Tag Archives | AAAS

UMass Lowell Kuwait campus will be built to reward Raytheon weapon sales to Kuwait

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This story- that Raytheon would build a campus in Kuwait for Mass-Lowell  – is over 2 years old. But it is just as shocking as it was then, and makes more sense in light of the recent news that Qatar is being squeezed by 5 other Arab states  and is undoubtedly being pushed by the USA alliance with Saudi Arabia . Buried within that article is the interesting statement “Qutar has also built deep ties to American academia, providing funding and real estate to build Middle Eastern campuses for six major universities, including Cornell, Georgetown and Northwestern.”

Sounds innocent, right? Building universities is a win-win for all, it might seem, a way to bring people together from around the world, sharing expertise. Ah, but what expertise- and who is funding these universities? This is not easy information to find.

But sometimes, a window opens, and you can see all the way back in a dark, foul, smelly cave of vested interests.

The Mass Lowell campus is being funded by defense contractor Raytheon. It is being funded by a defense offset, a bribe that defense contractors use to convince a country to buy their weapons. So, in order to sell their weapons to Kuwait, Raytheon agreed to build a campus for Kuwait. And it is building in in partnership with the Lowell campus of the University of Massachusetts, with which it already has a close relationship. So the campus will be funded by the sale of weapons. Overtly, clearly, UMass Lowell is being built on the bloodshed of Yemen.

The Mass/Lowell campus doesn’t shirk from protest. The UMass system, including Lowell, was the first public university to divest from fossil fuels . They protested the visit of Donald Trump . Adjunct faculty protested their pay inequities and the high pay given to an outgoing president. But there hasn’t been a remark against this weapon-funded campus that I could find. I contacted reporter Rick Sobey, who writes about the deal for the Lowell Sun, and he has not heard of any protests. I also contacted the UMass Lowell Undergraduate Society of Science Students (USSS) , as several members were involved in the Trump protest, but received no answer. I am not surprised- it seems everything is fair game for protest except war and militarism. I would expect the same lack of response in dealing with Boeing- University of Washington relationships here in Seattle, for the same reason- defense contractors are a great source of funding.

It is not clear who, besides the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development  is funding the Cornell, Georgetown, Texas A&M, Virginia Commonwealth, Northwestern, and Carnegie Mellon Qatar campuses . We know the NYU- Abu Dhabi campus in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is funded by multiple UAE groups, and this includes The Innovation Institute (which does scientific research in collaboration with aerospace defense contractors who have sold weapons to the UAE): The Innovation Institute then grants funds to NYU research scientists for university research with military applications (Archer, John M, NYU in Abu Dhabi: The Future is Upon Us. The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 27, 2012. Letter to the Editor).  Though defense offsets must be reported to the Bureau of Industry and Security, part of the Department of Commerce, they do not have to be publicized and are difficult to find- for example, in the NYU example given above, Archer found out about the defense offset through the minutes of the NYU Faculty Senate. Undoubtedly, more are out there, with USA universities, contractors, and organizations.  The relentless and  cheerful championing of Saudi Arabia by the AAAS  sure is suggestive of, at least, a state department link.

I expect to read more about science, academia, and scientists profiting from defense offsets for weapons sales. And I am hoping for some protest against the increasing amount of military funding of academic research on campuses all over the country….

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

 

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stop researching: We know what works for healthcare.

 

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“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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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