Archive for: November, 2012

DonorsChoose Science Bloggers for Students 2012: Into the home stretch.

Since our drive began, the East Coast weathered a big storm (and is now coping with another). People have also been maybe a little preoccupied with elections.

Still, almost 300 generous readers of science blogs have so far raised $24,586 to fund classroom projects that will reach 12,907 public school students.

That's pretty impressive. But we have a couple more days to do even more good.

The drive runs through midnight Friday, Hawaii time (to be fair to Christie and all) -- that's Saturday, November 10, 6 am Eastern time.

The match code SCIENCE will be active until the very end of the drive. At last check, more than $6,000 of the available $50,000 in matching funds (from the DonorsChoose Board of Directors) have been deployed, but that still leaves more than $40,000 in matching funds on the table.

We don't want to leave that money on the table when we can use it to help pay for textbooks, microscopes, science kits, field trips, and other resources that will make learning come alive for kids in public school classrooms.

Making a donation through the drive and entering the SCIENCE match code at checkout will double each donor's contribution up to $100.

Some of you may have blown through your whole $100 match already. (I still have $30 left on my match as I try to choose where I want to put it.) Some of you haven't. To get the remainder of the matching funds on the table, we'd need the equivalent of 400 new donors each contributing $100.

A donation of $100 is not a small thing, especially for those of you who are students, or retirees, or unemployed or underemployed. So probably we want to get more than 400 people to step up and contribute what they can -- even a buck (which, with the match, becomes two bucks). And, we need to spread the word -- to family, co-workers, friends who understand how the right teacher, with the right tools, can get kids really excited about learning. If there's a teacher who made a big difference in your life, maybe this is a good excuse to track him or her down to say thanks and point out a project that we can fund by working together.

Share your enthusiasm about specific projects on Twitter, or Facebook, or G+, or FriendFeed, or your Tumblr or LiveJournal. Encourage your online friends to band together to do a bit of tangible good for kids and teachers in the three-dimensional world.

My giving page is here, but I encourage you to check out the giving pages of other Scientopians, and of science bloggers in other parts of the blogosphere.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

2 responses so far

Academic freedom, academic responsibility, Speaking of Research, and Steve Best.

Nov 05 2012 Published by under Academia, Research with animals

The Speaking of Research blog has been following the involvement of Steve Best, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at El Paso, in providing the philosophical justification for animal rights extremist groups like Negotiation is Over in their "direct action" efforts using threats of violence to discourage animal research.

Recently, they noted that his collaboration with Negotiation Is Over seems to have come to an end, given that he has sought a restraining order against Camille Marino, the most identifiable activist behind Negotiation Is Over.

Best took issue with this coverage, apparently because part of it focused on his own strong claims:

“Let every motherfucker who shoots animals be shot; Let every motherfucker who poisons animals be injected with a barrel of battery acid; Let every motherfucking vivisector be vivisected and thrown away like the shit they are,” he wrote in 2011.

and on what seemed to be evidence that Best assisted Marino in her efforts to raise money to pay college students to give Negotiation Is Over names, pictures, addresses, phone numbers, and other contact information for their classmates who were "learning to experiment on animals". What was the relevant evidence? That donations were requested to be sent to a PayPal account linked to an email address that belongs to Steve Best.

So now, Best has emailed Speaking of Research threatening them with legal action:

you are violating my academic free speech rights with these false unproven claims, and I will take the most aggressive legal action against all of you, just as I have against Marino, who is soon to go down on federal charges for further violations of my PPO.

Specifically, Best is challenging the assertion that letting Marino use the PayPal account linked to that email address of his constitutes support of the Negotiation Is Over campaign against biomedical students.

I think that different people can look at the available evidence and draw different conclusions about the extent of Best's support of the Negotiation Is Over campaign -- and certainly that there might be some interesting discussions (perhaps grounded in moral or political philosophy) on degrees of support and corresponding degrees of responsibility. However, I think Best is overreaching in his claim that Speaking of Research is "violating [his] academic free speech rights" in blogging about his public statements and public activities.

Like free speech more generally, academic freedom is not unlimited. I reckon a tenured associate professor's free speech would not extend to shouting "Fire!" in a crowded movie house. It would surely not extend, either, to ordering a hit on an enemy, whether that enemy was professional or personal.

