“…to do good or to do no harm…”

From The New York Times:

A group of experts in medicine, law and ethics has issued a blistering report that accuses the United States government of directing doctors, nurses and psychologists, among others, to ignore their professional codes of ethics and participate in the abuse of detainees in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

In 2008, in documents alleging abuse, lawyers for a detainee at Guantánamo Bay singled out a psychologist as a critical player. At the time, the guidelines stated that it was “consistent with the A.P.A. ethics code for psychologists to serve in consultative roles to interrogation and information-gathering processes for national-security-related purposes” — as long as the interrogation did not involve any of 19 coercive procedures, including the use of hoods, waterboarding and physical assault.
 Later that year, the membership voted to prohibit any consultation in interrogations at Guantánamo or other so-called black sites run by the C.I.A.

In much the same way that the medical and pychological professional societies prohibit their members from working with the CIA to torture those being held, it is awesome that the mathematics academic community is calling for an end to ties with the NSA.

From Dr. Alexander (Sasha) Beilinson’s letter to the “Notices of the AMS”(PDF):

What should be done is a question not only for U.S. citizens but also for people all over the world: the NSA destroyed the security of the Internet and privacy of communications for the whole planet. But if any healing is possible, it would probably start with making the NSA and its ilk socially unacceptable — just as, in the days of my youth, working for the KGB was socially unacceptable for many in the Soviet Union.
 The AMS regularly publishes advertisements for positions at the NSA and manages reviews for the NSA Mathematical Sciences Grants Program. The relationship between the NSA and the AMS seems to be a symbiotic one: The NSA needs mathematicians for its tasks, and the AMS has an interest in increasing research funding. But any relationship with an organization whose activity is so harmful for the fabric of human society is unhealthy. For the sake of integrity, the AMS should shun all contacts with the NSA.

Tom Leinster:

What we do as mathematicians seldom has any contact with politics or human affairs. But this is one of those occasions. The NSA and GCHQ must be two of the largest employers of mathematicians in the world. Whatever you think of the ongoing mass surveillance, it can’t be denied that this is an issue that involves, and will continue to involve, our community.

  • The title comes from Hippocrates’ “Epidemics”, not the Hippocratic Oath