Academia is twitching with activism

Campuses are coming alive. Finally.

 

It’s been happening all along, but almost 5 years after Occupy, several years after protests against college endowment investments in fossil fuel companies and spirited boycott and divestment programs against Israel and its occupation of Palestine, and less than year after Black Lives Matter went from a hashtag to a movement, 

students and faculty at colleges and universities are moving to change harmful and racist behavior.

 

It has been easy for mainstream press to dismiss Occupy, as there haven’t been national policy changes that can easily be attributed to Occupy. But the local movements were hugely empowering, and participants have become committed and skilled members of other campaigns. For example, scientist Jess Spear of Occupy Seattle was successful as head of a campaign for the implementation of a $15.00 minimum wage, a movement that is itself now sweeping the country.

 

Over the past few years, more and more campuses protested environmental problems

 This April, for example, there was a standoff at Washington University against Peabody Oil and a week-long sit-in at Harvard to call for disinvestment of the endowment from fossil fuel companies. Students at Stanford just began an indefinite sit-down protest against the slow pace of its divestment of its 22.2 BILLION dollar endowment fund from fossil fuel companies. 13 universities or their foundations have divested from fossil fuels.

Black Lives Matter  is started as a hashtag in protest of brutal police actions against African Americans, and is now a movement with 26 chapters in the USA, and protests about racism on campus are growing.

 

Students at Occidental College are asking that the president step down as part of their demands to counter sexism and racism on campus, and students at Amherst have delivered a list of demands to administration to deal with racism. Protests have led to resignations. The dean of Claremont McKenna College resigned this month after students protested treatment of low-income and minority students , as did the President of the Univeristy of Missouri for racist policies. Protests at Yale as well as the University of Missouri have led to mixed reactions, of course. 

It’s happening.

0

Geoffrey Marcy, John Johnson, and the bystander culture of scientists

last copyIt happened again- but it turns out that it has been happening for a while.  And everyone knew it was.

Berkeley astronomer Geoff Marcy was found guilty of sexual harassment in June, and his punishment, should it happens again, is that he could be suspended or dismissed. (He is getting well-earned though delayed social flack from his community.)

Does it matter that Geoff Marcy is a superstar astronomer? Of course it does. It makes his actions far more insidious, and the protection granted him far more hideous and deliberate. It also doesn’t matter that he half-apologized (“While I do not agree with each complaint that was made, it is clear that my behavior was unwelcome by some women…” ) in a letter posted on his Berkeley webpage, still not admitting what he had done but apologizing only for the perceptions others may have of his actions.

One of his protectors, Marcy’s former student and now Harvard astronomy professor, John Johnson, blogged of the community knowledge of Marcy’s behavior in the astronomy field and his own reaction:

“In 2013 I received tenure. Leading up to my tenure decision, I decided that I would use my position, voice and male privilege to finally do something about the open secret—Geoff’s long con of holding the community in fear to provide himself cover to continue harassing our junior female colleagues. Yes, I have greatly benefited from Geoff’s letters over the years. But his publication record shows that he has benefitted from my scientific productivity. In 2013 I figured we were square, and I effectively ended our 13-year collaboration.

“I’m ashamed that I didn’t speak out sooner. I hate that academia’s power structure, which allows a single phone call from a senior member to sink a person’s career, so often forces junior people into silence for fear of losing their jobs. For this reason I am in awe of the bravery of the women who spoke out all the more; they were far braver than I and other male astronomers have been over the years.”

This apology is as supercilious as Marcy’s. It may be worse. It doesn’t appear he reported his mentor, but mentally decided to not support Marcy any longer. Johnson rationalized, blaming “academia’s power structure” for his own lack of will. Bizarrely, in some weird rationalization, he could only not support Marcy after he had paid some imaginary academic debt as a point of honor. Did he owe nothing to his woman colleagues? His actions with his colleagues’ actions were as harmful to their careers as were Marcy’s.

(My reply to Johnson’s post was never published on his website.)

It sounds as if a whole lot of people in astronomy should be ashamed of themselves.

Read Harriet Washington’s “Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present” to remind yourself of the results of compliance with wrongdoing and with turning a blind eye to abuses of power.

Harassment can be shocking and unrecognizable. If you are trying to find help, check out Joan Schmalz’s Women in Astronomy blog post “Advice: Dealing with discrimination and harassment.”

