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Special Issue

JHU POLITIK January 2013








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Jeremy Orloff , Editor-in-Chief

INTERVIEW with DAN O’CONNOR .................................

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INTERVIEW with DEREK DENMAN ................................

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NATURAL GAS at HOPKINS .............................................

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Rachel Cohen & Tamar Nachmany

Rachel Cohen & Jeremy Orloff

Henry Chen, Geordan Williams, & Randy Bell Edited by Julia Allen

A publication of


EDITORS-IN-CHIEF Jeremy Orloff, Matt Varvaro MANAGING EDITOR Alex Clearfield CREATIVE DIRECTOR Victoria Scordato ASSISTANT EDITORS Julia Allen HEAD WRITER Rachel Cohen Ari Schaffer Colette Andrei EVENTS CHAIR/PUBLICITY Randy Bell PHOTO EDITOR Anna Kleinsasser Cover Photo Credit United States National Library of Medicine, Portrait of H.R. Cox


AN INTRODUCTION By Jeremy Orloff ‘13, Editor-in-Chief


HU Politik is bigger and better than ever. Over the last year our online presence has allowed us to grow our readership and outreach. We have brought speakers to campus, highlighted the research of professors, and established the magazine as the center of political debate on campus. This special issue will be the first to be published on our iPad app, a project developed by JHU undergrads and supported by the University’s technology coordinators. JHU Politik’s previous special issues have tackled fairly narrow topics from a variety of perspectives. We maintain that this model offers the best counterpart to our weekly publication, which delivers concise opinion pieces that span a seemingly endless spectrum of political beliefs and topics. For this issue we took a slightly different approach because the topic we chose to confront is so broad: the role that politics plays in contemporary academic research. This special issue raises many questions. As a community it is clear that we benefit from continually revisiting the questions of how politics play into the research conducted at Homewood and on our other campuses. In some cases the linkages between national politics and research are explicit: Johns Hopkins receives more in federal funding for scientific research than any other university in the nation. At other times the connections are more nuanced and difficult to ascertain: when has the threat of controversy kept risk-averse investigators from exploring new areas?



“For this issue we took a slightly different approach because the topic we chose to confront is so broad: the role that politics plays in contemporary academic research.”

the causes of gun violence offer a shocking example of the manipulation of objective science for partisan political gain. The three pieces in this special issue get at “the politics of research” from very different perspectives. The first piece, an interview with Dan O’Connor, a bioethicist and professor at Hopkins, addresses the fundamental ethical questions associated with academic research. Professor O’Connor frames the debate in terms of power dynamics and the relationship between a researcher and his subject. He sits on one of JHU’s Institutional Review Boards and employs his own research into bioethics to determine appropriate scientific protocols for the University.

There is a core tension in academia between the dual and often competing instincts of immersion with the subject of research and the maintenance of an above-the-fray, objective perspective. Do modern academics operate out of ivory towers? Are research and intellectual discussion best conducted within the seclusion of our own private constructs or exposed to the now constant input available in an increasingly connected world? The largest scientific research projects being undertaken today enlist thousands of scientists around the world. They each have their own beliefs and motivations but are bound by a common pursuit of the truth.

The second interview we conducted is with a graduate student named Derek Denman. When he is not studying the role of local political movements within larger political shifts, Mr. Denman is an active participant in the Human Rights Working Group. At present, the HRWG has a very specific political goal: to start a conversation on research being conducted at Johns Hopkins and its affiliates into drone warfare. The HRWG believes that, for a number of reasons, drone warfare is not something that the University should be involved in promoting. One of the most important points that Mr. Denman makes in his interview is that classified research has limited education applications as only a few cleared persons are allowed to understand fully what kind of experiments have been conducted and what kind of progress has been made. The walls that limit the dissemination of information seem to fly in the face of the motto that Mr. Bloomberg quotes above.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Massacre, a shooting spree that left 20 children dead, Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health organized a gun policy summit. Michael Bloomberg, the school’s namesake and funder, Mayor of New York, and a vocal gun control advocate was in attendance and addressed the assembled guests: You’re sitting here at Johns Hopkins. Our motto is: The truth shall make you free. When elected officials try to muzzle scientific research and bury the truth, they make our free society less free and less safe. Today, because of Congressional restrictions, CDC funding for firearms injury research totals $100,000 – out of an annual budget of nearly $6 billion. The National Institutes of Health is estimated to spend less than $1 million on firearms injury research – out of an annual budget of $31 billion. To put that in perspective, NIH spends $21 million annually researching headaches. But it spends less than $1 million on all the gun deaths that happen every year. If that doesn’t give you a headache, it should.

