Open letter to Reed Elsevier

Further to the petition and boycott pledge I linked a while back, Tom Stafford has put together an open letter to Reed Elsevier that you can sign if you are an academic or researcher. Tom writes:

The letter will be sent to the Times Higher Education Supplement, a leading UK academics’ weekly, with potential for other national and international coverage. This will be the next in what has now become a series of open letters from professional users of Reed products. Previous letters have been signed by medics (in The Lancet) and high-profile writers (in the Times Literary Supplement), and both have received considerable, and worldwide, media attention.

Here’s the text of the letter (also available as a pdf here):

Mr Jan Hommen
Reed Elsevier PLC
1-3 Strand
xx October 2006
Dear Mr Hommen
We are an international group of academics who are extremely concerned
about Reed Elsevier’s involvement in organising major arms fairs in the
UK and around the world.
We rely on our academic work to be disseminated chiefly by means of
books and peer-reviewed articles, a significant share of these via Reed
Elsevier publications. Being both contributors and (unpaid) referees,
and readers of Reed Elsevier journals makes us stakeholders in the Reed
Elsevier business.
On its website, your company states that it is “committed to making
genuine contributions to the science and health communities” and that it
is “proud to be part of [these] communities”. Conversely, we are not
proud to be associated with Reed Elsevier as we feel your statements are
undermined by the conflict between your arms fair activities and our own
ethical stance. Arms fairs, marketing the tools of violence, are a major
link in the chain of the global arms trade which proliferates arms
around the world and fuels a cycle of human, scientific, economic and
cultural destruction.
This is entirely at odds with the ethical and social obligations we have
to promote the beneficial applications of our work and prevent their
misuse, to anticipate and evaluate the possible unintended consequences
of scientific and technological developments, and to consider at all
times the moral responsibility we carry for our work.
We call on Reed Elsevier to cease all involvement in arms fairs since it
is not compatible with the aims of many of your stakeholders.
Yours sincerely

If you want to sign it, send email to tDOTstaffordATsheffieldDOTacDOTuk with “open letter to Reed Elsevier” in the subject line and a brief note including your full academic title, name, discipline and institution (or former institution if retired). The petition is ongoing, so also please sign that if you haven’t already. As I write there are 357 signatories; if you’re reading this you will probably recognize #19, 32, 55 and 90 (I’m #28).
I know that, after the umpteenth petition or letter or fundraiser or whatever, outrage fatigue starts to set in; and I know that, as world affairs go, there are more important issues than scumbags Reed Elsevier branching out into arms dealing. But — and here I’m speaking to my colleagues: researchers, teachers and academics the world over — this is our issue. It’s in our professional backyard; we own a chunk of it. Not only is a major academic publishing house part of our community, or at least of its infrastructure (whether we like it or not), but as the primary consumers of their primary products and services we have an unusual degree of leverage in this situation. Reed Elsevier is a business: if enough of their customers sign Tom’s letter and petition (and Nick’s boycott), they will get out of the arms trade.

More on Net Neutrality

Again via David, there’s another campaign to get Congress to protect the net: Don’t Mess With The Net. They have a blog to keep you up-to-date on developments and campaign efforts, the obligatory letter to Congress, and if you have a blog yourself you can join their list of supporters.
Further update: I couldn’t find the text of the COPE act because it’s still in commitee; in comments below, Ralf points to the Benton Foundation; they have their own summary and what seems to be a pdf of the bill (scroll to bottom of page). I don’t know anything about the Benton Foundation, so caveat lector.

Of course, none of my open science ideas matter much if greedy bastards kill the internets.

David Weinberger has a post up about the importance of internet neutrality and links to Save The Internet; Free Press also has a Net Freedom Now campaign. You can visit these sites to find out what net neutrality is (STI, NFN) and why it’s under threat (STI, NFN).