See Athene Donald’s blogpost for a list of everyday things to look out for and act on- before you have an escalated situation.

Be in the habit of speaking the truth.

 

 

 

 

 

0

Tim Hunt and Alice Huang: Power, sex, and business as usual.

 

Image 1

So a Nobel Prize winner goes to the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul, and says at lunch:

“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls … three things happen when they are in the lab … You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry.” 

and added that he was “in favour of single-sex labs” but “doesn’t want to stand in the way of women.” He also described himself as a chauvinist pig .

Tim Hunt was forced to resign from his honorary post at University College London after a world-wide storm of publicity.

8 Nobel Prize winners and the mayor of London  came to his defense, several saying that the firing of Hunt was a blow against academic freedom. Sir Andre Geim, who shared the Nobel with Hunt, said that Hunt had been crucified by ideological fanatics.

Idealogical fanatics? Right, that equality issue is so far out there that only a fanatic would defend it.

Hunt’s self-serving defense suggested he knew was trying in his way to be honest but spoke too lightly, felt badly, but he gave no indication that he understood why people were bothered.

“I did mean the part about having trouble with girls. It is true that people – I have fallen in love with people in the lab and people in the lab have fallen in love with me and it’s very disruptive to the science because it’s terribly important that in a lab people are on a level playing field.”

It is true that people fall in love in the lab. Hunt met his wife, Mary Collins, when he supervised her at Cambridge. Scientists meet scientists in labs, but when one is the boss, and male, there is not likely to be a level playing field.

The Hunt debacle followed by only a few weeks another media firestorm, centered around Alice Huang. Huang, who served in many scientific and administrative positions, writes a column for Science Careers. A postdoc wrote to ask advice about her advisor, who continually tried to look down her shirt. Huang answered with a little riff about how good it is that there are people of the opposite sex in labs, and that the behavior of the advisor was common but did not rise to the definition of sexual harassment.

Huang then advised the postdoc to take it with good humor, to be sure her advisor listened to her ideas and her science, and ended by saying, “His attention on your chest may be unwelcome, but you need his attention on on your science and his best advice.”

Yes, she does, but this sounds a lot like “put up and shut up,” a real disappointment in view of Huang’s usual strong positions in favor of gender equality in the lab. And while there was a fuss and so many complaints that Science removed the article , the level of discontent came nowhere reaching the magnitude of the reaction that Hunt’s remarks did. Much of the anger seemed to be directed against AAAS and Science for removing the article.

Huang apologized for putting AAAS and Science in the firing line, and said she was trying, in view of all the harassment she had seen, to give a realistic response. She said she intends to take reader’s comments and write another column.

What were Hunt and Huang thinking, to say what they said? Did they think it was okay?

Perhaps Hunt was thinking…Look, love in the lab is tough on everyone. I myself didn’t deal well with it, and didn’t always deal well with women. They caused me inconvenience. It may have cost them more than that, and that isn’t fair. (But he didn’t say that.)

Maybe Huang was thinking….Look, it is absolutely wrong that your advisor is staring at your chest. But frankly, there isn’t much you can do that isn’t going to put you in a worse position if you complain. It isn’t right, and we need to find a way to deal with situations that seem petty but could change someone’s career. (But she didn’t say that.)

Huang’s and Hunt’s remarks show the still-present sexism and the penalty women pay to be in the lab. But I think Huang’s remark, though better-intentioned and less-selfish, caused much more harm. It seems to be an admission of hopelessness.

That postdoc should be able to say- with the humor Huang recommends- Hey, please stop looking at my breasts. And the advisor should be able to say- Gosh, I am sorry, that is so rude! It won’t happen again! So, let’s look at those results…..and he would never mention it again, or act resentful, or withdraw, or be passive-aggressive. Or look at her chest.

The most likely thing that would happen if the postdoc speaks up is that the advisor makes the atmosphere so uncomfortable that the postdoc must seek another work situation. If she wants to remain in the lab and wants a good recommendation, she has to keep her mouth shut.

There are no structures in academia that do not bow to power, usually male. That is what Huang should have mentioned. This needs to be changed. Lab heads in power probably could use some emotional and social counseling. 

