Monday, 25 November 2013

Radio Documentary Podcast on Hate Crime and Hate Crime Policy

I've been blogging a bit before about activities coming out of a European research project I've been involved with together with my colleague David Brax, When Law and Hate Collide. The earlier posts, containing links to presentations, videos from conferences, actual proposed lines of reasoning om particular topics and so on is here. Our own main input about the philosophy of hate crime, besides an upcoming special issue of the Journal of Interpersonal Violence is the Philosophy of Hate Crime Anthology, which can be downloaded in whole from the project website - the Introduction to the Philosophy of Hate Crime which is a part of that can be read online for free here.

Now has been made available yet another output, namely a one hour radio documentary in two parts, freely available as podcast or for download from here. It features me and David, as well as several other scholars from the project, and experts and professionals that we have been collaborating with, including representatives of the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

Streams of the two parts of the program are embedded for immediate listening here:

Please feel free to use and share this material for education or just increased awareness as you please!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Cross Post: More psychiatric research misconduct at the U? A Fox 9 television report on Dan Markingson and another abused research subject at U of Minnesota Psychiatry

Cross-posting this from the Fear and Loathing in Bioethics blog. It connects to several of my earlier posts, the last of which is here, on the appalling research ethical scandal connecting to University of Minnesota Psychiatry. And once you thought you heard it all, more comes to light through this Fox 9 documentary:


When having watched it, you might want to sign this petition to the Minnesota governor for an independent investigation of the University of Minnesota pertaining these matters.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

R.I.P. Adrienne Asch – Bioethicist, Philosopher and Disability Ethics Pioneer

Today, I'm reached by the sad news that Adrienne Asch – a pivotal figure in bioethics, particularly known for her important contributions to the understanding of disability-based perspectives on bioethics, not least  regarding prenatal and other sorts of such reproductive genetic testing this world doesn't seem to ever get enough of – passed away this morning after having suffered bad cancer for some time.

Confirmation of this last news is here, and the death notice has been traveling around Twitter and Facebook today, e.g., via my trusted Canadian colleague Udo Schuklenk, originating apparently from the account of the US National Federation of the Blind (where Adrienne was a prominent spokesperson):

Addendum 2013-11-20: the day after, Yeshiva University has now officially posted an in memoriam.

The NFB also provides a link to this recent address that Adrienne gave at their convention this summer. It tells the tale of her way into bioethics and philosophy from human rights activist work, explains why the disability perspective is so important to bioethics, and why bioethics is so important to the disability movement, and ends by some pretty hard to chew food for thought for bioethicists, disabled people as well as anyone. Information about her writings and other accomplishments can be sampled via her webpage at Yeshiva University, where she held three parallel chaired professorships and one directorship. But don't take my word on her qualities as a scholar for it, here's a video piece where you can watch her in action talking on her special topic and judge for yourself:

My own contact with Adrienne came via her work on the disability based criticism of prenatal (PNT) and eventually preimplantation genetic testing (PGD), which still holds up as the most eloquently put, stringently made and thought-through devised version of that important critique, which she nevertheless continued to develop (she had a couple of pieces in the American Journal of Bioethics last year). I had myself been barely sniffing some of what Adrienne herself had the full grip on in my work on PNT and PGD in the 1990's, but when I came to writing my first encyclopedia piece om PGD a few years later, I was lucky and awed to discover it all so much better told by Adrienne and since then, her work has been my main reference on that topic whenever I need to provide one. Many years later, as part of a European Commission sponsored project on access to higher education for disabled people and charged with arranging a workshop on relevant disability-related research, Adrienne's name was the first one to come to my mind as speaker – and to my astonishment and joy she said yes. This was not so long time back, so this is how I remember her, as in the picture above: working! Because that she did and contributed everything I could have ever wished for, including cracking a joke when it was best needed. There were plans made then that we never got around to finishing (or even initiating), but she nevertheless honoured me by referencing my PNT work, and we shared space in this book, which came about thanks to Daniela Cutas, who worked with me in this project and was introduced to Adrienne at that same workshop.

