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

 

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When should a journal use the enormous power it has?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iain Chalmers: James Lind Library, Oxford, UK

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

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

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

On behalf of 24 signatories.

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Horton uses his power.

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

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

Resolutions in professional societies.

Letters to the editor.

Divestment and boycott campaigns.

Talking.

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

Follow- up and activism- April 2015

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

 

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Union of Concerned Scientists: How to talk with journalists.

Wordsalad Scientists are urged to communicate, to talk with journalists about their own work as well as larger political and scientific issues, but it isn’t so easy to know how to do it. Great help is available from the Union of Concerned Scientists, and 3 of their latest webinars are a jumpstart to getting your thoughts and your research out there in the bigger world beyond the the bench.

“Communication science amid confusion: How to deal with tough questions,” was given on September 17th by Nick Schrope and Rich Hayes, who wrote one of my favorite communication books, “A Scientist’s Guide to Talking with the Media.” (2006, Rutgers University Press). This theme was carried further on September 19 with “A Scientist’s Guide to the Media: Sharing a Compelling Message with the Press.” Rich Hayes gave this webinar as well, joined this time by Brenda Equizol.

Some of the key points of these lectures are:

Be prepared to actively seek out opportunities to communicate.  Make sure the communication center at your workplace knows about your work, and understands the significance of interesting results: they may put out, with your help, a press release. Pitch your own stories and ideas directly, as well. If you want to comment on issues beyond your immediate research, consider writing an op-ed or letter to the editor to your local paper. Contact a local reporter, offer to be a resource, or suggest stories.

Know your core message. Before a media interview, find out from the reporter or interviewer what the topic will be. Never, if possible, do any interview without at least a few minutes preparation time: it is quite okay to say on the phone, “Could you call me back in 30 minutes.” Use the time to think about what you want to say- and what you don’t want to say.

Prepare your message for the audience, not the reporter, and help the reporter give your message. Have a quote or two ready- reporters will almost always like to have a quote for the story. Perhaps have an astute quip or metaphor ready, even a cliche, if that will help the audience understand your point. Avoid science jargon, however- even words as seemingly innocent and clear as aerosols might mean only spray cans to some members of the public. Anticipate questions: you can ask your public affairs office, or a non-scientist friend, what questions they would have for your topic.

Everything is on the record! (Even if the reporter says it isn’t.)

Practice the bridge! Transition back to your core message! The reporter may have another agenda (sometimes curiosity, sometimes hostility), or you may see that the point of the interview is getting lost in unrelated or difficult questions. Acknowledge the question, and redirect the topic. The bridge can also be used if you don’t know the answer. Some examples might be: “That is a matter that is still confusing to scientists. But what I can tell you is that…” or “The short term effects are certainly a problem, but the long term effect has been described in this study…”

Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. Our fears are greater than reality here, as journalists are generally trying to honestly reflect scientist’s views. Prepare, and make sure your core message comes through, and don’t worry too much about being misquoted. There is a slight chance someone may push your words to enhance controversy, but at the worse scenario, you can ask for a retraction. As for fear of omission, very common among scientist’s- prepare beforehand, and remember that no one

Don’t be afraid to say what you don’t know! One attribute of science (and scientists) that is often misunderstood is the changing nature of what is known.  I heard a great example last week of this at a seminar given by Peter Doherty, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1996. He has written several books for the public and was in Seattle on a book tour. He urges scientists to speak out about climate change, and said about himself, “With climate change, I don’t follow all the math, and tend to accept the conclusions, but with biology, I can understand it and see the effects.”

Think like a scientist- and a citizen. You are both.

The 3rd seminar in the mini-series, “Advocacy for the Aware but Busy Expert,” perhaps should have been the first seminar, as it was a good introduction to both the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), and a bit of the history of scientists speaking out to the public about science issues. Speaking were Peter C. Frumhoff, Director of Science and Policy at UCS, and Michael Halpern, Program Manager for the Center for Science and Democracy at the UCS.

Whether or not scientists should be involved in the use of science in society is still debated, but the UCS always made such activist work central to the organization. UCS was founded by physicists at M.I.T. in 1969, while the U.S. war on Vietnam was being waged to great protest in the U.S. The founders wanted to advocate as physics practitioners  for environmental protection, and this continues as the mission today, with a focus on climate change and clean energy sources.

Peter Frumhoff gave the introduction to UCS, and to some of the opposing viewpoints scientists working on climate science encounter today. He gave two quotes from scientists with differing opinions on the role of scientists as activists:

“If you believe that you have found something that can affect the environment, isn’t it your responsibility [as a scientist] to actually do something about it, enough so that action actually takes place….we just have to be clear when we are speaking as scientists and when we are expressing values.” 2001, Mario Molino, UCS member and 1995 Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry for the study of depletion of stratospheric ozone.

versus

“I became a climate scientist because I care about the environment but we have a moral obligation to be impartial” said Tamsin Edmonds of the University of Bristol in the UK, quoted in The Guardian on July 13, 2013.

