politically active. But he received tenure, with the understanding that a gap in his publications was due to a focus on activist work. In the last class of the year for his physics and math classes, he would devote the period to talk about nuclear weapons and the dangers they presented.

It has not escaped our notice that the activism of Edward Snowdon and Chelsea Manning has been similarly disturbing and effective.

1971 FBI burglary 211x300

 

 

The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI. Betty Medsger. 2014. Alfred A. Knopf, New York

 http://theburglary.com  Website for the book, reviews, etc

Interview of [Dr. William Davidon] by [Patrick Catt on [July 11, 1997],
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA, http://www.aip.org/history/ohilist/32356.html

Burglars Who Took On F.B.I. Abandon Shadows. Mark Mazzetti, January 7, 2014. The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/07/us/burglars-who-took-on-fbi-abandon-shadows.html?_r=0 

Recalling Haverford professor’s role in 1971 FBI break-in. Ben Finley. January 14, 2014. The Inquirer. http://articles.philly.com/2014-01-14/news/46153180_1_fbi-agent-burglars-engineering-professor 

Burglars who took on FBI abandon shadows. Mark Mazetti  The New York Times, January 7   2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/07/us/burglars-who-took-on-fbi-abandon-shadows.html?_r=0

What new revalations about the Media, PA FBI break-in teach us about intelligence reform today   Slate  Beverly Gage  January 9, 2014. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/history/2014/01/media_pa_fbi_break_in_revelations_what_we_can_learn_from_them_about_intelligence.html

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Chemist Bob Boikess: Condoleeza Rice should not give the Rutgers Commencement address

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Bob Boikess, Rutgers University organic chemist, was instrumental in preventing Condoleeza Rice, Secretary of State under George W. Bush,  from speaking at the Rutgers University Spring 2014 commencement.

The Board of Governor’s of Rutgers University voted in February, 2014, to award an honorary Doctor of Laws degree to Condoleeza Rice, and invited her to give the Commencement speech (and receive $35,000).

Organic Chemistry Professor Bob Boikess introduced a resolution to the Rutgers University New Brunswick Faculty Council that they urge the University’s Board of Governors to rescind its invitation to speak at Commencement because of Rice’s involvement in the Iraq War. The Faculty Council approved the resolution on March 2.

But Rutgers officials refused to rescind the invitation to Ms. Rice. But the faculty resolution, and the refusal of Rutgers to disinvite Ms. Rice, was publicized in newspapers and social media across the country.

The students requested meetings with the Rutgers administration, wrote letters, filed petitions, submitted op-eds in the local and national press, but the administration refused to meet with them. Approximately 160 held a student sit-in on April 28 at the Old Queens administration building to protest Rice’s invitation. Rutgers President Robert Barchi still refused to meet with the students or to respond to letters.

Karl Rove, Senior Advisor and Chief of Staff for George Bush, objected publicly to the treatment of Rice by faculty and students, and called the Rutgers faculty and Boikess out as a “nutty organic chem professor” on Fox News, saying that the pressure against Rice was “politically motivated, poetically aimed, ideologically driven and stupid.” “Shame of the little totalitarians on the left and their faculty agent who perpetuated this.”

On May 3 Ms. Rice informed Rutgers President Robert Barchi that she had decided not to give the Commencement address.

There have been repercussions for Boikess through mail, email, and phone hate messages. His scientific “objectivity” (Aren’t we yet done with the idea that this is possible?) has been questioned, as has his science. Many faculty and students have publicly disagreed with the Faculty Senate action. But Boikess has been an activist all his life, and hate and criticism are part of the package, not important in the bigger scheme of things. The verbal attack by Karl Rove was actually a positive in the eyes of Boikess’ friends and family.

“I’m certainly not personally offended because I learned a very long time ago to ‘always consider the source,’” he said in an interview by Politico. “the senior advisor to arguably the worst president in American history is not a very reliable source.”

Boikess has been an activist since his teens, with a commitment to social justice. He was brought up to be an activist, but was only really propelled into activism by the U.S. war on Vietnam. His activism has taken different forms.

At Stony Brook University, during the duration of the Vietnam War, he was overtly antiwar. For example, when recruiters from Dow Chemical (the manufacturers of napalm) came to the Stony Brook campus to offer deferments to those who took jobs with them, Boikess and Dr. Goldfarb, both members of the Chemistry department and the Organization for Progressive Thought, held a class to discuss the chemical structure of napalm and its effects on people. While at Stony Brook, he also was also invoked in the court decision Boikess vs Aspland, which concerned faculty privacy.

He practiced academic activism through various positions in the University Senate and other campus organizations and committees. He participated in the Student Judicial process and was an advisor to several student organizations. He was also active in the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), a group that functions as a union as well as a foundation and a professional organization. That Boikess is is obviously a committed member of the community and a full participant in university life has no doubt helped in being taken seriously as being someone with more than a personal agenda, and has served perhaps as some protection.