The final piece is a long-form article on the politics surrounding natural gas, the implementation of new natural gas technology on campus, and initiatives to spread such technology to other campus. The writers of this piece conducted interviews across the university in their research efforts and we are excited to present the results of that work in this issue. The promotion of student journalism remains a central focus for JHU Politik. Our weekly publication, the Politik Press, is a sounding board for new ideas and opinions. This special issue, like those we have published in the past, attempts to use the resources available to us on campus to shine a light on an important topic relevant both within academia and across the wider political landscape. PP

For anyone who has ever been involved in academic research, one thing should be very clear: financial backing drives research. When elected officials in Washington limit dollars based on their political beliefs the effects on academics can be immediate. The moratoriums placed on research into




Photo Credit Tamar Nachmany



DAN O’CONNOR By Rachel Cohen ‘14 & Tamar Nachmany ‘13


Conversations about research are often rooted in aspirations of “scientific advancement” and “human progress.” We naturally become enthralled at the prospect of seeing how far man’s imagination and ingenuity can lead us through the well-established research protocols. But who gets to decide what research is conducted and what isn’t? Where do ethical considerations fall with regards to the social milieu? Do morals and ethics even matter in the “politics of research”? We sat down with Dr. Dan O’Connor, a bioethics researcher and faculty member at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics to discuss what it means and is to be a bioethics researcher in the 21st century.




In what ways do you see bioethics as “political”?

Let’s say the moral problem is about end of life care. The empirical research of bioethics will look at the actual legal documents involved. They will interview people whose families have been involved in end of life care decisions. They will talk to doctors, lawyers, and then they will come up with a body of empirical data which they will then analyze either quantitatively or qualitatively, and then come up with the ethical results of that research. It is often about describing the moral world, and exposing ways in which people navigate the moral world.

Bioethics is inherently political. Anyone who tells you different is delusional. Bioethics is political firstly in the obvious way that its central concerns - freedom, justice, and right actions - are not very different from those of political scientists. Equally obviously, bioethics is political in that the instances of those concerns invariably involve politically contentious issues, from health care reform, through stem cell research, to abortion. If issues such as those are where bioethics intersects with politicians, it also intersects with what one might call political movements, such as feminism or civil rights. Ultimately, however, I would say that bioethics is most profoundly political in that it is inescapably about relationships of power and how those relationships permit or prohibit certain questions to be asked (and thus certain answers to be suggested) about how we treat the human body and the body politic.

Then there is the second side, the conceptual research, where people will look at the problem of end of life care and will consider what it means to be at the end of your life from various philosophical traditions. There’s one side of things which is very much on the ground, practical and one which is much more theoretical and conceptual. What we try to do at the Berman Institute is have strength in both of those areas, so a lot of our projects will marry the two. It’s when you get both together— empirical and conceptual—that you have really successful research.

‘Bioethics’ is a term that students often hear but many times are not quite sure what it means, or it appears there are multiple definitions. How would you define bioethics and what does that term mean in your experience?

You have written a good deal of research about marginalized communities like transsexuals and the transabled. Who are you looking to reach with your work?

You don’t know what a can of worms that question is. If we knew what that was we would all get along so much better. The way I look at it is bioethics is the formal study of moral problems in medicine, health care, public health, biomedical research, and anything that has to do with the body or the life sciences. It’s when any sort of philosophical dilemma comes up in sickness or in health. It’s not about solving the dilemma—although that is often how it works out—but it tends to be about analyzing the problem, thinking about how it came into being, putting the problem into context and providing the people who are facing the problem either with the tools or the guidelines for thinking through the problem.

Academics have three audiences. And it’s a progressive stage, as those three audiences get larger and larger. The bigger the audience, the luckier you’ve been in getting your work out. The first level is your immediate colleagues. That’s always who academics are writing for. That’s what we get paid to do. For me it’s other ethicists within my field, and interested colleagues who work in bioethicists but haven’t thought about marginalized communities as much, or of those populations that I study. I try to show how the problems they face are very similar to the problems that predominate in bioethics.

Now you could go to any ten of my colleagues at the Berman Institute of Bioethics and they would come up with something utterly, utterly different. A lot of them would question my use of the word ‘moral’ because bioethics has tended to come out of analytical philosophy as a tradition and because it has tended to be a practical discipline from theoretical and conceptual conceptions. People don’t like the word ‘moral’ because it makes people think about values and maybe emotional or religious things. A lot of bioethicists shy away from that term because it brings a lot of judgments, but I am quite happy to do it. Even if the work in the end isn’t morally based, ultimately it is always about someone’s morals. The problems themselves are tied up in values.

The second audience that people write for, which is like the next step up, would be policy makers and people who can impact the moral problem that you’re writing about. Then there’s the actual people you’re writing about, the actual population, and that can be tricky sometimes. A lot of the time, in particular when you write about transexualism or transablism, there’s a lot of politics involved in the way one writes about any particular issue. This can become difficult, and you can get positive and negative feedback. So you have colleagues in your academic community at one level, policy makers and the actual patient community at the next level, and then on top of that, which is the place a lot of academics would like to be but never get to is the general public. If you can get them interested in your work that’s amazing. Very few academics ever get to that third level of affecting the general public. If you can change the way the public thinks, or at least give them a way to think about a particular moral issue that changes the way they view the policy and the patient that will then filter down to your academic colleagues.

