Friday, December 24, 2010

Surely there must be a space for some kinds of official secrets?!

Seldom before have I been this ambivalent about an issue. Am I curious about state and other secrets? Probably as much as the curious guy next door. Did I enjoy the egg on the US Secretary of State's face that resulted from the Wikileaks disclosures. Did I enjoy information about Arab countries egging on the US to flatten Iran in order to prevent the Islamic regime from getting its hands on nuclear weapons? Hell, I did!

But... really, should these disclosures have occurred? I doubt it, to be honest. I think Wikleaks disclosures are superb when they disclose crimes committed by states, banks, whoever. Surely I'd want to know to what extent states are involved in torturing or murdering people when the very same states pretend that they'd never do such a thing.

However, what purpose is served with Wikileaks spreading gossip about what the US ambassador to Germany really thinks about the German Chancellor? This serves no purpose whatsoever. Surely diplomatic staff must be able to communicate frank assessments to the governments of the countries that they serve without seeing those subsequently splattered all over the world's newspapers. I cannot understand why anyone would want to take that ability away from diplomatic staff, and why anyone would think that disclosure of such sensitive information is in any way desirable.

I am equally puzzled that all this transparency and openness agitprop is deployed by a secretive organisation like wikileaks. The personality cult surrounding its figurehead, Mr Assange, is plain ridiculous, much as he seems to enjoy it.

Somewhat relatedly, The Telegraph newspaper, a conservative broadsheet in Britain, trapped a number of liberal ministers in the Conservative/Liberal Democrat government into saying that they don't really love their conservative fellow coalition government ministers (and their policies). For starters, it's trivial that this would be the case, so what kind of revelation really was that? None to anyone with just a minor amount of critical thinking skills available to them. The paper also trapped a Liberal Democrat government minister into saying that he can't stand Rupert Murdoch's news corporation (owner of Faux News in the US of A) and that he will try to prevent  the company from taking over BSkyB, a satellite broadcaster. How did The Telegraph manage to do this? Its staff pretended to be constituents of those government ministers. So they popped in during office hours and discussed these question with their local MP (ie in this case the Liberal Democrat government ministers). These ministers, admittedly naively, were quite frank in their conversations with their constituents (ie the masquerading conservative newspaper hacks), ans duly found their private conversation with what they believed were their constituents splattered across the Telegraph's frontpage.

All that this paper has achieved is that from now on MPs will be even less honest and forthcoming with their constituents. Were these few headlines, not exactly revelatory that they were to begin with, really worth this price. Of course not. Was the paper wrong in deceiving these parliamentarians? Of course it was. Did the parliamentarians show a remarkable lack of good judgment? They probably did.

What I am trying to say is this: Not every revelation of confidential government business should automatically be applauded as a brilliant coup worthy of our support.

Friday, December 17, 2010

This blog

Interesting stats from blogger itself. This blog had more than 20,000 hits between May and December this year :). Thanks everyone.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Oversight, oversight, oversight

It can’t be repeated often enough: Efficient and competent oversight is of crucial importance when trying to ensure ethically run clinical trials anywhere. Bioethicists were for some time distracted by chasing smaller prizes in their ongoing debates about the ethics of clinical research in developing countries. These smaller prizes were and are important prizes as surely the standards of care provided in a trial matter, and so do our answers to concerns about post-trial benefits and the question of what constitutes a trial related injury that ought to be subject to compensation in prevention trials. And yet, all of these questions seem like skirmishing activities when, after a brief reality check, we realize that next to no trials that are undertaken in developing countries by Western for-profit as well as non-profit sponsors are vetted for ethics compliance by developed country oversight agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration agency in the USA.[1] The reported behaviour of pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer – a frequent sponsor of bioethics causes – in developing countries is undoubtedly cause for concern and suggests at a minimum that oversight agencies should more rigorously and more vigorously monitor the ethics compliance of research undertaken in developing countries.[2]
The same holds true for trials listing researchers with multiple affiliations on their papers.  When a researcher lists a US American institution among his or her institutional affiliations on a research paper reporting clinical research that was undertaken while he or she was affiliated with that institution, there is no excuse for that institution not to have vetted the trial its staff has undertaken in a developing country.  Unfortunately, the opposite is actually the case.[3]
Perhaps this is as good a time as any to stress the importance of ensuring the enforcement of ethics standards by means of ongoing and efficient oversight. Ethics standards without bite and human power to back them up are not worth the paper they are written on.

Office of Inspector General (DHHS). 2010. Challenges to FDA’s Ability to Monitor and Inspect Foreign Clinical Trials.  DHHS: Washington DC. (OEI-01-08-00510)

[2]  Anonymous. UPDATE 1-WikiLeaks cables: Pfizer took aim at Nigeria AG. The Economist 10 Dec 2010 (accessed 15 December 2010).  A Ballantyne. Benefits to Research Subjects in International Trials: Do They Reduce Exploitation or Increase Undue Inducements? Developing World Bioethics 2008; 8: 178-191.

S Philpott, U Schuklenk. A Trial That Should Not Have Been Done (accessed: 15 December 2010)

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


Apologies for the unannounced hiatus. I have been travelling in Asia and, for awhile, couldn't even access this blog in order to up-date it. So, just a quick note from the Cathay lounge at Hong Kong's airport. I'll be blogging more this coming week. Had a most interesting time. Incredibly, I bumped into a bloke wearing Queen's University paraphernalia (a sweater) in Hong Kong this morning. Turns out that he's a Queen's graduate. Talking about how small the world is. What were the odds of something like that happening... I met great people both in China as well as in Hong Kong. The trip was well worth it, both professionally as well as personally. I took about 400 photos...