Huang also met her husband, Nobel-prize winning David Baltimore, through research, and he was her supervisor at the Salk and at MIT. Did this make for an even playing field for others in the lab? If not, would there be a way to quietly seek justice? Will it remain that the person with the lesser power will always have to move labs or projects or universities?

Both Hunt’s and Huang’s remarks indicate the reality of what many lab heads  feel about their female lab members. But Huang’s remarks, with her advice that will keep the good old boy system in place, is much more harmful. I hope she dedicates a column to heads of labs.

—–

So, what can one do, for oneself, and to change the culture so people can talk more openly about sexism and power and the sometimes abuse of human and always present sexual attraction?

Know who you are and what your boundaries are. Know the implications of breaking those boundaries, no matter what your position. To those in creative careers, even the concept of boundaries is anathema, but without universal self-awareness and openness, boundary-breaking ends up getting handled by policy and regulation. Human Resource (HR) representatives are the usual mediators. But don’t substitute mediation for being thoughtful and clear about your own actions.

If you are in theposition of the postdoc who wrote to Huang, go talk to your Human Resources rep. Abuse of power, as all abuse, thrives in secrecy. It could be that the particular chest-gazer has already generated complaints, and you will be validated, and won’t be questioning your sanity for being troubled by what everyone is telling you is a minor issue.

It is also good to get another opinion, see what another person’s reaction would be, and to find whether  HR and your institution will back you up.

Your goal, presumably, is to have a solid professional relationship with your advisor. HR can help guide you through a conversation that is direct, calm, and still non-confrontational.

(Of course, if there is blatant harassment and you have reason to worry that your position in that lab is in jeopardy, document even before you go to HR.)

Keeping silent about something that is wrong will sap your confidence in science as well as the rest of your personal life.

If you are the advisor, and a postdoc comes to you with a complaint, listen. Really listen. Avoid an emotional reaction- you might not even have known you did/do anything. Apologize. You might not be ready to apologize for something you don’t think you did, yet an apology with reservations is no apology at all: try something such as “I am shocked to hear that, and I will make sure I am always careful not to compromise our professional relationship.”

You, too, as a lab head, should go to HR and report on that conversation, and whether or not you feel it is justified.

Sexual attraction is part of life and lab, but you are abusing your position when you mix that with the power advantage you have.

As the person in power, you can simply not engage if one of your advisees crosses a boundary. Speak to HR for advice before a conversation.

And if you are the HR rep, or chairperson, or dean, who is handed the problem, face it as you would face a charge of racism. There are various cultural reasons why someone might be sensitized to even a look from a supervisor: there are certainly embedded cultural reasons why some folks will not believe it matters. Even small happenings deserve your input- and don’t let someone’s Nobel Prize get in the way of having a difficult conversation.

Update: A Buzzfeed article reported on a letter to Science and AAAS, written by Aradhna Tripoli and Jennifer Glass, and signed by 600 academics. The letter detailed 4 issues with Science: Huang’s column, above; a Science cover and its implied assumptions of HIV transmission among transgendered people, prostitutes, and people of color; ScienceCareer editor Jim Austin’s dismissive tweet about scientists upset about the Science cover, and an article by a scientist at the University of Toronto and his casual mention that he did well because his wife assumed domestic duties.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

0

Stop researching: We know what works for healthcare.

 

Document

“Research ethics and health care reform”, a stunning letter written by James Kahn, a professor in Health Policy and Epidemiology University of California, and Paul Hofmann, president of the Hofmann Health Group with a Ph.D. in Public Health, was published in the June 19th issue of Science.

Bottom line of the letter- it is unethical to research and write on partial fixes to the multi-payer system of health care in the USA when we already have plenty of compelling evidence that single payer health care systems improve patient outcomes, serve more people, and do it more economically than multi-payer systems.

Kahn and Hofmann wrote the letter in response to a Policy Forum essay by Amy Finkelstein and Sarah Taubman published in Science in February, 2015. “Randomize evaluations to improve health care delivery” made the point that too few randomized control trials for U.S. health care reform research means there is not enough solid research to base policy on. Kahn and Hofmann do not disagree with this, but say it is a secondary problem to a “major ethical breach.”

The ethical breach defined by Kahn and Hofmann is based on the “principle of equipoise,” which says that deviations from the standard of care are allowable in research with humans only if there is real uncertainty about which intervention is better. Because there is enough research to conclude that single payer healthcare works better, further experiments and trials to define the better system are unethical.