Research means something different in each field.What does it mean to do bioethics research? What sort of research is done at the Berman Institute of Bioethics? While there are myriad different types of research, there are two not competing but different approaches in bioethics. One is empirical research, which often involves interviewing people who are involved in these moral problems, talking to nurses, doctors, patients, and patients’ families.

At the moment I’m mostly at the second level, impacting policy and patients if I’m lucky. That’s where most bioethicists are.



WINTER SPECIAL ISSUE Who or what has inspired or influenced you in your development as a bioethicist?


“I think my primary influences interestingly have not been ethicists. They’ ve been historians because I’ m interested in the social construction of ethical norms.”

I think my primary influences interestingly have not been ethicists. They’ve been historians because I’m interested in the social construction of ethical norms. That’s really what underlies my work. I don’t think that morality is something that you find. I think it is something that is constructed socially and culturally. Three historians have been particularly influential: Carolyn Steedman who writes particularly about autobiographies and the writing of the self. Stuart Clark, who writes about witchcraft in early Modern Europe. He has this amazing book called ‘Thinking with Demons’ where he says: most of us obviously don’t believe in witches but people in the 17th century did explicitly believe in witches, and they were very real to them. So his question is what it is about language that permits people to believe in witches, and Clark has this thousand-page book, which explains brilliantly how language and social structures allow people to believe in witches. And so, his work has been particularly influential because I’m really influenced in how social structures permit people to believe that certain medical procedures are ethical. How people come to believe in the last 70 years that transexuality— not the state of being but the procedures that require it—are ethical. How at the moment, people are trying to get social and legal structures changed to permit transablism, the removal of a healthy leg or arm or whatever. The third person who has influenced me is Julia Kristeva and her work on the Horror of the Body-- particularly all my work on body modification has been influenced by her discussion of the clean, perfect body. I’d say those are the three: Steedman, Clark, Kristeva.

gay and lesbian rights as well. More than all of that, though is the consumer rights movement, the idea that the individual can buy and have whatever they want. Medicine has become a commodity in that way. So that’s the story bioethicists tell. The story historians tell about bioethics is that while, yes, bioethics does all those things, they also basically allow medical practices to go on basically undisturbed. It means that people are treated better on the surface, but the underlying social inequality remains. Most people in clinical trials outside of therapeutic trials are still poor people, low socio-economic status. The same as before bioethics came along. Health care is still incredibly iniquitous. There are huge health disparities between the races and genders. There remains an enormous amount of class based, race-based, prejudice within the delivery of health care. But because bioethics is seen as being there to fight those things, it suggests that medicine is doing its best to fight it. Of course, that is a very critical way to look at bioethics. The other way to look at it is if there were no bioethics at all things would be much, much worse.

You work at Johns Hopkins, a school full of pre-meds. Does it influence the way you teach to know that you are teaching ethics to our future plastic surgeons? No it does not at all. My job as an undergraduate professor isn’t to train up little clinicians. My job is produce or inculcate some critical thinking skills in my students and to expose them to new sets of information and new literature that they haven’t come across that could help them think critically, and if that helps them with critical skills later on when they’re dealing in the health care system, all the better. But that’s not my primary goal. My primary goal is to help people think critically.

The question is do you want to be on the outside critiquing, which is what a lot of what historical and humanistic work on medicine does, or quite sort of openly working in the inside. Yes. Bioethics works within the system, and is potentially defined by the interests of the biomedical system, but that influence can go both ways.

You serve on the Institutional Review Board (IRB) that reviews all clinical research done at Johns Hopkins, along with a group of experts from different fields. Beyond a general expertise in bioethics, what would you say you bring to those discussions?

Your background is in the history of medicine. How has the academic discussion surrounding trends in bioethics and changing technologies changed over the past half century? The story that bioethicists tend to tell themselves is that the field of bioethics came into being in the ‘60s and ‘70s as a response to various scandals in health care, human experimentation scandals like Tuskegee and others. Henrietta Lacks who came along later is representative precisely of the medical establishment or way of practicing in the 50’s and 60’s that was unacceptable. So it was a response to bad medicine both in treatment and research.

My role is to ask questions not about the science of the research, but about the enactment. How does this work in practice for the participant? What will this be like for the researcher to run this? Does this seem fair? The job of the scientist a lot of times on these committees is to make sure that the science is safe. That is of primary importance--that the design is safe and that it is not a waste of time or dangerous. My job is to try to put that experiment into a social context and to think about is this exploiting a particular population? Are we being fair to a group?

It was also heavily influenced by various civil rights movements: the African American civil rights movement, feminism, and later on,



WINTER SPECIAL ISSUE They can avoid American regulations because most of these organizations are multi-national organizations and may just have an American arm. US regulations only apply if they’re operating solely in the United States or if they had taken money from the American government to conduct their research. It’s really a product of globalization, of capitalism. Researchers seek out the cheapest workers that most capable of doing what they need, and the United States of America is not where the cheapest bodies are. Market people will look for the cheapest available labor, and if that happens to be in Ukraine or Thailand, they will go there. But people don’t tend to see this as a product of global capitalism.

