Sunday, 26 April 2015

The Inevitable Endpoint of EU Refugee and Border Policy Spells Genocide

There has been abundant reporting recently on the continuously ongoing exercise in inhumanity that is European Union refugee policy. Alas, the focus is often on singular incident, such as the recent tragedy of the sunken both that had at least 700 die of drowning in the Mediterranean (here, here, here). However, already several month ago, BBC reported that in the course of just a few months last year, over 2 200 people were estimated to have lost their lives due to similar causes in these deadly sea. A more recent report from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) is cited by the same source as implicating an expectation of the number of people meeting similar destinies in the Mediterranean alone will reach 30 000 this year (also reported here), and other sources note that the number of refugee deaths in the Mediterranean is already 30 times higher this year compared to the same period in the former. A detailed map of all registered deaths since the year 2000 can be found here.

As dryly noted by well-known public health educator, and my countryman, Hans Rosling in a recent video – rhetorically answering the cynical question why refugees don't fly instead, as this is much cheaper and safer – the primary cause of this development can be located almost entirely in the inhuman border and refugee policies of the European Union and its member states:



True to this essence of European policy in this area, in the 2014, the UK announced that it would cancel all further engagement in missions to rescue victims of capsizing refugee boats, leading to sharp reactions, e.g., from Amnesty International. In a similar spirit, the European Union has reacted to the more recent outcries, with a 10-point plan, most of which is nothing else than just more of business as usual, as noted by, e.g., Human Rights Watch. For the essence of EU border and refugee policy is to stretch its supposed commitment to international asylum agreements to its limits, bearing in mind that the right to ask for asylum starts at the border points of a country and keep the eyes shut to the devastating consequences of this sort of policy:

"the EU's maritime patrolling operations in the Mediterranean, called Triton and Poseidon"
"capture and destroy vessels used by the people smugglers" 

 "EU will engage with countries surrounding Libya through a joint effort between the Commission and the EU's diplomatic service."
"The EU will deploy immigration liaison officers abroad to gather intelligence on migratory flows and strengthen the role of the EU delegations

"European Union's asylum support office will to deploy teams in Italy and Greece for joint processing of asylum applications."
"EU governments will fingerprint all migrants."
"EU will consider options for an "emergency relocation mechanism" for migrants."
"EU will establish a new return program for rapid return of "irregular" migrants coordinated by EU agency Frontex from the EU's Mediterranean countries."

At the same time, similar thinking is shaping this adaption to European Union border and refugee policy standards by Bulgaria (along its border to Turkey), which hopes to be admitted as full member shortly and therefore implements this perversity, apparently failing to note the bitter ironic link to its own iron curtain past (also here):


This is the voice of three monkeys failing to register the complete unsustainability of their chosen path. Or, let me be more precise, this path is completely unsustainable as long as the European Union recognises the notion of its lack of rights to commit organised mass murder. For at the end of the day, this is the only conceivable endpoint that this policy can have.

The idea that capturing a few criminals, currently exploiting the desperate situation of refugees created by European Union policies, would somehow make said refugees stop attempting to finalise their escape is nothing but plain stupidity. Once these bands are dealt with, there will instead be the initiatives of others, not least refugees themselves and ordinary people trying to help them. For the need to escape is not created by these minor border bands of cynic criminals, those are mere symptoms of an infinitely more cynic and inferior way of responding to the ever present needs that have had refugees on their way across history and the world since the dawn of humanity. At that point, the EU will face the choice of continuing the policy and thus deploy the military and police forces referred to in its 10-point programme to start attacking the refugees themselves, besides anyone aiding them. Similarly regarding the idea to "engage with countries surrounding Libya" (and other bordering countries, as the need arises) and "strengthen the role of the EU delegations", effectively to have bordering countries set up concentration camps funded by the EU, to effectively lock the refugees up to stop further escape (a recent analysis by Doctor's without Borders of how bad the situation is in this respect already now is here). Again, the question then arises what will be the EU policy when these incarcerated people – as they have all reason and every moral right to do – attempt to break out. In both cases, the logic of current EU policy seems to dictate  nothing less than genocide. Whether or not it is performed by proxy or bona fide European armed personnel is, in this case, completely irrelevant.