Also, used to getting around as a blind person in New York City, when we asked before she came to that workshop if she needed any special assistance, she declined, albeit finding out that this thing with the cobblestones and the trams of Gothenburg and all made it slightly less manageable than maybe she was used to or had expected. Did she intentionally show anything of that? Never! I sensed then the divide of experience between us that probably made an ocean of difference in our angle of approach into our respective work – as much as we reached conclusions of close proximity. The divide between one who in virtue of physiological constitution has always enjoyed the default upper societal hand and the one who has always encountered a basic tweaking the other way around. In any case, this is my own personal connection to and remembrance of Adrienne; hardworking, insightful, generous, profound, funny and proud.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Catholic Aid getting Its Priorities Straight: Typhoones, Rosaries and the Message of Love

Connecting to my former post re. certain gaps in human moral psychology made visible by the global aid response to the typhoon Hayian (also known as Yolanda), it is not exactly uplifting to be forced to share this evidence of morally adequate compassion being most seriously lacking where one would perhaps expect it the most: from aid organisations working from a christian ethical basis, with the message of love at the core of its mission – or not?

Have a look at this admirable crock of /%&€ of an initiative of a Catholic aid organization at providing the homeless, starving and plagued by social unrest and disease of Manilla with what they allegedly really need the most: rosaries to pray effectively (not made clear for what of all those thing said organization has chosen not to provide instead).

It is not revealed exactly how many people that "Rosaries for Life" or the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines view it fit to leave dying or suffering serious injury of lack of resources that could have been provided instead of these no doubt cute little gadgets for securing the obviously very important "spiritual needs" hereby attended to. Christian ethics in practice, indeed!

Reminds me of this early post of this blog, by the way: Message of Love: If Only You Could Eat It.

Friday, 15 November 2013

South Sweden Police's Registry of Roma is Illegal on Multiple Counts – and More Criticism May Well Be Coming!

So a while back I posted an admittedly rather annoyed and highly sarcastic piece regarding the revelations of a registry of more than 4 500 people, mostly of roma origin or related to roma people, some of them since long dead and over 1 000 of them small children, and the feeble and completely confused attempts of responsible police officials to deny any wrongdoing, responsibility or simply sweep the whole thing under the carpet. After that it has been revealed that the registry has contained a large number of people with no suspiscion of or  connection whatsoever to criminal activities and completely respectable lives, jobs social situation etc. – they just "happen" to be roma or having roma relations.

 As I reported about then, a criminal investigation of possible illegal actions in the setup, management and use of the registry was immediately opened by a criminal prosecuter and two police officers have since then been notified of suspiscions of crimes in this respect so far. Parallel investigations were opened by the the Commission on Security and Integrity Protection (SIN) and the Swedish Discrimination Ombudsman (DO). The former authority "supervises the use by crime-fighting agencies of secret surveillance and qualified assumed identities and associated activities" and today delivered its report on what has become known as the "roma registry". Reports in the press can be found (1st one in English) here, here, here, here, here, here, here.

The verdict is that the registry is severly misconceived from the outset, handled sloppily and with lack of discipline and illegal on multiple counts. This, it should be noted, is an administrative legal verdict and does not – however severe its administrative legal implications – by itself imply criminal wrongdoing of any person, but it's hardly good news for the already notified officers mentioned or others formally responsible or users of the registry in South or other parts of Sweden that may be under the criminal prosecuter's scrutiny. What the outcome of this criminal legal process will be remains to be seen.

Likewise, the SIN verdict does not settle the issue of whether or not the setup and running and use of the "roma registry" amounts to illegal discrimination (on ethnic grounds). This is the topic of the DO investigation, which is still ongoing. SIN does note in its report that, apparently, ethnicity has not been the only ground of inclusion of people into the registry – however, this does not settle the illegal discrimination issue, since it seems that people have been included (almost) only if they have either roma origins or relations to people of such origins. That is, while more or less well-founded suspiscion of crime or feared future criminal activity has indeed been a reason for inclusion, a great many people falling into that category have not been included and, seemingly, this is due primarily to their lack of roma origins or connections. It remains to be seen how the DO will assess this delicate situation.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Post Haiyan: A Very Brief Ethical Annotation Re. the Current Situation in the Philipines and Indonesia

