Sunday, June 10, 2018

More on the Academy's Failure

I pointed to the parallel between colonial colleges' and universities' involvement in the slavery of black people and modern colleges' and universities' involvement in the use of animals in a previous essay, "The Academy’s Failure." The academy is much more than just colleges and universities of course. It also includes all those academic institutions that spring from them or that directly direct support them. Two of those are public broadcasting and libraries.

I'm actually a big fan of both, but they are diminished by their embrace of the academy's normalization of cruelty to animals and their self-censorship of the opposing philosophy.

There is a risk in referring to institutions in this way because the term is an abstraction. They are collections of people. It is people within the institutions who are bigots, who defend the party line, who promote harm to animals, or who champion their consumption. Not everyone within one of the institutions that comprise academia are to blame, though all them have a moral obligation to speak out when they learn that their institution is.

On my way home from work, I was listening to NPR news on my local member station, Wisconsin Public Radio. They were reporting on the suicide of Anthony Bourdain, writer, chef, and TV host. They characterized him as kind and compassionate. Across most media his death is being lamented as a great loss with no mention of his influence on the perception of animals. From the animals' perspective, he was a monster. His celebrity was seemingly enough to dissuade NPR from mentioning his loud disregard for animals and criticism of those who care about them. A disregard for animals is rooted in the academy's culture.

Bourdain was a winner of a Peabody Award, a prestigious annual honor for the "most powerful, enlightening, and invigorating stories in television, radio, and online media," for his show "Parts Unknown," a "culinary travelogue." Maybe the Peabody Board of Jurors were invigorated by watching Bourdain chewing out the brain of a live octopus. The Peabody Award organization is located on the University of Georgia campus.

Another Peabody winner is Wisconsin Public Radio's "To the Best of Our Knowledge," which the Peabody Award says is "the consummate audio magazine of ideas and oddities for people with curious minds." One of the producers and interviewers is Anne Strainchamps. On March 28, 2018, Ms. Strangechamps had a live interview with UW-Madison Professor Richard Davidson, sponsored by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters.

Davidson's public shtick is his claim that his friendship with the Dalai Lama and his meditation have taught him how to be happier. He always throws in something about compassion and mindfulness. He is a local celebrity that the Birkenstock-Whole Foods crowd can't get enough of. When playing the guru, he never mentions his long collaboration with Ned Kalin. Kalin and Davidson discovered a way to identify particularly anxious and fearful monkeys with a brain scan. Davidson has been the Director of Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging & Behavior, University of Wisconsin-Madison for a number of years; Kalin is the Chair of the Department of Psychiatry. Their collaboration has resulted in the publication of more than 30 papers since 1992 documenting their highly invasive and on-going experiments on young monkeys with these characteristics.

I wrote a polite letter to Ms. Strainchamps asking her to ask Davidson about the mismatch between his claim that thinking about being compassionate and kind while meditating would make one happier, and his history of frightening and killing young fearful monkeys. I included a bibliography in the letter. I never heard back, and she did not ask him about this contradiction.

Her interview with Davidson was probably driven by the release of his book, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body (Avery, 2017.)

It was somewhere around ten years ago that I got in contact with NPR's Ombudsperson. I don't recall her name. I talked to her about Wisconsin Public Radio's biased reporting or absence of reporting about the university's use of animals and federal violations of animal welfare laws. She acknowledged that NPR understood that university-based public radio stations censored their own reporting. She lamented the fact that they didn't know how to fix the problem. It is still a problem. According to NPR, about two-thirds of their 900 member and affiliated stations are licensed to, or are affiliated with, colleges or universities.

Davidson promoted the book again at a talk sponsored by local library a short time later.

When I learned of that talk, I again wrote ahead of time and addressed by concerns to Jocelyne Sansing, Library Director and Jim Ramsey, Head of Adult Services, Middleton Public Library. Middleton is an upscale community just a few minutes from the university. I again provided a bibliography and pointed to a few of his public claims about meditation making you more compassionate. I wrote:
I believe, and hope you do too, that public libraries have some pretty strong obligations to the public. It seems to me that one of these is the avoidance of knowingly misleading them. Unless the audience of the upcoming Scholar'd for Life event know the scope of Dr. Davidson’s work, it is likely that they will come away with a misunderstanding or false impression of the effects that Davidson’s personal experience with meditation have had on him. He is in fact, proof that meditation may not make one a more compassionate person.
And again, I didn't hear back and assume that they kept quiet.

I once held librarians in much regard. But in 2002, I began asking for a copy of videos made during one one of Ned Kalin's experiments. The university refused. I and colleagues asked for them a few more times and then asked a local reporter to ask for them, at which point the university destroyed them.

At the time, the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, a part of the university, was the site of the Lawrence Jacobsen Library, also known as the Primate Center Library. The library was the site of an archive of primate research history. I wrote to the university library, the Wisconsin Library Association, and the National Library Association about this blatant destruction of public records.