“To ignore this compelling evidence risks lives in the United States as we experiment with partial fixes to the multi-payer system. This experimentation would be rejected by any responsible university institutional review board as violating the principle of equipoise and causing unacceptable patient harm.”

Strong words- and hopefully, they will be spoken by more scientists, physicians, researchers, and academics. The development of drugs and vaccines, research on surgeries and devices, basic work on cell physiology, applied genomics research to target individuals health problems, social and psychological health interventions- all are funneled in the USA through the health care system. And in this system, where money can purchase excellent care for some, while others must hold bake sales and run crowd sourcing campaigns on line to pay for medicine, not all people will benefit from your research.

Most people don’t go into medicine or research to impact only the lives of people who can afford good health insurance. Single payer health care will mean that more people can be served by your work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

0

Design winner human-organs-on-chips helps rationalize the end of animal research.

Organs

 

It will if Harvard cell biologist and engineer Donald Ingber and University of Pennsylvania bioengineer Don Dongeun Huh, designers of Human Organs-on-Chips, have their way.

Every year, the Design Museum in London holds a competition for the Best Design. The winner this year is Human Organs-on-Chips. A microchip perhaps the size of a domino and containing miniature wells with connections like rivers between the wells is lined with a polymer on which human cells can be grown. The experimenter can, for example, add drugs to one set of cells and measure the effect on the cells in other wells. Organ systems, using cells from individuals, can then be mimicked, and tested.

Human Organs-on-Chips had some tough competitors, in the categories of Architecture, Digital, Fashion, Graphics, Product (the category for Human Organs-on Chips), and Transport.  I saw the exhibit early in June, and was thrilled by the many science-based entries among the 76 entrants. A project that uses a 3D printer to make arm and leg protheses was an emotional favorite of the crowd, but the beauty and simplicity of the Human Organs-on-Chips display took my breathe away. I’d read about them, but seeing them displayed, with the implications boldly stated- “A way to research drugs without testing on animals”- was a thrill…beautiful science done with a stated purpose of being an alternative to animal research.

FullSizeRender (3)

Human-organs-on chips is only one example of the many products  being developed to improve in vitro testing on human systems.

There are 3 main reasons scientists say they would like to cut down or eliminate animal testing: animal upkeep and experimentation is expensive, animal models do not adequately represent humans, and there are ethical issues with animal experimentation.

That there are ethical issues with animal treatment is definitely the minority reason given, and even when it is, what is meant is that other people have ethical issues with animal experimentation and that makes it more difficult for animal experimentation to be done. All those rules! And the protesters!

Drug testing is only one of many, many ways animals are used in labs. But anything, whether moral, financial, or convenience-based, that leads scientists to stop assuming that animal experimentation is a given, is good.

Meanwhile, scientists and activists are directly addressing the ethical issues of animal research. For example, physician and lawyer Ruth Decker has been working relentlessly to stop experimentation on monkeys at the University of Wisconsin, starting an on- line petition against Ned Kalin, who studies rhesus macaque monkeys removed from their mothers and raised in isolation. Recently, when Ned Kalin spoke at the Univeristy of California-Davis on his research, scientists and activists, members of UCDavis Primates Deserve Better, demonstrated at the lecture to protest the cruelty of his experiments.

In March, a European Citizens Initiative with 1.17 million signatures proposed phasing out animal research. While it was rejected by the European Commission, the commission did say it would seek to speed up the development and use of alternative methods of research.

Many science organizations and a group of Nobel laureates spoke out in defense of animal research. As pointed out by the pro-animal experimentation group AnimalResearch.Info, 91 of 105 Nobel Prizes awarded for Physiology or Medicine were dependent on animal research. It is hard to change the paradigm. But every aspect of alternatives to animal testing will bring change to the culture of science. The collaboration of scientists and citizens, which brings new perspective, is vital in changing the insular and often conservative nature of science.

One nascent change is that biomedical scientists and physicians can question animal use without appearing to be “unprofessional,” an accusation and judgement that held many scientists from actually considering the morality involved in working on animals.

 

0

Japanese academics say no to military research. Please sign their letter!

banner only

There are academics over the world who don’t believe that militarism and war serve humanity, and do not want their institutions or their own work to be guided by military needs or funding.

