Archive for the 'Do Something' category

The Day I Learned What Courage Was

Jun 04 2009 Published by under Do Something

On June 5th, 1989, the world got to see exactly what courage is. One man, in a white shirt and dark pants, carrying shopping bags, faced down a company of tanks. The whole world saw the images of his simple courage. His name and his fate remain a mystery - all that is known about his entire life is what he did for a few brief minutes on one terrible day.

A Facebook page has been created to celebrate the legacy of the Tank Man. Please take a few minutes to help demonstrate how important those moments were by becoming a fan.

7 responses so far

The election is over. It's time to work. Let's start by focusing on the Kennedy/EPA thing.

Nov 06 2008 Published by under Do Something

It's been almost 36 hours since the networks called the election for Obama. That's enough of a honeymoon. There's work to be done.

There are widespread reports that President-elect Obama is seriously considering appointing Robert Kennedy Jr. as head of the EPA. The appointment does seem to have some benefits - including, as Politico points out, some political ones for Obama - but Orac is right. It's a bad idea.

Kennedy's active participation in the anti-vaccination movement is a threat to public health. It also demonstrates, quite clearly, that he is willing to actively promote positions in the face of clear and convincing scientific evidence that those positions are wrong. I think most of us can agree that those are not traits that we'd like to see in the person responsible for running a US Government scientific agency.

The politicization of science is bad no matter who does it. It wasn't just bad when the Republicans were involved. It will be just as bad if it's a Democrat doing it.

I suspect that we'll see other articles on other blogs discussing this appointment, particularly if an announcement is made in the next week or two. But if there's one thing we really should have learned from this election, it's this: words alone don't get the job done.

They're certainly not going to get the job done if we just talk among ourselves. If we want to effectively oppose this nomination, we need to bring in the entire scientific community. And we need to do it now. If the appointment is announced, it's a done deal. There aren't a lot of Democrats out there who are going to want to hand Obama an embarrassing public defeat on a high profile nomination right out the bat, and that number takes a dramatic drop when doing so would also involve simultaneously pissing off the Kennedys and Clintons.

So if you want to work to try and head off this potential problem, I'd suggest starting soon. One thing that might help is if you bring the issue to the attention of three or four people you know who would be interested in this, but who don't read blogs. Have them bring in more of their friends.

Try to get them to get in touch with anyone they know who is involved in one of the major scientific organizations, or who is an editor for a major publication, or has political contacts. Let's try to get those folks to put out the word that a Kennedy appointment to the EPA will cause problems down the road.

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A military spouse's Presidential endorsement.

In today's Atlanta Journal Constitution, Army spouse Elisabeth Kadlec writes:

When we married our spouses, I am sure that none of us were signing up to be single parents. But in essence that is what we become. Many people I know, like my husband, have already been deployed more than three times, and will go again. Most of these deployments are to Iraq or Afghanistan. It always amazes me when people ask me if my husband has to go back. I even laugh at this question!

I think it shows that the public has no idea how many troops make up the armed forces and how many are deployed at a time. Somehow, that message has been lost when we talk about the war. I am pretty much resolved that my husband will be deployed almost every other year. You can only imagine what this does to a family, and how important it is to us that smart decisions are being made for military members.

I don't know Ms. Kadlec, but I sure do know a hell of a lot of people like her - enough to know that she is far from the only military spouse who will be voting Obama this year. She understands, as does every member of every Army family, that the current deployment tempo cannot go on forever, or even for much longer, without causing long-term damage to the army as a whole.

In other news, updates here will be fewer and farther between than normal this week. I'll be spending most of my free time working at the Obama campaign's Pensacola office.

8 responses so far

Community Organizing and the Scientific Community: A Challenge.

Sep 08 2008 Published by under Do Something, Public Perception of Science

Last week, right around the time that Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin were mocking community organizers at the Republican Convention, I found myself talking about how community organizing can help us become more effective when it comes to dealing with issues where science and politics intersect.

I think this is something that we really need to do. The political groups that are opposed to science are typically very well organized. This is true for the anti-evolutionists, it's true for the global warming denialists, it's true for the anti-vaccinationists, and it's true for the anti-reproductive rights lobby. All of these groups have been extraordinarily effective when it comes to bringing people together around a common cause.

The members of the scientific community, on the other hand, typically belong to many organizations. Sadly, this is not the same as being well-organized.

During my childhood, I had many opportunities to see what community organizing can do. My mother is a professional organizer, and I started going to meetings with her when I was about two. This was in the Bronx, somewhere around thirty years ago. It's really no exaggeration to say that without the community groups, the Bronx would not have managed to do anywhere near as well as it has during that time.

That's because there is real power in numbers. When a single tenant in a slum building tries to do something about the conditions they're living in, progress is (at best) slow. The landlord is never in the office. The buildings department loses the complaints. Local legislators are friendly and courteous, but the matter isn't high on their list of priorities. The tenant who is trying to work on the problem is going to spend a lot of time and effort, and will be rewarded with a lot of frustration.

