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WHY THEY MARCH: “SCIENCE AND SCIENTISTS ARE NOW UNDER ATTACK” April 22, 2017

Posted by rogerhollander in Energy, Environment, Science and Technology, Trump.
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Roger’s note: the massive destruction of our biosphere did not begin with Donald Trump.  The essential nature of a capitalist economy demands that the individual need for profit will always override social needs.  As world capital runs out of natural resources to appropriate and cheap labor to exploit, it can afford less and less to give in to society’s pressure to preserve the planet.

One of the scientists interviewed below has worked for many years in Cuba, a country that I have visited many times and studied for years.  Cuba is by no means a genuine socialist state, but because it had its roots in a socialist-like revolution (much like the U.S.S.R.) it has maintained some of the socialist idealism that was the driving force behind its revolution.  Perhaps because of universal free education up to and including the post secondary level, there is a degree of culture and sophistication that I consider to be unique to Cuba.

I fear that with the detente that began with Obama and Raúl Castro, many of what remains of Cuba’s revolutionary gains with respect to environmental conservation may be lost. This is what I mean:

For the past 17 years, Guggenheim has been working in Cuba, which has some of the healthiest coral reefs left in the Caribbean. The Cuban reefs have thrived because the country has protected its coastal waters — and also hasn’t suffered the effects of large-scale tourism or agriculture. Also, said Guggenheim, “they actually listen to their scientists. There’s no climate debate there like we have here.”

 

April 22 2017, the intercept 

The March for Science is a response to the Trump administration’s distaste for science — or at least the kind that gets in the way of profit — but it is also a celebration of those among us who have devoted their lives to understanding how the world works. The thousands descending on the National Mall, on the first Earth Day under a regime that has taken a sharp knife to government science budgets, study stars and butterflies, barrier reefs and hedgehog reproduction, viruses and bird flight patterns.

Most days, they make and test their hypotheses in laboratories or perhaps in the Arctic Circle or the Australian Outback, in an anti-gravity chamber or a deciduous forest. But on this warm April Saturday, they have come together in Washington, D.C, to make a point that feels more urgent than ever: Science matters, and we ignore its findings at our peril.

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Photo: Matt Roth for The Intercept

Michael Mann (shown above), a climatologist and geophysicist, has pioneered computational models based on patterns of the past 600 years of climate changes. Mann is perhaps best known for the “Hockey Stick graph,” which shows a sharp uptick in global temperatures starting around 1900. And he was one of the lead authors of the 2001 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which helped establish the scientific consensus about the global phenomenon. But Mann may be proudest of his most recent work documenting the sometimes subtle impacts the climate is having on hurricane activity, extreme weather events, and phenomena like El Niño. “This is an area of the science where there is still legitimate debate and a lot of interesting work left to be done,” he said, “much of it steeped in basic physics where I got my start.”

Mann is marching because “Science and scientists are now under attack in this country.” He should know. Mann is one of the favorite targets of climate deniers, as evidenced most recently by a hearing of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology at which he was the only witness representing the mainstream view that climate change is the result of human activity.

“When congressional Republicans are denying basic science,” Mann said, “and the Trump administration — run largely by polluting interests — is trying to revoke policies to protect our health and our environment, more than ever we need to hear the voices of scientists, loudly and clearly.”

Faces of Science: March for Science

Mary Droser at Lincoln Park in Washington, D.C., on Friday April 21, 2017.Photo: Matt Roth for The Intercept

“Not all species are equal,” said Mary Droser, a paleontologist who uses fossils to study how ecosystems develop and change over time. “You take out a particular species, a keystone species, and the whole thing crashes. That’s why so many people are now worried about the Great Barrier Reef.”

Having studied the rise and fall of past species can make our current crisis particularly scary. “When people say save the earth, I think the earth will be fine. It’s humanity that I’m worried about. We know from the past that, in terms of extinctions, and in terms of environmental change, the tipping points come sooner than we think.”

Droser finds it absurd that the current administration “wants to pick and choose what science to believe.” Still, she considers herself an optimist. “You can’t just go into despair,” she said. “What am I going to do, tell my 16-year-old that I’m just going to sit this one out?”