War is absolutely not inevitable. As with climate change activism, with calls for divestment of university funds from fossil fuel companies, and increased collaborations between scientists and other citizens, scientists can speak out and act on their abhorrence of being part of killing others. We can change the culture of militarism by not participating in it.

This campaign is an effort by Japanese academics, who have noted increased military involvement in universities, to bring awareness of this issue to other academics and scientists. The website, given here in English, gives their rationale. If you agree, please sign.

PREFACE-THE GOAL OF THIS ONLINE CAMPAIGN

Ever since the end of the World War II, Japanese academics have renounced military research. This is consistent with the peaceful principles of the Constitution of Japan, in which Article 9 renounces both war as a sovereign right of the nation and the maintenance of military forces that could be used for the purpose of war. Recently, however, the Japanese Ministry of Defense has been eager to involve academics in joint research and to fund civil scientists to develop dual-use technologies that can be used in military equipment. Such a trend violates academic freedom and Japanese scientists’ vows not to take part in any research tied to war again. The goal of this online campaign is to help scientists and other people become aware of this issue so they may join us in putting a stop to military-academia joint research. Thank you for visiting our website, and we sincerely welcome your signatures to approve our appeal.
APPEAL AGAINST MILITARY RESEARCH IN ACADEMIA

Military research includes the development of arms and technologies that can be used as military equipment and strategic research to gain military supremacy, linking directly and indirectly to war. During World War II, many scientists in Japan were involved in military research to a greater or lesser extent and took part in a war of aggression. College students were conscripted into the army against their will, and many of them lost their young lives. These experiences were matters of deep regret for many scientists at that time. Soon after World War II, scientists made vows to promote science for peace, never for war. For example, the Science Council of Japan, which officially represents the collective will of scientists in Japan, made the decisions to ban military research in 1949 and renewed this commitment in 1950 and 1967. Development of anti-nuclear and peace movements in Japan encouraged scientists and students to establish their own peace declarations at universities and national research institutes. Peace declarations were finally resolved at five universities (Otaru University of Commerce, Nagoya University, Yamanashi University, Ibaraki University and Niigata University) and at 19 national research institutes in the 1980s.

Especially under the hawkish Abe administration, the peaceful principle of the Constitution of Japan has been severely violated. For example, although the export of arms and the related technologies had long been strictly restricted, Abe administration removed this ban in 2014. The Japanese government and various industries have been promoting military-academia joint research for the production of dual-use technologies. In total, as of 2014, more than 20 joint research projects have been initiated since the early 2000s between the Technical Research and Development Institute, the Ministry of Defense, and academia. The Abe administration approved the National Defense Program Guidelines for FY2014 and beyond in December 2013 to further develop dual-use technologies by funding research projects to be conducted in universities and research institutes. This trend should be viewed as governmental counterattack against scientists’ vows not to take part in military research again after World War II.

It is highly inevitable that the achievements of military-funded research will not be open to the public without the permission of the military. The Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets, which was forced through the Diet in 2013 and came into effect in 2014, will strengthen control of academia by the military and state power. In addition, scientists who speak of their research may now be accused of leaking confidential information because of this new law.

What are the consequences of military-academia joint research? It is evident that academic freedom will be severely violated. One must only refer to the case of the United States, where the military-industrial-academic complex is already firmly established. In addition, graduate and undergraduate students’ right and conscience will be violated by being forced to take part in military-academia joint research in their university education program, and given their lack of experience, may be accepted without criticism. Is it ethical for professors and principle scientists to involve their students in military-academia joint research? Such research is linking to war, destruction, and murder, and will inevitably result in the devastation of higher education.

Universities should deal with universal values, such as the development of democracy, the welfare of human beings, nuclear disarmament, the abolition of poverty, and the realization of a peaceful and sustainable world. In order to ensure such activities, universities, including national universities, of course, should be independent from any governmental or political power and authority, and they should pursue the goal of human education to encourage students to aspire to truth and peace.

We are responsible to refuse to take part in war through military-academia joint research. Such research is not consistent with the principles of higher education and the development of science and technology for a better future. We are concerned that military-academia joint research will distort the sound development of science, and that men, women, and children alike will lose their trust and faith in science. Right now, we are at the crossroads for the reputation of science in Japan.

