October 31, 2017
I think professionals of all sorts are often surprised by the ways in which emotion can invade their work lives, and scientists are no exception. On October 31st, I found myself struggling to come to terms with being in Russia on a day when the first indictments were announced in response to the Russian government’s intervention in the most recent U.S. presidential election.
I have read before that jet lag is difficult to distinguish from a combination of exhaustion and dehydration. On Halloween I asked myself why I found it so hard to be productive at the ClinProt 2017 meeting. The answer, I think, was a combination of exhaustion and grief. The exhaustion is easy to explain. I left from South Africa on October 19th, so the 31st marked my twelfth consecutive day away from home. Even if much of my trip was vacation time, I tend to use a lot of energy on my vacation days!
Why would I be feeling grief, though? Some of it stemmed from the loneliness of being away from Natasha and my friends in Cape Town. I also felt a pang at spending the day in a place that doesn’t celebrate Halloween with the enthusiasm we do in the United States. The principal push, though, was a sense of loss from the unraveling of United States institutions.
Around twenty-four hours ago, Special Investigator Robert Mueller announced that George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy advisor to the Donald Trump presidential campaign, had admitted guilt in lying to the FBI. He had attempted to hide the fact that he made several attempts to connect the Trump campaign with his contacts in the Russian government. Two “bigger fish” in the campaign, Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, have been arrested and are now facing twelve charges ranging from conspiracy against the United States, money laundering (apparently attempting to hide the fact that they had been paid by the Russian government), failing to disclose the fact that they had been paid by foreign governments, and making false statements to law enforcement.
I think most of my readers have inferred that I disagree with almost all of President Donald Trump’s actions since taking office. I would really like to believe, however, that he thinks his actions are what the country actually needs. I once heard that Alberto Gonzales, previously the Attorney General under George W. Bush and now the Dean of Belmont University College of Law in Nashville, claimed that no President of the United States could ever take an action that he (or she) believed would hurt the country. To the contrary, it seems obvious to me that President Trump has behaved in ways that are already hurting the United States. Just the same, I have wished that President Trump believed his actions are justified and appropriate. The fact that two people so close to him face charges of conspiring against the United States erodes my hope that President Trump actually wants what is best for the United States.
Of course, we have known since January of 2017 that the United States intelligence community believes it has proof that Russia intervened in the U.S. presidential election. My sense of this claim is that it takes at least two forks: 1) The Russian government wanted U.S. citizens to feel less faith that its elections were fair, and 2) The Russian government wanted the undermine Hillary Clinton’s reputation to diminish her standing if she were able to win the election. When I was planning my trip to Russia, I had to ask whether I was willing to visit a country for which the government would attempt such an influence.
I decided that the people whom I would meet in Moscow had no part in such an attempt. I know that the scientists here already must deal with challenges in acquiring equipment because United States laws place special restrictions on exports to Russia. My goal in coming here is not so different than my goal in conducting research and mentoring in South Africa, really. I want to see the community of researchers throughout the world become more adept at retrieving information from their data, seeing that their clinical research aims are just as intended for the betterment of humanity as my own are.
I have said before that I am a Global Citizen. For me, this means that where I see public health threats, I want to place my research efforts on the other pan of the scales. It means that the suffering of a person counts the same no matter the color of his or her skin, his or her gender, his or her religion (if any!), and his or her nationality. I believe that all the life of planet Earth is worth protecting. I sure hope that Earth’s governments will help rather than hinder that mission.