I ended up in two remarkable hotels during this trip. One houses the Chinese Communist Party's leadership during winters (in Shenzhen), the other (in Hong Kong) forced me to listen to Xmas music on the loo. An Ave Marie while you go about your business. Odd indeed.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Conversing with Falun Gong

I received the below message from a self-declared Falun Gong practitioner. Presumably written in response to this blog post of mine. Well, read the email I received in all its entirety. Kinda fun. Nutcases united! I think the bits about flying Faluns are pretty funny. My personal favourite though, changing gays, mixed-race and computer engineers who were sent by extraterrestrial aliens to destroy earth. That's pretty cool as far as crazy stuff goes...

Dear professor:
--How are you? I am a Falun gong practitioner. Do you know about Falun gong?

--Do you often have agony? Are you distressed? I tell you a key to calm your distress.
--I am 43 years old. I am a Falun gong practitioner for 15 years. I was poor health and bad temper 15 years ago until I became a Falun practitioner. One day in this year, I suddenly entered into tranquility and I felt so peaceful that I couldn't move at all. Then I saw Li Hongzhi Master sitting in front of me with golden light around him. Our mighty and solemn Master Buddha looked at me with boundless benevolence. Although he didn't say any words, I heard clearly his earnest and tireless teaching.
--Several years ago, when I was first doing sitting meditation, I could clearly hear the turning sounds of Falun when my hand passed by my ear. Also, since practicing Dafa, I have recovered from several diseases. Before I started to cultivate, I had imagined how wonderful I would feel if I had no disease. I have been enjoying this feeling for the past several years. I haven't even caught any colds since then.
--In 1997, Master's hint helped me to avoid a severe train accident. Many people on the train that I missed died or were seriously injured. For a long time, the media outlets in China were afraid to report the accident to avoid frightening the public.
--Since the year 2000, I have seen countless silver lights flying and dancing all over the sky that appear to be Falun. If I get a camera, I would like to take pictures and magnify them so that I can show them to the ordinary people who don't believe it at all. With the coming of the Fa-rectification in the human world, those who have known the truth of Dafa through the efforts of practitioners, and who therefore have righteous thoughts of Dafa and treat Dafa kindly, will be able to see it soon.
--We can save mixed-blood ones, the gay and computer engineers. Although they are the plot that the extraterrestrial aliens sent to our Earth to destroy human, but we can use the “truthfulness, benevolence and forbearance” to change them. We need you help us to practice together. For human, join us!
--If you want to know more about Falun Dafa, you can tell me!
--Good Luck!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Corruption pays @ FIFA

Fun stuff at FIFA. Six members of the voting body that decides where the next world cup takes place have been found guilty of bribery charges to some extent or other. Remarkably so, none of those voting members received more than the equivalent of a slap on the wrist. None of them, for instance, was dismissed from the committee in question. Some of them are banned from voting for up to four years, and that's where it ends.

Now, these guys ended up in a typical Murdoch 'news'papers style sting operation. You know, one of those Ms Ferguson is used to these days. Basically the newspaper offers bags of cash to folks with either access to folks in power (Ferguson) or folks with actual power (FIFA Executive Committee members), films their response to the bribery offer and publishes the results of their sting operation in order to sell more of its 'news'papers. These kinds of 'news'media create the news they then report about.

You can argue about the question of whether it's fair game to offer huge amounts of money to FIFA folks who come from impoverished parts of the world, in the hope that they might take the bite. At least one of those folks made quite clear that he didn't mean to take any of the offered dosh for himself. He wanted it to be channeled to his local football association so that they could build more soccer fields. The other bloke wanted it transferred into his personal bank account, also ostensibly to support soccer in his home country. Who knows what would have happened to that money.

Either way, these votes were on sale, and for FIFA to not kick those folks off their voting committee for good tells you all that you need to know about that organization's ethics code and more important ethics standards!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Ghostwriting Ethics

There's obviously ghostwriters and ghostwriters. Some ghostwriters are acknowledged by name (eg in various autobiographies, including Hilary Clinton's, but also in acknowledgments of biomedical journal articles). What these ghostwriters basically do is to grab existing drafts or manuscripts fragments and draft them into a polished whole, but without adding contents of their own. This, arguably is an above-board type activity, provide due credit is given.

Then there's other ghostwriters, such as authors who write whole biomedical journal articles for pharmaceutical companies where at a later stage other authors' (usually senior professors) names are added. This is clearly a fraudulent activity, because the supposed authors in question had no hand in conceptualizing, and drafting the research paper in question. There have been quite some occasions where they didn't even have a hand in the research that was reported. This clearly is unethical, because they made false representations about their research activity in the process. They made their readers believe that they undertook the research in question, and that the paper published under their name was truly theirs.

Equally as bad is the ever-growing industry of for-hire essay and thesis writers that floods university campuses with its advertisements offering to write student seminar papers and theses (even PhD theses!) for a fee. There is plenty of evidence that this industry is significant in size, and that the fraud that is being undertaken here is undertaken by many students at all levels of their studies. Here and here are examples of how this works from the perspective of people paid to write all these fake essays and theses.

All this stuff is pretty bad news, not only because we graduate students unable to write their own contents, but also because these students and we as degree granting institutions make false representations about the then graduates' competencies. The former, of course, make these false representations knowingly. They're fraudsters. Universities, by virtue of awarding degrees make false representations on some occasions, not knowing of course, how many of our graduates are serial cheats. In fact, it seems to be the case that we as academics have remarkably few tool available to us that would permit us to identify customers of paper mills.