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David Guggenheim in Washington, D.C., on Friday, April 21, 2017.Photo: Matt Roth for The Intercept

“We’re starting to realize how seriously our oceans are in trouble,” saidDavid Guggenheim, a marine biologist who studies coral reefs. Since 1970, the Caribbean has lost about 50 percent of its reefs.

For the past 17 years, Guggenheim has been working in Cuba, which has some of the healthiest coral reefs left in the Caribbean. The Cuban reefs have thrived because the country has protected its coastal waters — and also hasn’t suffered the effects of large-scale tourism or agriculture. Also, said Guggenheim, “they actually listen to their scientists. There’s no climate debate there like we have here.”

Protecting fish is essential for protecting reefs, said Guggenheim. “We think of fish as something to eat, as crops that grow in the ocean. But they have jobs to do and one of them is keeping coral reefs healthy.”

Guggenheim is marching because he’s alarmed by the anti-science bent of the new administration. “I’m used to getting around the table with the opposition. I’m used to compromising. But this is different,” said Guggenheim. “It’s a throw-back to the dark ages. The problem is the voice of science is not being heard. The voice of Trump is being heard.”

Faces of Science: March for Science

Melanie Killen at her home in Bethesda, Md., on Friday, April 21, 2017.Photo: Matt Roth for The Intercept

Melanie Killen is a developmental scientist who looks at the emergence of moral concepts from early childhood to adulthood. Theorists used to speculate that morality emerged in adolescence. But Killen and her team showed that a sense of right and wrong begins to form in children who are as young as 3, 4, and 5.

By age 5, Killen’s team showed, children can also understand and account for relative advantage. Asked to divide supplies between two schools that have unequal resources, for instance, children will often choose to give a larger share to that the one with less. “They start saying things like, ‘well you have to give them more because then it’ll all be fair,” she said.

Killen is marching to stand up for continued support for basic science. “The U.S. has been a leader in the world in terms of basic research funding for everything from child health to space exploration and cures for cancer,” she said. “The idea that we are reducing that funding is a terrible blow to progress.”

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Jessica Ware at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Friday April 21, 2017.Photo: Matt Roth for The Intercept

Jessica Ware is an evolutionary entomologist. Her work focuses on dragonflies, which were the first creatures to fly on earth and are also among the fastest of the animals responding to climate change. Ware has traced the evolution of the insects’ genes through fossils, which date as far back as 250 million years ago, and follows current dragonfly populations in the Yukon and the northern-most points of the world.

“Trying to understand how, when and why they evolved helps us understand where the planet is now and where it’ll be in the future,” said Ware. She is marching, in part, to highlight the importance of evolution. “The U.S. is lagging behind almost every single country in terms of the general public’s belief in evolution. But it’s not something to be believed. It’s a process that creates life and causes things to go extinct. It exists.”

Ware also wants all young people to know that they could be scientists, something she didn’t realize as a child. “I am an African American woman with LGBT family,” said Ware. “When people think of science, they don’t think of someone who looks like me.”

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John Vadermeer and Ivette Perfecto, ecologists at the University of Michigan, at Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., on Friday, April 21, 2017.Photo: Matt Roth for The Intercept

“Most science gets done for the benefit of the powerful,” said John Vandermeer. “We feel it should be done for the benefit of everyone.” Vandermeer and his wife, Ivette Perfecto, have worked together for 37 years, using ecological principles to improve agriculture. For much of that time, they have focused on coffee production in Puerto Rico. They have also established a coffee plantation in Chiapas, Mexico, where they research interactions among pests and their natural enemies.

Agriculture is a major cause of both climate change and species extinctions. But Vandermeer and Perfecto have been studying more sustainable ways of growing, focusing on natural systems that control pests without pesticides. They’ve recently developed games that help farmers understand the complexity of ecosystems.

For Perfecto, the march is about more than science. “I feel like we’re losing democracy,” she said. “Science is just one of the casualties.”

Faces of Science: March for Science

Robin Wall Kimmerer, outside her hotel in Rockville, Md., on Friday April 21, 2017.Photo: Matt Roth for The Intercept

Robin Kimmerer’s work as a botanist and professor of environmental and forest biology has largely focused on the ecology of mosses, the tiniest and most ancient plants. “They’ve been on the planet for 350 million years and have endured every climate change, every movement of continents,” said Kimmerer. “And they’re still flourishing!”