  • Net neutrality is the principle that all bits are equal: that all users have equal access to the network, and service providers are not allowed to discriminate between users by means of different levels of service.
  • It’s under threat because the greedy bastards in the cable/phone companies want to be able to decide which sites will load at what speed, so that they can privilege their own services and content and block their competitors’. Do you really want an internet on which you cannot send mail saying “AT&T sucks”? Don’t think it can’t happen. To make matters worse, those greedy bastards have bought some of these greedy bastards, and according to STI:

    Congress is now considering a major overhaul of the Telecommunications Act. The primary bill in the House is called the “Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement Act of 2006”

    Unfortunately, I cannot find the text of this or any related bill on Thomas or by scanning House votes. If anyone can point me to the actual legislation in question I’d appreciate it. (I did manage to find S.2360, the Internet Non-Discrimination Act introduced by Ron Wyden and designed to protect net neutrality.)

  • This matters to you because, to paraphrase David:
    • innovation and creativity: will suffer if your bank balance makes more difference than your brain power to what you can do on, and with, the web
    • monopoly: loss of net neutrality will create a breeding ground for anticompetitive practices; another Bell, anyone?
    • freedom of speech: this one ought to be self-explanatory
    • democracy: the web has been a great leveler of political playing fields (thank you, Dr Dean!) and promises to be a powerful way for ordinary people to have their voices heard — unless it becomes just another tool of the wealthy
  • What you can do: for starters, send a letter to your Congresscritters here and sign MoveOn’s petition here. Include a note like mine:

    Keep the media conglomerates’ greedy hands off our internet! A neutral internet is a powerful engine of creativity, innovation, free speech, free markets and democracy. It must not be placed in the hands of a few wealthy campaign donors by greedy and short-sighted political opportunists. Please support Sen Wyden’s Internet Non-Discrimination Act (S.2360) and oppose the Barton/Rush COPE Act.

another update: Target still targeting women

Further to this entry, I got the same form letter back from Target that Joseph got:

Date Fri, 18 Nov 2005
To: me
Subject: Filling Prescriptions at Target
Dear Bill Hooker,
In our ongoing effort to provide great service to our guests, Target consistently ensures that prescriptions for the emergency contraceptive Plan B are filled. As an Equal Opportunity Employer, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also requires us to accommodate our team members

I’m in.

Via Atrios: Target is allowing their pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for Plan B emergency contraception. Not acceptable. John at AmericaBlog has the skinny.
The contact form for their pharmacy dept is here. I sent ’em this:

Dear Target:
your pharmacists do not have the right to refuse to fill Plan B prescriptions, under the CRA or any other law. Do your Jewish or Muslim cafeteria workers have the right to refuse to serve pork? Can your fundamentalist Christian employees refuse service to the glbt?
I will not spend a penny at Target until and unless this reprehensible policy changes.

Admittedly, I haven’t set foot in a Target since I moved to the US, nor is there much chance of me doing so — there simply aren’t any convenient to me and I tend to avoid large multinationals on general principle. Now, however, if I happen to be by a Target and in the market for something they sell, I will go elsewhere. It’s a teeny inconvenience, which makes my boycott letter a little disingenuous — but I can live with that.

help fight abstinence-only nonsense

Teenagers like sex; that right there is a basic, ineluctable fact of human nature. They like it the way they like, you know, breathing, and telling them it’s bad and dirty won’t help anything. Threatening them with lakes of fire and disapproval and excommunication might make them feel bad, and if you’re a certain kind of grubby Christianist1 moralizer that might make you feel good, but it won’t stop the teenagers from making like the sex-crazed monkeys they are, every chance they get.
So you don’t have to agree with me that sex is good and fun and wholesome, and teenagers (and adults and pensioners and dogs and chickens, though not all in the same bed) should get as much of it as they want, to agree with me that abstinence-only sex “education” is a worthless crock of shit. Rep. Henry Waxman recently commissioned an investigation which found that

…over 80% of the abstinence-only curricula, used by over two-thirds of SPRANS (Special Programs of Regional and National Significance Community-Based Abstinence Education) grantees in 2003, contain false, misleading, or distorted information about reproductive health.