It's all somewhat frustrating. I can't think of any efficient means to actually deal with this problem.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Anonymous vouching and such stuff

Some time ago I attacked Ted Hsu on this blog. Ted Hsu, whatever one might think of him, deserves credit for at least saying what he believes in, even if that does not win him votes, and even if - in the eyes of this commentator - his stances on important issues do not add up. I respect people I disagree with, as long as they have thought about what they believe in, and as long as they put their names to their views.

Bizarrely, yesterday a friend or acquaintance of Mr Hsu told me (in a response to the same blog entry) both how much of a person of integrity Mr Hsu is (I have no reason to doubt his integrity and have never suggested otherwise) and that he's progressive (I have serious reason to doubt that, but then, I suspect what's progressive these days is very much in the eyes of the beholder). Mr Hsu's friend or acquaintance also kind of vouched for Mr Hsu, he or she gave a character witness. Nothing at all is wrong with  this. Where the witness giving turned bizarre was when the friend of acquaintance decided to attack me anonymously. When questioned the rationale given was that he or she always uses his or her pseudonym on the internet. Obviously, if you were to use the pseudonym Don Quixote on the web and you decided to give witness on your friend, you do make a fool of yourself. Why should anyone care about an anonymous writer vouching for someone else about whom we actually know more than about the writer who busies him- or herself vouching?

At least this is something I won't hold against Mr Hsu. You cannot control your friends and acquaintances who decide to praise you anonymously.

For what it's worth, the Liberal Party riding association chose Mr Hsu as its candidate for parliament in the next federal elections. Congratulations are due to Mr Hsu. He fought a bitterly contested campaign well, and he won (no doubt the other pro-life candidate's second preference votes would have flown to him, because he failed to win outright in the first round). Nonetheless, a win is a win is a win! Good on him!

I have supported Bill Flanagan, who lost narrowly to Mr Hsu. Let me predict then that our riding will fall to the conservatives (whose pro-life candidate offers a more coherent conservative package than Mr Hsu) in the next election as a result of this decision of the local Liberal party's membership. But hey, that's what democracy is all about.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Quixotian war on drugs wins another pointless battle

One could consider it amusing, if not laughable, if so many lives were not lost in the war on drugs in Mexico. Today a joint US/Mexican operation managed to find a drug tunnel between the two countries where smugglers transported weed from Mexico to the USA. In what they undoubtedly consider an amazing victory the authorities in Mexico and the USA confirmed also that they seized 25 tons of marijuana. Well, it seems like a Quixotian victory of a kind, if it's a victory at all. A consequence of the pointless criminalization of Marijuana (a drug much less harmful than say alcohol) is an open-ended invitation to criminals to capture the drug market. Quite some of this criminal drug money goes straight back into funding the war criminal gangs fight in Mexico against the Mexican people. It is clear then that the seizure of these 25 tons will actually fuel the war, rather than bring it closer to an end. Why is that?

As it goes in all markets, the price increases when the quantity of the product available remains stable but demand increases, or when there is even less of the product at steady demand or increasing demand. That then is what this 25 ton fund will practically mean. If anything, it might fuel the civil war in Mexico, because the other criminal weed producers will be able to sell their quantities at higher prices. 'Sisyphus'  and 'pointless' come to mind when looked at from disinterested perspective. In addition to being pointless from the perspective of those wanting to 'win the war on drugs', arguably these sorts of 'successes' assist criminals in financing their counter war more efficiently.

Complete waste of time, it appears to me. The societal answer to people's interest in taking drugs should be based on the objective harms that are caused by particular classes of drugs. These harms should not be measured by policies resulting into harms (as criminalization fuels today the civil war in Mexico), but on the intrinsic harmfulness of particular drugs. If a societal responses causes more harm than could be caused by the intrinsic harmfulness of a particular drug policy changes are surely called for.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Praying doesn't work

Interesting side story in the US midterm elections. Christine O'Donnell, a teaparty supported Republican candidate for a cushy Senator job, who gained some claims to fame for saying that homosexuality and masturbation are immoral, that evolution does not take place, and for claiming that clinical trials resulted into mice with human brains, has lost her bid for the Senator seat in Delaware. It seems this nutcase was considered electable by some 40% of the electorate. Tells you quite a bit about that country, doesn't it...

Anyhow, O'Donnell belongs to the kind of people who believe that doing nothing (ie praying) helps achieve whatever you do nothing about (ie pray for). So her and her fans busily prayed for her win. God, unfortunately, was busy with so many other races that he must have missed her prayers. Seems praying doesn't work after all. Bummer... makes me wonder though whether one should suggest to the teabaggers and their Republican lapdogs to pray harder in the future and spend less time poisoning the public domain with their ideology (aka that of their corporate funders).

I assume that she will soon be working for the Fox News network where all failed Republican politicians end up doing their own lil shows or work as talking heads. A million $$ salary is likely awaiting O'Donnell. Should be fun.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

United Kingdom of Censorship

The UK is clearly currently losing it on the censorship front. On the one hand, thankfully parliament abolished blasphemy legislation a few years back. On the other hand, the country's Advertising Standards Authority in recent months cancelled two advertisements because they ('potentially' - I like that phrase) offend the feelings of religious folks. The ads were both for - get this - an ice cream. In each of the advertisements, while religious symbols were used, the actual transgression did not take place. Let's leave aside for a moment the question of whether in the age of gay marriage and legal civil partnerships two guys in black dresses kissing each other is a transgression of a kind. Oh, right, the transgression is about the black dress. They're God people. God people don't kiss (each other) it seems. Well then, it's here where the Advertising Standards people moved in. They cancelled one advertisement because they received six complaints from Catholics saying they're - get this - offended by the ad.

