Dean’s Message: April 2015
On April 27, I was humbled to join Professor Chandler Davis — a well-known author, academic and selfidentified socialist — in conversation at the third Dr. Zofia Pakula Public Lecture Series. It was a truly inspiring discussion that tickled my activist roots and reminded me why I chose to focus some of my career on using science to directly address issues related to human rights and other social issues.
I’d like to thank all those who attended the lecture and share a few thoughts with you about Professor Davis, the Lecture’s aim and issues discussed.
Chandler Davis is a Professor Emeritus in U of T’s Department of Mathematics. Davis came from a radical family and is a former member of the Communist Party of America. During the McCarthy era, Davis refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee and was dismissed from the University of Michigan.
Before the courts, he declined to invoke the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. Instead, he chose to stand up for his belief in the First Amendment right to free speech, a radical approach that landed him in prison for six months. He subsequently moved to Canada, and while a Professor at U of T, pursued a life-long agenda of working for Science for Peace and other activist groups that used a scientific and humanist perspective to advocate for peace and social justice.
Professor Davis’ sacrifice in the name of free speech and human rights is a powerful reminder of how questioning authority and scrutinizing all perspectives are core to academic curiosity and societal evolution.
Professor Davis’ work is particularly meaningful to me because I too had worked in the defense of human rights, particularly with respect to investigations of allegations surrounding the use of chemical weapons and their effects on civilian populations in conflict situations. I led teams for Physicians for Human Rights and also chaired a Research Commission on the health effects of nuclear weapons productions for the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.
I am a firm believer that science must serve social needs and address inequality. I agree with Professor Davis’ remark: “Scientists, like physicians, should be bound to the mantra that science should first do no harm.” The Pakula lecture series is now hosted by the Institute for Global Health Equity and Innovation (IGHEI), a University-wide entity housed at DLSPH. One of the Institute’s mandates is to provide a safe space to ask ‘unaskable’ questions and encourage discussion on taboo subjects, differences in opinion and robust dialogue.
One such “unaskable” question that Professor Davis and I addressed was what issues are being ignored by the academic community today. We agreed that impacts on biological ecosystems of the mining, oil and forestry industries comprise a relatively unexamined area that is fraught with issues pertaining to corporate interests and objectivity. Even less understood are those related to marginalized populations affected by such extractive industries because such research is costly, typically occurs in polarized communities and trust isn’t easily built.
Inequality is another issue that came up, and I’m glad it did because it is central to IGHEI’s mandate.
There was good discussion on how the inequities rooted in power, income and living standards all impact health and how adopting approaches rooted in socialism could improve health and well-being in Canada and elsewhere. This is another area that requires scholarship.
The Pakula Lecture Series celebrates lively discussion on global public health, human rights and the complex, multidimensional interrelationships of health, war and peace in an effort to “Wage Peace.” I am tremendously pleased with this week’s lecture and I look forward to IGHEI applying a critical research lens to these issues and bringing them to the surface.
Photos from the event are posted on DLSPH Flickr page, and lecture video will be available online soon.
Stay tuned for more details.