New Science Communication Award Bears Hawking’s Name

Last month the Starmus Festival, an International Science and Arts Festival in the Canary Islands, announced it would establish the Stephen Hawking Medals for Science Communication.  (H/T  Hawking will award the first medals at the 2016 Festival, scheduled for June 27 through July 2.  The 2016 Starmus Festival has announced honoring Hawking for his work would be the theme of its third festival.

There will be three medals awarded at each Starmus Festival to “recognize the work of those helping to promote the public awareness of science through different disciplines.”  Awards will recognize achievement in the scientific community, the artistic community, and the film community.  Details are a bit scarce about how the awards will be judged, though the Festival founder, Professor Garik Israelian of the Astrophysics Institute of the Canaries, indicated there would be some public participation in the selection of the film community award.

Arguably this festival comes from a place of some expertise in deciding these matters.  It has combined science (usually astrophysics) and music in each of its editions, and counts musician/scientists Brian May (guitarist with Queen) and Brian Cox (live keyboardist for D:Ream) among its supporters.  Further demonstrating an interest in collaborations of art and science, cosmonaut Alexei Leonov created the portrait of Hawking that covers one side of the medal.



Fallout Continues From APA Collusion Report

This item in the January 1st edition of The Washington Post prompted me to check on the American Psychological Association’s (APA) responses to the independent report finding that the APA colluded with Defense Department officials concerning so-called ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques.

(The APA has a timeline of activities in connection with the report that is worth reviewing.)

The item reports on the military’s decision to withdraw psychologists from many activities concerning detainees at Guantanamo Bay.  It cited the new APA rules established following the report as the reason, not wanting to jeopardize the professional credentials of the psychologists invovled with detainees at the facility.  As APA guidelines influence the licensing of psychologists in the United States, the new rules would influence psychologists’ professional and legal standing.

The new APA rules were set in August following a 157-1 vote of its Council of Representatives.  In essence, the revisions try to emphasize that the Association is interested in supporting and complying with UN guidance regarding the humane treatment of individuals.  Since the UN does not consider the U.S. military’s interrogation programs in compliance, the APA has opted to separate itself from such activity.  The key phrase, as I see it, is the prohibition against participating in ‘national security interrogations,’ which are defined in the document (page 5) as:

“interrogation of any detainee in the custody of any agency or subsidiary agency that reports to the Director of National Intelligence, the Secretary of Defense, the Director of Homeland Security, or the National Security Council, including joint elements such as the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group. This also includes any operations by those agencies with any allied governments or non-state actors, including private contractors. This does not include those detainees held under domestic law enforcement where Miranda Rights and the U.S. Constitution apply.”

To that end, the General in charge of the U.S. Southern Command (which includes Guantanamo Bay) has ordered the psychologists to no longer be involved with detainee interviews, provide feedback on detainee behavior, or be involved in detainee mental health programs.  This follows formal notification to the U.S. government of the APA’s new policy concerning national security interrogations.  They have been replaced at Guantanamo Bay by Navy psychiatrists, corpsmen and nurses trained in mental health.

The New York Times is reporting that the APA continues to receive reactions from Obama Administration officials and current and former military psychologists about the changes.  While it’s premature to consider the matter closed, I think those seeking a narrowing of the restrictions will have a lot of work to do if they are to be successful.  The new policies were developed following a serious set of allegations and a lengthy report process.  They aren’t likely to be changed without a comparable amount of concern and work.