Friday, April 5, 2013

The silence of the faculty

Here’s a prediction.  When the dust finally settles on the research scandals here at the U, one looming question will be: why didn’t the faculty speak out?  It’s not as if this is a tough case. The ethical issues here are as obvious as they were for Tuskegee.  And it’s not as if the evidence has been hidden away.  Court documents, emails, memos, depositions: they’ve all been publicly available – and organized for easy viewing – for a very long time.  Those who depend on the authority of experts have had plenty of guidance.  Three former editors of the New England Journal of Medicine have signed a petition calling for an investigation, alongside prominent activists, whistleblowers, bioethicists and government officials.   Richard Horton, the editor of The Lancet has signed on.  So has Richard Smith, the former editor of the British Medical Journal, and Susan Reverby, the Wellesley historian who uncovered the Guatemala syphilis studies.  Many signatories of the petition say they are stunned by the apparent wrongdoing in this case.  What accounts for the silence on campus? Ignorance? Apathy? Or maybe fear?


  1. Please see my reaction to Carl's touching piece:

    The Silence of the Lambs

    Bill Gleason, U of M faculty and alum

  2. Hi Carl --
    The silence of the faculty is pretty easy to explain, I think: their careers will go more smoothly if they say nothing. Speaking out for or against something can always be a risk, and a lot of folks think that it's just not worth the potential hassles down the line. I know many people like this. Calling for an independent investigation into all of this is hardly a radical posture, frankly. It's to call for the initiation of a process; it is not the declaration of a conclusion. So one really has to wonder about the extent to which the silence is explained by plain old self-interested ass-covering. Where are all the faculty members who think of themselves as so very edgy, the ones who think they're fighting for social justice, speaking truth to power, or trying to bring a bit of good into the world? Why are they not all outraged by the university's do-nothing, lawyer-up attitude? Because their paychecks may well depend on their silence. Don't burn any bridges, people--that's some good advice. I hope it works well for you.
    Robert Crouch, not a U of M faculty or alum

  3. Disagree. All change is best effected from the inside -- preferably fetal, with your head under your pillow.

  4. It is always easier to complain about things going on in places like Abu Ghraib than to clean up the mess in your own back yard.


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