The same thing is probably going to happen to any other tenant who tries to do it alone - even if they're going through the same steps right around the same time as their neighbor.

When all the tenants in the building band together and refuse to pay rent until the landlord makes the building livable, things are different. The landlord is definitely going to take notice. The city inspectors find it much more difficult to avoid taking action. Elected officials take things very seriously when they know that the issue involves a number of constituents, not just one.

History shows that the organized approach works. It works when it's applied to slumlords and their unlivable buildings. It works when it comes to long-neglected public parks. It works when it comes to getting the local police precinct to pay more attention to neighborhood concerns. Similar approaches have also worked when it came to getting workplace safety and child labor legislation passed. It's also worked in places like Dover, Pennsylvania, when local citizens banded together, ran for office, and got rid of the nincompoops who got the school district into so much trouble.

I doubt that much of what I've said so far is controversial. I've had conversations about this sort of thing with some of before. Every time I've brought up the idea of trying to see if we can make community organizing work for us, the consensus has been that it's an idea worth trying. The problem is that so far, I've never made it past the "talk" point. And it's definitely going to take a lot more than talk for us to get organized.

As my mother has pointed out to me now and again (more or less weekly, over a period of at least a decade), there are professional organizers out there, they've been doing it for a long time, and they've gotten pretty good at it. They've had time to learn what techniques work, which ones don't, and how to modify the basic tools to handle different situations.

Fortunately for us, some of them have actually written some of this stuff down. And that's where my challenge to you comes in.

If there's one person who gets most of the credit for developing community organizing as a profession, it's Saul Alinski. Alinski started out organizing in the Back of the Yards neighborhood in Chicago in the 1930s. In the early 1970s, he published his second book, Rules for Radicals. Alinski was mostly interested in bringing about social and political change, but that doesn't mean that the strategies and tactics he outlines are necessarily going to be inapplicable in our own lives and interests. At the least, I think its worth looking at.

Starting on October 1st, I'm going to begin reading and blogging about "Rules for Radicals" at a pace of one chapter per week. I'm willing to do this by myself, but I think we'll all get a lot more out of it if I'm not the only one reading it. Which brings us to the challenge.

If you think that we (however you define we) need to do a better job when it comes to making the case for the role of good science in any aspect of public policy, read this book with me - especially if you're skeptical that tools developed to help deal with social problems can be used in the field of science communications. It's not a thick book, we're not going to be going through it quickly, and you've got plenty of time to get your hands on a copy.

I'll post on the first chapter four weeks from today - on October 6th. Is anyone else going to read it with me?

2 responses so far

Morality and Political Polarity

Feb 04 2008 Published by under Do Something

Over the weekend, ScienceBlogs was treated to a view of how at least one European views American politics. Archaeologist Martin Rundkvist looked at our spectrum of political belief and compared it to normal politics in his native Sweden. From his perspective, all of American politics is right-wing. Even the Liberal Party, he tells us, is part of the political right in Sweden - and not because they are advocating for things that are all that different than liberals do in America. Lest you think that this is just a European perspective, Australian John Wilkins agrees that the range of acceptable political choices is much more compressed in America than it is elsewhere in the world.

American Chad Orzel took exception to Martin's description. In politics, the physics professor argues, there's no such thing as a privileged reference frame. Instead of claiming that all of American politics falls on the right side of the European spectrum, he points out, one could just as easily argue that all of European politics falls on the left side of the American spectrum. Had he stopped there, I probably would have sat this argument out. But he didn't. Chad went concluded his post with an argument that reflects a very dangerous, and all too-common belief about the political landscape:

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Dec 10 2007 Published by under Do Something, Political, Science, Science and Politics

Why - and when - do bridges fail? How and why does veterinary usage of some medications pose a risk to humans? How important is it to be absolutely certain that global warming is causing an increase in hurricane strength before taking action on the issue? How important is space exploration? How much money should we spend on science education? Do we need to re-examine the way the federal government handles its many science research agencies?

All of those questions - and many, many others that involve science - have the potential to shape the future of the United States for better or worse. The President of the United States makes decisions (either directly from the Oval Office or through appointments) on how to address all of those questions. Science policy may not get as much attention as foreign policy or the domestic agenda, but it's at least as important a part of the President's job.

That's why I was thrilled to learn that there's a serious effort underway to push for a Presidential debate that will focus on issues of science and technology. The ScienceDebate2008 initiative was mentioned by Physicist Lawrence Krauss in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Thursday, and formally launched today.

You'll be hearing more about this over the coming days and weeks, as more details are worked out and more people sign on to the effort. For now, go on over to the website, read the statement, and sign on yourself.