But, of course, my point is that this analysis demonstrates the complete unsustainability of current European Union border and migration policy. Especially pondering that current refugee and migration streams are in fact nothing compared to what may be expected in the future due to the effects of climate change and other environmental problems (also effecting economic and social instability and war in their aftermath), one can easily see that it can end up nowhere else than in massive genocide on desperate people fleeing destitution or other dire circumstances. Pondering the constitutional backbones of the EU, such as the European Convention of Human Rights (not to speak of EU member states' uniform commitment to the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide), this should effect careful consideration of the increasingly apparent folly of the current policy path among European policy makers and high officials. Is this how you want to end up; as mass murderers on a grand scale – is that what Europe and the European Union is about? This is the question that those three monkeys desperately seek to avoid.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Forget the "Editing" Hype: Human Genome Action Painting Attempted in China

Recently, there's been a lot of hype around what's been referred to as genome editing. What it's all about is that there's a new bioetechnological strategy for effecting genetic modification in organisms, called CRISPR/Cas9, that has shown promise in facilitating more precise and specific changes of a genome more effectively than before. This is an important advance for laboratory biology research, as the effecting of specific genetic changes in the genome of organisms and study of how these "behave" in response to various stimuli, in different environments, and reproductively over generations is a basic way of advancing knowledge of basic biological mechanisms. However, as usual, there has also been some lack of temperance among those who immediately want to move the new promising lab-tool into practical "in vivo" applications, sparking calls for a global moratorium on practical application, akin to that famously adopted in 1974 at the Asilomar Conference to apply to the then novel recombinant DNA technology. In addition, there has been especially forceful calls to abstain from "editing" a human genetic germ line. The reasoning is an apparently sound precautionary argument to the effect that before practical applications are attempted, sufficient understanding of the technology, its potentials and limits, possible consequences and suitable security protocols, need to be attained and put into place.

At the same time, when new technologies are hyped like this, my bioethics alarm bells start ringing loudly for a number of reasons. We know from a long series of hyped new technologies that, while they may indeed over time prove to be advances compared to what has been previously available (though by far not always), the promises of new "clean", "precise" tool that will effect all that we aim for without any side-effects or mistakes is usually as credible as the promises of precision warfare foreboding the 2003 Iraq invasion – or worse. What one mustn't forget is that there are almost always substantial vested interests around, that have high stakes in having the tech they personally hold patents for, or stock in start-up companies that do, or have stakes in institutes or universities that do, and so on, appear in much better light that there is actual evidence to support. And, in this respect, CRISPR-Cas9 is no different. This is a basic reason to primarily interpret any positive claim about the technology outside of the bona fide peer reviewed scientific literature as part of a marketing campaign aimed at upping the the price of licensing fees, credit rating of the patent holder, attraction for external financial investors, and (if it is a start-up company) stock price pending a coming introduction into a stock exchange or a emission of new shares. Other agents with similar vested interests include those who have already invested in the product somehow, or those who want to peddle quack junk to people under the guise of novel science, much in the spirit the infamous stem cell clinics that continue to jack money out of the hands of conned, often desperate, people.

So, for me, it was no surprise when the reality of the "editing" showed its true face when a group of Chinese researcher recently applied it to human in vitro embryos (modified, so that they could never have resulted in a living human baby, but also never implanted to effect a pregnancy). What we learn from this study is that if there's any honesty among gene modification scientists, the "editing" misnomer should be dropped immediately:
The team injected 86 embryos and then waited 48 hours, enough time for the CRISPR/Cas9 system and the molecules that replace the missing DNA to act — and for the embryos to grow to about eight cells each. Of the 71 embryos that survived, 54 were genetically tested. This revealed that just 28 were successfully spliced, and that only a fraction of those contained the replacement genetic material. “If you want to do it in normal embryos, you need to be close to 100%,” Huang says. “That’s why we stopped. We still think it’s too immature.”
His team also found a surprising number of ‘off-target’ mutations assumed to be introduced by the CRISPR/Cas9 complex acting on other parts of the genome.
What we seem to be looking at in the reality outside of the hype is some sort of human genome action painting, where now and then a drop of the right colour lands in the right place, several other drops land where we absolutely do not want them to, but most of the result is just general heap of pint randomly applied by these the Jackson Pollocks of human genetics.

Moratorium? No shit?!!

