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Passions ran high at 2nd Science-Pub event

    By Pavel Stankov. October 24, 2013 - 7:39 am

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Assistant Professor of Anthropology Ayesha Nibbe was the speaker at the second Science-Pub Hawaii event. 

Minutes before Nibbe began her talk on Cuba’s healthcare and sports policy at Gordon Biersch, Isabel Lambert, an expatriate from the island nation and a small business owner in Kalihi, rushed on stage in a fiery and indignant outburst, snatching the microphone from VP Todd Simmons.

“This is propaganda!” said the 67-year-old referring to a mini-quiz given to all listeners at the beginning of the second Science-Pub event.

The short questionnaire presented recent Cuban history and policies in favorable light. For instance, in four of the five questions with a clear value judgment in the options, the correct answer was the most amiable to Cuban healthcare.

Lambert was politely escorted offstage by Associate Professor in History Pierre Asselin, after which Simmons reminded the audience of the sensitivity of the issues.

After she left without hearing Nibbe’s talk, Lambert clarified her position on two points of the quiz.

The first question asked how many medical doctors Cuba has sent abroad with the options “Estimated 20,000,” “Almost 50,000,” and “More than 100,000.” Lambert agreed the answer was the last option, but insisted this is run as a business by Castro’s government which makes money off countries that use Cuba’s high quality medical personnel without paying them adequate wages or allowing their families to leave the country.

A second point of contention was the only question where the most positive to Cuban government option was not the correct one: “In pre-Castro Cuba, illiteracy was a big problem, with 40% of the population uneducated. What is the illiteracy rate today?” with the options “Somewhere between 10 and 15 percent,” “About 4 percent,” and “Illiteracy has been eliminated.” The correct answer is about 4 percent. Lambert again agreed, though she shared memories of having five students when she was in high school that she taught to read from “a doctrine against the U.S.”

The quiz was prepared by HPU’s Public Relations team mostly from materials from Nibbe’s chapter “Cuban Internacionalistas, Sports, and the Health of the Socialist Body” in the book Health Travels: Cuban Health(care) On and Off the Island, published by University of California Medical Humanities Press.

According to Simmons, the questionnaire was intended to brighten up the mood before the presentation, and not to create any sort of antagonism. Having a professional background in Florida, he also sympathized with Lambert’s passionate speech.

Simmons added that such sensitive subjects stir people’s emotions but “HPU doesn’t shy away from controversy.”

Lambert and her family left Cuba when she was 17. She classified her background before the revolution as upper middle class. Now, she owns a flower shop in Kalihi.

Nibbe declined to comment.

Her presentation discussed how Cuba abused healthcare as a cornerstone for its political ideology.

Lambert was not the only one to leave. Richelle Baltazar, a Sociology major freshman of Hispanic descent, did not wait for the end of the event either.

“It was so ridiculous,” Baltazar said, saying that the presentation was biased toward Castro.

3 Responses to Passions ran high at 2nd Science-Pub event

  1. Isabelmlambert

    October 24, 2013 at 11:13 am

    Pavel thank you very well said . Aloha Isabel.

  2. Haley

    October 31, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    Sounds like a very poorly written article if you ask me. Did you even stick around to hear the talk or did you simply follow the people who left and asked them for their opinions on the matter. You provided no evidence of things Nibbe said in her talk beyond the very first questionnaire. Instead you focuses on why people left before she had even finished her discussion. Maybe she had very important points that you and the two who left missed out on.

    • Pavel Stankov

      November 1, 2013 at 3:24 pm

      Thank you for the comment, Hayley!

      This is Pavel Stankov, the author of the article above. I am responding to you in second person singular, Hayley (and i hope you read this), because it seems like your comment is directed to me.

      I appreciate your feedback on the qualities of the writing. I have a question, though: are you talking about matters of style, or are you referring to the content? If it’s the style, my apologies. We at Kalamalama are constantly looking for good writers and – since you express discontent with someone’s abilities – one could infer you are quite skilled yourself.

      By all means, please join our team and make a difference!

      Remember: we are all working together to make the HPU community better, and if one complains about something fixable (like valid concern over writing quality) than that person has the moral obligation to do something about it. Come and find us on the 3rd floor of the Old Blaisdell Hotel (above the Sea Warrior Center) and inquire for positions. There’s just so much going on in HPU right now that we’ll give you a story in no time so you could show us all how it’s done.

      If, on the other hand, your concern is about the article’s content and perspective, your position is far less defensible. This will be made clear as i answer your question and the criticism of the latter half of your post.

      Did i stick around to hear the talk or did i simply follow the people who left asking for their opinions?