It seems as though you work in both the most traditional end of the bioethics spectrum, sitting on the IRB at Johns Hopkins Medicine, and on the least traditional end, studying, for instance, the crowd-sourced medical knowledge of online health communities. How, if at all does your work in each of these areas influence the other? I’m not sure they interact with one another but they definitely influence one another. The Institutional Review Board is getting an increasing number of research applications that involve the use of social media, particularly for the recruitment of human subjects. Any type of disease you can think of has an online community and some of them are explicitly supported by the American Cancer Society while some of them are hosted by for-profit research companies like PatientsLikeMe, but in all cases there are private communities of people exchanging stories and supporting one another. They’re similar to you know, sports communities online—they offer the exchange of mutual information and emotional support.

Photo Credit Professor Jerry Meyer

Is there any ‘rogue’ human subjects research being done outside of the scope of an accredited IRB? How does one treat this type of ‘rogue’ research? Do you feel ethically compelled to intervene? There was a book I read a few years ago called “When Experiments Travel: Clinical Trials and the Global Search for Human Subjects” and it was all about the exporting of trials. We tend to think classically that experiments go to sub-Saharan Africa and India, but they’re also increasingly going to Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, places where the oversight is infinitely less than what we have here. The argument from the contract research organizations and pharmaceuticals companies is that they must do research in places with less regulatory oversight because they can’t afford to do it in America. The regulation makes it expensive, and also people just aren’t willing to volunteer. In America they find it difficult to get research volunteers.


If you’re a researcher attempting to study a particular disease and you’re trying to recruit a cohort to study, that’s the hardest part. If it suddenly becomes apparent that there are a hundred people with your disease all chatting together online, it’s a brilliant opportunity for you to recruit, but there are all sorts of ethical questions about how to approach them. What kind of language are you allowed to use? Is this a misuse of the community? The community is there to support one another not necessarily for research. And so those questions are coming up increasingly to IRBs. The flip side is that we now have disease and genetic communities who are looking for researchers for research they’re doing themselves and they are outsourcing their own genetic information to do their own research. You get this odd phenomenon of diseased communities recruiting their own researcher rather than researchers recruiting diseased communities. There was a heart disease community, some coronary condition, they effectively put together a disease cohort and went shopping for a researcher. Eventually that researcher had to go through an IRB. And then, the question becomes: if the job of an IRB is to protect participants, what right do we (IRB) have to protect them when they are creating the research themselves? PP



8 Photo Credit United States National Library of Medicine, Portrait of William L. Poole






Photo Credit Politik Staff


{ DEREK DENMAN { By Rachel Cohen ‘14 & Jeremy Orloff ‘13

The Human Rights Working Group at the Johns Hopkins University is comprised of Professors, Graduate Students and Undergraduates bound by a shared interest in discussing and preventing human rights abuses at all levels of society. We interviewed Derek Denman, a Political Science Graduate Student involved in the Human Rights Working Group’s current campaign against drone research at the Applied Physics Laboratory, a JHU campus in Laurel Maryland.




What is the topic of your research and how did you become interested in it? Are there others doing similar research at other Universities? I’m a graduate student in the political science department and the way that I got into this research was through the Human Rights Working Group (HRWG). I’m writing my dissertation on a separate project, but it looks at how small-scale political changes have largerscale political effects. When I became interested in the kind of work that the Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) is doing with drone research I saw how this research laboratory within the university was doing research that is having profound effects on the way war is conducted at the state and the international level. So drone research fit within the intellectual framework of my dissertation but it was a different problem. I was interested in seeing how local political effects here at Hopkins resonated at higher levels.

ganizations have put substantial pressure on the federal government to acknowledge the existence of the CIA drone program and provide details about its operations but there is still no public acknowledgment of the program, access to how it works, what signature strikes look like, or how they profile an individual based on their behavior and authorize an attack without knowing who that person is.

Are we not better off having drone research in academic institutions? There are two parts to answer that. The first involves exploring what APL is and how it differs from some of the ideals an open University based on the free exchange of ideas and critical reflection on the ethics of university research. Because the research is classified, because we only find out about it after the fact, those discussions can’t always occur. They might occur to a very limited degree, but not in the same sort of formalized, institutionalized setting that make the University a rich site of ethical and political discourse.

What can you tell us about the level of drone research and development at Johns Hopkins? Is there more research being done here than at other research Universities? Although Predator and Reaper Drones, which are the most wellknown and infamous weapons of drone warfare, are produced at General Atomics, APL does all sorts of research into software, sensors, and guidance systems used on those drones. In 1998 they built a system that would allow Special Forces to control drones from submarines. In 2002, APL was undergoing some reorganization and they took note of the release of The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Roadmap for 2002 to 2027. This document allowed APL to design its programs to fit into a particular market niche. And right around that time APL was awarded a contract that made them a coordinator in the Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems Program that, at the time, defined where this sort of research was headed in the future. That program was eventually scrapped but APL’s research was reworked into a new focus on swarming technology that allows drones to function more autonomously.