A member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Kimmerer has also worked to integrate indigenous knowledge with Western science. She combined the two in an effort to restore the sweetgrass plant, which had been disappearing from its native habitats throughout the Northeast several years ago. “We found, in order to restore it, it wasn’t enough to restore the plant and leave it alone. Sweetgrass flourished only when it was used.”

In Kimmerer’s view, it’s not just the land that’s broken, it’s the relationship to land that’s broken. She is marching in part to bring such indigenous views into the mainstream of science. “It’s not a matter of just marching for science. I’m marching for sciences. There are multiple ways of doing science.”

Corroding Our Democracy: Canada Silences Scientists, Targets Environmentalists in Tar Sands Push September 24, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Canada petroleum, Energy, Environment, Science and Technology.
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http://www.democracynow.org, 24 September 2013

Five years ago this month, the firm TransCanada submitted a permit request to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would bring tar sands oil from Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast. The project has sparked one of the nation’s most contentious environmental battles in decades. The Obama administration initially appeared ready to approve Keystone XL, but an unprecedented wave of activism from environmentalists and residents of the states along its path has forced several delays. Among those pressuring Obama for Keystone XL’s approval is the Canadian government, which recently offered a greater pledge of reduced carbon emissions if the pipeline is built. We’re joined by one of Canada’s leading environmental activists, Tzeporah Berman, who has campaigned for two decades around clean energy, and is the former co-director of Greenpeace International’s Climate Unit. She is now focused on stopping tar sands extraction as a member of the steering committee for the Tar Sands Solutions Network. Berman is also the co-founder of ForestEthics and is the author of the book “This Crazy Time: Living Our Environmental Challenge.” Berman discusses how the Canadian government is muzzling scientists speaking out on global warming, quickly changing environmental laws, and why she believes the push for tar sands extraction has created a “perfect storm” of grassroots activism bring together environmentalists, indigenous communities and rural landowners.

GUEST:

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Five years ago this month, the firm TransCanada submitted a permit request to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would bring tar Sands oil from Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast. The project has sparked one of the nation’s most contentious environmental battles in decades. The Obama administration initially appeared ready to approve Keystone XL, but an unprecedented wave of activism from environmentalists and residents of the states along its path has forced several delays. In the summer 2011, 1200 people were arrested outside the White House. Well, on Saturday, protests were held once again around the country in a national day of action urging President Obama to reject Keystone’s construction. President Obama also faces continued pressure from backers of the Keystone XL. In their latest push for the project, House Republicans have announced plans to tie the pipeline’s construction to the upcoming vote on raising the nation’s debt ceiling. Well, on Monday, delegates at the 2013 International Women’s Earth and Climate Summit held in Sufferin, New York called on Obama to reject the Keystone XL, saying, “There is no single project in North America that is more significant than Keystone XL in terms of the carbon emissions it would unleash… As women who are already seeing the tragic impacts of climate change on families on indigenous peoples, and on entire countries, we urge you to choose a better future by rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.” At the conference, Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a member of the Lubicon Cree First Nation, described the impact that massive oil and gas extraction has had on her family and its traditional land in northern Alberta.

MELINA LABOUCANMASSIMO: I come from a small northern community, it’s Cree, Nēhiyaw, is, in our language, what we call it. There is nothing on — that compares with the destruction going on there. If there were a global prize for unsustainable development, the tar sands would be a clear winner. Not that there’s a competition going on or by any means, but, I just think that world-renowned people, experts are really seeing this as one of the major issues and that is why it is one of the biggest — you know, the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada and why Canada pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol.