We sincerely appeal to all the members of universities and research institutes, including undergraduate and graduate students, and to citizens, not to take part in joint research with military personnel, to refuse funding from the military, and to refrain from educating military personnel.

Organizers

Satoru Ikeuchi, Professor Emeritus of Astrophysics, Nagoya University,

Shoji Sawada, Professor Emeritus of Physics, Nagoya University,

Makoto Ajisaka, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Kansai University,

Junji Akai, Professor Emeritus of Mineralogy, Niigata University,

Minoru Kitamura, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Waseda University,

Tatsuyoshi Morita, Professor Emeritus of Botany, Niigata University,

Ken Yamazaki, Professor of Exercise Physiology, Niigata University,

Teruo Asami, Professor Emeritus of Soil Science, Ibaraki University,

Hikaru Shioya, Communication Engineering and Reliability Engineering,

Kunio Fukuda, Professor Emeritus of International Trade Theory, Meiji University,

Kunie Nonaka, Professor of Accoundancy, Meiji University,

and other 47 scientists.

0

Shell, Scientists, and Seattle: If not now, then when?

 

rig

The image of Seattle kayakers protesting the Arctic-bound Shell oil drilling rig has inspired great excitement as well as derision: It is obvious to supporters and deriders alike that this action will not stop the drilling for gas and oil needed to halt global warming, or even to prevent drilling in the Arctic. It seems to be a token action, then…..but what, exactly, would work?

There is great consensus that drilling in the Arctic doesn’t make sense. If it goes well, more oil is extracted and burned, pushing the 2 degree temperature world even closer. If it doesn’t go well, if there is a spill or leak, the effect on the ocean, on deep currents, microbial and mammal ian survival could be catastrophic.

For scientists, the repercussions of drilling in the Arctic are even more straightforward.

In January, Nature article “The geographical distribution of fossil fuel unused when limiting global warming to 2 degrees C”, by Christophe McGlade and Paul Elkins, said that most coal, oil, and gas must be left in the ground as using it will send the temperature higher, and the specific reserves to be reserved were listed: all of the Arctic oil and gas, the authors concluded, should be left untouched.

In April, PNAS article (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) “Amplified Arctic warming by phytoplankton under greenhouse warming,“  lead author Jong-Yeon Park from the Max Planck Institute of Metoerology and colleagues reported on the central importance of the Arctic in the warm-induced blooms of phytoplankton. The fragility and importance of the Arctic to world climate was underscored.

Also in April, Science published two hopeful articles about the USA’s newly started position as chair of the Arctic Council, an 8-nation group with borders in the Arctic. Both articles- “One Arctic“, by new chair Fran Ulmer , and “U.S. lays out its ambitions for leadership in the Arctic”, by Carolyn Gramling, emphasize cooperation and research. However, while Gramling implies this will be directed at global warming, chair Fran Ulmer mentions the need to balance global warming issues with the demand for resources.

And indeed, in May, the Obama administration approved Arctic drilling , and gave Shell- despite its record of spills and bad management, conditional approval to drill in the Arctic.

So if we had a brief belief that politicians might actually promote effective actions and policies, we soon had a reminder that neither science alone or politics alone would be effective.

What can be done? What should scientists do? Anything they can. This is why scientists, activists, environmentalists, and local politicians came together in Seattle to oppose the staging of the Shell oil drilling rig in the Port of Seattle/Foss Maritime- because they realized that, if not now, then when?

In the fall of 2014, the Port of Seattle decided in secret meetings to lease a terminal to Foss Maritime, who would allow Shell to berth its rig at the Foss Maritime facilities in the Puget Sound, after an “intensive industry and labor lobbying effort”  to to use Seattle as a homeport for Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet.

When the contract to lease Terminal 5 of the Port  to Foss Maritime for the berthing of the Arctic Drilling rig was finally publicly disclosed in the new year, citizens swung into action.

Seattle activists and environmental groups began organizing in February . First came legal attempts . A coalition of environmentalists went to court to ask that the Port of Seattle’s lease with Foss Maritime be vacated because staging arctic drilling is opposed to the intent of the the Port to be a distributor of cargo and goods, and violated the State Environmental Policy Act and the Shoreline Management Act. Mayor Ed Murray and the City Council tried a similar strategy and declared the Port’s contract with Foss to be possibly inappropriate. The Port asked Foss to wait until there could be an investigation of the lease. Foss simply said no.