He is involved in Big Pharma and climate change issues, in which his expertise as a scientist is part of the the activism. Most of his activism has not stemmed from his research, but has gone on- side by side- with his scientific work. Bob does not feel that activism has helped or hindered in his scientific career. But he does recommend that scientists wait until after tenure to really get into activism mostly because activism takes so much time.

Bob’s bottom line for young scientists who are considering taking on controversial issues-

“If you don’t do and say what you believe to be right, you’ll regret it later.”

May 28, 2014 email interview

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Margaret Palmer: Actionable Science

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Stream bed restoration and watershed preservation, testimony in a federal court on the harm done by mountain top removal of coal, an appearance on the Colbert Report in January, 2010: in a fantastic article by Erik Stokstad in Science (Science 343: 592-595, February 7, 2014), you can read about the career and life of Margaret Palmer. Save the article to read again for inspiration. 

That article brought me to interview Margaret, with a focus on her activism and advice for other scientists. But Erik’s Stokstad’s article, with its coverage of the reasons for and complexities of Margaret’s activism, reads as a primer for the ups and downs of a scientific life entwined with politics and policy.

Margaret Palmer received her Ph.D. in coastal oceanography, but soon shifted her work to streams and now runs a laboratory on stream bed restoration at the University of Maryland. This work led her to documenting the effect of the mountain top removal of coal upon streams, and into the political mire of competing interests in the environment. She is now also the director of the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center in Annapolis.

In an institute named the “National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center,” (SESYNC) you might assume that activism is an important component of work and research. You would be right. But the balancing act between maintaining scientific credibility in stream bed research while being involved with political and legal protection of the environment is a constant personal challenge, even with institutional credibility.

SESYNC and Margaret’s science are run separately, funded separately, and have different purposes that must be transparent in order for all participants to retain integrity.

Around 1995, NSF first put out an RFP for restoration studies: rather than observation, which had been the core of ecology, NSF would now fund experimentation on ecological solutions. This itself was controversial, as how ecology even defined natural systems was not seen as a social construct open to interpretation. Timing was crucial, though, and as the changing environment was noted more and more by scientists an citizens, the wall between science and public action was lowered.

 Collaborators Margaret, John Cramer, and Jim Boyd recognized the role of social dynamics in environmental outcomes, and convinced NSF to fund an experimental program that would integrate public input with scientific results. SESYNC is a unique core program, funded by NSF (National Science Foundation)  to help the external community do actionable science. They would fund actionable science.

Note the use of the word “actionable.” “Activism” and “advocacy” are still seen as subjective and therefore, unscientific. “Applied” is palatable, but while it includes the public in outcome, it does not consider the public to be part of application.  Every proposal at SESYNC must include and describe consideration of the end user. Yet the federal government, and government organizations such as NSF, do not fund activism, so language must be considered. And boundaries made.

The center does not prohibit advocacy. But Margaret feels she must be careful about activism beyond the actionable science. Though her heart might be there, she does not go to rallies or fundraisers that promote causes she believes in. Participation in overt advocacy or activism could be used against what she sees as her place of highest effectiveness- testifying for science. And with her eyes on the outcomes she wants, she must be effective.

One of the ways Margaret tries to maintain actionability versus advocacy to is deliver the results of analysis without suggesting a particular action- that is, to say “if x is done, y is likely to occur, ” rather than “you need to do/not do x.” But In spite of the care to keep the activism out of actionable science, there are risks, especially to funding from NGO and non-profit organizations, who may see implied criticism of their policies in data. Because of her actionable science, and the perception that she must then be biased, Margaret has been disqualified from being on professional teams such as EPA panels, exclusions that can hurt a scientist’s career.

Staying professional publicly can mean masking personal views. Only once, on a panel at Brigham Young University, did Margaret give her truest answer to the question, “Why do you do what you do?” She answered simply, “I really care about the earth and about our future.” Being in nature, Margaret feels, is deep need not only for herself, but for many humans, and she does not want to see that destroyed.

Advice for activists:

You may not be able to be an activist early in your career. It takes a great deal of time, and will take time away from your science. Academics and academia are conservative, and there is generally no reward system for scientists doing activism or even actionable science. So, in order to be an effective science-activist, be sure you are an effective scientist.

Keep up your science. This is what gives you credibility in the activist world as well as in the scientific arena.

 Consider where you can be most effective! This is outstandingly important advice. What is the outcome you want? Choose the path and tools you need for that outcome.

Make the most of your opportunities. The 6 or so minutes on the Colbert show  brought notice (negative and positive) and funders. Many scientists are worried about saying something wrong, but any activism will involve communication, and you can find, for any medium, advice and suggestion for effectiveness. Even negative notoriety can be leveraged into positive interpretations.