Speaking out, not speaking out- each is framed as a moral issue. Our training is in objectivity in observation and decision making, and this idea that we must be impartial is deep, almost as deep as the idea that science is done to better mankind.  Peter noted an important addition to the arguments: that scientists are members of the public and have a right to express their convictions (found in the 2009 3rd edition of “On Being a Scientist,” by the  National Research Council). They are citizens and scientists, both, with the rights and responsibilities of both.

Michael discussed the practical aspects of being an outspoken scientist, as the question he often hears at UCS is “What can I do?” It is not always immediately obvious what an individual can do in any particular place, and he suggest each person consider the following points:

1. What issues interest me? Obesity, drug addiction, etc.

2. What parts of my skill set do I want to share? Analyze data, speak out, etc.

3. What time commitment am I willing to make? Long or short term, want to work steadily or in bursts, etc.

4 What activities fit me best? Public speaking, assistant to non-profit, resource for journalists.

5. How do I want to benefit? Build your profile, become a better communicator, shape public opinion, etc.

Michael emphasized that is is a process to know what you want to work on, and gave (besides suggesting contacting USC to plug into already organized and ongoing initiatives) sources of information for getting engaged, such as the American Geophysical Union (agu.org) and Nature (nature.org).

The session ended as did the others with questions from the web audience, many of which concerned communication worries and interacting with members of the media. One subtlety that might be very useful to many is that scientists should not start with uncertainty in dealing with the public, even when trying to counteract political pundits who conversely push certainty without  evidence.

Remember that it is not necessary to transmit every detail of every possible exception, but be as accurate and honest as you can.

Communicating Science Amid Confusion: https://s3.amazonaws.com/ucs-webinars/SN-workshop-9-17-13/index.htm

A Scientist’s Guide to the Media: https://s3.amazonaws.com/ucs-webinars/SN-workshop-9-19-13/index.htm

Advocacy for the Aware but Busy Expert: https://s3.amazonaws.com/ucs-webinars/SN-workshop-9-30-13/index.htm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The CIA and the museum.

 

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      Maybe it really is innocuous for the Pacific Science Center in Seattle to host “SPY: The Secret World of Espionage.” (http://www.pacificsciencecenter.org/Exhibits/spy)
       The exhibit hasn’t opened yet, so I could only check on line to see if I was being paranoid. 
        The collector of the most of the historic instruments in the exhibit, H. Keith Morton, is known for his many books on spying, the CIA, and military and intelligence history. There is a lovely picture of him in front of his 12, 000 square foot house in Boca Raton, Florida- CIA cheerleading pays better than cancer research, it seems. Clearly, he is pro-espionage, pro-CIA- but how pro CIA can be seen in these quotes from reader Cee Martinez (July 3-25, goodreads.com, http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/181624989) about Melton’s  “The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception”:

     “Many interesting details about the CIA during the MKULTRA years are discussed, including strange ones, such as the CIA use of prostitutes to lure Johns into motel rooms under surveillence so agents could record the Johns’ reaction to various mind altering drugs like LSD. The introduction alone is a must-read for any spy, CIA, or conspiracy geek. Although, a short internet search on the subject of MKULTRA would reveal a far more sinister, and disturbing look into the CIA than this book would ever hint at.

“That’s the main trouble with this book. I didn’t think it could be at all possible to sanitize and neuter the very idea of the MKULTRA project, which included disturbing studies of brainwashing on unwilling and unwitting subjects, some experimented on in mental hospitals, and taken from their own families. This book has done just that.”

      Still, the political beliefs of the collecter might not be embedded in the exhibit: the exhibit might really be only technological wonders of deception, unconnected to a philosophy or even to the CIA. Ah, but there are “educational resources” that accompany the exhibit, two educator guides, one for grades 4-8, another for grades 9-12.
      Both open with a large font quote from former USA President Ronald Reagan:
     “You are the trip-wire across which the forces of repression and tyranny must stumble in their quest for global domination. You, the men and women of the CIA, are the eyes and ears of the free world.”
       And from there we are in experiments, narratives, and timelines that laud the CIA. Neither curriculum makes the whisper of a suggestion that not all the CIA has done has been honorable, quite in contradiction of history and present day newspapers. It is a true trip to the past in the post WWII Cold War rhetoric.

       I dashed off a quick letter to members of the Pacific Science Center leadership, but there haven’t yet been any replies.

 

 

March 20, 2014
Dear Pacific Science Center folks,
I was appalled to see that you will be running an exhibition called SPY: The Secret World of Espionage. Running this exhibit is a tacit approval of the techniques and strategies of the CIA.
Melton’s books gloss over the ethics of the CIA, and your glorification of the his instruments of the CIA will do the same. Would you display instruments of torture? Or a knife used in a rape? How about land-mines and other instruments of war? How is this “science?”
If you want to stretch and call it technology, still it is not appropriate to host that exhibition at the Pacific Science Center. Science and technology (and the information in museums) are not value-free. People will internalize your message. All of us must think ahead to the world we want- and your vision of the world ahead and what you see in science, is grim.
It might bring you money, but it also brings ethical deficit.
Sincerely,
Kathy Barker

 

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