In the aftermath of the monster typhoon Haiyan that hit especially hard in the Philipines and Indonesia recently, news have been continuing the past week of the tens of thousands of dead, many more injured and, of course long-term material and economic consequences which in turn will induce secondary and tertiary human harm, for instance through the social chaos emerging in the tracks of a destroyed civilisation. Reports are also coming, once again when catastrophes of this magnitude hit, of the willingness of nations and people all around the globe to help and assist in whatever way possible – acting on solidarity and compassion for the plight of others. Planes and ships with materials and competence are shuffled in the direction of need. This is how it should be, and the willingness to sacrifice masses of resources, time and own security for the sake of others makes me rejoice a bit over my own species in the middle of all the devastation.

However, one thing does not bring me joy, namely something that I in connection to the Haitian earth quake disaster in 2010 discussed in one of my earliest posts on this blog under the heading: How Our Compassion Reveals a Moral Abyss.

I point to it now, once again. Since it is relevant, since it is timely, since what now goes on shows how another order in this world could in fact have been possible – if it hadn't been for its weakest link: us.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

What's This Thing Called Online Automated Bibliometrics and Citation, Anyway? - Scam, Fraud or just Plain Hustling?

It's been a while since the last substantial post, blaming deadlines, deadlines, deadlines for that. Having submitted a major delivery this Friday, here's a sort of inhale before I jump right into the next leg of the fall semester triathlon – a major research bid that I'll be heading.

So, this week, the distinguished science journal Nature's online news section published an entertaining piece on what the outcome may be when all researchers, regardless of field, are ranked according to citation – how much their work is referred to by other researchers – using open online automated resources, such as Google Scholar, or its special citation section. Using a service called Scholarometer, Nature had this guy, slightly surprisingly to many, coming out on top (wonder who he is? - click the pic!):

Strange, isn't it? Not when considering that they have been using the so-called h-index, a mathematical construct devised to reflect the citation weight (rather than rate) of a scholar (that is, this is h-index as used in Google Scholar, in the more professionally advanced and commercial Web of Knowldge, it is something else, but the purpose is the same), thereby reflecting the value of having more articles with more citations rather than just many concentrated to one publication. They then perform what is referred to as normalisation for different scholars in relation to the size of their respective fields. So, what makes Marx come out on top is that he is a more well-cited historian than what, e.g., Albert Einstein is a well-cited physicist, considering that physics is a very much larger discipline than history is. Now, of course, none of this says anything about quality or influence on the progress of research (no more than what the Billboard chart says regarding music) – it merely measures popularity as an object of citation among fellow scholars. In fact, the notion that citation proves anything over and above that others have taken some sort of interest in one's work is highly contestable – said without denying the no doubt important use that citation and citation tracking has in science and research.

But here's the funny thing. Having been pointed to the Scholarometer toy, I of course couldn't resist checking out my own pet fields! So here's what came out when looking at the h-index ranking in bioethics – the field where much of my most weighty specialisation is located (click the image to view a scaled up version):

I could recognize some names, such as Simo Vehmas who happens to be a good friend, but several others were completely unfamiliar to me.  Now, bioethics broadly conceived is a large field so it need not be surprising that one doesn't know the name of completely decent fellows within it, but the fact that I could not place any of the top four names made me wonder. But then it struck me: wait a second, I do know one of those names, the top one at that, but certainly not in the role of a bioethicist, but as a world-renowned researcher in reproductive genetic medicine and leader of the team that performed the first successful preimplantation genetic diagnosis in the early 1990's. I happened to know this, since I published a book on the ethics in the aftermath of this technological advance in 1999 (available for online reading and download through that link). So Alan H Handyside is a prime medical researcher, which of course is what ups his h-index to such heights, as may be confirmed by inspecting a Google Scholar search on his name - what makes him top name in bioethics is, seeemingly, merely that someone tagged his name with that disciplinary affiliation. So what about A Pandiella? Same story it appears, this is a cell-biologist with a no doubt impressive citation count and, I'm certain, many important results up the sleeve. Moving on to R Frydman it's almost the same story, as the bulk of the publications are here in reproductive biomedicine, but it's more complicated as it appears that there is also another R Frydman, who is publishing in the field of health policy/economics, but these persons are treated as one! Next one, J Kimmelman is likely to be a similar story, since there is one with a good number of publications clearly in bioethics [retrospective note added after publication of this post: this person, Jonathan Kimmelman has added a comment below and clarified his affiliation, which is indeed in bioethics] and another publishing in very specialised biomedical science that has attracted vast numbers of citations (I checked some of the respective author affiliations in this case and they don't seem to match either). Last, before we get to my friend Simo, we have F Olivennes, who again seems to be a purely biomedical researcher in the field of reproductive medicine and embryology, who for some reason has been tagged as belonging to bioethics.