Have a thick skin and look for resources to protect yourself. Any involvement with politics can bring very personal attacks, as opponents try to discredit you to reduce your effectiveness. Through the Freedom of Information Act (FOYA), lawyers for the mining industry requested not only Margaret’s emails, but documents such as reviews written  by in response to Margaret’s journal submissions. You do need advice and protection.

(All of your emails, even your personal accounts, can be requested. So telling the truth in all communications is good both morally and strategically!)

The University of Maryland seemed proud of Margaret’s activism, but they did not protect her against the attacks by the coal mining industries during court testimony days- they protected themselves. This is what universities do, so don’t take that personally, either. Margaret found support through PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) (http://www.peer.org), an alliance of state and federal legal and communication experts who protect employees who work on environmental issues.

Look for non-profits to work with also in non-crisis mode as collaborators. Non-profits want scientists to work with them, but don’t know how to find them. Don’t wait for an invitation, but contact organizations who share a mindset or mission with you.

I would add that working with or within an organization such as SESYNC can greatly give a mantle of actionable science (an thus, trust for some agencies) that advocacy/activism does not. Scientists working in traditional environments have no way to fund and publicize actionable science, and so all efforts will be activism to the world. It is very difficult to be a lone and effective activist, and it might be impossible.

April 2, 2014 interview.

 

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Notoriety pays: Cliff Mass

Cliff mass 1 Influenced by mentors Carl Sagan and Steve Sneider, University of Washington atmospheric meteorologist Cliff Mass has always happily considered himself to be an activist. As a university professor, he already saw himself as more than a scientist in being an educator. His list of outreach activities- and especially, his very public firing by radio station KUOW – has made him quite well known in Seattle.

The reasons Cliff was fired are political and comical.

For 15 years, Cliff had a segment on public radio station KUOW, where he gave the weather forecast and discussed Pacific Northwest weather, climate, and education-related topics. His show had a large following, and audience response to his descriptions of the need for coastal radar played a large role in the establishment of that system. But then Cliff made a big mistake- he spoke about math.

Through the years, he had notice a diminution of math skills in the K-12 schools and in entering freshman at the university, which he blamed partially on the discovery math curricula that was recommended by many Schools of Education, including the University of Washington School of Education. The problem here was that the University of Washington School of Education was a big donor to KUOW. So KUOW issued a no-math warning.

Cliff complied reluctantly, having other avenues (such as a popular blog) where he could discuss math. But on another show, a Seattle Times article about the rejection of in-state A student applicants (the University of Washington is a state university) in favor of higher-paying out-of-state students came up. As a faculty member who was an undergraduate advisor with colleagues on the admissions committee, Cliff knew this urban legend to be untrue, and said so. And the next day, he was fired, primed by speaking out about math. You can read Cliff’s account of this here. http://cliffmass.blogspot.com/2011/05/no-more-weather-on-kuow-weekday.html

Another radio station, KPLU, picked up Cliff’s segment, and there he enjoys free rein of expression and a larger audience. Another windfall is that many people cancelled donations to KUOW, sending them instead to Cliff, for his lab, or to KPLU. He is yet better known, and this notoriety can be very, very useful.

True citizen, Cliff is constantly involved in one civic issue after another, often controversial. As part of his crusade for better math education, Cliff has worked on the elections of 3 pro-math Seattle Public Schools board member elections, and has seen all 3 candidates win despite money poured into opponents’ elections by business interests in town.

He is also activist in his field, speaking out publicly on science issues. Early in his career he began advocating for better weather prediction in the USA, which was seen as criticism of NOAA. On April 1, H.R. 2413, The Weather Forecasting Improvement Act passed a vote in the House of Representatives and has gone to the Senate, a gratifying and long-coming result.

While a believer in anthropogenic climate change, Cliff is outraged that many people, including scientists, overhype and overstate data, and has publicly dissected scientific literature that exaggerate the data. He is particularly annoyed at scientists and media who attribute specific weather events to long term climate change. (See http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/07/15/texas-tall-tales-and-global-warming/ on the Texas heatwave and  http://cliffmass.blogspot.com/2011/06/scary-snowpack-stories.html on snowpack association with climate change.)

“Careers are made and lots of research money comes to the ‘right’ position,” he says. “And the media loves global warming. But if you don’t know the facts, you can’t fight it. It isn’t worth it to do the right thing with the wrong information.”

An unfortunate side of Cliff’s responses to exaggeration is that climate change deniers quote him to demonstrate lack of scientific consensus on climate change, or even as a disbeliever. But being as honest and accurate trumps the occasional misuse of words.

(This is a very important point, and I like Cliff’s take on it. Many scientists refuse to speak with media representatives, as they fear being misquoted. This is a shortsighted fear of little actual significance. Your credibility can ultimately be more hurt by staying silent.)

