The National Coalition Against Censorship, an alliance of 50 national nonprofit organizations, held its annual celebration of free speech and its defenders on October 24, 2006, in New York City. NCAC honored Joe and Shirley Wershba, veteran journalists, writers and producers, whose credits include See it Now with Edward R. Murrrow, 60 Minutes, and The MacNeil/Lehrer Report; and Rick Piltz, Founder and Director of Climate Science Watch. NCAC has initiated The Knowledge Project: Censorship and Science, to address the clash between First Amendment principles of free expression and government suppression or distortion of scientific information.
From the NCAC Web site:
NCAC’s annual celebration of free speech and its defenders will take place October 24, 2006 at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City.
Joe and Shirley Wershba, veteran journalists, writers and producers, portrayed in “Good Night and Good Luck,” a film by George Clooney about Edward R. Murrow. Their credits include “See it Now,” “60 Minutes,” and “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report”
Rick Piltz, Founder and Director of Climate Science Watch, a public education and advocacy program of the Government Accountability Project to promote integrity in the use of climate science in policymaking and to prevent the abuse of science.
WITH A Special Tribute to Roz Udow (1926 – 2006), lifelong free speech advocate and former Editor of Censorship News.
FEATURING a screening of the winning short films made by teen filmmakers addressing the question: “War and Free Speech: Can They Co-Exist?”
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Rubin Museum of Art
150 West 17th Street at 7th Avenue, New York City
“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), founded in 1974, is an alliance of 50 national non-profit organizations, including literary, artistic, religious, educational, professional, labor, and civil liberties groups. United by a conviction that freedom of thought, inquiry, and expression must be defended, we work to educate our own members and the public at large about the dangers of censorship and how to oppose them.
o To promote and defend First Amendment values of freedom of thought, inquiry and expression.
o To oppose restraints on open communication and to support access to information.
o To encourage, support and coordinate activities of national organizations in opposition to censorship.
o To encourage understanding that restrictions on the free interchange of ideas threaten religious, moral, political, artistic and intellectual freedom.
The coalition is comprised of 50 national not-for-profit organizations, broadly representing the interests of the artistic, educational, religious, and labor communities in the United States.
The Knowledge Project: Censorship and Science examines the clash between First Amendment principles of free expression and government suppression or distortion of scientific information. By disrupting the free flow of information in the scientific arena, the government has endangered the “marketplace of ideas,” threatening not only our constitutional rights to freedom of speech, thought and inquiry, but also the decision and policy-making processes that depend on reliable and valid information.
As national concern over the “politicization” of science escalates, this program provides a framework for understanding this problem as more than just politics. The Knowledge Project identifies specific governmental policies and practices that inhibit the free exchange of ideas, explores the policy implications of these activities, and develops analyses and arguments about how the First Amendment applies to those actions that suppress and/or distort research findings. By incorporating constitutional law and principles into the national discourse, NCAC endeavors to broaden the discussion so that these acts are properly weighed against the First Amendment rights of the scientific community and of the general public as well.
While censorship in the fields of art and politics has traditionally garnered the preponderance of public attention, the last few years have brought increased scrutiny of First Amendment concerns in the area of scientific research. A scientist’s right to communicate and disseminate his or her research findings is a form of speech that is no less privy to the protections of the First Amendment than any other type of expression.
The impulse to stifle scientific speech is not, of course, a recent development. Government and religious officials have often sought to quash scientific findings that threaten their political message or value system. The censure (and imprisonment) of Galileo by the Catholic Church during the Inquisition for his theory that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the universe and, later, Stalin’s brutal repression of scientific inquiry in the totalitarian Soviet Union, are but two examples of the long history of suppression of scientific thought. Even a democracy such as ours has experienced tension between the often competing aims of the scientific community and our political leaders, as evidenced, for example, by Nixon’s frayed relationship with his science advisors and Reagan’s bitter reaction to the scientific community’s skeptical evaluation of his Strategic Defense Initiative.
Recently, however, the federal government, motivated by a desire to sustain a specific political agenda, has suppressed and/or distorted scientific reports to a degree not previously seen in this country. This incursion on the scientific community has impinged on a wide range of topics, including the environment, climate change, contraception and abstinence education, stem cell research, missile defense, energy sources and evolution. And these attacks have come in various forms: introducing a “controversy” where none actually exists by mandating equal attention and resources for quasi-theories containing little to no support in the scientific community; suppressing scientific reports by delaying their release or failing to make them available to the public; removing otherwise qualified scientists from important agency and panel positions by virtue of their disagreement with the current administration’s politics or because their research yielded results that did not favor the administration’s policy; enacting legislation that restricts the areas of inquiry an agency may permissibly study; and finally, distorting current scientific research by intentionally misrepresenting its findings.
All of these acts raise serious First Amendment concerns and represent a general assault on the scientific process. Further, they represent an erosion of our constitutional rights to freedom of speech, inquiry and exchange of ideas by creating a “chilling effect” for scientists who now fear repercussions for producing data or advocating positions that are inconsistent with the current political agenda. This situation is untenable. The benefits to society of robust and unencumbered scientific research and debate are incalculable, especially considering that government-sponsored research is often the primary means to developing sound public policy.