January 1, 2007

Wisconsin Library Association 5250 East Terrace Drive, Suite A Madison WI 53718-8345

Dear WLA and the Intellectual Freedom Round Table:

I am writing to complain about an instance of censorship of information that may have, and should have, involved University of Wisconsin librarians.

Attached, is an article from the Isthmus that provides some details of the situation. (Primate tapes get trashed, 08/11/2006.)

Briefly: the university denied public records requests for information held by the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center. Sixty-two days after one denial, documents, photographs, and sixty boxes of videotapes were destroyed by the primate center.

This matter should be of concern to the WLA for at least two reasons.

1. Important historical documents and unique visual records have been lost forever through an act of intentional destruction carried out under the auspices of the University of Wisconsin even as members of the public were asking for that information.

2. The Lawrence Jacobsen Library is housed at the primate center. It is a part of the primate center and a part of the University of Wisconsin General Library System. The library violated its mission when it chose not to collect this unique collection of information regarding research occurring at its own institution:
The Wisconsin Primate Research Center Library and Information Service supports the research and outreach missions of the National Primate Research Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison. The library acquires, organizes, develops, provides access to, and delivers information resources in a variety of formats to Center scientists and staff, University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty and students, and persons worldwide with an interest in primatology. Essential to this mission is the effort to comprehensively collect and provide access to print, audiovisual and digital materials related to nonhuman primates in research, conservation, education, and veterinary care.
The mission of the June Northrop Barker Archives, part of the Lawrence Jacobson Library:
The June Northrop Barker Archives serves to enrich and support the cross-disciplinary field of Primatology by acting as a repository for the history and science of this emerging field. To do this, the Barker Archives solicits, collects, organizes, describes, preserves and provides access to the research and historical documents, as well as the records of the international, national and regional organizations related to the field of Primatology.
The destruction of these documents, photographs, and sixty boxes of videotapes is grossly at odds with the library’s mission. Even if the tapes were damaged, the librarians should still have saved, repaired, and archived that information, and made it available to the library’s present and future users.

So much unique information has been irretrievably lost to the public – to say nothing of the loss to history and science – while these librarians either did nothing to prevent this loss or have remained silent after the fact.

The librarians at the Lawrence Jacobsen Library violated a fundamental professional ethic of the field of librarianship:
The American Library Association defines intellectual freedom, a fundamental professional ethic of the field of librarianship, as the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored. Intellectual freedom encompasses the freedom to hold, receive and disseminate ideas.
These librarians did not advocate for the intellectual rights of those seeking the information. The destruction of this information raised barriers to an exploration of all sides of the question of primates in research and animal rights. The Lawrence Jacobsen Library may not have been able to stop the destruction of this information, but book burning is book burning, and librarians must call attention to it wherever it occurs.

I did not hear back.

It seems to me that the academy has not changed very much since the time it was so heavily invested in the slave industry and was promoting and defending the destruction of the Indian nations. The evidence is overwhelming that animals have minds, emotions, see into the future, have inner lives and desires, and that the academy is working around the clock against their interests.

A few years ago, friends and I met with then Wisconsin's Senator Russ Feingold to talk to him about federal funding for experiments on monkeys. He was somewhat sympathetic and was disturbed by the undercover video we showed him of animals being used at Covance. But when we brought up the subject of federal limits on the sort of experiments that should be allowed, he jumped immediately to a defense of academic freedom. He was unable to see or chose not to see the parallels between the results of academic freedom in Nazi Germany and what is happening in American labs today.

Like our idiot-king, the academy is above the law and outside the bounds of morality.

1 comment:

Geoff said...

Greatly appreciated your brief "tribute" to thankfully-deceased Anthony Bourdain, tragically done in, we're informed by his lachrymose friends in the liberal media, by his personal "demons." (Let's give-it-up for those hardworking demons!)
What I really wanted to say is that I just finished reading your book "Teaching Kindness" which I was inspired to peruse after reading your much denser tome "We All Work the Same Way." What a monumental magnum opus of research is the latter! But it is the earlier book which I am moved to comment on. Having lived and worked much of my life in rural America, the same sort of cultural milieu as is eastern Oregon, I could well relate to your experiences there. Most of the "plain folk" in these intellectual deserts are exactly as you describe: prejudiced, bigoted, short-sighted, anti-intellectual, selfish, small-minded and just plain stupid. No wonder they love Donald Trump -- because "he talks just like us." (Yeah, that's the crux of problem in a nutshell!) Anyway I just wanted you to know that there is at least one reader out here in red state America who enjoys your writings and greatly appreciates all your efforts on behalf of animals. I've only just recently discovered your BlogSpot here but will become now a regular reader. Cheers.