Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Reform Jews Resolve to Defend the Integrity of Science

A few years back, at the height of the Bush administration, the Union for Reform Judaism, concerned by the politicization of science, passed the following excellent resolutions. Others, especially science organizations, should do the same:

  1. Demand that public officials and appointees to governmental and advisory bodies respect the integrity of the scientific process, and not manipulate scientific data and evidence, to achieve political or ideological objectives
  2. Call upon all levels of government to ensure that the appointment of scientists to government positions and advisory boards be made on the basis of scientific experience, expertise and accomplishment
  3. Demand that federal funding of scientific research result from a merit based peer review of proposals, relying strictly upon scientifically objective criteria
  4. Demand that government employed scientists and scientists conducting research under government sponsorship be free from threats and intimidation that might compromise their scientific integrity
  5. Support appropriate measures to ensure that all of the above principles are adhered to and valued
  6. Oppose government efforts and policies that seek to redefine science or the scientific method to incorporate religious, theological or other theories, including “intelligent design” and creationism, that are neither testable by experiment nor observation.

The Politicization of Science

Further to the humiliation of Professor Nutt by the neocon New Labour government of the UK for giving it proper scientific advice as he had been appointed to do, it turns out that similar politicization of science has been going on under the neocon Bush administration. Policymakers within the federal government were trying to suppress objective scientific evidence, to distort scientific findings, and to put people in positions, notably in environment and public health, where they could promote a political and ideological agenda.

Objective science should not be subverted to serve political or ideological goals.

Science is being misused—through efforts to suppress or distort scientific findings, through the appointment of scientists and researchers who meet certain political and ideological rather than professional criteria, through funding politically self serving scientific studies, and through the intimidation of scientists. Newspapers, congressional hearings, and reports from respected scientific organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences and the Union of Concerned Scientists, have expressed concern. Politics is undermining the integrity of the scientific method.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) conducted an investigation into the politicization of science within the government. It found a systematic effort to suppress and distort scientific findings to promote political ends. For example, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) replaced a web site fact sheet containing information on proper condom use, the efficacy of different types of condoms, and a study showing that condom education does not lead to an increase in sexual activity, with information on condom failure and the value of abstinence. Also, information suggesting a link between breast cancer and abortion was posted on the National Cancer Institute’s web site against the objection of CDC staff who denounced such information as long refuted and unsubstantiated.

The same report indicates that the Bush administration delayed for nine months an EPA report (eventually leaked) that indicated that 8 percent of women between the ages of 16 and 49 have blood mercury levels that could lead to reduced IQ and motor skills in their children. When new rules of mercury emissions were finally released by the EPA, at least 12 paragraphs were included, sometimes verbatim, not from scientific sources but from a legal document prepared by industry lawyers.

Reports commissioned by Henry Waxman documented many distortions of science by the executive, on a par with the suppression of Professor Nutt by the UK government, such as the widespread incorporation of erroneous, politicized information in federally funded “abstinence only” curricula. Some of these misrepresentations include inaccurate statistics about contraception, a false linkage between abortions and breast cancer, the labeling of a 43 day old fetus as a “thinking person” and the notion that “sweat and tears” can transmit HIV.

There is also growing use of political criteria for scientific appointees. Applicants have been asked about their political affiliations rather than their professional credentials. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine released a report entitled “Ensuring the Best Presidential and Federal Advisory Committee Science and Technology Appointments”. Among their recommendations was that “it is no more appropriate to ask Science and Technology experts to provide irrelevant information—such as voting record, political party affiliation or position on particular policies —than to ask them other personal and immaterial information, such as hair color or weight”.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

J J Goldberg: A History of Jewish Terrorism

From Forward

J J Goldberg, a veteran Jewish reporter, writes in the US Jewish news weekly Forward, that on 1 November, Israeli police arrested a West Bank settler, Jack (Yaacov) Teitel, a man born in Florida, charged with murder, assault and possessing weapons. Even Israeli officials accept Teitel is a case of Jewish terrorism, his dirty tricks stretching back 12 years, in the whole of which Teitel was able to operate undetected, effecting a series of well planned attacks apparently on his own, though that is an assumption. Among the targets of his terror, besides Arabs were left wing Jews, Christian Jews and homosexuals. Why did the Israeli security services—among the most diligent in the world at identifying Arab terror, and making sure by arresting many Arabs merely on suspicion and keeping them locked up so they can do no harm—took so long to identify Teitel.