Saturday, May 16th, was a family-friendly kayak and shore event near the rig. Signs, singing, chanting on the Puget Sound.

The mass day of protest and civil disobedience ended peacefully on Monday, May 18th, when police refused to engage with the protesters blocking the Port’s Terminal 5, at the request of the Port. The protests had been well organized and communicated, and the Police and the Port no doubt decided to avoid bad publicity for themselves and to downplay the protests. Since the year had marked public outrage in response to 2 videos of disturbing Seattle police action (high school teacher Jesse Hagopian was pepper-sprayed while talking to his mother on the phone after the peaceful Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade and an older African American man was arrested and accused of assaulting a police officer for using a golf club as a walking stick), it’s easy to understand why arresting peaceful kayakers and other activists might not go well.

And also on the 18th, the City of Seattle declared that Shell and Foss Maritime lacked the proper permit to host the drilling rig, that the rig must be removed, and that proper permits must be obtained by June 4. Foss and the Port of Seattle are appealing the earlier determination that Foss could not use Terminal 5 for the rig.

Using a technicality to obtain a result seems opposed to the scientific method- but it is an important part of politics and the legal system. Scientists should learn to use the legal system, and find the collaborators that can help and provide expertise.

Scientists are taking a variety of approaches to fight climate change. For example, March 24th letter signed by climate scientists and biologists urged museums to not accept funding from the Koch brothers and from other associated with fossil fuel companies. (Signatures to the letter are still being accepted.)

Scientists were part of the planning and protests against the Shell drilling rig. Sarra Tekola is part of ShellNo!, a coalition of environmental and activist groups, and is a School of Environmental and Forest Sciences student at the University of Washington, where she is also involved with convincing the University of Washington to divest its investment portfolio of stocks in the fossil fuel industry. Tekola was advised, as many scientists have been, that science and activism could not be combined, but is proving that to be a conservative fallacy.

Susan Crane Lubetkin, with a Ph.D. in Quantitative Ecology and Resource Management, studied bowhead whales in the Arctic, testified at the Port meeting on the secrecy of the Foss contract, and has commissioned a musical piece on climate change. A Northwest Conservation Philanthropy Fellowship gave her the start on learning the advocacy techniques that could help science have an impact on environmental change.

Six environmental activists from Greenpeace climbed the drill rig mid-Pacific as it headed toward Seattle as a protest against drilling the Arctic. Australian Zoe Buckley Lennox is studying Environmental Science in Brisbane, and with American Aliyah Field, joined with the Backbone Campaign and other organizations to plan the days of activism. Lennox also testified at the Port meeting on May 12 about the damage that could be caused by Shell in the Arctic. For Lennox, research needs to be balanced with action through activism, in order to protect the world we share.

Protecting the world is a good reason to practice science, but data alone won’t save it. Find your people.

————

Update May 24rd

Environmental justice student at Western Washington University, Chiara D’Angelo remains attached (so far, for almost 2 days)  to the anchor chair of Shell ship “Arctic Challenger,” in Bellingham in protest of Arctic drilling. Activist Matt Fuller, who had joined her, asked for help to come down: the conditions are extremely uncomfortable. Kayakers rallied from Cornwall Beach in Bellingham in support of the activists.

Oh, and the Navy is planning war “games” in the Arctic.

Contributions welcome and needed for the sHELLNo! campaign!

–Update September 29, 2015

From Popular Resistance!

Major Victory: Shell Abandons Arctic Drilling
Greenpeace activists rappel off the St Johns Bridge, and join people in kayaks in the Willamette river to protest Shell Oil’s drilling in the Arctic. Shell’s Fennica ship is being repaired at Vigor Industrial, on July 29, 2015. Mike Zacchino/Staff
RESIST! ARCTIC DRILLING, SHELL, SHELLNO!
By Terry Macalister, www.theguardian.com
September 28th, 2015
Powered by Translate

37
Print FriendlyPrint Friendly
The Social Movement for Economic, Racial and Environmental Justice played huge role in the result: “Shell has also privately made clear it is taken aback by the public protests against the drilling which are threatening to seriously damage its reputation.”

