The United States of America is truly one of the greatest countries on earth. A shining example is our higher education system, which doubles as the world’s greatest producer of science. The fundamental right to free speech combined with a strong culture of academic freedom have fermented into a higher education system unparalleled in both academic training and research productivity. The American research university is truly the envy of the world.
One of the profound privileges that members of university communities experience is the free exchange of ideas between scholars from all over the world. Frequently this comes about by inviting scholars from other institutions to visit and speak. On any given day at a major university campus, there will be dozens of talks on topics ranging from sub-atomic particles to comparative cross-cultural cosmologies. (For example, today I attended at seminar by Harvard’s renowned political scientist Dr. Gary King on statistical methods for measuring public opinion through blogs.)
For weeks now, I’ve been looking forward to attending a talk by Dr. Riyadh Lafta, a well-known Iraqi epidemiologist. Dr. Lafta was scheduled to give a talk at Kane Hall on Friday evening at the University of Washington campus. The talk is on the recent rise in cancer rates among Iraqi children. Things went awry something over a week ago:
“The University of Washington wanted him, but the U.S. denied his entry,” said his colleague at [Simon Frasier University (SFU)], Tim Takaro….”best they’re going to get is a video feed.”
Once in Canada, Dr. Lafta will present estimates that paint a damning portrait of the war’s ravages on children: that birth defects are on the rise since the war began, and that the number of children dying from cancers such as leukemia has risen tenfold.
Dr. Lafta had tried for six months to get a visa into Seattle to speak in Washington, and was ignored a half-dozen times, Dr. Takaro said.
Apparently, the Bush administration is willing to sacrifice academic freedom on their alter of wingnut ideology. How is it that the Bush administration even noticed Dr. Lafta? Do they really scrutinize the content of every epidemiological talk given by a foreigner? In this case it seems clear that Dr. Lafta is being targeted by the Bush administration because he is a coauthor on a couple of controversial epidemiological studies: the two “on the ground” studies that estimated the increase in all forms of mortality in Iraq since the U.S. invasion.
Okay, so the Bush administration gets to partially suppress the talk. It is now scheduled to be done by video link from Canada. Within the last day, however, the plans have changed once again.
After he couldn’t get a visa to tell Americans about an alarming rise in cancer levels among Iraqi children, a renowned Iraqi epidemiologist has been told he can’t fly through Britain en route to give a similar talk in Canada.
Riyadh Lafta — best known for a controversial study in the respected medical journal The Lancet that estimated Iraq’s war dead at more than half a million — said in an e-mail to his U.S. research colleagues that he had two choices: Fly to England without the transit visa, or turn around and go home.
“[British consular officials] refuse to give us a transit visa just to change airplanes,” Dr. Lafta wrote from Amman to colleagues at the University of Washington, and to B.C.’s Simon Fraser University, where he planned to give a talk on Friday.
You don’t think the British government would deny a scientist a 4-hour “transit visa” just because he has co-authored a peer-reviewed scientific article? Well…maybe. I mean, the article estimates that, following the U.S. led invasion of Iraq, mortality rates increased to genocide-levels (the article was published in The Lancet, one of the most respected biomedical journals in the world).
The suppression of Dr. Lafta’s visit goes beyond an inconvenience of free exchange of ideas at a University. These actions will also impede the bread-and-butter research of Dr. Lafta and his colleagues at SFU and UW:
With Dr. Lafta are scores of documents that will help researchers from Simon Fraser, Washington and Iraq determine how badly the U.S.-led war in Iraq affects children — whether birth defects in Iraq are on the rise, and whether Iraqi children are suffering a tenfold increase in cancers such as leukemia, said Simon Fraser professor Tim Takaro.
So…I guess the “culture of life” doesn’t apply to childhood cancers and child mortality in Iraq. What a bunch of fucking hypocrites!
The pattern is clear. The Bush administration has a single guiding principle: ideology is everything! Nothing else is sacred. They have attempted to destroy everything that offers the least resistance to their ideology: our national reputation, the lives of our young people, a CIA nuclear weapons counter-proliferation program, our justice system, our national emergency response, the national coffers, and several parts of the constitution to name a few. Of course, they have launched a number of well-known assaults against science, higher education, and academic freedom as well.
In the end, the Bush administration will lose this battle. A U.S.-based coauthor on the mortality paper is prepared to step in for Dr. Lafta. That will change the focus from childhood cancers to the astonishing increase in overall mortality following the U.S. led invasion of Iraq. Ultimately technology will completely circumvent the wishes of the Bush administration—video link-ups are not rocket science.
The Bush administration has charted a course back to the medieval dark ages where, as the joke goes, we are all mushrooms—kept in the dark and fed bullshit. If this attack on academic freedom pisses you off as much as it does me, please take a moment to write to your Representative and Senators (find contact information here).