So, this is what it looks like. very viscous. It’s, you know, not fluid, so it takes a lot more energy a lot more water, produces a lot more byproduct. So, it’s equaling to — why it is such a big area, it’s 141,000 square kilometers — equal to that of destroying, you know, England and Wales combined, or the state of Florida for American folks. The mines that we’re dealing with are bigger than entire cities. So, there’s about six, seven right now, could be up to nine. And this is — Imperial Oil, for example, will be bigger than Washington, D.C. alone. So, that’s just a mine. And this is some of the biggest dump trucks in the world. A lot of the issues of toxicity we’re talking from the air, so these are some of the biggest dump trucks in the world. And a lot of the issues for toxicity that we’re dealing with is, and which relates to the water, are these huge tailing ponds; they’re called ponds, but they’re actually big toxic sludge lakes. They currently spend 180 square kilometers just of toxic sludge that’s sitting on the landscape. So, every day one million leaders are leaching into the Athabasca Watershed, which is, you know, where our families drink from. I’m from the Peace Region, but it connects to the Athabasca and it goes up into the Arctic Basin, so that is where all the Northern folks will be getting these toxins, and these contain cyanide, mercury, lead, polyaromatic hydrocarbin nythetic acids. So, there are a lot of issues that we’re dealing with healthwise.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Melina Laboucan-Massimo, member of the lLubicon Cree First Nation in northern Alberta. All of this comes as Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently sent President Obama letter, offering a greater pledge of reduced carbon emissions of the Keystone Pipeline is built to bring tar sands oil from Canada to the United States. Well, for more I’m joined by one of Canada’s leading environmental activists, Tzeporah Berman. She’s campaigned for decades around clean energy and is the former Co-director of Greenpeace International’s Climate [Unit]. She is now focused on stopping tar sands extraction as a member of the steering committee for the Tar Sands Solutions Network. Tzeporah Berman is also the Co-founder of Forest Ethics and the author of the book, “This Crazy Time: Living Our Environmental Challenge.” Welcome to Democracy Now! it’s great to have you with us Tzeporah.

TZEPORAH BERMAN: Thank you, it’s great to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what tar sands means for you in Canada and how it has affected your whole country.

TZEPORAH BERMAN: The tar sands are the single largest industrial project on earth. The scale is almost incomprehensible, if you’ve never been there. They are not only the single reason that Canada’s climate pollution is going up, that we will not meet even the weak targets, even the weak targets, that have been set, but they’re also the most toxic project in the country; they’re polluting our water and air. The tar sands produces 300 million liters of toxic sludge a day that is just pumped into open pit lakes that now stretch about 170 kilometers across Canada. And, you know, one of the important things about what is happening in Canada right now is that Canadian policy on climate change, on environment, on many issues is being held hostage to the goal that this federal government, the Harper government and the oil industry have, of expanding the tar sands no matter what the cost. Oil corrodes, it is corroding our pipelines and leading to spills and leaks that are threatening our communities, but it is also corroding our democracy. What we’re seeing in Canada is, the, literally, the elimination of 40 years of environmental laws in the last two years in order to make way for quick expansion of tar sands and pipelines. I mean, the Keystone is not the only pipeline this industry is proposing. It is a spider of pipelines across North America so that they can try and expand this dirty oil as quickly as possible.

AMY GOODMAN: And why is it so dirty?

TZEPORAH BERMAN: It’s really dirty because it’s — the oil is mixed with sand. So, in order to get that oil out, they have to use natural gas. More natural gas is used in the tar sands than all homes in Canada. It’s — so, they use natural gas and freshwater to actually remove the oil from the sand, and the result is that each barrel of oil from the tar sands has three to four times more emissions, more climate pollution than conventional oil.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain how this pipeline would traverse Canada and the United States and where it goes, what it is for. Does the U.S. benefit from the oil going through the pipeline?

TZEPORAH BERMAN: No, this is an export pipeline. What the industry wants is, they want to get this oil off the continent because they’ll get a better price. And so, all of the pipelines that are currently being proposed are in order so that the industry can export the oil. So, the Keystone, for example, will go all the way from Alberta straight down through the United States and out to the Gulf, and it’s not for U.S. consumption. The majority of that oil is destined to — the U.S. is really just in the Canadian oil industry’s way. The result is that this is a pipeline that is — presents enormous risk to the American people as a result of the terrible records of oil spills and leaks. And not a lot of benefit.

AMY GOODMAN: Tzeporah, you have been meeting with a number of scientists. This week in the New York Times had an interesting editorial called, “Silencing Scientists” and it said “Over the last few years, the government of Canada — led by Stephen Harper — has made it harder and harder for publicly financed scientists to communicate with the public and with other scientists.” What is going on?