Why would a tiny number of complaints (six) justify canceling a nationwide advertising campaign? Advertising is still a speech act, so really the advertising watch dog is saying that freedom of speech may legitimately be curtailed when a - however small - number of religious people complain.  This is surely unacceptable. I get offended all the time by the activities of religious folks (eg Christian aid agencies taking photos of starving black kids to get money out of me so they can use my donations to feed and indoctrinate kids in developing countries). I'm hugely offended by this. If I wrote to the Advertising Standards Authority, would they cancel those ads, too? I bet you that they would not. Should they cancel this ad because I am upset? Of course not. Offense in its own right is insufficient a reason to limit speech acts. Nobody has an absolute right not to be offended (pace Muslim activists who think otherwise)! The very idea that offense could be a reasonable principle for limiting speech acts makes no sense, because on that logic the most fanatic folks (of whatever persuasion) would decide what can and cannot be said. After all, they'd be most likely to be upset whenever the views that they hold fanatically are contradicted. So on this logic the most fanatic would also be the judge of what can or cannot be said with regard to whatever they are most fanatic about. Absurdistan in action. Yet this is precisely the logic of the UK's Advertising Standards Authority. I wonder how long it will take until Il Papa central will declare it a 'saint' :-).

There's another aspect of this that also troubles me. The advertising company that produced these two advertisements will probably think twice about using religious symbols for future ads, seeing that two of its ads were cancelled. Almost certainly self-censorship will occur in the wake of these decisions! Seeing that the new government in Britain has a liberal coalition partner, I wonder whether the powers that are in charge now will do something about this.

Friday, October 22, 2010

How sickening is that...

Really, how sickening is that? How can it be that Haiti suffers a cholera outbreak killing scores of its people? I mean, since the earthquake a lot of money was given do do-good operations (let's ignore for the time being the 'Bibles for Haiti' type collections by religious fanatics), and yet there is a cholera outbreak. So, these do-good operations have REALLY not yet managed to secure clean water supply for the Haitian people? What have they done with all that money?

Either way, it beats me, how it can be that we spent worldwide trillions of $$ to prop up a gone-nuts banking system in order to ensure that bankers (investment and otherwise) don't see their gazillion $$ bonuses shrink to thousand $$ bonuses, yet seemingly getting our acts together to ensure that the people of Haiti have clean water supply is asking too much.

I'm giving up. It just doesn't make sense, no matter how I look at it. Enjoy the photos of the hardware the do-gooders have amassed to impress their donors...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Those reference letters

The older you get, the more reference letters you are asked to write. The price you pay for moving closer to death. - This thing cuts really both ways. Initially you spent your while hassling busy mentors of yours to do reference letters for you, and another, and another ... you felt bad, and no doubt, so did they. Well, eventually you find yourself in the same situation, provided you do/did some mentoring or other.

Here are several problems I have both with writing and reading reference letters:

1) More often than not what I read is utterly dishonest and stands in no relation to the person who is being praised over the moon. As a result of seeing this time and again, I barely - if at all - bother reading reference letters. I assume that whoever requested one asked someone with the understanding that it would be a positive, uncritical letter. Well, if all I find out is what is good about a particular job applicant, and I have good reason to assume that whatever is written down in the reference letter is hyperbolic, what's the point?

2) My problem as a reference letter writer is that I can't get myself to lie even in order to help good people. So, if you were to ever compare my reference letters to those of people who do the whole hyperbolic shebang, you'd think I hated a candidate who I actually think would be a good choice. Am I supposed to put on the rhetorical battle gear and write about that 'one in a life-time' future academic, a coming academic superstar? I don't even think of current crowned academic superstars (just check the philosophical gossip site Leiter Report for ongoing coronation activities) in those terms.  I know that, secretly they go to the loo, just like I do, and just like Professor Middle-of-the-Road at Popplesdorf University.

3) I would love a system whereby reference letters could be honest and balanced. In the absence of this, I prefer to stick only to objective markers like peer reviewed publications, citations of those publications, teaching evaluations, etc, when it comes to academic appointments. You might want to take a closer look and check how frequently, especially in the arts and humanities, appointments are made based on verifiable evidence of excellence versus appointments made entirely on a candidate's capacity to drop names and attract reference letters from crowned superstar academics. It's painful to watch.

4) Dishonest reference letters reflect very badly on the professional who wrote them! I mean, once I have seen Prof XYZ praise a weak student to me, and I fell for the praise, what would I think of future reference letters I received from that same professor? These sorts of activities can only work efficiently for a short period of time, begging the question why Prof XYZ thought it would be sensible to lie about her supposedly to brilliant student!

5) So, what lesson is there to be drawn from this? Are we really compelled to lie reasonably qualified to good candidates into jobs with our reference letters, because that's what everyone else is doing?

All a bit self-defeating, isn't it? As I said, I give close to no weight and attention to reference letters. I wonder how many others in more senior positions do the same. Are we all wasting our time with this sort of stuff?

ps: you're welcome to make use of the disposable bullshit bag displayed to the top left of this blog. Seems the perfect place for most reference letters.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Iran again... and again... and again

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s son, Sajjad Ghaderzadeh, and lawyer, Houtan Kian, were arrested along with a German journalist and photographer in Tabriz on 10 October 2010 at 1900 hours local time. The security forces raided the lawyer’s office where an interview was taking place and arrested all four.

