MIT Media Lab Disobedience Award 2017

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab announced today the winner of its Disobedience Award. They are Dr, Mona Hanna-Attisha and Professor Marc Edwards whose work unearthed and publicized the lead poisoning occurring in Flint Michigan as a result of politically driven changes to the source of the city’s drinking water supply. The specific act of disobedience was refusing to wait for peer review of their findings once they determined children were being harmed now by the elevated levels of lead.

This is a good choice of winners as lead in drinking water is an issue that cuts deeper than partisan politics. The purpose of the award is to elevate acts of responsible disobedience as necessary to breakthroughs in all fields of human endeavor. The award was conceived and funded by Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, and carries a $250,000 prize.

As the author of the book Intelligent Disobedience I am heartened by the conception and execution of an award for ethical disobedience. Unfortunately, the committee decided to also name runners up and these choices are more clearly political. The director of the Media Lab, Joi Ito, acknowledges that despite the intention to avoid partisan politics, these reflect a more clearly left leaning bias.

While it is impossible to keep the subject of principled disobedience pristinely separated from political stances, skewing the awards in one political direction undermines the deeper intent of lifting up the value of principled dissent and disobedience. If the award becomes an annual event I encourage its sponsors to look for acts of ethical disobedience across the political spectrum. This will allow the award to rise above today’s politically toxic environment and be the beacon for individual accountability it was intended to be and a great service to societies that place too much reward on conformity and obedience.

MIT Media Lab Disobedience Award 2017
2017 © Ira Chaleff Publications