Monday, 13 April 2015

Inaugural Issue of the Journal of the American Philosophical Association: 10 of 11 Authours Male, as Gender Imbalance Issues Are Shaking Up North American Philosophy Academia

Today, I received the announcement that the inaugural issue of the brand new Journal of the American Philosophical Association – JAPA as it will doubtlessly become known – is available. A nice touch of the editors and the publisher (Cambridge University Press) is that the issue will remain freely accessible the year out. Also, the issue features many a fine contemporary American philosopher, and displays a wide smorgasbord of tasty topics.

By ten (10) men and one (1) woman.

This in a time when North American academic philosophy is ridden by internal problems with regard to gender imbalance (also afflicting Europe, as well as Australia, Asia and Africa) and, allegedly (I say, as I watch these things from a distance), an academic social culture particularly hostile to women. For this reason, APA has instigated special codes, e.g. on sexual harrassment, and a task forces on inclusion and codes of conduct, and even a special committee on women in philosophy. Meanwhile, at blogs such as What Is It Like to Be A Woman In Philosophy and Feminist Philosophers, the documentation of the various aspect of this problem continues, as constructive actions, such as the Gendered Conference Campaign, attempt to push the situation ever so little forward.

This is when the JAPA editors decide that there is only one (1) female philosopher who may do for the eleven (11) authour line-up for its inaugural issue. And, to really ice the cake, in the editorial presenting the journal idea and the issue, editor in chief John Heil, does not touch on the subject with one word, albeit going through several other important value and ethics matters to secure a splendid journal and a splendid future for American philosophy. A powerful signal if there ever was one; if nothing else, of how strongly the JAPA editorial management simply doesn't care.

Now don't get me wrong – all of the contributors are certainly top of the line colleagues, no doubt about it, and their topics are relevant, engaging and, I'm sure, very well handled in their respective articles. But, of course, many other colleagues could very well have done as good a job (in their special areas) – and across North American philosophy academia, quite a few of those are women. Granting, to be sure, that not everyone is necessarily available, even for such a fine commission as inauguring the JAPA, I would still conjecture that a sizable portion would remain to take your pick from after such practical issues have been sorted.

But given the roaring silence on the topic from the JAPA editorial management, I suppose that they have simply not even reflected on this side of things. Thereby, they are actively promoting those very problems that the APA has been appearing to attempt to address the last decade or so, and which many academic philosophers witness about as increasingly serious. They are acting in support of perpetuating the image of the female philosopher as second rate and obscure; as perhaps capable, but not really that brilliant (*nudge, nudge, wink, wink*), at least not for this particularly splendid occasion.

Except for one (1).
Of eleven (11).

I do wonder why Martha Nussbaum has accepted this role, although I leave it to my US colleagues to sort that one out. Is it, as Mary Midgley dryly suggested recently, only when men go away to die in wars, that room can in practice made for the philosophy excellence of women? The inaugural issue of the JAPA certainly suggests as much.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Become my Colleague! Senior Lecturer Positions in Practical Philosophy Open at my Department

My department is currently announcing vacancies for at least one (tenured/permanent) fulltime senior lecturer in practical philosophy – including ethics and moral philosophy of all kinds (including applied), ditto political philosophy, philosophy of law, of religion and of the humanities and social sciences, and philosophical aesthetics; that is, all philosophy that deals somehow with values and human action and practices. At our department, applied normative ethics, metaethics and moral responsibility (in a broad sense) are currently dominant research areas, and we collaborate closely with a number of subjects across faculty borders. Teaching is expected to include primarily our basic level (1st cycle) practical philosophy programme, so therefore you're expected to learn Swedish well enough within 2 years (the university supplies a training programme). We also expect that the appointed person will work actively in existing and developing new collaborative courses and programs, e.g. with medicine, natural science, engineering and social sciences.

To be eligible, you need to hold a Ph.D. in the relevant area, preferably in philosophy, but depending on the topic of your thesis, sometimes law or politics degrees may pass as well. Eligibility, as well as degree of merit, will be decided by independent external reviewers according to a strict procedure.

Deadline for application is May 11, 2015.

For more details about the call and how to apply, go here!

