Monday, February 10, 2014

Beloit College botches Vandana Shiva invite, confuses fame with scholarship, moralising with logic, and emotion with responsibility

It would be a public health disaster if a modern university were to promote an anti-vaccine forum featuring TheAge of Autism and Andrew Wakefield without full and accurate disclosure of the problems created by vaccine misinformation .

"Doing nothing is doing something"-- Paul Offit

If a modern university were to promote climate science misinformation and publicise doubts about whether the planet is really undergoing global warming without full disclosure of the accumulating solid experimental record of the progressive accumulation of heat in the ocean and the increased risks from extreme climate events there would be howls of criticism.

Ocean sea level responds to global heat balance

There would also be a storm of outrage from professional biologists if a mainstream college campus were to organise an open public conference with amateur religious fundamentalists  arguing that life on earth is scientifically explained by biblical creation, while leave out of the program any mention of modern evolutionary biology, and not having scientists probe the speakers with searching questions when they are given the rostrum.

Food security in the developing world is at least as important a human welfare challenge as climate change, and scaremongering about this issue is arguably even more damaging than the health damage from scaremongering about vaccine side-effects. 

Discussions of food security are just as easily distorted by the moralising persuasions of ideology and cultural peer-pressure as are evolution and climate discussions. We should rightly expect high standards of logic, evidence, and scholarship from reputable institutions when they discuss such issues.

Misdirected progressive passions can harm rural welfare  in Africa
To quote a major food policy report just issued*
The effectiveness of different agricultural technologies is often a polarized debate. At one end of the spectrum, advocates of intensive agriculture assume that massive investments in upstream agricultural science (including biotechnology and genetic modification) are needed for rapid growth of agricultural production, together with high levels of agricultural inputs, such as fertilizer, pesticides, and water. At the other end of the spectrum, advocates of low-input agriculture emphasize the role of organic and low-input agriculture and crop management improvement through water harvesting, no-till, and soil fertility management in boosting future yield growth. In the middle of all this are almost one billion food-insecure people whose food and nutritional security will depend on agricultural technology strategy decisions undertaken by governments and private investors.

  Unfortunately Beloit College in Wisconsin this coming March is planning a worryingly one-sided and badly structured series of discussions about food security in the developing world.
The highlight of this week of talk about food issues is well-known food and anti-globalisation activist Vandana Shiva ("Weissberg Week with VandanaShiva" starting March 31, 2014).

Dr Shiva has been previously featured at GMO Pundit because of her unambiguous endorsement of criminal arson against scientific laboratories.

 The program as it now stands at the Beloit website lacks any indication of indication that it will analyse Dr Shiva’s misunderstanding and misrepresentation about human welfare and food security issues.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this planned program is that Dr Shiva’soften repeated lies about the farmer suicides in India are likely to get disseminated among a sizeable cohort of liberal arts students. Beloit students should rightly expect what Beloit claim to provide:  " fostering [of] critical thinking and informed action in the world”. 

Sadly this crucial concept has gone missing from the current Beloit program plans.
Already Cami Ryan and Jon Entine at Forbes  have offered some thoroughly documented  criticism of this “Weissberg Week with Vandana Shiva” in their article of 1/29/2014 “Vandana Shiva, Anti-GMO Celebrity: 'EcoGoddess' Or Dangerous Fabulist?

Probably because Forbes is such a high-profile site, this Ryan-Entine article has triggered a response-of sorts from Beloit College:

On Feb 4, 2014, at 6:09 PM, Joshua Moore wrote:
Dear Mr. Entine,
In your piece in Forbes Online op-ed section, titled "Vandana Shiva, Anti-GMO Celebrity: 'Eco Goddess' Or Dangerous Fabulist?', you make mention of Dr. Shiva's selection as Weissberg Chair in International Studies at Beloit College. 

Dr. Shiva will, indeed, be in residence on our campus in late March and early April of this year, and we very much look forward to engaging in important discussions on the connections between food, gender, sustainability and human rights. As we are a liberal arts institutions dedicated to fostering critical thinking and informed action in the world, we expect that, in addition to Dr. Shiva's remarks throughout the week, critiques of her work will be a vital part of the discussion.

Regarding the inaccuracies you reported in Dr. Shiva's biography, they are entirely the fault of our staff and should, in no way, reflect any intent by Dr. Shiva to misrepresent herself. Several websites (i.e. Borgen Magazine, The Green Interview) use similar language, and others mention "training in physics and a Doctorate of Philosophy," which could be construed to mean a PhD in Physics. Still others (i.e. The Right Livelihood Award) mention her PhD and the subject of her dissertation (particle physics), without mentioning her discipline. The original misrepresentation on our website was our error, not Dr. Shiva's, and has been corrected.