The second part is that we shouldn’t be resigned to thinking that war has to be waged with these types of weapons. And as I said before, this is only one level at which we can contest this type of warfare. The university provides a valuable forum for examining the relationship between war and society in which dissenting voices opposed to certain types of weapons research can be heard. So it is important that activism at the University level be connected to pressure on the federal government to discontinue drone warfare and international movements in support of arms control—but I think that if a central aim of the University is a more just and humane world, then we shouldn’t simply accept the inevitability of drone warfare.

What are the broader implications of government funded research in American Universities. Who decides what programs get funded and which ones are cut? What is the proper role of government funding in academia?

I can’t say for sure about the level of drone research at other research universities because my focus has been on APL and also because much of this research is classified – I only have access to what APL reports in the APL Technical Digest – their quarterly publication. It’s not possible for the wider University community to know the full extent of the research going on at APL. APL also has a unique historical relation to the military industrial complex. It was one of the prototypes for research laboratories. In World War II, APL was spun off from the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism and researchers there designed the first proximity fuse. It was reorganized and attached to Hopkins as APL. But much of the research is classified and my focus has been on APL so I can’t really quantify it in relation to other universities.

What kind of public oversight, if any, is there for drone research? To what extent is the Johns Hopkins IRB board involved? Drone warfare is occurring largely outside of public view and outside of democratic contestation or transparency. The research that occurs here at Hopkins, while bits and pieces are in the public domain, occurs mostly outside the view of the university or the public at large. APL is subject to different research guidelines than the rest of the University. APL is designated a “non-academic campus” allowing it to conduct classified research that cannot take place on the Homewood campus (because Homewood is an academic campus). In terms of drone warfare in general, it’s subject to very little transparency. The fact that the CIA is conducting a drone war is not publicly acknowledged and only referenced obliquely in official speeches. Human rights and peace or-

In particular the focus of the Human Rights Working Group has been on military funded research. The university needs to be aware of this not only because of the influence that funding can have on research but also because of the ways in which that research can contribute to new forms of warfare which pose ethical, political, and legal questions. In the case of drone weapons research, my concern is that spaces of civilian life are being militarized to facilitate a new form of perpetual and boundless warfare. Furthermore, university research occurring outside of the classification system is an important part of what universities, especially research universities, ought to embody. Rather than having parts of the university shut off from the rest, universities should facilitate the open exchange of ideas, public discussions, and critical reflections on the type of state and society that they are involved in producing.

Is it fair to say that the availability of this funding changes the way in which researchers approach questions?


As a broader trend that is definitely the case. The effects of military funding have been discussed extensively in the context of the Hu man Terrain System where the military recruited anthropologists (and it’s not just Anthropologists; there are also Political Scientists involved) to “map human terrain”, to study culture and then to relay that information to soldiers in order to target particular individuals and populations. The American Anthropological Association came out in opposition to the program and stated explicitly that it was a violation of their ethical principles. I think that Hugh Gusterson, an


WINTER SPECIAL ISSUE anthropologist commenting on the Human Terrain System and other military funded social science programs put it perfectly when he said , “When research that could be funded by neutral civilian agencies is instead funded by the military, knowledge is subtly militarized and bent in the way a tree is bent by a prevailing wind.”

ian casualties that it inflicts, the way that it’s changing the shape and threshold of the how, when, and where war can be waged, and the fact that the practice of contracting with research universities redraws the line between military and civilian life. Actively engaged citizens have an obligation to contest that at multiple levels, one of them being the local—and for all of us, the university level. Another level is to make claims on the US government to change militaristic foreign policies, and also to look to the international community for things like arms control. So I don’t think this is a political issue that needs to occur in a vacuum. Instead, there are a variety of levels and entry points to which one can get involved. For people who care how warfare is waged and how we can make a more just society locally and internationally, it should be an issue of substantial concern. Members of the Hopkins community can have an impact because of their proximity to this research both institutionally and geographically.

At APL in 2008 roughly 70% of their contracts were with the Department of Defense -- so the APL has a majority of their funding coming from the military. There is clearly an influence on the nature and direction of academic research, although I think that the classification system obscures those dynamics in a way that doesn’t allow us to see exactly how they work.

The JHU Human Rights Working Group has recently begun protesting Hopkins’ involvement in drone research. Can you briefly describe their argument and what is your take on their efforts? The JHU Human Rights Working Group is an interdisciplinary group on campus that started out as a way to discuss human rights issues both in the Baltimore area and abroad; the nature of the projects vary. The first one looked at issues in Baltimore that often aren’t framed as human rights issues but as civil rights or social justice issues. We’ve been involved in labor campaigns on campus and in Baltimore. At some point the drone issue came up because of a talk by an APL researcher who came to speak on campus about work on drones. I went to the talk with a few other members of the HRWG to ask some questions about the extent to which researchers at APL reflected on the ethics of their research, on its political and military significance, and whether they had thought about this research being used to support violations of international law. The idea was to go to a discussion that was largely scientific and technical and pose some ethical and political questions.