Jewish anti Arab violence is a routine aspect of the West Bank where Israelis are settling illegally in land that belongs to Palestinian Arabs. Goldberg says their atmosphere of messianic religious nationalism makes West Bank settlements a breeding ground for extremist violence. The illegal Jewish settlers excuse themselves by blaming a few isolated acts on misfits. Yet Israeli terrorism is far more common than usually thought, though, because there are still many Israeli Jews who are liberal and oppose the Zionist right wing governors of the country, and because Israelis do not have to endure a life of unbearable oppression, Israeli terrorism is nothing like as widespread as that of the Palestinians, who have no choice but to turn to terrorism because the US persistently blocks UN resolutions criticizing Israel.

What is curious is Teitel has been arrested at all, and is called a terrorist by the authorities. The Israeli security forces and police normally conduct only cursory investigations of assaults of Palestinians by settlers, leading to no arrests and no publicity.

A study released in 1994 by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem found that between 1988 and 1993, during the first intifada, 1207 Palestinians were killed by Israelis, 62 by settlers, and 1,145 by security forces. In the same intifada, 117 Israeli civilians and 64 security personnel were killed by Palestinians. Of 48 of the 62 Palestinian deaths at the hands of settlers, 13 cases went to trial. Almost three quarters of the deaths of Palestinians by Israeli settlers studied never reached the courts. Of the 13 that did one led to a conviction for murder! Nine more were convicted of other offenses, and the rest could not be found guilty. Similarly, a government study released in 1984, by the Israeli Deputy Attorney General, looked at 70 Palestinian complaints of attacks by settlers between May 1981 and April 1982. 53 of them ended in no action due to lack of evidence or “absence of public interest” (Goldberg's quotation marks). The author concluded that the army and government consistently overlooked or downplayed settler violence against Arabs.

In the same year, 1984, Jewish terrorism first received widespread notice, following the mass arrest of the “Jewish Underground”. Their crimes included car bomb attacks on three Palestinian mayors, leaving two severely maimed, plus attempted bombings of Arab commuter buses and an armed assault on an Islamic college campus, killing three students and wounding 40. 25 were arrested, mostly leaders of the Gush Emunim settler movement, and most were given 20 years to life. Nearly all were paroled or pardoned within six years, by 1990.

In 1994, terrorist Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli born in Brooklyn, New York, killed 29 Arab worshipers in Hebron. In 1995, Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by Jewish terrorists. Many more had negligible publicity and so were barely noticed even at the time. In 1984, besides the Jewish Underground arrests, two other, independent terror cells were exposed but the public could not distinguish them. One consisted of Kahanists carrying out bus bombings and shootings, and the other of kabbalists aiming to blow up the mosques on the Temple Mount.

In 2003, following two years of roadside shootings, killing eight, and the bombing of an Arab girls’ middle school, wounding 11, nine men of an organized terrorist group were brought to trial and eventually convicted but so slowly that it attracted no publicity. What publicity there was justified the murders by eliciting sympathy for one of the terrorists whose 10 month old daughter had been killed by a Palestinian sniper in 2001.

The settler's excuse of blaming a few isolated acts on misfits is a well tried and tested technique in Israeli misinformation. Israeli terrorist crimes are immediately dismissed by officials as acts of deranged individuals to sidetrack media attention. Yet, given sufficient delay, the criminals are tried and convicted, showing they could not have been deranged, but were sane all along. Insanity is a defense! Examples are Alan Goodman, a Baltimore born soldier who opened fire on the Temple Mount in 1982, killing two guards and wounding nine others, and Ami Popper, a Rishon Letziyon youth who gunned down seven Arab day laborers at a bus stop in 1990. Now he is a hero of the far right.

Goldberg concludes:

It’s an unpleasant story, but an essential one. If we don’t remember the past, we can’t understand the present. We often speak of the sacred duty of remembrance, but memories are tricky things.