And, beyond issues of identifying the point at which speech becomes action (whether that action is criminal or not), it is crucial to recognize that academic freedom, like free speech more generally, is not a right to be free from having others criticize what you have said.

Here's what the University of Texas at El Paso Handbook of Operating Procedures says about academic freedom:

Academic freedom is an indispensable element of that larger liberty that includes the right to free expression.  Because a free society and freedom itself rest upon the continuous search for knowledge, and because institutions of higher education are primary agencies for the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge, a faculty member is entitled to full academic freedom in research, in the publication of results and conclusions, and in the classroom presentation of his or her subject.

(Bold emphasis added.)

Have the posts at Speaking of Research prevented Best from pursuing his research, or from publishing his conclusions or presenting them in the classroom? I have no evidence one way or the other on this, but it would surprise me very much if they have. It's true that the UK Home Office barred Best from entering the UK on account of public statements that were judged to be at odds with a policy prohibiting entry of people who

foment, justify or glorify terrorist violence in furtherance of particular beliefs; seek to provoke others to terrorist acts; [or] foment other serious criminal activity or seek to provoke others to serious criminal acts.

So, Best was prevented from presenting his conclusions (in person) in the UK, but not by Speaking of Research. Moreover, academic freedom is not a guarantee that the academic claiming it will be admitted to any nation in the world.

Here's what the University of Texas at El Paso Handbook of Operating Procedures says about academic responsibility:

Academic freedom, like any other freedom, carries with it concomitant responsibilities.  The requirements of scholarly statement and research in a field of specialization shall constitute the guidelines for these responsibilities. 

Academic freedom does not extend to the promulgation and exploitation in the classroom of material that has no relationship to the subject being taught.

Academic responsibility imposes certain professional restraints on academicians in their roles as citizens.  Because faculty are identified as members of a learned profession and as representatives of the University, they should bear in mind that the public may judge both the profession and the University on the basis of public utterances.  Hence, when acting in their roles as citizens, faculty members are expected to be accurate in their statements, to respect the opinions of others, and to make it clear that they do not speak for the University or their profession.

As employees of a State institution of higher education, faculty members should refrain from involving the University of Texas System or The University of Texas at El Paso in partisan politics.

(Bold emphasis added.)

There's a lot we could say about exactly how academic responsibility might play out, but surely a short-list would include:

  1. You have a responsibility not to knowingly present an untruth as the truth (e.g., fabricating or falsifying experimental results, or making claims that you know are not supported by the available evidence).
  2. You have a responsibility, when presenting yourself as a scholar/knowledge-builder/thinker from a particular academic field, to make use of the recognized methods of that field in arriving at or supporting the claims you're putting forward. A scientist making an assertion needs to be ready to point to the scientific evidence that supports it (and to answer the scientific evidence that seems to be in conflict with it). A philosopher needs to be ready to put up the argument that supports his position, and to answer the objections and counterarguments.
  3. You have a responsibility to recognize that some assertions you might make can be used to harm others -- and, possibly, to do all you can to head off that harm when you make those assertions.
  4. Arguably, you have a responsibility not to threaten the academic freedom of others.

Calling for violence towards other academics who do work of which you do not approve, then, seems like a failure of academic responsibility. And, such calls for violence are arguably more of an impediment to academic freedom than is a blog post critiquing a philosopher's rhetoric or the use to which it has been put by activist groups.

Of course, the folks at Speaking of Research are quite clear that they are not interested in infringing on Steve Best's academic freedom:

We are not acting against his academic freedom. If anything we are merely defending the academic freedom of those of his academic colleagues at UTEP and elsewhere that Prof. Best wants “to be vivisected and thrown away like the shit they are.”  Most universities have an ethical code of conduct that make such speech unacceptable academic behavior.  One must wonder if UTEP has one or not.

Prof. Best is free to speak up his mind and support animal rights extremists and their actions, but he must understand that such freedom does not entail freedom from the consequences of such speech or acts. Here and elsewhere, we have simply explained and documented the connection between Negotiation is Over, their campaigns to harass and intimidate students, the PayPal account they used to accept donations, and its link to Prof. Best email account.