Friday, 10 April 2015

This is Huge: Serious Research Misconduct in Almost 3/4 of FDA Inspected Clinical Trials – Hidden by Both Inspecting Agency and Researchers

First I had problems taking it in: Almost 75% of US clinical trials inspected over a period of 15 years by the Food and Drug Agency, responsible for upholding regulation in this area, display serious misconduct of various kinds. It can't be that bad, I asked myself; if it was, I would have heard something about it before – research ethics in medicine being one of my areas of expertise! Except that I wouldn't, since neither the FDA nor the researchers in question have reported these stunning findings to the outside world. That is, until Charles Seife, an MD but also a journalist, decided to have a look at FDA documents of some of the made inspections between 1998 and 2013. What he found is reported in a recent article in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, where out of originally 600 trials, 101 where identified where the FDA had found strong reason of issuing complaint, and among these:

Fifty-seven published clinical trials were identified for which an FDA inspection of a trial site had found significant evidence of 1 or more of the following problems: falsification or submission of false information, 22 trials (39%); problems with adverse events reporting, 14 trials (25%); protocol violations, 42 trials (74%); inadequate or inaccurate recordkeeping, 35 trials (61%); failure to protect the safety of patients and/or issues with oversight or informed consent, 30 trials (53%); and violations not otherwise categorized, 20 trials (35%). Only 3 of the 78 publications (4%) that resulted from trials in which the FDA found significant violations mentioned the objectionable conditions or practices found during the inspection. No corrections, retractions, expressions of concern, or other comments acknowledging the key issues identified by the inspection were subsequently published.
 Seife concludes:

The FDA has legal as well as ethical responsibilities regarding the scientific misconduct it finds during its inspections. When the agency withholds the identity of a clinical trial affected by scientific misconduct, it does so because it considers the identity to be confidential commercial information, which it feels bound to protect. However, failing to notify the medical or scientific communities about allegations of serious research misconduct in clinical trials is incompatible with the FDA’s mission to protect the public health /... /
To better serve the public health, the FDA should make unredacted information about its findings of research misconduct more readily available. The agency should make sure that any substantial evidence of misconduct is available to editors and readers of the scientific literature /.../
... most of the burden for ensuring the integrity of the research in the peer-reviewed literature falls to the authors of the articles submitted to peer-reviewed journals. Currently, there is no formal requirement for authors seeking to publish clinical trial data to disclose any adverse findings noted during FDA inspections. Journals should require that any such findings be disclosed.
The nail on the head if there ever was one, and Seife is backed by an editorial, signed by three strong voices from the Yale and UCSF medical schools. FDA is liable to serious criticism for not proactively informing the scientific and medical communities, as well as the general public, of these matters. Journals which not immediately effect the standard indicated by Seife would deserve equally serious criticism. But the worst of all is the fact that such journal policies would be needed in the first place. 

The by far heaviest burden of criticism befalls those researchers, many of which have not only committed scientific fraud and serious ethical breaches, but have all in addition consciously choosen to actively surpress highly relevant information about the quality of the studies they have conducted. Not only is this relevant for the publication screening at journals to safeguard the quality of scientific publications. It is even more relevant for the assessment of the results reported in publications for the purpose of, e.g., licencing or decisions on clinical use, or public funding. These researchers have sold their scientific credibility and honour to whatever bidder (in the vast majority of cases, one suspects the pharmaceutical company funding the study) have incited them to keep mum. People doing such things have no place in either the academic or the medical community.

Seife has a popular report of the significance of his study in Slate, here.

This is, as far as I can see, a major research ethics and regulatory scandal, and it might just be hiding an even larger one. For, given the frequency of serious misconduct now revealed, one may very well ask what would be found if FDA was to cast its inspection net wider and inspect even more trials. And what would be the outcome of similar procedures in, e.g., Europe or Asia?

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Seminar at the Stockholm Institute for Future Studies Tomorrow!

Tomorrow I'll be catching the train to Stockholm to present at the Institute for Future Studies' research seminar. The topic I have been invited to talk about is "The Price of Precaution: Evaluating Actions Actualised by Extreme and Extremely Unclear Risks", based, of course, on my work on the ethics of precaution and the precautionary principle. On that basis, I will here try to engage a bit more constructively with the discourse around so-called existential (technological) risks than what I did in two recent posts on this blog (here and here), and I am very happy for the IFS to have provided me with the opportunity to do so. As if this wasn't good enough – I'm fortunate to have Olle Häggström, professor of mathematical statistics at the Chalmers Institute of Technology, but also a philosophy enthusiast and, not least, a futurist with a keen interest in the issue of existential technological risk, with a coming book entitled Here Be Dragons: Science, Technology and the Future of Humanity, as specially invited commentator. If you're in the neighbourhood and have the time, please come and participate!

Address: Holländargatan 13, and time 3.15-5.15 PM.