Note: The movement has done an incredible job over the last three years protesting Shell’s arctic drilling culminating with the #SHellNo campaign this summer. The stock of Shell was dropping, its public image was taking a major hit and the company was going to see an escalation of protest against it. This was always a risky and foolish invesment. 1shell3

An important lesson for the movement, one we have seen repeated in our experience on a wide range of issues: you never know how close you are to victory. It looked like the protests had failed to stop Shell. They got their equipment into the Artic and began drilling. There were no indications of Shell giving up even last week. This should hearten all of those fighting what seem like impossible campaigs. You may be closer than you think. Keep fighting, never give up!

Of course, this is not over. There is still a rapacious desire for oil and we need to continue to push for an end to all licenses for drilling in the Arctic. We are urging people to take action to finish the job.

Send an email to President Obama today urging him to ban arctic drilling.
Tell President Obama No More Drilling In The Arctic
READ THE PETITION
Thank you, Kathy.
Your signature has been added.

FIRST NAME * LAST NAME * EMAIL *
Sign Now
434 signatures
Share this with your friends:

Oil giant’s US president says hugely controversial drilling operations off Alaska will stop for ‘foreseeable future’ as drilling finds little oil and gas

Shell has abandoned its controversial drilling operations in the Alaskan Arctic in the face of mounting opposition.

Its decision, which has been welcomed by environmental campaigners, follows disappointing results from an exploratory well drilled 80 miles off Alaska’s north-west coast. Shell said it had found oil and gas but not in sufficient quantities.

The move is a major climbdown for the Anglo-Dutch group which had talked up the prospects of oil and gas in the region. Shell has spent about $7bn (£4.6bn) onArctic offshore development in the hope there would be deposits worth pursuing, but now says operations are being ended for the “foreseeable future.”

Shell is expected to take a hit of around $4.1bn as a result of the decision.

The company has come under increasing pressure from shareholders worried about the plunging share price and the costs of what has so far been a futile search in the Chukchi Sea.

Shell has also privately made clear it is taken aback by the public protests against the drilling which are threatening to seriously damage its reputation.

Ben van Beurden, the chief executive, is also said to be worried that the Arctic is undermining his attempts to influence the debate around climate change.

His attempts to argue that a Shell strategy of building up gas as a “transitional” fuel to pave the way to a lower carbon future has met with scepticism, partly because of the Arctic operations.

A variety of consultants have also argued that Arctic oil is too expensive to find and develop in either a low oil price environment or in a future world with a higher price on carbon emissions.

In a statement today, Marvin Odum, director of Shell Upstream Americas, said: “Shell continues to see important exploration potential in the basin, and the area is likely to ultimately be of strategic importance to Alaska and the US. However, this is a clearly disappointing exploration outcome for this part of the basin.”

“Shell will now cease further exploration activity in offshore Alaska for the foreseeable future. This decision reflects both the Burger J well result, the high costs associated with the project, and the challenging and unpredictable federal regulatory environment in offshore Alaska.”
The new cold war: drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic
Read more
Reacting to the news, Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said:

“Big oil has sustained an unmitigated defeat. They had a budget of billions, we had a movement of millions. For three years we faced them down, and the people won.

“The Save the Arctic movement has exacted a huge reputational price from Shell for its Arctic drilling programme. And as the company went another year without striking oil, that price finally became too high. They’re pulling out.

“Now President Obama should use his remaining months in office to say that no other oil company will be licenced to drill in the American Arctic.”

Related Posts:

Protests Against Shell Arctic Drilling Will Continue, sHELLno! June 1, 2015
Shell Oil Faces Long Odds With Arctic Drilling August 18, 2015
Shell Leaves Climate Project It Helped Set Up Amid Arctic Drilling Row September 11, 2015
Shell’s Arctic Drilling Faces Setback As Ship Forced Back To Port July 9, 2015
Kayactivists Across The Country Protest Arctic Drilling July 21, 2015
Share on facebookShare on twitterShare on emailShare on pinterest_shareMore Sharing Services
37

 

 

0

Dealing with the neuroscience of unstable income- or not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

0

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

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

Aagrouse

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

This is how.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The militarization of science and nature marches on.

—-

Update

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

0

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

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

Image

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. ( http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/24/us/us-maps-areas-of-increased-earthquakes-from-human-activity.html?ref=topics ). 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.

 

 

 

 

 

0