The Human Right’s Working Group’s most recent event was well attended. What did you take away from it? This was the second event in an ongoing campaign that we’ve had. The idea was to bring these speakers, James Cavallaro and Omar Shakir, here to talk about their report “Living Under Drones,” that came out and made national news about the effects of drone warfare in Pakistan—the way that is has undermined civil society, the way that it has created a mental health crisis, and the extent to which official statements have failed to report many civilians killed by drones. Lauren Wilcox talked about her research on drones in which she conceptualizes them less as (semi-) autonomous machines than as a technology that is very much a humanmade and plugged into all-too-human political aspirations of global imperial mastery. She also spoke about APL and the Hopkins connection to drone research there. The goal is always to be raising awareness to the role that Hopkins plays and how this type of warfare is expanding.

The beginning of last spring is when we got the idea that this should be an issue that people should be aware of on campus – that members of the University community should know more about Hopkin’s involvement in drone research and drone warfare. We hosted an event in April and where I spoke alongside former Army colonel, Ann Wright. She resigned from the military in protest of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and has been involved with groups like Code Pink and other peace organizations since then.

Classified research doesn’t take place on the Homewood campus yet? Classified research does not take place on the Homewood campus, but unclassified drone Research will take place in Malone Hall. In a Hopkins press statement the University has advertised a materials research program for aircraft, including drones that will be housed in the new addition to the Homewood campus. While no classified research currently occurs on the Homewood campus, the influx of military contracts and joint APL-Homewood programs make it an important time to reaffirm the commitment to the open exchange of ideas and information on this campus.

The petition that was circulated calls for a moratorium on drone research until there is a fuller discussion about the type of research that is going on and the political and military ethics of drone warfare. Moving forward the goal is still to raise awareness that this is going on within our university system. I don’t think there is a general sense that this type of research happens here, and even when there is, I don’t think there is much of a sense of how it happens or what its implications are.

Do you think that Hopkins is the kind of place where this kind of movement can get traction?

So then drone research and classified research is taking place 50 miles away, operating under Hopkins brand. What have been effects, perhaps morally, for students in 2012. How does this impact us on a day-to-day basis? Are we complicit? Is there anything you think students could or should be doing about this research? In terms of being actively engaged citizens, I think there are very serious concerns about drone warfare. These include the numerous civil-


I do think so because of the immediate connection to drone research and the extent to which drone warfare has been contested more broadly. We’ve also seen the momentum here. At first it was pretty much a handful of grad students and a faculty advisor concerned with this issue, and it’s grown massively from there. People have heard about it and then they get involved, so I do think it’s the subject of growing concern on this campus, particularly because of our proximity to the issue. Political Science and the Anthropology departments were both cosponsors of the most recent event, and Joel Andreas from the Sociology department, the HRWG faculty sponsor, has been incredibly helpful and supportive in making the campus events a reality. The members of the HRWG, who are unfortunately too numerous to list here, dedicate substantial amounts of time and energy to this cause and continue to encounter supportive students, campus organizations, and faculty members. I think that the Hopkins community has a real interest in examining its relation to weapons technologies and forms of warfare that have brought about substantial concern locally,




NATURAL GAS AT HOPKINS By Henry Chen ‘14, Geordan Williams ‘14, Randy Bell ‘15 Edited by Julia Allen ‘14


he Blue Jay Shuttle is an unmistakable feature of undergraduate life at Hopkins. Although the Blue Jay-embossed vans operate along fixed routes during the day, they are best known for their late night pointto-point service, ferrying confused freshmen to and from the more distant apartments off campus. Beginning this September, the Blue Jay Shuttle fleet will be powered by natural gas. While this conversion may pass unnoticed by the shuttle’s clientele, it reflects a broader trend both on campus and at a national level. Natural gas is gaining recognition as a clean fuel of the future and as the key to energy independence. Gone are the days when new technologies and new ideas could be evaluated on a strictly rational basis. With the rise of special interest lobbies and governance via pluralism rather than consensus, politics now permeates everything. The discussion of the merits of natural gas power is an example of the intersection of academia and politics; it is a debate that has been dominated by dogma rather than data. This is unfortunate given the increasing importance of energy related issues in today’s economy. Through this article we sought to examine the science behind the politics, and to address the validity behind the controversies and benefits surrounding natural gas. In 1821, William Hart sunk the first well specifically made for natural gas in the United States; it was constructed out of hollowed out logs and plugged with rags and tar. Widespread adoption of natural gas took time: it was not until the 1930s that natural gas was first used to heat homes on a larger scale. Natural gas is a byproduct of oil drilling which was, in earlier times, simply allowed burn off the top of derricks, lighting the sky in a dazzling display of inefficiency. Sixty years ago, energy companies began drilling for natural gas in places like Wyoming and Colorado, but the small scale of these operations meant natural gas remained only a minor part of the U.S. energy portfolio.