Their whereabouts are currently unknown and no news has been received of their situation since the arrests. It is known they were arrested given that at the time of the raid, one of the journalists was on the phone speaking with Mina Ahadi, Spokesperson of the International Committee against Stoning and International Committee against Execution. The four have not returned home or to their hotels since; the Islamic regime has confirmed the arrest of the two journalists.

We, the undersigned, unequivocally condemn the Islamic Republic of Iran for the arrests and call for the immediate release of the four. We also demand the release of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani and an end to stoning and execution.

Mina Ahadi, Spokesperson, International Committee against Stoning and International Committee against Execution, Germany
Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson, Iran Solidarity and One Law for All, UK
A C Grayling, Writer and Philosopher, UK
Alfred Breitman, Writer, EveryOne Group, Italy
Angela Payne, HQ Coordinator, Anti-Injustice Movement, UK
Anne Zelensky, Présidente, La Ligue du Droit des Femmes, France
Anne-marie Lizin, Senate Honorary Speaker, Association of the Wallonia Women Council, and Coordinator of HOCRINT, International Association against Honour Crimes, Belgium
Annie Sugier, President, Ligue du Droit International des Femmes, France
Åsa Dahlström Heuser, Campaigner, Belgium
Bernice Dubois, Coordination Française pour le Lobby Européen des Femmes, France
Catherine Auberger, Human Rights Campaigner, France
Catherine Deudon, Photographer, France
Chantal Crabère, Campaigner, France
Christiane Labarre, Women’s Rights Campaigner, Belgium
Christiane Mauchauffée, Women’s Rights Campaigner, France
Daniel Lardy, Primary School Teacher, France
Daniel Salvatore Schiffer, Philosopher, Writer, Promoter of the “Open Letter to the Iranian Authorities” to support Sakineh, Belgium
Daphné Pavia, Regards de Femmes, France
Dario Picciau, Director, EveryOne Group, Italy
David Pollock, President, European Humanist Federation, UK
Dennis Penaluna, President, Nottingham Secular Society, UK
Dominique Peignoux, Regards de Femmes Ile de France, Vice President, Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneurm, France
Ed Buckner, Board Member, American Atheists, USA
Eli Vieira, President, Secular Humanist League of Brazil, Brazil
Elizabeth Sidney, OBE, Chair, Women Worldwide Advancing Freedom and Equality, UK
Eloise Power, Doughty Street Chambers, UK
Fabio Patronelli, Artist, EveryOne Group, Italy
Francis FitzGibbon QC, Doughty Street Chambers, UK
G. R. Joly, Women’s Rights Campaigner, France
Georges Delpech, Campaigner, France
Ghulam Mustafa Lakho, Advocate High Court of Sindh, Pakistan
Giti Thadani, Writer and Filmmaker, India
Glenys Robinson, Writer, EveryOne Group, Italy
Gudrun Schyman, Spokesperson, Swedish political party Feminist Initiative and elected member of the local parliament in Simrishamn, Sweden
Harold Kroto, FRS, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, USA
Hope Knutsson, President, Sidmennt the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association, Iceland
Huguette Chomski Magnis, President, Mouvement Pour la Paix et Contre le Terrorisme, France
Ibn Warraq, Author, USA
Iza Desperak, Campaigner, Poland
Jaya Gopal, Coordinator, International Committee to Protect Freethinkers, India
Joëlle Wiels, Research Director, CNRS, France
Josette Vial , Lyon Association Regards de Femmes , France
Katarzyna Kopystyńska, Democratic Union of Women and Federation Polish Women’s Lobby, Poland
Katarzyna Zwolak, Women Space Foundation, Poland
Laura Dubinsky, Barrister, Doughty Street Chambers, UK
Laura Guidetti, President, Marea Association, Italy
Leo Igwe, Executive Director, Nigerian Humanist Movement, Nigeria
Liisa Rantalaiho, University of Tampere, Finland
Manouchehr Ganji, Human Rights Campaigner, USA
Maria Calderar, EveryOne Group, Italy
Maria Rohaly, Mission Free Iran, USA
Marie-Christine Exsteyl, Vice-Présidente, Groupement Belge de la Porte Ouverte pour la défense économique de la travailleuse, Belgium
Marie-Hélène Clochard, Women’s Rights Campaigner, France
Matteo Pegoraro, Writer, EveryOne Group, Italy
Michael Schmidt-Salomon, Philosopher and Spokesperson, Giordano Bruno Foundation, Germany
Michèle Vianès, Présidente, Regards de Femmes, France
Mireille Popelin, Feminist and Secularist, France
Monica Lanfranco, Director, Marea Feminist Review, Italy
Nazanin Afshin-Jam, President, Stop Child Executions, Canada
Nina Sankari, President, European Feminist Initiative, Poland
Olga Rémy, Member, HOCRINT, Belgium
P. Mazelpeux, Campaigner, France
Pascaline Segard, Women’s Rights Campaigner, France
Pedro Almeida, General Director, Secular Humanist League of Brazil, Brazil
Peter Tatchell, Human Rights Campaigner, UK
Pragna Patel, Chair, Southall Black Sisters, UK
Richard Dawkins, Scientist and Author, UK
Roberto Malini, Writer, EveryOne Group, Italy
Roy Speckhardt, Executive Director, American Humanist Association, USA
Russell Blackford, Philosopher, Australia
Shahla Abghari, Women’s Rights Campaigner, USA
Siba Shakib, Author and Filmmaker, USA
Sonja Eggerickx, President, International Humanist Ethical Union, UK and President, Unie Vrijzinnige Verenigingen, Belgium
Steed Gamero, Photographer, EveryOne Group, Italy
Tasneem Khalil, Editor, Independent World Report, Sweden
Terry Sanderson, President, National Secular Society, UK
Udo Schuklenk, Professor of Philosophy and Ontario Research Chair in Bioethic, Canada
Valérie Surville, Campaigner, France
Venita Popovic and Nermin Sarajlic, Zenicke Sveske journal, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Viviane Teitelbaum, MP and President of the Council of Women, Belgium

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ted Hsu - Liberal Pro-Life Pro-Choice Candidate

There is an interesting race going on in the Liberal riding of Kingston and the Islands. The current member of parliament, Peter Miliken, has decided to step down. Unsurprisingly - we're not in North Korea after all - there's a bunch of candidates gearing up to become the next official Liberal party candidate for parliament.

