One cornerstone of liberty is truth -- truth about facts that anyone can understand, and truth about scientific findings that can be explained only by a specialist in the field.
We cannot expect objectivity from employees of industries or other organizations with a large stake in specific outcomes -- e.g., on assessing risks of a new drug or pollutant or of drilling for offshore oil deposits. Even government employees supposedly lacking such stakes are subject to pressure from politicians.
Historically, the experts most insulated from political pressure, and thus most likely to render objective assessments, are academic professors.
A case in point is Dr. Rick Steiner's revelations about potentially serious impacts to Alaska's marine environment. Some revelations stem from Steiner's own scientific research. Others stem from failure of government officials to understand findings by scientists, as when Gov. Palin misinterpreted conclusions by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists, and wrongly stated that polar bears are not in jeopardy. Other cases include risks to the Bristol Bay fisheries and to Cook Inlet beluga whales.
This is the essence of academic freedom -- a proud tradition in North American and European institutions -- a tradition about which University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton has spoken eloquently, referring to liberal arts education as an education in the arts of liberty.
Hopefully, President Hamilton will put those words into action and assure that UA stands behind Dr. Steiner and his colleagues in fulfilling their public trust to learn the facts and keep us informed.
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