The science blogosphere is responding magnificently to the dire circumstances of six medical colleagues, on trial for their lives in a courtroom in Tripoli, Libya. Declan Butler, Nature’s senior correspondent who wrote the story in the world’s premier science journal this week, is collecting the blogosphere links and stories over at the science social bookmarking site, Connotea. In less than 24 hours since we began to rally our colleagues in the blogosphere there have been more than 30, many right here in the Science Blogs stable, but also in some of the highest traffic blogs on the net: DailyKos, The Next Hurrah, Fire Dog Lake, Alterpeek, Majikthise. I am not hyperlinking them because you can get them all over at the Connotea link that has many more and is updated. Maybe not yet a firestorm, but a prairie fire in the making.
This is not just a human rights story, although if it were “just” that it would have a major claim on our interests and our hearts. But it is also a science story: how scientific evidence, presented by one of the world’s leading HIV scientists, was rejected out of hand, the only exculpating evidence possible in favor of these five nurses and a doctor. The goal, now, is to push — and push hard — for an independent scientific panel to review the genetic evidence that the discoverer of HIV, Luc Montagnier, indicates shows these aid workers were not responsible for infecting Libyan children with the virus.
How do we “push, and push hard”?
Our ScienceBlogger sibling, Mike Dunford at The Questionable Authority has taken a leadership position for the science blogger community. He has some important concrete suggestions and tools:
We can blog about this matter, and you can read about it, but that will do little to actually help. We need to do what little we can to act. Supporting Lawyers Without Borders, who are defending the medics, is one way. There are others.
This is a case where calling and writing your elected representatives, scientific organizations, the State Department, and the Libyans can help. Those are the people who can do something about this situation, either by doing the right thing (in the case of the Lybians) or by bringing diplomatic pressure to bear. Those are not, for the most part, people who are going to be in the habit of reading blogs. They’re not going to see the outrage in our posts or in your comments here. If you want to do something more than just get mad, if you want to try to change things, you will need to do more than read blog articles and post comments. You need to write people. You need to call people. You need to send faxes and emails.
Believe it or not, politicians pay lots of attention to what their constitutents are saying. Every elected official out there has at least one staffer responsible for reading and classifying feedback. They track these things by issues, and you can safely bet that the politician will get regular reports on what their constituents are concerned about. If enough of the voters start to care about an issue, it will make it onto their radar.
Writing an original letter yourself, addressing the envelope, putting on a stamp, and mailing the thing takes longer than any of the other methods for contacting the elected official. Congresscritters and their staffers know this well, and they do take that into consideration. That makes it worth doing. If you can come up with any way to find the time, I strongly encourage you to write your own letter. Mail it to as many of the people I list below as you can.
When you write a letter to an elected official, be clear, be concise, and be respectful. If at all possible, keep the letter to no more than one page in length. Make sure that you identify the reason for the letter in the first paragraph, and make sure that you clearly state what you expect the elected official to do. In this case, I would suggest telling them that you would like to see our government publicly inform the Libyans that this conduct is unacceptable, and that there will be consequences if they continue down this path.
Form letters aren’t taken as seriously as original letters, but they do help, too. I’ll try to write this weekend and post it here for anyone who wants to cut and paste it.
Emails should be written just like a letter, but you should be aware that they are not given the same weight as a snail-mail letter.
Phone calls can work, too. If you call, you might benefit from having a script in front of you. Again, it’s important to make sure that you make your points clearly and concisely. The less time you take up, the happier the staffer you talk to will be. If you make your point clearly, they will be more likely to get it right when they put it on the communications report.
1: Libya. This is probably going to be the least effective, but it’s still worth a try – and you never know, it might just work. The Libyans have invested a huge amount of effort in trying to regain international respect, so there’s at least a small chance that they might be responsive.
I’d suggest mailing letters to a Libyan embassy.
For Americans, the best choice would be the Libyan UN Mission.
Mission of Libya to the United Nations
309 – 315 East 48th Street,
New York, NY 10017
The phone number for the UN mission is: (212) 752-5775
Email: The Center for Nursing Advocacy has an online form and form letter. The email address that they are using is: email@example.com I have not used that address myself, and cannot vouch for whether or not it works.
2: Your own CongressThings.
Get in touch with your own representatives. Feel free to remind them that you vote in their districts (if this is true.) Contact them even if their political views are totally opposed to your own, and particularly if they also sit on a key committee.
As long as you know your zip code, these websites will quickly provide you with the contact information for your representatives:
US House of representatives contact page (Reps only)
3: Key congressional committees.
Contact the majority and minority leaders of the House Committee on International Relations and the Senate Foreign Relations Committees.
Committee Chair: Richard Lugar
Ranking Member: Joseph Biden
U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-6225
Majority Phone: (202) 224-4651
Minority Phone: (202) 224-3953
Chair: Henry Hyde
Ranking Member: Tom Lantos
House Committee on International Relations
2170 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
Phone: (202) 225-5021
Fax: (202) 225-2035
4: Executive Branch Officials.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
President George Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
The same letter, with few modifications, can be sent to all of the politicians on this list. Go for it. Postage isn’t that expensive, and letters can make a difference. If people don’t tell their representatives that they should care about something, it will be hard to blame them for doing nothing about it.
5: Scientific Organizations.
The Nature editorial . . . makes a compelling case for scientists to get involved in this. Tell other scientific organizations – particularly ones that you might be a member of – that this is an issue worth taking a stand on.
The largest organization of scientists in the US is the American Academy for the Advancement of Science. If you subscribe to the journal Science, you’re an AAAS member. Tell them to join the editors of Nature in taking a stand.
Alan I. Leshner
AAAS Chief Executive Officer
1200 New York Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20005
I’m sure many of you are members of other organizations. Look for the contact information for those groups, whatever they are, and get in touch with them.
If you are angry about what’s being done to these poor medics, channel your anger into something productive, and start writing letters. The more of us who do, the better the chances are of accomplishing something.
[UPDATE: 21 Sept 1120 EST]
Another of the Sciencebloggers pointed out that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is an MD, and that he is sensative to threats against medical providers. Given his position in the majority, he’s in a position to help.
Office of Senator Bill Frist
509 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Frist staffer email: Ken_Scroggs@frist.senate.gov
Mike Dunford has done a lot of the heavy lifting. It’s up to the rest of us to give a little extra push. Ten minutes, maybe? Instead of surfing?
Nature and Declan Butler have put themselves out there. Shouldn’t the science blogosphere be standing at their side?