Photo Credit Henry Chen

With the advent of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, gas companies gained access to the natural gas held within impermeable rock. Since 1995, in what has been aptly called the Shale Gas Revolution, gas wells proliferated across the landscape of Texas, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania. Now natural gas is endemic. Beyond heating, it is used for many industrial purposes, and increasingly it is being used as an alternative to gasoline in the form of compressed natural gas (CNG). It is the next major energy source, one that has the potential to power America for the next 100 years. Despite its recent rise to prominence, natural gas has a long history at Johns Hopkins. Whitehead hall, located behind the Mattin Center, was once a power plant that used coal to generate electricity for Homewood Campus. Now, it uses natural gas. The plant churns out 4.6 Kilowatts of electricity and over 600,000 pounds of steam each day. This is done via a collection of four massive boilers, a turbine powered generator, a natural gas compressor, and a water-cooling system. As part of the research for this article we took a guided tour with the power plant’s management staff.



Our power plant is called a cogeneration (CoGen) plant. By utilizing the waste heat coming from the electric generator it is able to produce steam, effectively killing two birds with one stone. It is this steam that races through the underground tunnels that run across campus. Using this steam also means that our power plant is 45% more efficient than most commercial power plants since we reuse our waste heat instead of simply letting it dissipate through a cooling tower. If the natural gas pipeline that feeds into the plant was disrupted for any reason, the plant has massive tanks with heavy oils underground that act as a strategic reserve and could be used to power the plant as long as it is necessary. Research on natural gas at Hopkins has not been limited to the confines of the CoGen plant. In 1998, John Wozniak and a team from Hopkins’s Applied Physics Lab constructed three natural gas powered vehicles. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and working with corporations such as Chrysler, Lincoln, and Goodyear, the team designed the integrated storage system and what was meant to become a common platform. Cars manufactured with a common platform would allow the consumer to decide if they wanted a natural gas or gasoline-powered vehicle. A few changes later and you have a car that is completely powered by natural gas, a cheaper and more efficient fuel. However, with gasoline prices low and little incentive to invest in a conversion process, natural gas vehicles remained non-existent at Homewood Campus. In 2011, Michael St. Germain, a current junior, and the Student Government Association’s Treasurer, became interested in Hopkins’s vehicle fleet, and joined the conversation around this project. In an interview with our team, he revealed the following: “I started my process by being a car guy from Detroit….while I was talking to Ford’s people they were like ‘we have a universal power for the Ford 350.’ And then I was like ‘oh really?’” His previous brainchild had died on the operating table. Michael had wanted to move the Hopkins police into a more environmentally friendly vehicle, however the Hop Cops needed to maintain a relatively intimidating physical presence. This is a presence that, understandably, does not come in Prius form. Nevertheless Michael would not be deterred and turned his mind to the Blue Jay Shuttle fleet. The Blue Jay Shuttle fleet order of battle includes ten Ford E-350 vans. During six months of research and investigation Michael calculated that a transition from gasoline to natural gas could save 750,000 lbs of CO2 while creating $100,000 in net savings over a ten-year period. However, Michael soon discovered that it wasn’t so simple. “This project is never going to happen,”



“During six months of research and investigation Michael calculated that a transition from gasoline to natural gas could save 750,000 lbs of CO2 while creating $100,000 in net savings over a ten-year period.”

was the first thing that the Johns Hopkins parking manager told him. “Maybe it can be your graduate thesis!” he continued, smiling. The natural gas project soon encountered strong opposition due to concerns over its practicability. The JHU Director of Parking and Transportation, cautioned, “don’t count your chickens before they hatch.” In an interview he revealed that while converting the shuttle fleet to natural gas was economically sound on paper, additional factors such as the lengthy refueling process for natural gas vehicles (4-8 hours) and the extra security needed to guard these vans during this time would offset many of the fuel related savings in relation to traditional gasoline powered vehicles. Due to skepticism over the project, the Deans of Finance declined to fund it. For the time being, plans to convert the shuttle were put on hold. Despite its obvious economic advantages, natural gas remains fraught with controversy. As the recent screening of the documentary “Gasland” demonstrated, not all members of the Hopkins community were aligned with the recent decisions to expand natural gas usage both at a national level, and at Homewood itself. While natural gas releases 25% less CO2 emissions than gasoline and 87% less emissions than CO, NOx, and NMHC (making it the cleanest burning of the fossil fuels), it is still a greenhouse gas which contributes to the depletion of the ozone layer. The increased proportion of natural gas used in fuel in the United States has cut down carbon dioxide emissions to the lowest levels in two decades. However, natural gas still emits 1000 pounds of carbon dioxide for every megawatt hour generated. The use of hydraulic fracking to break up rock trapping natural gas reserves has been a long-standing method of collecting the fuel source. Since the 1960s, the process has become more technologically advanced, allowing gas to be tapped as far as a mile below the ground and at a 90-degree angle from the downward drilling. These advanced forms of fracking require the use of almost 600 different chemicals that can seep into water reservoirs. While the fluid used for fracking consists primarily of water and sand, a plethora of harmful substances—such as proppants, gelling chemicals, and detergents—are used to reduce friction and carry fluid to the natural gas reserve. Millions of gallons of fluids may be used for the completion of one frack. Even though the fracking process can release a substantial amount of toxic chemicals underground and contaminate drinking water, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempts natural gas companies from the Safe Water Drinking Act and from having to reveal what chemicals are used in their process. Natural gas remains fraught with political controversy. As increases in domestic production combined with rising oil prices has decoupled natural gas from existing fossil fuel policy, it has come to the forefront of the political landscape. Much of the debate has centered on the controversy of fracking, as well as the long-term implications of investment in gas infrastructure as opposed to renewables such as wind and solar power. Despite sharp increases in natural gas production during his first term, President Obama’s endorsement of increased natural gas production was




