Open letter to Lee Zeldin,
I am a scientist who lives and works in your district. Today, June 10, is #shutdownSTEM day and scientists are fighting to end systemic racism in science and across society. Between Stony Brook University, Suffolk Community College, Brookhaven National Labs and countless high technology companies, science and the STEM workforce are a major driver of our district’s vitality.
Do SOMETHING to support your black and brown citizens. We are grieving in the midst of these never-ending racial tragedies and your silence is deafening. Yes, Long Island has a rich tradition of police officers and firefighters, but lamenting George’s Floyd’s death and opening dialogue to positive police reforms isn’t anti-police.
You can do small things. For example, as I’m submitting this letter, you have dozens of “concerns” and none of them deal with race and racism in Long Island. Add an issue in your drop-down menu. Say that you grieve with the Floyd family. Find ways to address systemic racism in the country by partnering with your colleagues across the aisle.
Racism is alive and well in Suffolk County and we need your help fight it.
The other people on the panel can speak on the health consequences of burn pits and the immense trauma our soldiers suffer. I will focus on the economic, social and policy consequences of burn pits. This brief statement cannot detail all the consequences of the burn pits crisis, but I will highlight a few challenges...
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The world is going through immense change at the global scale and it is impossible to solve these problems by only developing solutions in wealthy countries, by wealthy scientist and for wealthy people. The innovations to solve global challenges must be inclusive. People from marginalized groups are central to developing lasting solutions that solve challenges at global proportions. This brief presentation discusses two challenges facing global health, namely population and poverty, and how we can use the ladder of inclusive innovation to solve problems that impact global planetary health...
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On Friday, December 16, 2017, the Washington Post reported that the Trump administration asked agencies within Health and Human Services to stop using several words in official documents. Some of the words include: diversity, science-based, evidence-based, fetus, entitlement, vulnerable and transgender. The new language guidelines were directed at officials writing the Center for Disease Control’s budget, but depending on the reach of these guidelines, it could have negative consequences across the country’s innovation system.
The first consequence of the guidelines is they will push research and development (R&D) away from projects that help marginalized communities. Federal agencies, like the National Science Foundation, try to fund projects that will have a broad impact on society, and in general, this emphasis has bipartisan support. Conservative politicians argue that federally funded research should be used for “useful” research that can help the economy. Liberal politicians argue that research should respond to people’s needs and that it is bad to assume that research will automatically trickle down to marginalized communities. The Trump Administration’s guidelines weaken the case that science should have broad impacts. Scientists may conclude that issues like diversity and improving the lives of vulnerable communities are not worthy research topics, and consequently, R&D could increase inequality in the USA and around the world.
A second consequence of discouraging terms like science-based and evidence-based is that it impairs the ability of the President’s advisers to give him reliable answers to the world’s most pressing problems. Advisers do not simply fabricate information for the daily briefing. Rather, they comb through data and reports to give the President the most evidence-based information possible. By down-playing science-based answers, the President is encouraging answers based on hearsay, and unverified Washington gossip. This could have dire consequences for our future. What happens if a report falsely accuses North Korea of launching a weapon or falsely claims that the economy is entering an economic depression?
Third, the new guidelines are a blatant attempt to downplay issues of diversity and inclusion. When the administration tells the CDC not to discuss diversity, transgender or entitlement, he is not trying to build a unified country. Rather, he is saying that those issues are not important and do not deserve attention. As was shown on the campaign trail and in his first year in office, the President is either tone deaf to the needs of marginalized groups or simply does not care.
Rather than making a list of banned words, the President should use his platform to create a proactive message that encourages the best science that helps all Americans. For example, President Trump repeatedly stated that he wants American firms to manufacture and hire domestically. Though this message fails to consider the complexities of globalization, it is still a clear message that people across the political spectrum can support. President Trump’s priority on job creation was quickly internalized by agency administrators, program managers and individual’s interacting with the government, and from anecdotal evidence, researchers pivoted their focus to reflect these priorities.
The Administration’s current pronouncement only sparks outrage and backlash from researchers and the public. This will have negative impacts by furthering dividing the country and limiting productive engagement across party, economic, geographic and racial lines.
As the head of the executive branch, the President’s job is to direct the various federal agencies to implement their mission. It is not wrong that he desires the message of these organizations to be shaped to fit his priorities. However, banning these words attacks the core beliefs of our country and undercuts his ability to lead a unified country based on real information. Communities across the political spectrum should push back against such draconian measures to control the political message.
-Thomas S. Woodson
On August 12, Congressman Lee Zeldin released a statement (https://zeldin.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/rep-zeldin-statement-condemning-violence-charlottesville-va) condemning the violence in Charlottesville, VA. Zeldin’s statement is a good first step, but it does not go far enough. Zeldin does not denounce Neo-Nazi’s, the KKK, or other white supremacist organizations. Charlottesville was not an unfortunate violent event where all sides bear responsibility. Our country, Long Island, the 1st District of NY and Lee Zeldin should firmly state that we are against these evil hate groups.