These, then are the top researchers of my field according to Scholarometer - no wonder I never heard of them in that role. And, in fact, it seems that the problem appears already at the Google Scholar source, for checking the top name of the straight citation ranking for bioethics, we meet this guy – yup, yet another biomedical researcher classified as a bioethicist. Number two is this guy, whoever he is, same story all over again, and then come some names I'm familiar with and respect in the way one would expect of people ranked to be at the top of one's field. Just to twist the knife some extra turns, I also did a quick check for medical ethics; same story, this is the top guy, apparently, and this is no. three I hear (number two in this ranking actually is a well-known bioethicist who happens to also be a medical researcher, so that kind of animal does exist).

So, what we may conclude is that for these fields, attempts at measuring citation has been severely corrupted by failures of disciplinary/field classification that swamp rankings with citation counts of no relevance for the field at all. I haven't looked through the entire publication lists of the people mentioned, but many of them appear to have basically no output belonging to ethics of any sort. They might, of course, have tagged along on a few ethics papers led by others as clinical/scientific experts (which is fine), but this does not make them highly cited bioethicists, it makes them medical researchers whose medical citation counts look impressive in the context of a field-normalisation to bioethics rather than medicine. In addition, we have seen an obvious identity problem, where the automated online citation counters are unable to distinguish people with similar surname plus initial – makes for quite a lot of error, I would say.

But what is the root of the classification errors with regard to field-normalised/specific citation measures? There are several (possibly overlapping) possibilities. One is, of course, that authors misclassify themselves, as may happen in Google Scholar Citation, where you as author decide what fields to belong to. For example, I could myself have made a strategic choice to pass myself off as belonging to the philosophy of medicine field, which would not exactly be lie albeit bending it a bit, and with my current total citation of 408 ended up in a handsome 6th place, rather than the less impressive placings I enjoy as bio- or medical ethicist or just ethicist. But not all authors are in this system, as you have to actively join it and manage it a bit for it to work (thus your responsibility for how you classify yourself), so the problem might also come from the classification done by the Google Scholar staff; I wouldn't be surprised if several of the strange things described earlier are due to Google's experts confusing "bioethics" with "biometrics" or "biotechnical", for example. The qualification of this staff for doing what they are doing is completely blacked out to me, as I suspect it is to most other scholars, and still many us – like the team behind Scholarometer – take it rather serious. Now, with regard to Scholarometer, there may certainly be error sources located there as well, since one may require of an academically construed automation tool that it is checked for serious error of the sort I have been displaying – which has apparently not occurred to or engaged the team at Indiana University Bloomington responsible for the product.

But wait a second! Wouldn't that mean to, sort of, making the automated citation counter, sort of, not automated? Yes indeed, that is what it means! And hence the title of this little peak into the fascinating games sometimes played in the world of academia to no apparent use for anyone. Alas, though, through the way in which governments and other funders of research are increasingly using bibliometrics and citation as quality indicators to determine the allocation of funds, preferably in an as automated way as possible (partly because of the hype represented by Scholarometer and the article in Nature), thus falling prey to the sort of weirdness here described, this sad example of pretending to have a technology that works when one hasn't, is actually putting fellow scholars and researchers at risk of losing funds and other resources, miss jobs and promotions, et cetera, for no good reason at all.

My plea to Nature and other journals, Scholarometer and Google Scholar is simply this: stop pretending that there's something there that is actually not in evidence. Those who provide these services: make them work as they should or shut them down. Scholarly media: ignore them until they have something to show for real and not merely for fancy.

See you soon!