TZEPORAH BERMAN: First of all, the government has shut down the majority of scientific research in the country that had to deal with climate change. This is a government in denial and they do not want to talk about climate change. So, last year they shut down the atmospheric research station, which was one of the most important places in the world to get climate data. They shut down the National Round Table on Environment and Economy, they fired hundreds of scientists, and the ones that are left are being told that they can’t release the research to us, even though it is a tax payer’s funded research. They’re also being told they can’t speak to the press unless they have a handler and it’s an approved interview; they have to have a handler from the prime minister’s office. So, the scientists that I’ve talked to, they’re embarrassed, they’re frustrated, they’re protesting. Last week in Canada we had hundreds of scientists hit the streets in their lab coats protesting the federal government because they can’t speak. They are being muzzled. To the extent that the, quiet eminent, journal Nature, last year, published an editorial saying it is time for Canada to set its scientists free.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, this is an amazing story. We know that in the United States, under the Bush Administration, you had James Hansen who was Head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at NASA who had a handler who hadn’t graduated from college, he was — I think his credential was that he been active on the Bush campaign committee, re-election campaign committee, and James Hansen had to go through him to deal with the media.

TZEPORAH BERMAN: Right, well — but, and James Hansen’s still got to speak deal with — to speak to the media. Most of the scientists that I’m talking to in Canada can’t speak to the media at all. And if they want to talk about climate change, they’re definitely not going to get those interviews approved. But, it is not just the scientists that are being muzzled and the climate research that’s being shut down and people that are being fired, we have also seen an unprecedented attack on charitable organizations that deal with environmental research. The Canadian Government has the majority of environmental organizations under Canadian revenue audit, and so, the result is you have the majority of the country’s environmental leaders not able to be a watchdog on what the government is doing. And secret documents revealed through freedom of information this year showed that the government eliminated all these environmental laws in Canada at the request of the oil industry because the environmental laws were in their way. The Embridge Northern Gateway Pipeline crosses 1000 streams and that would normally trigger in of environmental assessment process. Well, when you have no laws, you have no environmental assessment, so when they eradicated all the environmental laws 3000 environmental assessments for major industrial projects in Canada were canceled. Now those projects are just approved without environmental assessment.

AMY GOODMAN: What does it mean, the activism for you and Canada in the United States, when clearly President Obama has been forced to delay the decision, the Keystone XL because of the massive protest against it?

TZEPORAH BERMAN: I think that what we’re seeing, not only in the United States, but also in Canada, is an unprecedented climate movement. I think that, you know, these pipelines have provided a tangible focus for communities on the ground, and the oil industry and the government have, in a sense, created their own perfect storm. Because, while before it might have been people who were concerned about climate change that would get involved in tar sands or pipeline issues, now it is people worried about their groundwater, it’s first nations and indigenous people across North America who are protesting their rights. It’s land owners. So, now you have this perfect storm.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this month, the legendary Canadian musician, Neil Young, spoke out against the extraction of tar sands oil in Canada and its export to the U.S. through the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline. He was speaking to a National Farmers Union rally and Washington, D.C. Neil Young described his recent visit to a tar sands community in Alberta, Canada.

NEIL YOUNG: The fact is, Fort McMurray looks like Hiroshima. Fort McMurray is a wasteland. The Indians up there and the Native peoples are dying. The fuel’s all over, there’s fumes everywhere. You can smell it when you get to town. The closest place to Fort McMurray that is doing the tar sands work is 25 or 30 miles out of town, and you can taste it when you get to Fort McMurray. People are sick. People are dying of cancer because of this.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the legendary musician Neil Young. I don’t know how many people here in the U.S. know that he is Canadian, but, he is. The significance of him coming, and also what did the climatologist, the scientist, James Hansen, call the tar sands?

TZEPORAH BERMAN: Dr. Hansen has referred to the Keystone XL Pipeline as the fuse to the largest carbon bomb on the planet. And he says that his studies are showing that if we allow the tar sands to expand at the rates that the government and industry want it to expand, then it’s game over for the planet.

AMY GOODMAN: Tzeporah Berman, I saw you at the International Women’s Earth and Climate Summit in Sufferin and you talked about your son having to respond to a question of his. We only have a minute, but explain.