Today NARAL sent me email about an amendment put forward by Sen Frank Lautenberg that ensures that “federally funded “abstinence-only” programs teach only medically accurate information”. It’s S. Amdt. 2269 but you can’t read it on Thomas for a day or so (printing delay or some such). I do want to read it, because there are plenty of ways to weasel out of a commitment to “medically accurate information”, but it’s a start. NARAL has made it easy for you to send a letter to your representatives in support of Sen Lautenberg’s amendment. Here’s mine:

Abstinence-only programs will receive $168 million in federal funding this year. This is an unconscionable waste of taxpayer dollars.
Quite apart from scientific inaccuracies, factual errors (or, you know, lies) and rampant misogynism, it is plain that abstinence-only advice is utterly ineffective.
Teenagers are going to get busy; you know it, I know it, the kids know it. Only a narrow-minded, repressed, moralistic right-wing fringe lunatic who prefers rising rates of teenage pregnancy and STD to admitting this basic fact of human nature, would deny the kids the information they need to stay safe and healthy.
It’s critical that you join with your colleagues to review and correct these programs. Please contact Rep. Inslee or Rep. Crowley to join their efforts.

1By analogy with “Islamist”, and distinct from anything that might properly be called “Christian”.

Plan B deadline is Tuesday!

From the ACLU:

This Tuesday the deadline expires on a public comment period for Plan B, a form of emergency contraception that would already be available without a prescription if it were not trapped in bureaucratic limbo for purely political reasons.
Although scientists overwhelmingly agree that Plan B is safe for over-the-counter use, the FDA has unconscionably put off making a decision on whether or not it will allow over-the-counter sales for over two years. Even senior members of the FDA support making the drug available without a prescription. In fact, Susan Wood, director of the FDA’s women’s health office for nearly five years, has resigned because of this delay.
To add your voice to the call for reproductive rights by posting a comment to the FDA website, click here.

More information is available here, here and here; FDA’s weaselly bullshit here. This is the comment I sent:

I urge the FDA to approve Barr Laboratory’s application to market Plan B over-the-counter. By continuing to delay a decision on this application the FDA fails to meet its obligation to promote and protect women’s health.
How many women have suffered needlessly in the two years the FDA has been dragging its feet on this issue, in direct defiance of medical evidence and opinion (from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Association, and the American Public Health Association, to name just three authoritative bodies who support otc access to Plan B)?
The current requirement for a prescription for Plan B is utterly ridiculous: emergency contraception must be taken within 72 to 120 hours after unprotected intercourse. What part of ’emergency’ are you having trouble understanding? Do you require a prescription for snakebite antivenom? (Well no, of course not: men might get bitten by a snake.)
The decision to limit otc availability of Plan B to women seventeen years or older will do nothing but humiliate women who are already dealing with a traumatic situation. It smacks of pandering to the repressive, authoritarian, misogynistic religious right. So let’s get away for a moment from the madonna/whore nonsense the fundies are peddling. Every year approximately 25,000 pregnancies occur because of sexual assault, and the prescription requirement serves as a major barrier to access to emergency contraception for many of these women. Would you, whoever you are reading this, be prepared to face any of these women and tell them, tough, you need a prescription: you have to find another doctor, answer more personal and painful questions, and find a pharmacy to fill your prescription, all in the next 72 hours? Plan B can immediately and safely remove the risk of unwanted pregnancy; what possible reason could there be for denying the victim of sexual assault this protection?
Finally, there can be no objection to Plan B on the grounds of opposition to abortion. Plan B is NOT an abortifacient; it prevents implantation1. It is contraception, no different in functionterms of whether it causes abortion from a condom. Otc access to plan B will significantly reduce abortion rates.
More than 70 medical organizations and the FDA’s own drug advisory committees support making Plan B available over-the-counter. Continued stalling makes it plain that the FDA is not an independent regulatory body but a political organization, not an advocate for citizen health and safety but a pliant tool in the hands of power.