Five people - sadly all guys - are on the ticket. It's been all a quite Canadian  affair - as in polite, not to say sedate - so far. That is until one of the candidates, Ted Hsu (a Princeton trained physicist) decided to go on the attack. Hsu is an interesting chap. I went to the first all-candidates event the Liberals organised. Being a bioethics professor, I worked for the last year or so fairly intensely on a Royal Society report on end-of-life decision-making in Canada. I asked Hsu where he stands on the matter of decriminalising assisted dying in some form or shape. Anywhere between 60-75% of Canadians (more than 80% in Quebec) support such a policy change. To my surprise Hsu prevaricated and went on to say that he would have to be very very certain that that would have to be a good idea. That his electorate overwhelmingly supports such a policy change was of little consequence to him. The language of 'very very certain', of course, makes no sense. Either you're certain or you're not. There is no such a thing as 'very very certain'. I became suspicious that Hsu might actually be a closeted pro-lifer. I disagree but respect folks holding such views. However, I am skeptical as to whether the Liberal party is really their natural home. Hsu put his foot in his mouth during the event on some other issues. For instance, he praised Cuba's health care system and suggested that we'd learn from it, while he busily suggested the outsourcing of government services. Doesn't really gel, or does it?

Well, Hsu's public stance on the pro-life issue doesn't exactly gel either. During the second all-candidates' event, when pressed, he acknowledged to be a pro-lifer. Some of my feminist colleagues have suggested that pro-life is a euphemism hiding what really amounts to an anti-choice and anti-freedom ideology. Good on Hsu for being honest on this sensitive issue though. Obviously the question then remains how that hangs together with his professed liberalism. Well, in a youtube attack video going after one of his competitors, Bill Flanagan, Hsu comes out both as pro-life and pro-choice. - Think having your cake and eating it... - He explains that he supports women's legal right to choose, and that he would not curtail the use of Canadian tax monies to support developing world health services that support abortions. Of course, being pro-life - by definition - means to subscribe to the view that abortion is akin to murder.  You know, your baseline as a pro-lifer is the idea that fetal cell accumulations should be treated as if they were persons (as Catholics want us to see it). So, here we have a professed pro-lifer who subscribes to the view that tax monies should be used to support what pro-lifers considers akin to murder.

Mr Hsu, this stance of yours doesn't gel. It's comparable to saying that you're against nuclear power, that's it's a bit like a crime against humanity (pro-life ideologues are wont to comparing abortion to the Holocaust, mass murder, genocide and other such niceties), but that you won't switch off any existing legally operating power plant. I wonder how you would deal, if you ever got elected, with proposed legislation designed to decriminalise assisted dying? Your very very certain is clearly just a cover for saying 'never'. I for one am not looking forward to any conscience vote you might be able to cast should you ever get elected, Mr Hsu. I'm glad to note that at least you wouldn't touch existing legal reproductive rights of women, even though you subscribe to ideological views that consider those exercising such rights as murderers. I have got to say, this is about as plausible as celebrating Cuba's health system and wanting to outsource government services.

What's next Mr Hsu?

Monday, September 20, 2010

On Iran and the UN

We are writing to ask that the UN general assembly condemn stoning as a crime against humanity and issue an emergency resolution calling for an end to the medieval and barbaric punishment as well as the immediate release of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani and others sentenced to death by stoning.
We also ask that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad not be allowed to address the general assembly and that his government be boycotted.
A government that still stones people to death in the 21st century must have no place in the United Nations or any other international institution or body.
Mina Ahadi, Spokesperson, International Committee against Stoning and International Committee against Execution, Germany
Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson, Iran Solidarity, Equal Rights Now and One Law for All, UK
Shahla Abghari, Women's Rights Activist, USA
Boaz Adhengo, Project Nabuur Capital, Kenya
Ophelia Benson, Editor, Butterflies and Wheels, USA
Helle Merete Brix, Writer and Journalist, Denmark
Roy W Brown, International Humanist and Ethical Union, UN Geneva Main Representative, Switzerland
Ewa Dabrowska-Szulc, President, Pro Femina Association, Poland
Richard Dawkins, Scientist and Author, UK
Sanal Edamaruku, President, Rationalist International, India
Sonja Eggerickx, President, International Humanist Ethical Union, Belgium
Caroline Fourest, Writer and Columnist, France
A C Grayling, Writer and Philosopher, UK
Maria Hagberg, Chairperson, Network Against Honour Related Violence, Sweden
Leo Igwe, Executive Director, Nigerian Humanist Movement, Nigeria
Hope Knutsson, President, Sidmennt the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association Reykjavik, Iceland
Julia Kristeva, Président, Jury du Prix Simone de Beauvoir pour la Liberté des Femmes, France
Ghulam Mustafa Lakho, Advocate High Court of Sindh, Pakistan
Anne-marie Lizin, Senate Honorary Speaker, Belgium
Huguette Chomski Magnis, President of Mouvement Pour la Paix et Contre le Terrorisme, France
Reine Marcelis, President, Synergie Wallonie pour l'Egalité entre les Femmes et les Hommes, Belguim
Pragna Patel, Chair, Southall Black Sisters, UK
Fariborz Pooya, Director, Iranian Secular Society, UK
Hassan Radwan, Management Committee, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, UK
Yasmin Rehman, Women's Rights Campaigner, UK
Terry Sanderson, President, National Secular Society, UK
Michael Schmidt-Salomon, Philosopher, Writer, and Spokesman of The Giordano Bruno Foundation, Germany
Udo Schuklenk, Professor of Philosophy and Ontario Research Chair in Bioethics, Canada
Daniel Salvatore Schiffer, Philosopher and Writer, Belgium
Issam Shukri, Head, Committee for the Defence of Secularism and Civil Rights in Iraq, Canada
Joan Smith, Writer and Human Rights Activist, UK
Annie Sugier, President, Ligue du Droit International des Femmes, France
Viviane Teitelbaum, MP and President of the Council of Women, Belgium
Giti Thadani, Writer and Filmmaker, India
Shishir Thadani, South Asian Voice, India
Richy Thompson, President, The National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies, UK
Olga Trostiansky, President, Coordination Française pour le Lobby Européen des Femmes, France
Nira Yuval-Davis, Organising Group, Women Against Fundamentalism, UK
Michèle Vianès, Regards de Femmes, France
Ibn Warraq, Author, USA