of the debate was essentially one of “purism vs. realism.” He cited natural gas as a “good bridge fuel” and mentioned that although some of the chemicals used in the fracking are indeed harmful, increased transparency on the part of drilling companies would help to alleviate fears of groundwater pollution. Like Scooby Doo, we continued to follow the clues. This took us to research professor Dr. Linda Hinnov from the Earth and Planetary Studies Department. Before arriving at Hopkins, Dr. Hinnov had a storied career in the petroleum industry working with Conoco Philips to help detect gas shale formations. Dr. Hinnov found the abundance of natural gas appealing, stating “oil rigs have a pipe on top that has a flame. That’s methane. So no matter what kind of fossil fuel you’re trying to get methane is always there. (It) is quite ubiquitous.” Additionally, she emphasized that although renewable sources would ideally fulfill our energy needs, current photovoltaic technology is only 20% efficient at best (too low to be economical on a broad scale) and that challenges facing wind turbines include inconsistency and negative externalities such as noise pollution. In regards to fracking, Dr. Hinnov cited the Energy Act of 2005 as a critical problem, due to the exemption of gas drilling companies from rules outlined in the Clean Water Act.

Photo Credit Politik Staff lukewarm, with the president preferring to limit his support to “clean, renewable energy.” A marked shift in rhetoric occurred in the buildup to the 2012 election with the president touting an “all of the above” energy policy, including explicit support for natural gas, in the 2012 State of the Union Address. This was in part a response to strong political pressure from the right. In order to determine the validity of these controversies and unravel the mystery surrounding natural gas, we interviewed key experts on campus. Our first destination was JHU’s Office of Sustainability, located on the south side of Homewood campus next to Charm City Cakes. While the office appeared mundane externally, its interior was a veritable rainforest teeming with various flora and fauna amidst the cubicles. There, we met Director Davis Bookhart. To our surprise, Mr. Bookhart supported the increased use of natural gas and expanded fracking, stating that much

Despite administrative opposition to the Blue Jay Shuttle fleet conversion, the idea refused to die. St. Germain’s persistence led to a pitch over lunch to JHU President, Ron Daniels. He agreed to nothing at the time, but behind the scenes he followed up with the main stakeholders and learned that he had left no stone unturned. A month later, President Daniels announced full financial backing for the project. A CNG refueling station is slated to break ground on April 1st, in time for Earth Month. Michael’s vision does not end with the Blue Jay Shuttle. He and several students have banded together to form the University and College Partnership for Efficient Transportation


(UCPET), a nationwide organization that promotes cleaner vehicles on college campuses. Mike had this to say about the matter: “My grand vision for UCPET. One college in very town across America buys a CNG refueling station so that there is a natural gas station available in every city.” Major cities, including Washington D.C. and New York, have begun to introduce CNG powered buses into their fleets and the Hopkins affiliate of UCPET, the Hopkins Partnership for Efficient Transportation, has plans to advocate for the conversion of the aging JHMI shuttle fleet to CNG power. Natural gas is certainly not a perfect solution. However, like any energy source, it must be evaluated against its alternatives. Renewables such as wind and solar power simply are not economically viable enough to compete with oil and coal for large-scale adaptation. In the field of transportation, electric vehicle technology lags far behind the existing natural gas systems in terms of efficiency. The widespread adoption of compressed natural gas technology still faces challenges from vested interests. Controversy arose last September when it was discovered that the anti-fracking film “Promised Land” was in fact funded by the government of the United Arab Emirates, with an aim towards slowing domestic gas production. Indeed, much of American foreign policy over the past several decades has been fueled by the need to protect OPEC supply chains in the Middle East in order to ensure a stable supply of oil imports. In this sense, natural gas is a bridge fuel in more ways than one. It will bridge the divide between the current oil based economy and the clean energy technologies of the future. But more importantly it will serve as a bridge away from the current international situation characterized by the fierce competition for resources, and back to the days when an energy independent America could still afford to uphold greater principles. Today, the natural gas revolution is transforming the Blue Jay Shuttle. Tomorrow, it will build a cleaner, safer world. PP




Profile for JHU Politik

JHU Politik Special issue: The Politics of Research  

This special issue tackles the role of politics in contemporary academic research.

JHU Politik Special issue: The Politics of Research  

This special issue tackles the role of politics in contemporary academic research.