Everyone should know about emergency contraception. You can learn what it is, how it works and how to get it from Back Up Your Birth Control and Princeton U’s Emergency Contraception page.
1 Update: oops. Although progestin does prevent implantation in some animal models, there is no direct evidence that it does the same thing in humans. What it clearly does do is prevent ovulation. This matters because sperm can survive up to five days in the reproductive tract, and a mature egg has a window of about 24 hours during which it can be fertilized. Note, though, that this can in no way represent abortion, since implantation does not occur until 7 days after ovulation.
How do I know all this? I read ema’s post over at The Well-Timed Period. You should too. (Hat-tip: Prof B.)
Did you leave the FDA a comment yet? If not, please do.

Another letter none of President Katrina’s toadies will read to him

Barbara Boxer is calling on President Katrina to bring the Mississippi/Louisiana National Guard home from Iraq right now. Imagine what a difference 7000 troops could have made in preparing for the hurricane and coping with the aftermath. Imagine watching that happen to your family, friends and home from halfway around the world and not being allowed to do a damn thing. Imagine that the degenerate in the oval office is accountable to the people, and send him a letter in support of Boxer’s demand. Here’s mine:

Dear President Katrina:
as you have seen from the window of your private jet, and later during several tough-guy photo ops with emergency forces who should have been out rescuing people, Hurricane Katrina has taken thousands of lives and caused billions of dollars of property damage. Among the many screwups you and your equally incompetent cronies have inflicted on the region, the absence of thousands of National Guard forces (currently stationed in Iraq) has served only to exacerbate the severity of the situation.
More than 7,000 members of the National Guard from Mississippi and Louisiana are in Iraq right now because you lied this country into an illegal war of aggression. They should have been home to help when the storm hit, and they should be home to help now. The thousands of lives that they would undoubtedly have saved, and could be saving right now, are on your conscience — or would be, if you had one.
You have a responsibility (you’ll need to look that word up) to allow members of the National Guard from these states to return to their homes, where they can assist in rebuilding efforts.
For once in your greedy, bumbling, silver-spoon life, do the right thing. Bring the Mississippi and Lousiana National Guard troops home from Iraq today.

end the occupation

One way or another, the US must leave Iraq. I don’t know whether we should pull out unilaterally asap, or carry out a strategic withdrawal over some months; in the former case I don’t know how we could ask, say, UN troops to fill the security gap that would undoubtedly be formed, and in the latter case I worry that it will turn into nothing but another cover for US imperialism. I cannot think my way through this; I haven’t the experience and I probably haven’t the smarts.
Fortunately for the world, that isn’t my job. Unfortunately for the world, it is GW Bush’s job. To date, he hasn’t even bothered trying.
I’ve already signed Barbara Boxer’s petition for a plan; today I got email asking me to ask others to sign. That’s what this post is for: if you haven’t, please go right now and sign it. Here’s the text:

After two and a half years of war, the American people are still waiting to hear the truth about what our mission is in Iraq and how we are going to accomplish it. Frankly, it is difficult to keep track of all the missions we’ve had so far, because the story changes every few weeks. First there was the weapons of mass destruction mission, then regime change, then rebuilding, then bringing democracy, and now it’s fighting terrorism.
It’s time to develop a strategy that can succeed in Iraq, defuse the terrorist insurgency, and bring our brave men and women home. That will only happen if you immediately bring credibility, accountability, and responsibility to a war that has been lacking in all three.
***Credibility: It’s time for you to stop using sound bytes like “Mission Accomplished” and be truthful with the American people.
***Accountability: We need to hear from your Administration exactly how many Iraqi forces are needed; how to meet that goal; and by when.
***Responsibility: We must honor our soldiers not just on the 4th of July, but every day — by giving them the equipment they need while they are deployed and the health care they deserve when they come home.
I urge you to tell the truth to the American people, articulate a clear timeline of our plans for Iraq, and take responsibility for our men and women in uniform.