      The second. No, unfortunately i was not able to be in two places at the same time that night so i had to choose: follow the story of Lambert’s response (which is hard news stuff and happens once; if you’re not there to cover it as it’s happening, than too bad – you won’t have another chance!) or stay and largely ignore the point of her reaction and focus on a talk that is for the most part already published in Nibbe’s chapter. Which one is the sexy news story, Hayley? Which one do you think i should have covered? Which would have generated more interest in Kalamalama’s readers? (No offense to Prof. Nibbe’s talk! I was later told by trustworthy sources it was quite enlightening.) And which story would you yourself be more interested in reading and commenting on?

      For better or for worse, i chose to do what the overwhelming majority of journalists do when presented with a unique opportunity – i followed it for my dear life!

      The underlying assumption of your question and the general spirit of your criticism, however, is a charge for unfairness: i “provided no evidence of things Nibbe said in her talk beyond the very first (and only) questionnaire.”

      Yes! Because, again, this is not the point of the article. Lambert left before the talk even began and she hasn’t read Nibbe’s chapter either. Following the person who makes the news, i had to leave and so i also wasn’t able to hear Prof. Nibbe’s discussion.

      But guess what: i didn’t have to. And this is precisely the reason why the talk itself is for the most part irrelevant to the article: Lambert ranted not only against a lecture she hasn’t heard, but also against the quiz and what she perceived to be endorsed by the entire event. This is why the article discusses the very obviously biased and tangible quiz leaving the lecture alone, and rather focusing on the mere (and erroneous) perception of what it would be about.

      Note to all interested readers: Kalamalama has a copy of the quiz. If anybody is curious to the extent of its one-sidedness, we will be happy to publish it. Considering Lambert’s personal story and the importance of the discussed events to the lives of Cuban immigrants, it’s easy to see how the tone of the quiz will be taken as offensive. And about its bias there could really be no other opinion.

      Here’s a story to illustrate: Kelly Jackson, the helpful assistant to VP Simmons, was giving away little blue pencil bags to all who have answered the quiz correctly. I was one of the lucky winners (i got all answers but one). How did i do it, considering i’m not particularly interested in Cuban communism and i’m not on their Health Ministry’s yearly email blast? Easy peasy answer squeezy. Follow the obvious drift of the options and choose the most Castro-friendly one. ¡Ay, caramba, it worked!

      So it’s not that i “focuses” on why people left before the discussion was over; i focus on Lambert’s reaction to a quiz that was unfair from her perspective and then the quiz itself. Nibbe has very little to do with that.

      In fact, Prof. Nibbe told me she didn’t even know about the quiz until the event and was not involved in its preparation (although much of the factual data is taken from her chapter).

      Unfortunately, Prof. Nibbe declined to have a more substantial role in the article – how can i emphasize this enough – not as a “side” but rather as an expert. It seems like she felt threatened by a possible misinterpretation on my part quite like Lambert did in an act of preemptive indignation. Now, let’s make this clear – i did approach Prof. Nibbe asking for a comment (after all it’s her lecture that stirred so much emotion! she must have something to say about it) and we did make two sorry attempts for an interview. The anthropologist, however, retracted both of them because she wasn’t sure in what light i would present her.

      Well, i have no interest one way or another, and absolutely no passion but for Truth (a concept, i discovered, Prof. Nibbe insists to be relative), so i found it very unfortunate that she declined to explain Lambert’s reaction in context.

      May this response be also an invitation to Prof. Nibbe to say again what she did in our private communication, and what i would have truthfully reported. Prof. Nibbe, if you are reading this, your reaction was unwarranted, and …hm, overblown. This article is not an attack to you; it has no value judgment and takes no sides. (Frankly, i’m not terribly fascinated by the subject matter of the Cuban revolution. Yeah… i don’t really care. Sorry.) Prof. Nibbe, your words during our private conversation sounded wise and unbiased to a distant and uninterested observer like me, which is why it is unfortunate you didn’t allow their publication.

      Let’s change that!

      Write a response and we’ll publish it.

      Now you’d have the time to set the intention to prepare and say something of value without fear of its misinterpretation. This is a clear advantage to our conversation that clearly caught us – both you and me – unprepared. (On a related note, i admire VP Simmons’ swift and balanced reaction to a situation he was expecting just as much as we were: he talked about how it’s understandable that people have strong reactions and how it doesn’t mean that the school should stay away from those subjects. But i think one doesn’t have to be a public relations professional like Mr. Simmons to appreciate the importance of media coverage and why the most neutral and even content-free statement of political correctness is preferable to that damning refusal to comment. It makes one look bad even when it shouldn’t and even when they have something very important to add to the discussion. How unfortunate missed opportunities are, how regrettable, when it’s free publicity and one has nothing to hide…)

      And back to you, Hayley. Thank you again for writing and showing involvement! This is exactly what we hope for over at the Lama, and why we work so hard to bring you stories that interest (and provoke, for a good measure) our community!

      Yours Truly,

      Pavel Stankov