Gheorghe Curelet-Balan Blog

Sunday, December 18, 2005

You better watch out.

There are a lot of jokes about Canadians kindness, diplomacy, apologetic and non combative nature. Well, well, well… this perception was proved wrong during the last Perimeter Institute public lecture (on December 7th) of Miriam Shuchman about science whistleblowers, titled “The Drug Trial: You Be The Judge”. I had hard time finding the right title for this post but finally I’ve settled for this title since the lecture’s lesson resonates with some terminology of the season.

By far this was the most animated PI lecture I’ve ever seen. I’m sure that you’ve guessed why. It’s the controversial nature of lecture’s subject; so controversial that PI’s director Howard Burton (the official moderator) had hard time controlling the spirited audience. The lecture looked interesting from the beginning when Howard shared with the audience some obstacles PI had in organizing the event.

During the lecture, Miriam presented some notable whistleblowing cases and put the audience in the situation to judge them. I will not enter into details since each case requires careful analysis and research. Since there were situations when whistleblowers were wrong the subject of their motivation was touched. While some of them act out of conscience there are others that are motivated by the revenge, and these are usually wrong. Miriam’s advice for potential whistleblowers was to consider carefully the pros and cons of each situation. Blowing the whistle in science is a dramatic act since the conscience has to be weighted against the consequences. Miriam pointed out also the complexity of whistleblowing phenomenon due to globalization. While it is legal in North America to blow the whistle, in France it is illegal.

The funny part was during the question time when some members of the audience started questioning Miriam’s book (The Drug Trial) even though it was obvious that they didn’t read it. Each time Howard (amazed by the audience’s high interest in Miriam‘s book) had to step in and focus the questions on the subject of the lecture. In the end Howard used his irony to announce the PI’s next public lecture “Are You Conscious?” given by Jay Ingram. He expressed his hope that the audience will express for the next lecture the same interest in Jay’s book, Theatre of the Mind, as in Miriam’s book :)


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