Sincerely, -- Josh Moore Associate Director Office of International Education Beloit College(608)

 But it still seems to the Pundit that Beloit College completely avoiding acknowledging the most crucial ethical issues raised by Dr Shiva's long track record of false-witness and demagoguery.
Jon Entine had this to say in his follow-up letter to them:

Thank you for your note.

I do not understand why you are writing this to me, however. I co-authored an article with Dr Cami Ryan. Your responsibility is to the public and to your students and faculty, not to me personally.If you would like to post a comment to the articles that appeared on both the Genetic Literacy Project and in Forbes, you are welcome to do so. It is the public who has been aggrieved by Dr. Shiva, not me or Dr. Ryan.Unfortunately, I cannot accept your explanation--as to the source of the misrepresentation of her credentials, but more importantly as to the larger issue of what was misrepresented. 

The issue here goes far beyond 30 years of misrepresentations about her credentials; it goes to the core of her ideology.As for the credentials, we both know that Dr. Shiva misrepresents herself on her own blog and has consistently lied about her credentials in more than 350 public appearances and in print. You have Google; try it out. I have listened to more than two dozen recorded public appearances or media interviews in which she directly and consciously lies about her academic and professional credentials or says nothing when her credentials are misrepresented on her behalf. In short: she is a fabulist, using gentle language.Similar or less egregious professional misrepresentations of ones' biography have led to the firing of high level people or their removal for consideration for awards and honors. At Beloit College, however, officials dissimulate on her behalf and the celebrations of her celebrity status continue.

 I urge you to rethink your position.If Dr. Shiva's bizarre psychological behavior was limited to only her credentials, perhaps we could accept such personal ethical and moral failings; she could seek professional help and move on. However, as the articles by Dr. Ryan and me note, she lies about far more consequential issues, such as the nature and success of the Green Revolution, the role of technology in agriculture, the health and safety record of GM foods and, most callously, the explanation for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers. Rather than a heroine and inspirational leader, as you portray her to be (which is underscored in the public's mind by your accolade), she is viewed in the progressive science and global development communities as a dangerous demagogue. In short, she stands as the very opposite of what your accolade claims to symbolize.

 Now that you are aware that her misrepresentations extend beyond her credentials to her actual campaigns, and considering your stated public commitment to genuine discourse and liberal education, please address specifically who Beloit plans to bring to campus during her visit to help your students engage in genuine "critical thinking"? What counterpoint speakers and debates are being offered to the students? What scientists--hard scientists, not philosophers--will be brought in during this critical week of learning to provide your students with factual and contextualized information rather than ideological potboilers? 

We at the Genetic Literacy Project are devoted to providing balance in public debates--ideology should be clearly identified and not misrepresented as scholarly work, let alone science. We could help guide you in developing a true educational week at Beloit so students can genuinely engage in critical thinking. Is that your real goal, as your state, or are they just words?I urge you to reconsider both Dr. Shiva's accolade and her appearance. 

Beloit would not hold dare to hold a week long set of seminars on evolution, and honor as its central speaker a creationist. I do not believe Beloit would hold a week of public forums on climate change, and build them around a climate change denialist. Would you give a public award to Andrew Wakefield, who openly lied and misrepresented data about vaccines, leading to the deaths and injuries of thousands of people over the years?

Dr. Shiva's position is similar: rather than promoting peace or the role of women in Indian or elsewhere, or constructively discuss the transformative role, for India in particular, of the Green Revolution, her public lobbying perpetuates poverty and hunger. The fact that she is from a privileged caste in India and her actions suppress the opportunities of the poor who have benefited from modern agriculture makes it all the more sad that she is being portrayed as a feminist or peace warrior. And now she has a global public forum at Beloit?Mr. Moore, Beloit has embarrassed, itself; your position in your letter does not do your college a service. At some point, respectable and responsible centers of higher education have to actually stand up for principles and take action and not just pretend they believe in something.

What will Beloit do? Please let me and the other journalists who I have shared your letter and my reply with know what specific actions the college will take going forward--from further correcting the misrepresentations about the details of her appearance to ensuring that your students will indeed be given the opportunity to critically debate modern agriculture and the future of food.

Jon Entine
Hopefully Jon Entine’s detailed analysis will make some headway in clarifying the fuzzy thinking at Beloit College. They should now take some real steps to rectify the serious deficiencies in their program. Beloit students deserve some genuine clear thinking and evidence based analysis on this important issue. Most importantly, in the sessions with Dr Shiva they should be made aware of a range of informed arguments, so that they can get a liberal and rational insight into Dr Shiva’s opinions and truthfulness. 

*Update note added 13 Feb 2014

Further update
See later post

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