TZEPORAH BERMAN: One night at dinner my son, who was eight at the time, turned to me and said, mommy, why does the government think you are a terrorist? Which is not really the conversation you want to have with your son. Because he had heard on the radio, that on the Senate floor, the Harper government was proposing that we change the definition of the term “domestic terrorism” in Canada to include environmentalism.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, what does that mean for you and what does that mean for environmental activists? Where are you headed now? What are you going to do around tar sands?

TZEPORAH BERMAN: Canadians who care about these issues are under attack by our own government, and we are being told that if we — that what we do is not in the national interest unless we support the oil industry’s agenda. But, I think this government has overreached and we are now finding — our phones are ringing off the hook. People are joining the campaign and stepping up. And let’s be clear, Canadians want clean energy. Canadians, many of them, are very embarrassed about what our government is doing internationally, so our movement is growing, and so far, we have slowed down all of these pipelines and the expansion.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the alternative?

TZEPORAH BERMAN: Well, the alternative for Canada is not only clean energy, renewable energy, which now we can build at scale, we know that, but it’s also supporting other aspects of our economy, because when you support only one aspect of your economy, the most capital-intensive sector in the country, then it starts to destroy your manufacturing base, your service industry, your tourism industry. We need a diversified economy in Canada, and that’s not — and that’s entirely possible.

AMY GOODMAN: Tzeporah Berman, I want to thank you for being with us; leading environmental activist in Canada. She’s campaigned for decades around clean energy; former Co-director of Greenpeace International’s Climate Unit, now focused on stopping tar sands extraction.

Censorship is alive and well in Canada – just ask government scientists February 24, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Civil Liberties, Media, Science and Technology.
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Roger’s note: Canada under the leadership of J. Edgar Harper.

Elizabeth Renzetti

The Globe and Mail

Published Friday, Feb. 22 2013, 8:27 PM EST

Last updated Saturday, Feb. 23 2013, 9:01 AM EST

 

Freedom to Read Week begins on Feb. 24, bringing with it the perfect opportunity to kick the tires of democracy and make sure the old jalopy’s still running as she should.

What’s that you say? The bumper fell off when you touched it? The engine won’t turn over? That’s not so good. Better look under the hood.

We like to think of censorship as something that happens over there, in the faraway places where men break into houses at night to smash computers, or arrive in classrooms to remove books they don’t like. Not in lovely, calm, respectful Canada. Here we don’t necessarily notice freedoms being eroded slowly, grain by grain, “like sands through the hourglass,” if you’ll allow me to quote from Days of Our Lives.

Just ask Canada’s government scientists. Oh wait, you can’t ask them, because they’ve got duct tape over their mouths (metaphorical duct tape, but hey – it’s still painful). This week the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Clinic and Democracy Watch asked federal Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault to investigate claims that scientists are being prohibited from speaking freely with journalists – and through them, the public.

In a report called Muzzling Civil Servants: A Threat to Democracy, the UVic researchers present some chilling findings: Scientists are either told not to speak to journalists or to spout a chewed-over party line, rubber-stamped by their PR masters; the restrictions are particularly tight when a journalist is seeking information about research relating to climate change or the tar sands; Environment Canada scientists require approval from the Privy Council Office before speaking publicly on sensitive topics “such as climate change or protection of polar bear and caribou.”

You wouldn’t want the average citizen to learn too much about caribou, now. Who knows how crazy he could get with that kind of information? It could lead to panel discussions about Arctic hares, town halls on ptarmigans. The report states that government scientists are “frustrated,” which is hardly surprising. It’s like hiring Sandy Koufax and never letting him pitch.

The other thing that the report makes clear is how deliberate this strategy is: “The federal government has recently made concerted efforts to prevent the media – and through them, the general public – from speaking to government scientists, and this, in turn, impoverishes the public debate on issues of significant national concern.”

This is not an issue that’s going away. The Harper government’s heavy-handed control of scientists’ research has raised concerns across the world for a few years, including condemnation from such bastions of Marxism as Nature magazine.

A couple thousand scientists from across the country marched on Parliament Hill last July to protest cuts in research (many in the highly sensitive area of environment and climate change) and restrictions on their ability to speak freely about their work. They created what might be the best chant in the history of political protest: “What do we want? Science! When do we want it? After peer review!”