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Il Papa in good ol Britannia...

What a 4 days it must have been in Britain and the world, if you take the BBC World's word for it. Nothing much else happened in the world. The Pope visited Britain. As you might know, unlike other religious sects, the Catholic church was given a piece of land by the fascist state under Mussolini's dictatorship, and has henceforth called itself a state. So, accordingly, when the Pope visited Britain for 4 days, it's been a state visit. This charade, courtesy of Mussolini, explains why the cost of the state visit was fully paid for by UK tax payers, the tax payers of one of Europe's most secular societies. Surprisingly, our head of state then went out of his way to convert Brits in public speech after speech (pardon me, in mass after mass after mass) to his state. Not really, of course. The Pope busily tried to convert Brits to Catholicism. Begs the question why British taxpayers should pay their hard earned money for giving him that privilege. Imagine Barack Obama, or, heaven forbid, Stephen Harper, would head to the UK on a state visit to tell Brits that they'd join his country (or, more to the point, his political party). People would consider that distinctly inappropriate. Funnily, these diplomatic rules don't apply to the old man in the red Prada shoes.

The Pope managed to attract only a fraction of the crowd his predecessor attracted. This didn't stop him, of course, from insisting that UK policies should follow the teachings of his state - agh, damn, religion this time... what a mess this is with this 'state' visit. He busied himself with hectoring UK policy makers on the inapproriateness of permitting gay folks to live in state recognized civil partnerships. The Catholic church, ooops, 'state' doesn't do human rights, it does Catholicism and God. No news in that, of course. For some reason UK government characters fell over each other insisting that they do faith in public life.

No clever person would want to be found anywhere close to a bloke who's been busy preventing information about pedophile priests the world all over from reaching the police, and who's been busy with ensuring that these criminals don't go to jail where they belong. Not so in Britain, people in power queued to shake the old man's hand. I felt sorry for the Queen, who had pretty little choice on this occasion. The Pope busily apologized for the pedophilia scandal, but since when is this sufficient to avoid criminal prosecution? Let's just say that the British police failed its duties to protect the public entirely on this one. The Pope left Britain unscathed, he was not arrested as the head of an organization that has spent decades protecting child molesters among its employees the world all over.

The Pope left us with a remarkable insight, 'science can't explain our existence'. Even if that was true, of course, neither does 'God', so what's the big deal? He also left us with a remarkable demand, namely that we should leave the cold reality that we live in behind and return to his state, ugh, his ideology.

I must say, I am somewhat reassured after this visit. The decline of this organization - and organizations like it - across the developed world will undoubtedly increase. Only true fundamentalists will join forces with such reactionaries, no matter how colorful their clothes. This emperor is truly pretty naked, his going in drag notwithstanding. In many ways that's a good thing. I never had issues about people holding weird beliefs. What irritates me is that invariably, once they're in large numbers, they try to force everyone else to live by their holy book. That really is annoying. The Pope tried to persuade Brits precisely of that, join my ideology was his message on his 'state' visit. No chance this is going to happen, even with the current 'faith doing' conservative 'liberal' government in that country. Match and win for the enlightenment - may be not in Uganda and Jamaica, but pretty much everywhere in Europe at least. It's a start.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Nuttish pastor and the world media

People, I truly don't get it. You surely have read about the pastor running this small church in Gainesville, FL. He planned to burn a couple of Koran books to commemorate September 11. This guy is clearly a nutcase. He was for a couple of years in Germany. He gained a reputation for being xenophobic and militantly anti-Turkish. His daughter, who still lives in Germany, thinks he's a nutcase. He eventually had to flee the country because he misappropriated money from his congregation. So, a typical sect leader that man is (I won't mention his name or link to his outfit to reduce any publicity for him and his cause).