Boxer plans to hand that to Smirk when he gets back from his spot of R’n’R down on the ranch. Reasonable people can disagree in good faith over how to handle the withdrawal, but it’s undeniable that the US cannot simply stay in Iraq forever and it’s unconscionable that the US government has provided no plan whatsoever for handing the Iraqis back what’s left of their country. Think about it: who in their right mind goes to war, sets up an occupation of the conquered nation, and doesn’t give a second thought to what to do next? My fear is that this US government, composed as it is of sociopaths, war criminals, ordinary criminals, cowards, thieves and liars of every stripe and dimension, does in fact have a plan but cannot admit to it publicly. They must be forced to commit to a public plan composed of specific actions on a specific schedule, not a half-assed handful of neocon talking points.
Please sign the petition.

speak up!

From my email to your screen, three worthwhile petitions to sign/letters to send:
From NARAL, Urge the FDA to improve access to the morning-after pill:

Will the Bush administration – FINALLY – put aside its anti-choice agenda in order to improve women’s access to birth control?
We’ll know by September 1, when Bush’s FDA is scheduled to decide whether to allow the morning-after pill to be sold without a prescription.
Making the morning-after pill available for over-the-counter access isn’t just good health policy for women, it’s common sense. The morning-after pill, also called emergency contraception or EC, prevents pregnancy AFTER sex – and it is most effective the sooner it’s taken. It’s also extremely safe, and it won’t harm an existing pregnancy. The FDA’s own scientific and medical advisory panels overwhelmingly support improving access to it.
So what’s the hold up? Could it be vocal anti-choice members of Congress who urged Bush and the FDA to reject the application? Could it be President Bush, whose own spokesperson wouldn’t even “dignify” a simple question asking Bush’s position on birth control with an answer?
Help us tell the FDA that Americans don’t appreciate anti-choice politics getting in the way of sound science and women’s access to birth control.

(They’re a bit shrill, eh? Why ever could that be?)
From the ACLU, Tell Congress the Patriot Act Needs Reform:

The flawed provisions of the Patriot Act threaten our basic constitutional freedoms by giving the government the power to access our medical records, our tax records, and information about the books we buy or borrow, all without probable cause or any facts connecting us to foreign terrorists. The Patriot Act also gives the government the power to obtain a special “sneak and peek” search warrant to break into our homes and conduct secret searches without telling us for weeks, months or indefinitely, and without any connection to terrorism at all. The Patriot Act needs to be reformed, not expanded or made permanent.
Hundreds of communities — and seven states — have passed resolutions against the worst excesses of the Patriot Act. Our message is clear: It is time for Congress to listen to its constituents and bring the Patriot Act in line with the Constitution.

and Demand An Independent Counsel for Torture Abuses and Release of Relevant Documents:

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (ptui!) is now the nation’s top law enforcement officer and as such is responsible for investigating how our government’s torture policies took such a misguided path. The American people deserve to know the truth about what torture tactics have been employed in the past and what tactics will be used in the future. Because Gonzales was involved in the development of the policies, Gonzales needs to commit to ensuring a full and fair investigation by agreeing to appoint an outside special counsel for torture and abuse investigations and prosecutions of civilians.
It is important that Gonzales agree to appoint an outside special counsel because an array of already-released documents clearly show that top government officials considered and eventually ordered the removal of protections against many abusive detention and interrogation practices. Despite loudly repeated demands by Congress and the American people, the Bush Administration has successfully blocked the release of documents related to policy changes that paved the way for the horrors of Abu Ghraib and other American-operated detention facilities.

These petitions and letters do matter. They are a useful way for lobbying groups to demonstrate the nature and strength of public opinion, one of the few things besides money to which politicians will respond. The higher the volume, the greater the impact, so every single signature/letter counts, and taking part gives you the chance to amplify your voice and have it reach much further than it could alone. So I’m going to keep posting these links, and I’ve changed the name of the category from the begrudging “better than nothing” to “have your say”.