Still, Cliff says, you have to protect yourself, and you can’t let activism get in the way of developing your career. He advises academics to get tenure before taking on too much controversy. Universities can, as Cliff’s did, put pressure on a faculty member because of their own vested interests, and won’t always protect their faculty in public conflicts.

Update: On June 3rd, Cliff’s choice for elementary school curriculum was voted in by the School Board, throwing over the District choice.

 

 

 

 

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Obituary: Lee Lorch, mathematician and civil rights activist

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

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

His crimes….

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

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

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

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

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

A magnificent life.

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

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

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Why science is telling us all to revolt…

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Mention “capitalism” in a group of scientists, and most will grow uncomfortable. Scientists do not learn about the history of science and its relationship to economics in graduate school, and many scientists believe their profession to be untouched by the policies that affect the rest of the world. Canadian writer and activist Naomi Klein, author of “The Shock Doctrine,” herself an environmental activist, wonderfully sees that environmental scientists are moving beyond the bench and ivory tower to broadcast and exhort action on climate change as well as the economic underpinnings of that change.

It won’t be polite and pretty, but Klein argues that change cannot happen without activist scientists who connect personal and policy decisions to the pure science of climate change.

As Klein points out in her article, there have always been scientists who have gone beyond academic avenues to protest policies and urge change. But this has generally been in reaction to a particular event. In her article, “Why Science is Telling All of Us to Revolt and Change Our Lives Before We Destroy the Planet,” Klein highlights geophysicist Brad Werner of the University of California, San Diego and climate scientists Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows-Larkin of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the U.K. as scientists who speaking out not only on the effects of climate change, but on the underlying politics that must be changed if the world is to be saved.

Bows-Larkin and Anderson believe we have lost the chance for gradually cutting CO2 emissions, and must drastically reduce energy consumption now by at least 10% a year to even have a 50-50 chance of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius (an increase of 2 percent Celsius has been predicted to be the threshold for climate catastrophe). A 10 % reduction a year has not occurred since the 1929 Depression: After the 2008 crash of Wall Street, emissions were reduced by 7% and only for 2 years before rebounding. The impact of such cuts on the developing world  could destroy communities, and finding ways to handle the inequities of the impact of needed CO2 emission cuts must also be considered. These drastic cuts cannot occur with capitalism as it is now structured.

They fault other climate scientists for not speaking strongly and realistically enough to get across either the scientific predictions of climate change, or the economic and political steps that will be needed to reduce CO2 emissions.

In a recent interview with Amy Goodman on “Democracy Now!,” Anderson and Bows-Larkin further document what a 2 degree Celsius increase in temperature would look like- the loss of sea corals, an increase in flooding and droughts. But they also point out that the continued increase in emissions is on target to cause not a 2, but a 4 degree Celsius increase in temperature, and that a 4 degree increase would result in a 30% reduction in wheat and rice yields at low latitudes, and 80 cm sea rise that would be devastating for coastal communities. Swings of temperatures would bring even more temperatures, so we are looking at temperatures approximately 10 degrees warmer in New York and Chicago, which would wreck havoc with area ecosystems.

To even hope to reduce emissions, we cannot wait for low carbon energy supplies such as wind and solar to be in place. We are out of time. We must, Bows-Larkin and Anderson say, reduce consumption immediately, and scientists must speak out and be absolutely clear about climate predictions, and what it takes to mitigate them. They must communicate with the public, with politicians, in traditional and non-tradtitional ways, no matter what it takes.

Furthermore, scientists must also realize they they, too, must cut back with their own consumption. One example Anderson gives for scientists is to cut down on their work plane flights: Anderson himself traveled to China from the U.K. to do a lecture tour in Manchester by train. As he points out, it is not just the train emissions versus plane emissions, but the constant lifestyle choices of flying around the world, taking taxis instead of public transport, doing and spending to  save time and add comfort.

“We do not have to keep flying around the world in a sort of old-fashioned, colonial style. You know, here’s the great white hope, the great white males from the rich parts of the world, flying around to the poor parts of the world, telling them how they should be living their lives, “ said Anderson.

No one wants to hear or believe that is isn’t enough to advocate that others cut down on travel, or to rationalize that we are doing our part because of the work we do. Scientists are not entitled to be exempted from the hard work of reducing energy consumption. None of us can wait until policies change, but we all need to make individual lifestyle changes to reduce damage to the world.

“How Science Is Telling Us All to Revolt.” Naomi Klein. The New Statesman, October 29, 2013. http://www.newstatesman.com/2013/10/science-says-revolt

“We Have To Consume Less”: Scientists Call for Radical Economic Overhaul to Avert Climate Crisis. Amy Goodman. Democracy Now! December 9, 2013. http://www.democracynow.org/2013/11/21/we_have_to_consume_less_scientists

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