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Unions and Blogs

Nov 12 2007 Published by under Do Something, Misc

Two unions representing professions involved in the entertainment industry are on strike right now - Broadway stagehands in New York, and writers for both big- and little-screen productions nationwide. These strikes - especially the writers' one - have stirred up some discussion about online writing in general (and blogging in particular), and how non-traditional writers might benefit from unionization. From fellow Scienceblogger Chris Mooney:

Meanwhile, on to bloggers, who are entirely dismissed as workers ... because blogging is somehow supposed to be fun or a hobby. Well, guess what: Some people do not want to blog as a hobby; and some media companies are starting to make serious money off the work of bloggers. To me, and especially in light of all the attention bloggers have gotten in the last few years (they've been credited with playing crucial roles in elections, for instance), this suggests they should be taken much more seriously and treated as workers just like anyone else in many cases. Furthermore, just like freelancers, just like screenwriters, bloggers would benefit by having some sort of standards set in their industry. For one, those who are "professionals" should be fairly compensated for their quality work for blogs that are monetized--that bring in viewership or revenues.

There's a far broader and more resonant point here: An increasing amount people these days are choosing careers that do solely depend on what they create for the Internet. It's not just bloggers. Just look at job listings these days in the areas of media or journalism.

The points that Chris raises there are interesting. Should bloggers be considered to be workers, and if they are, are there benefits to organizing the labor? I don't think there's an easy answer to that question. There are some compelling arguments in favor of unionization in this case, and there are some compelling arguments against it.

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2 responses so far

DonorsChoose Roundup and Next Steps

Nov 02 2007 Published by under Do Something

It's now the day after the DonorsChoose Challenge, and several things are clear.

First, you people rock. This blog is not one of the highest-readership blogs in the Scienceblogs network. Most months, we're not even in the top half. But there's no way that anyone would guess that looking at the final results of the DonorsChoose challenge. At the end of the challenge, we had collected over $3,300. That was the third highest total among the participating Scienceblogs, and it put us into the top 25 of all participating blogs on the interwebs. Thank you all.

Second, you people rock., as a whole, collected over $54,000, not counting the additional $15,000 that Seed Media will be donating in matching funds. (As of this morning, Steven Colbert and his TV viewers have kicked in $46,000.) It's obvious that Scienceblogs readers care about educating the next generation of American Scientists. Thank you all very, very much.

Third, there's more that can - and needs to be - done. And you can do it.

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Scienceblogs: Clearly More Popular than Steven Colbert

Oct 31 2007 Published by under Do Something, Philanthropy

If you are one of the many people who was trying to contribute to the DonorsChoose challenge today, you should know that there's one person you can blame for the trouble you had accessing the site: right-wing spinmeister and wannabe Presidential candidate Steven Colbert. That's right, folks. Like a typical heartless Conservative, Colbert's not content merely trying to shrink government to a convenient, easy to drown size. No, he's not going to rest until he makes it harder for un-American liberal weenies like you to waste your hard-earned dollars by using them to buy things that he knows that students don't really need - like binders, or projection screens, or basic lab supplies. Kids don't need that stuff to learn - a slate, some chalk, and a bible was good enough for grandpa, and it's good enough for junior. Americans shouldn't be giving their money away so that other people can waste it on children. We should be supporting American retail by buying more things made in China. There's an educational benefit to doing that, too - when you're done, give the stuff you buy to the kids. Most of it's got enough lead to write with.

Colbert can try to mess that up for people, by evilly enticing his unwitting viewers into overloading the DonorsChoose site by going there to "vote" for him by giving away money, but he's learning a valuable lesson. He may be more popular than all of the other Presidential candidates combined, but he's not more popular than Scienceblogs. And he's got a long way to go before he gets there.

Right now, here's what the polls have to say:

Steven Colbert has plugged his campaign over and over on the air to his so-called "millions of viewers," but has raised a trivial $43,170.

The blogs of, after much selfless work and dedication, have brought in a spectacular $53,494 - and counting.

Because of Colbert's antics, the DonorsChoose folks have extended the campaign by 24 hours, so you've got a whole extra day to donate, and to show Colbert just what you think of him and his "campaign."

4 responses so far

Donors Choose - Coming Down to the Wire

Oct 30 2007 Published by under Do Something, Philanthropy

We're now in the last two days of the DonorsChoose Bloggers' Challenge. As things currently stand, this blog is now $88 away from my $2,500 fundraising goal. Unfortunately, we've been more or less stalled for the last couple of weeks, so I'm going to add an incentive to see if we can get over the top.

DonorsChoose has generously committed to give blogs that hit their goals with a 10% bonus that can be used to fund additional projects. I've already contributed some to my own challenge, but if we have met the goal by 10 pm tomorrow night, our family will also contribute 10% of the total raised (up to a maximum of $500).

Here are the proposals in my challenge that still need contributions:

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