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Saturday, January 08, 2005
On January 7, 2005, a former editor of the Antarctic Sun (NSF's official newsletter of the USAP) wrote a letter to the current Sun editors, cc'd to the head of NSF's Office of Polar Programs, concerning omissions from a recent Sun story (.pdf) about the present retrieval of the Russian bi-plane stranded at Pole in 2002. The meat of the letter reads:
One fact is that the U.S. flew Russian Antarctic hero Artur Chilingarov and his group back to New Zealand and later billed the Russian government $80,000 for the "rescue" flight (see the Reuters report archived at http://www.cdi.org/russia/johnson/6024-12.cfm).
The other fact is that the announcement that Chilingarov would be allowed to recover his plane came at almost exactly the same time the Russian government announced it would send an icebreaker to help break into McMurdo Station. (See the Russian government's press release at http://en.rian.ru/rian/index.cfm?prd_id=160&msg_id=5234033&startrow=1&date=2004-12-21&do_alert=0.)
This has led to widespread international speculation - and indeed, in places, outright assertion - that the U.S. and Russia struck a deal trading the airplane for the icebreaker.
It is deeply unfortunate that the National Science Foundation, apparently, feels the need to censor legitimate, true information from readers of the Antarctic Sun. I hope an explanation will be forthcoming for this action, which clearly runs counter to the scientific principles of openness and honest inquiry.
Editor, Antarctic Sun (1999-2000)
Editor and contributor, Antarctic Sun (2000-2001)
South Portland, Maine
Of further concern were some winning stories for the Antarctic Sun Writing Contest that were selected by a panel of Artist and Writer's Grant judges but either denied publication in the Sun or edited to suit NSF sensibilities, with this disclaimer printed in the Sun:
Literature often delves into areas that are
controversial or inappropriate for children and
government-sponsored publications. After
being selected by independent judges, five of
the winning pieces of writing were deemed by
the National Science Foundation as unsuitable
for publishing in the original format because
of something in the content of the story.
When his letter concerning the Russians and the Writing Contest was not published, the former Sun editor contacted Valerie Carroll, RPSC's Communications Manager, and writes:
She said NSF "handled it well" when the stories selected by impartial judges were found to have content regarding drug and alcohol use, sex and in some cases - most notably the fiction stories - were "totally fiction and silly."
The stories were censored to protect the readers of the Sun, she said, and not because "of any free speech concerns."
She said the NSF allowed the Sun to print that it was "all their fault" that the stories couldn't run, and allowed them to include the Web address where readers could find the original text.
In one story, the word 'goddammit' was replaced with symbols: "$#@!&*#$%!"
In another story, the words "coupled with mind-altering drugs" were removed before the story was printed in the Sun.
And three stories - one about drinking, one about sex and one about finding long-dead frozen explorers (that one, Val told me, was "very silly") - were barred entirely from the publication. Next year, she said, it's likely there will be no writing contest - just photos."
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