The Society for the
Study of Social Issues

SPSSI Stands with Frances Fox Piven and Academic Freedom

31 January 2011

Supporters of distinguished City University of New York professor, Frances Fox Piven, are voicing alarm at a growing right-wing media trend that tars bona fide scholars and their work with conspiracy theories and deliberate misinformation.

The outcry comes after The New York Times reported on 22 January that Fox Piven had received a series of anonymous communications with horrific insults and death threats, which were connected to her treatment on Glenn Beck’s television show and website, The Blaze. Beck describes her as a member of a Marxist-inspired “Tree of Revolution” that has been working since the early 20th century to topple American capitalism, declared her “an enemy of the constitution”, and suggested to his audience in broadcasts over many weeks that these conspirators are powerful agents of disorder who “are taking you to a place to be slaughtered.”

Responding to a letter from non-profit group, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Fox News Chairman, Roger Ailes, refused to censor Beck and argued that Beck’s show referred accurately to Fox Piven’s own writings. In fact, a reader of the main text on which Beck’s claims are based, a 1966 Nation article, “The Weight of the Poor: A Strategy to End Poverty,” will see the dramatic level of imaginative license that Beck affords himself.

As today’s academics - globally - know all too well such incidents are not uncommon. The rising acerbity of political discourse and misinformed quests for solutions to economic and social problems during hard economic times are just two of the causes, but they are increasing in influence. In their attempts to bolster the political convictions of supporters, such efforts have eroded confidence in the academy, jeopardized the individual safety of some scientists, and undermined the environment of freedom and openness that is necessary for science to prosper.

SPSSI invites scientists to write to us with their own accounts of threats to their own or their colleagues’ scientific integrity. You can help us form a fact-based file of experiences in the field worldwide so that we can move forward, advocating with a clear understanding of the challenges we face. All accounts have surety of being treated anonymously and in strict confidentiality. Contact SPSSI Policy Coordinator, Alex Ingrams, at or 202-675-6956.

Other resources:

Union of Concerned Scientists information page on scientific integrity:

American Association of University Professors information page on academic freedom:


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Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice.
                                                                                                                    - Kurt Lewin