The need for Zeldin to strongly condemn White supremacist groups is even more necessary given President Trump’s double speak and sad display of leadership. Zeldin’s current statement mirrors Trump’s blame spreading and does not clearly denounce the evil of white supremacy. A Neo-Nazi could easily read Zeldin’s statement as simply denouncing the violence and not the evil ideology behind it.
Congressman Zeldin, denounce these racist organizations by name. Take a clear stand.
On March 28, 2017, the Washington Post reporter Ashely Parker wrote an article on the role that Karen Pence, Vice President Mike Pence’s wife, plays in his life. Over VP Pence’s career Mrs. Pence has been a close confidant, faithful supporter and ever-present spouse that continually prays for her husband in the background. The article discusses many aspects of Mrs. Pence life and influence on VP Pence, but one issue that gained media attention was that VP Pence does not eat alone with women or go to events that serve alcohol unless his wife is present. VP Pence’s faithfulness to his wife and his desire to set guidelines to preserve his moral integrity is laudable, but his behavior has serious undesirable consequences. His actions routinely disadvantage women and reinforce sexist stereotypes. VP Pence must find ways to keep his healthy marriage without systematically discriminating against half the population.
For non-church attendees, VP Pence’s statement might sound completely crazy, but around the Evangelical Christian community his behavior is not strange. Rather, his cautious approach to women and events that serve alcohol is encouraged and applauded by many churches. On countless occasions, I was told by Pastors to avoid situations where I could become too intimate with a woman who is not my wife. Don’t ride solo in a car with the opposite gender. Don’t work late with a woman. Show no hint of wrong doing.
Pastors advise parishioners, especially men, to develop these guardrails to prevent them from overstepping boundaries that could lead to immoral behavior. Most pastors agree that it is not an unforgivable sin for a man and a woman to have a business lunch, but some warn that lunch could snowball into intimacy and adultery. Their counsel stems from an overabundance of cautions. A work friendship could begin as innocent banter over coffee, progress to emotional work dinners and end up in a motel room. It might not happen in one day, but it is easy for small actions to slowly erode our moral foundation.
To solidify their point, pastors give countless statistics on marriage infidelity in the USA. By one estimate 41% of married couples admit that at least one of the partners had a physical or emotion affair. Pastors also share stories of how their own colleagues were unfaithful to their spouses, broke apart their families, and destroyed their careers simply because they did not protect themselves from sliding down the hill of lust.
Though these rules seem wise, they smack of hypocrisy and reinforce destructive biases. On several occasions, Jesus demonstrated the opposite example of erecting strict guardrails that prevented him from eating with women or attending parties that serve alcohol. In one famous example, Jesus had a one-on-one conversation with a known adulteress (John 4). This was a highly inappropriate situation by the standards of society and people would immediately questions Jesus’ character after this interaction. In other situations, we read that Jesus hung out with prostitutes, criminals, and outcasts (Matthew 9, Luke 19). When the religious leaders of the day question his behavior, Jesus responded “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but the sinner” (Mark 2:17). Jesus clearly did not set guardrails to prevent others from gossiping.
In addition, a person who sets these guardrails fails to consider that their actions are a form of discrimination. They exclude women (or any person they deem risky) from receiving equal rights. If a heterosexual businessman only works late with other heterosexual men, then it is very difficult for a woman to progress in the company. She will not be able to work overtime, participate on a specially projects, or show dedication to the firm. Automatically women and gay men are left behind. Over the past few decades, America has tried to erase these antiquated gender barriers, but VP Pence’s policies put up new hurdles disguised as modesty.
So, should VP Pence abandon his desire to set boundaries around his marriage and behavior? Of course not. Rather, he should set guardrails that help everyone succeed as opposed to discriminating against certain populations. Instead of only working late with heterosexual men, VP Pence could send everyone home to be with their families. When meeting with colleagues, VP Pence should be professional and maintain a healthy distance regardless of the person’s gender. If a conversation between a male and female coworker is inappropriate, then that conversation is wrong between two male colleagues. Don’t go to any event that has the appearance of impropriety, even if your wife is standing with you. Finding the right balance between work and socializing can be difficult, but as a leader of the country VP Pence can set a new tone for politics that erases the “old boys’ club” and empowers everyone.
In today’s misogynistic political and business environment VP Mike Pence’s statements sound honorable, but his actions are not completely innocent. His rules demean and disrespect women and they put Jesus to shame. I urge Karen Pence to continue to pray for her husband, but also help him find ways to empower the women around him.
Thomas S. Woodson