Academics -- especially academic philosophers -- come into their professional world expecting that there will be vigorous disagreements about the conclusions they bring to the marketplace of ideas, and about the arguments they use to support those conclusions. When one's work has clear relevance to issues that matter beyond the ivory tower, it is to be expected that these disagreements will spill over into the broader public discourse. That's the price of exercising your academic free speech -- you may have to listen to critiques.

If Steve Best wants to avoid the critiques, his only sure bet is to drop out of the discussion. He can't simultaneously assert his own right to speech while demanding that his critics shut up.

6 responses so far

DonorsChoose Science Bloggers for Students 2012: Super-storm Sandy is not going to stop us!

Gerty-Z got there first, but a good idea is a good idea.

Super-storm Sandy did major damage to the East Coast, especially New Jersey and New York City. The offices of DonorsChoose are in New York City. Their fabulous staff is safe (and mostly dry) and their computer servers are up, which means the Science Bloggers for Students drive has been operational and ready to receive your donations. However, a bunch of potential donors to the drive have probably been kind of distracted keeping their own selves safe and dry.

So, a few things we're doing about this situation.

FIRST, we're extending the drive through next Friday, November 9. This gives our East Coast compatriots who are waiting to get power back a chance to join in the fun. The dollar-for-dollar match from the DonorsChoose Board of Directors will be extended to the end (unless we blow through all $50,000 first, which would be awesome). Just enter SCIENCE in the "Match or gift code" field at checkout, and every dollar you give up to $100 will be doubled.

SECOND, I've added three projects to my giving page from hurricane affected area:

Chemistry textbooks for Thurgood Marshall Academy in New York City where students have been relying on their teacher's notes and outdated textbooks.

Inquiry-based genetics lab kits for Dr. Charles E Brimm Medical Arts High School in Camden, New Jersey, to help students get hands-on experience with modern biological techniques.

Plants and animals for ecosystem and terraria studies at Weequahic High School in Newark, New Jersey, where students are connecting their studies in biology, environmental science, and engineering to everyday issues like what's on the dinner table and how it got there.

In the event that we get these fully funded before the end of the drive, I'll add more.

THIRD, for each of these new projects that we get to full funding before the end of the drive, I will donate $25 to the American Red Cross for Sandy relief. If we get all three fully funded, I'll donate $100 to the American Red Cross for Sandy relief. If we fully fund additional Sandy-affected-area projects beyond these three, it will be an additional $25 out of my pocket to the American Red Cross for each of them.

If you hit your $100 limit on the matching funds, I know you'll lean on your family and friends who care about science education.

We can do this!

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It's not the end of the world (yet): DonorsChoose Science Bloggers for Students 2012 enters home stretch.

We're coming into the home stretch of our annual DonorsChoose Science Bloggers for Students drive:

Science Bloggers for Students: No Apocalypse in Sight (Transcript below)

And, now until the end of the drive, you can get your donations matched (up to $100 per donor) thanks to the generosity of the Board of Directors. Just enter the match code SCIENCE in the "Match or gift code" field as you check out.

By the way, the Board of Directors has put up $50,000 in matching funds, so once you've hit your match code limit, you might want to nudge your family, friends, and social media contacts to give to worthy projects and get their donations matched.

My giving page for the challenge is here. You can find other giving pages from Scientopia bloggers here.

Thanks in advance for your generosity!

Transcript of the video:

Today is November 1, 2012, which means that the prediction that the world would end in October of 2012? Didn't happen. Now what?

After your hard work laying in emergency supplies for the apocalypse, a new day dawns ... and there's stuff to do: dishes to wash, rabbit runs to clean, and public school classrooms that still need help getting funds for equipment, field trips, even basic classroom supplies.

Here's where DonorsChoose comes in: Pick a giving page from the Science Bloggers for Students challenge. Check out the projects and find one that matters to you. Give what you can, even if it's just a buck. And now, until the end of the drive, you can use the match code SCIENCE to double your donation, up to $100. Give a dollar, the project you're funding gets two dollars. Give $100, the project gets $200.

The world didn't end -- this time. So take this opportunity to do some good and help some kids before it does.

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