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« on: April 03, 2007, 04:22:43 PM »
Dear fellow physicist,
Your courage to take a public stand on a close-to-home issue has
won justice for a fired fellow physicist and has promoted free
expression within the physics community.
Over five years ago we sent you an appeal beginning: "Physics
Today magazine recently gave a punishing review to a book written
by physicist Jeff Schmidt..." For 19 years Jeff was a staff
editor at our professional journal, Physics Today -- until his
supervisors saw his book Disciplined Minds. Based upon examples
from physics graduate training and beyond, it provocatively
critiques workplace hierarchy in general and the politically
subordinate role of people hired to do creative work. The
magazine's review: "...[they] fired him."
The resulting appeal to physicists and others landed in fertile
soil and, through your efforts, justice has finally been done.
You will not read about it in Physics Today, and so we are
writing now to give you the story and to thank you for your
Your public response, from over 35 countries, was unprecedented.
More than 1000 scientists, activists, and others in many fields
-- including the largest number of physicists ever to speak out
on a freedom-of-expression issue in the United States -- sent the
American Institute of Physics (AIP), which publishes Physics
Today, strongly worded demands for justice, all now public. A
human-rights committee of scientists affiliated with a unit of
the IEEE investigated and issued a public report condemning
Bringing such public judgment on Jeff's firing was already a form
of justice because of the toll on AIP's image. Such punitive
justice is available to any wronged individual unafraid to go
public. Jeff deeply appreciates and thanks you for your
support. You can contact him at email@example.com.
Encouraged by your passionately expressed view that our
institutions should uphold our community values, we continued the
campaign for free expression -- with the goal of compensatory
We took your protests to the American Physical Society, which
plays a major role in governing AIP, and asked the
organization to oppose Jeff's dismissal, as it does when
dissident physicists outside the United States are punished for
expressing their views. APS officials, in what amounts to tacit
approval of Jeff's firing, refused even to investigate the same
issue close to home. This prompted us to urge Jeff to take legal
Hence, Jeff approached the most prominent Washington, D.C.,
civil-rights law organization, which, impressed by your protests,
took the case pro bono publico. ("That's Latin for 'free,'" says
Jeff.) The lawyers filed suit and obtained internal AIP
documents. After AIP handed over the embarrassing and
incriminating documents -- which are now public -- it
capitulated and signed a legally binding settlement agreement.
1. Payment. AIP paid Jeff what we estimate to be at least
half a million dollars.
2. Public settlement. AIP agreed to Jeff's demand that the
settlement agreement be a public document.
3. Symbolic reinstatement. AIP reinstated Jeff to his position
at Physics Today magazine. A few hours later Jeff resigned.
4. Public statement by AIP. The American Institute of Physics
publicly acknowledged that Jeff's supervisors and others praised
his work and that AIP fired him for his provocative
5. Employment reference. AIP has given Jeff a positive
6. Discrimination remediation. While employed at Physics Today,
Jeff led a contentious effort to force the magazine to change its
long-standing pattern of hiring and training only whites as
editors, and to live up to its claim of being an affirmative-
action employer. These actions were part of the expression for
which Jeff was fired.[6,13] Thus, to settle the case, AIP
..Support the National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP) and
the National Society of Hispanic Physicists (NSHP) in becoming a
member society of AIP and appointing a member of the AIP
..Encourage each of the ten AIP member societies to work with
the NSBP and NSHP diversity council.
..Offer a science-writing course at an NSBP annual conference,
which will increase the pool of talented minority-group editors.
..Maintain a program of mandatory diversity training for all AIP
*Freedom of expression not embraced*
Although AIP's repressive behavior backfired, the organization
has not welcomed free expression within the physics community.
To settle the case, AIP demanded various censorships, including
deleting text from critical articles published by the American
Physical Society and by the Canadian Undergraduate Physics
Journal. AIP's behavior prompted the Canadian Undergraduate
Physics Journal to lodge a strong, public protest. It is
After the settlement, the American Institute of Physics,
represented by the notorious union-busting law firm Jackson
Lewis, slapped Jeff with a half-million-dollar legal action
to silence him and to prevent physicists from discussing the
settlement. AIP claimed that snippets of text posted at the
disciplinedminds.com website (such as the two words, "symbolic
reinstatement," and the five words, "Schmidt's concessions to
AIP's demands") each did $20,000 worth of damage to AIP, for a
total of half a million dollars. AIP told Jeff that it would
stop its legal action if he removes those phrases from the web
and refrains from "all commentary regarding the settlement." We
therefore regard AIP's legal filing as a SLAPP action (strategic
lawsuit against public participation), one whose primary purpose
is to stifle discussions of public interest.
We found this repressive behavior unacceptable for an institution
of physics, which should show the public that physicists come to
the truth through free discussion, not through censorship and
intimidation. We wrote to AIP twice demanding that it drop
its SLAPP action and reverse the censorship of articles published
by the American Physical Society and the Canadian Undergraduate
AIP has not undone the censorship or compensated Jeff for the
legal costs of defending against its SLAPP action, but -- in
another victory for free expression -- AIP announced, in its
response to our letters, that it would stop pursuing the legal
*We would like to hear from you*
Thank you for taking a public stand.
We hope that you will share your thoughts with us. Please share
your thoughts with AIP too. (Send us a copy and, with your
permission, we'll post it on the web.) Do let us know if you
would like to know about further developments in this case or
about similar cases. You can reach us at DGRancourt@aol.com
(Denis Rancourt), and you can reach AIP at firstname.lastname@example.org
(AIP governing board chair Mildred Dresselhaus).
Denis Rancourt for
Fay Dowker, Physics Department, Imperial College London, UK
Sanjoy Mahajan, Physics Department, University of Cambridge, UK
Talat Rahman, Physics Department, University of Central Florida
Denis Rancourt, Physics Department, University of Ottawa, Canada
George Reiter, Physics Department, University of Houston
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