The first post tells why. It may be too little, but hopefully not too late.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Playing with totalitarian symbols, or Why I quit the American Association for the Advancement of Science

12-10-2010. - Today is a sad day. After being a member of the AAAS  for many years, I have decided not to renew my membership upon receiving the notice that it has expired. Although the $146/year membership has not provided me with a tangible benefit, with Science magazine it publishes available to me online through my University's subscription, that is not the reason for my saying 'No' to the last and "Urgent!" AAAS Membership Renewal Certificate. I have felt fine supporting the Association, even though I have not needed any of the benefits of individual membership. I do not know exactly what it does, apart from publishing Science, but that was not an issue either. I have been satisfied with its general description as an "organization dedicated to advancing science around the world by serving as an educator, leader, spokesperson and professional association". I no longer am. I no longer feel it can do that service well.

Strange as it may seem, my dissociation from the Association results from the call to renew my membership. Not from its simple substance, which is donating money to some science-related activities and staff supporting them, but from the form. And from the results of my discussion of that form with individuals who are responsible for it - Mr. Ian King, the AAAS Director of Marketing, and Dr. Alan Leshner, the CEO of the AAAS. The contents of that discussion are presented below. I wish my concerns were shared by the community, but I see no reason not to believe Mr. King, the marketing director, who said I had been the only one to raise them. Nevertheless, don't hesitate to comment this way or another.

Notice anything out of order? Perhaps you can't clearly see the image I scanned. The renewal certificate offers an incredibly attractive deal: in addition to Science, some bonus subscriptions and member savings on the AAAS annual meeting I've never attended, I'd get - for 2-year membership - a "FREE Darwin T-shirt!" I cannot know if Darwin would be thrilled by knowing that his likeness serves as a marketing tool, even though his known modesty makes that doubtful. We can, however, safely guess that he, who considered belief in G-d "ennobling" and connected the Golden Rule as the "foundation of morality" with natural human social instincts (see The Descent of Man), would not want to be associated with the bloody revolutionary, Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

These thoughts forced me to send emails to the AAAS staff, the last of which was to its CEO:

Alan I. Leshner
Chief Executive Officer
Executive Publisher, Science
American Association for the
Advancement of Science
Voice: 202-326-6639
FAX: 202-371-9526

11/23/2010 7:33 PM

Dear Dr. Leshner:

As many others, I have received a promotional AAAS membership renewal
certificate, including an offer of a "FREE Darwin T-shirt" bonus. The
T-shirt bears a picture of Darwin on it, which is fashioned after the
well-known portrait of Ernesto "Che" Guevara with a paraphrased slogan
related to the same portrait, "¡Viva La Evolución!".

I doubt this allusion is appropriate for a non-political scientific
organization such as AAAS. Whatever romantic qualities might have been
ascribed to Guevara by pop culture, he was a brutal Communist
revolutionary who ordered executions of, personally executed and
tortured his alleged "enemies". Placing Darwin in any connection with
Guevara is as fitting as adorning him with Lenin's cap or Stalin's pipe,
and is an insult to Darwin who is unable to object personally. It is in
bad taste, to put it mildly, especially for those who, like myself, have
had experience with Communist regimes. In the Soviet Union, we could not
read Science in the original. I am not sure whether its publishers and
authors were aware of that, but Science was reprinted, with all articles
that could offend a Soviet censor removed and their titles blotted out
in the table of contents. This is, of course, nothing compared to "Che"
Guevara's crimes.
I have attempted to receive AAAS's reassurance that this T-shirt was a
mistake to be corrected and is not indicative of the society's position
on totalitarian ideologies. The Society's Marketing Director, Mr. Ian
King, was kind enough to reply to my request and discuss the issue with
his colleagues (I am not sure with whom). The decision they took was
"phasing out the Darwin T-shirt, beginning in September, meaning [they]
will no longer be offering it in [their] renewals, or from [their] trade
show booth for new members". Nevertheless, they did not accept my
request to make a public announcement regarding that, e.g., on the AAAS
website, indicating that the use of Guevara imagery was erroneous. I
still think, however, that it is important not to be silent and merely
withdraw the shirt, which could be done with any marketing device, never
noticed by anybody. The image, which has been seen by many, suggests the
AAAS's sympathies toward totalitarian regimes and their symbols such as
Guevara, or at least readiness to popularize such images by using them
as marketing tools - impressions that I am sure are both unwelcome and

Until the public announcement is made admitting that marketing error, I
cannot in good conscience renew my AAAS membership, due to expire soon.

I would greatly appreciate your response on this matter.

Sincerely, etc.

The response that followed was prompt:

From: Alan Leshner <aleshner@aaas.org>;
To: Michael Vanyukov <mmv@pitt.edu>;
Date: Nov 24 2010 - 2:13pm
We can certainly understand and sympathize with your perspective. We in
        no way meant for this t-shirt to be construed as an endorsement of the
        policies or practices of Che Guevara. Indeed our human rights group here
        at AAAS is well aware of the oppressive nature of the former communist
        regimes, a practice which we know continues in those remaining communist
        countries today. As you may know we no longer distribute this t-shirt.
        We believe to call attention to this product on the web site now and
        revisit the "Che" symbol would be counter-productive to your overriding
        concerns. It is our belief that the t-shirts, like the "Che" character,
        are best left to fade away.

        We hope you will reconsider your membership as we value your opinions
        and unique point-of-view

        With best wishes,

        Alan Leshner

Obviously, I  disagree that somebody should know better what better serves my "overriding concerns" while I am still sane. This is especially so when this judgment is offered by people who have been willing - for two years, by Mr. King's admission - to use an image of a mass murderer who has long been a symbol of communist regimes. Despite the AAAS human rights group's alleged awareness of communist oppression. One of those overriding concerns of mine is exactly that my point of view is considered "unique". In fact, the image of Guevara is so popular in the US universities that the AAAS decided, in the words of its marketing director, "to play off of the Guevara T-shirts that one often sees on college campuses and other places. It was intended to parody that piece of pop culture while serving as a statement of support for the continued preeminence of Darwin's theories." The AAAS's mindless willingness to employ the Guevara chic and laissez-faire attitude to its meaning will contribute to the perpetuation and rise of his popularity, with his and Darwin's images now merged thanks to the AAAS t-shirt. 

No wonder the evolutionary theory - the guiding light of biology - scares those who have not got a chance to get higher education. Education does not make one immune from moral confusion, and sometimes is associated with arrogance preventing timely correction of moral lapses. Neither this confusion nor "the 'Che' character" are likely to "fade away" soon.