Last week, Margaret Munro of Postmedia News reported that a University of Delaware scientist was up in arms over a new confidentiality agreement brought in by Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans. “I’m not signing it,” Andreas Muenchow told the reporter. What does this mean for bilateral co-operation on research? Nothing good, that’s for sure.

The Vise-Grip on information is tightening and Ottawa is the muscle. Last month, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression released a report about the dire state of freedom of information requests: “Canada’s access to information system is in a deep crisis and without urgent reform could soon become dysfunctional,” the report noted. That means fewer requests being processed, at a more glacial pace, with more of the juicy bits blacked out by the government censor’s pen. This is the good stuff, people. The stuff the government doesn’t want you to know about. The stuff that’s kept in a filing cabinet in Gatineau under a sign that says, “Nothing here. Nope. Just a three-week-old tuna sandwich. And it’s radioactive.” This is the information we need to keep an eye on the government’s internal gears – and it’s being withheld.

Canada recently plummeted 10 places to No. 20 in the World Press Freedom Index, which measures how unfettered a country’s media is. Reporters Without Borders, which compiles the index, is concerned about the access-to-information issue and about the protection of journalists’ sources. The beacon we should now follow is Jamaica, whose press freedoms rank highest in the region.

It’s the perfect time to welcome Freedom to Read Week. There are events all over Canada and countless ways to celebrate our precious liberties. Bring your kids to the library. Read something you shouldn’t. Even better, write something you shouldn’t. A letter to your MP, perhaps?

People ‘still willing to torture’ December 19, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Torture.
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BBC News, December 19, 2008

Decades after a notorious experiment, scientists have found test subjects are still willing to inflict pain on others – if told to by an authority figure.

US researchers repeated the famous “Milgram test”, with volunteers told to deliver electrical shocks to another volunteer – played by an actor.

Even after faked screams of pain, 70% were prepared to increase the voltage, the American Psychology study found.

Both may help explain why apparently ordinary people can commit atrocities.

It’s not that these people are simply not good people any more – there is a massive social influence going on.
Dr Abigal San
clinical psychologist

Yale University professor Stanley Milgram’s work, published in 1963, recruited volunteers to help carry out a medical experiment, with none aware that they were actually the subject of the test.

A “scientist” instructed them to deliver a shock every time the actor answered a question wrongly.

When the pretend 150-volt shock was delivered, the actor could be heard screaming in pain, and yet, when asked to, more than eight out of ten volunteers were prepared to give further shocks, even when the “voltage” was gradually increased threefold.

Some volunteers even carried on giving 450-volt shocks even when there was no further response from the actor, suggesting he was either unconscious or dead.

Similar format

Dr Jerry Burger, of Santa Clara University, used a similar format, although he did not allow the volunteers to carry on beyond 150 volts after they had shown their willingness to do so, suggesting that the distress caused to the original volunteers had been too great.

 

HAVE YOUR SAY

Until humans value the lives of others equal to their own, this will unfortunately continue to be the case

Louise, Lincoln, UK

Again, however, the vast majority of the 29 men and 41 women taking part were willing to push the button knowing it would cause pain to another human.

Even when another actor entered the room and questioned what was happening, most were still prepared to continue.

He told Reuters: “What we found is validation of the same argument – if you put people in certain situations, they will act in surprising and maybe often even disturbing ways.”

He said that it was not that there was “something wrong” with the volunteers, but that when placed under pressure, people will often do “unsettling” things.

Even though it was difficult to translate laboratory work to the real world, he said, it might partly explain why, in times of conflict, people could take part in genocide.

Complex task

Dr Abigail San, a chartered clinical psychologist, has recently replicated the experiment for a soon-to-be-aired BBC documentary – all the way up to the 450-volt mark, again finding a similar outcome to Professor Milgram.

“It’s not that these people are simply not good people any more – there is a massive social influence going on.”

She said that the volunteers were being asked to carry out a complex task in aid of scientific research, and became entirely focused on it, with “little room” left for considering the plight of the person receiving the shock.

“They tend to identify massively with the ‘experimenter’, and become very engaged and distracted by the research.

“There’s no opportunity for them to say ‘What’s my moral stand on this?'”