Now, we all know that many Muslims get quite worked up when their religious symbols are being mocked. They tend to burn US flags and more often than not kill each other - bit Homer Simpsonesque - in their anger. All quite amusing when watched from far afield. Presumably then they'd be really unhappy if someone burned their book of stories. To be fair, Christians would probably be pretty annoyed if someone burned their book of stories, and so it goes. People got quickly concerned that in enlightened places like Pakistan, and Afghanistan there might be attacks by forces of the Islamic enlightenment against Westerners hanging about there to support the existence of the corrupt regimes running those countries. You know, the people that pour billions of our tax $$ into Afghanistan so that Mr Karzai can dump that money into their national bank that has been stripped naked by its senior management (conveniently including Karzai's brother).

Anyhow, so this nuttish thieving pastor in the USA threatens to burn a few Koran books on the lawn of his sect headquarters. Nobody would have taken any notice of this in places like Pakistan, Afghanistan and whatnot, IF Western media hadn't made such a big issue about it. Ever since our nuttish thieving pastor has held the US government hostage (imagine that government folks appealed to him personally to not burn those Koran books). I mean, really??? You just encourage copycats. I'm tempted to threaten burning the Koran books to get ... umm, let's see, what could I want? Serious nonsense. I do not understand why the world media have given this nutcase the oxygen to make this an international media event! Utterly irresponsible and unprofessional.

There is something else I must say though: If I purchase or obtain by other legal means a pile of books (any books), I should be perfectly entitled to burn them! Big deal. They're mine. If you can't handle that, make sure I can't get hold of your holy book, whatever it might be.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Calling it a day on proceduralism in bioethics

It is unusual that an influential approach within our field is called ‘fundamentally wrong’ by its creator. Reidar Lie, a staff member of the US government’s NIH Department of Clinical Bioethics, and a leading expert on research ethics did just that in reference to the fair benefits approach that he substantially helped bring into being. In a recent commentary Lie conceded that there is ‘something fundamentally wrong’ with the approach.1 Lie proposed a procedural account of justice in international health research instead of a substantive approach. This approach reduces ethics in international health research to a market-like transaction, whereby what is fair is what is negotiated between international pharmaceutical multinationals and their – frequently impoverished, undereducated - local prospective trial participants. There is much talk about partnerships and collaboration among fair benefits proponents, but really market norms reign supreme. Fair benefits proponents amassed – to some extent meaningless – surveys of prospective trial participants’ wish lists in terms of what they would like to receive in return for their trial participation. These laundry lists are indicative of how desperate some trial participants really are (some asked for food and soap, for instance). However, unlike what the NIH staff wanted us to believe, these surveys never told us anything of significance with regard to what benefits, if any, should reasonably be made available to such trial participants.

What triggered Lie’s change of mind? His reaction was informed by an excellent paper in the US journal Hastings Center Report.2 Alex London and Kevin J.S. Zollman tried to put the fair benefits approach into action. Amongst their most significant findings was that the approach would likely result into a race to the bottom, whereby pharmaceutical companies would use their bargaining power to search across the globe for the cheapest possible deal to undertake their research. London and Zollman rightly concluded that the approach would produce results that would not even meet standards of fairness endorsed by its own proponents. Other aspects of the procedural approach to fair benefits have been sharply criticized by other bioethicists.3

It is time to move beyond this approach to fair benefits in international health research, and it is time to stop propagating it in developing countries under the guise of capacity building efforts. Alternative concepts aimed at addressing the normative problem at hand have been proposed. I am looking forward to how this debate will unfold.

1 RK Lie. 2010. The Fair Benefits Approach Revisited. Hastings Cent Rep 40(4):
2 AJ London, KJS Zollman. 2010. Research at the Auction Block. Hastings Cent Rep 40(4): 34-45.
3 RE Ashcroft. 2008. Fair Process and the Redundancy of Bioethics. Public Health Ethics 1: 3-9. U Schuklenk. 2010. For-Profit Clinical Trials in Developing Countries — Those Troublesome Patient Benefits. AJOB 10(6): 52-54.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The Open Access industry - basement based academic 'journals' in action

and here, an invitation I (a bioethicist/philosopher) received to review a manuscript. Do note the title of the journal (not my field) and the title of the article they need reviewed (has nothing to do with either my field or the journal).

moronia in academia...

International Journal of Peace and Development Studies


Dear Colleague,

We received a manuscript titled "



" I wish to inquire if you can create time to review this manuscript.  We will be most grateful if the manuscript can be reviewed and sent to us within 2 weeks.
Please find the abstract below:
 Abstract: The problem of truth in science - the most urgent problem of our time -   is discussed. The correct theoretical analysis of the generally accepted foundations of theoretical physics  is proposed. The principle of the unity of formal logic and rational dialectics is a methodological basis of the analysis. The main result is as follows: the foundations (i.e. classical thermodynamics, the special theory of relativity, quantum mechanics) contain logical errors The existence of logical errors is irrefutable proof of incorrectness of the theoretical foundations and means that theoretical physics enters the greatest crisis. The crisis in physics leads inevitably to the general crisis in science. The crisis as effect is explained by existence of the global cause: the crisis is a collateral and inevitable result of inductive method of knowledge of the Nature.

I am looking forward to your response and will be grateful to hear from you.

Kindly acknowledge the receipt of this mail

Best Regards,

Emekagbor Richard,

Editorial Assistant,
International Journal of Peace and Development Studies (IJPDS).

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Falun Gong - harmless exercise fanatics or weird cult

I'm sure you will have come across Falun Gong folks exercising in some public space or other. There's invariably a chap handing out leaflets with graphic pictures of their followers' persecution at the hand of Chinese authorities. They carefully craft a picture of being a religious grouping practicing their exercises and being all about compassion, tolerance, benevolence, and other nice things. Well, for better or worse, they're anything but tolerant or compassionate. Here's a couple of quotes I compiled using documents from their official website featuring the teaching of their 'Master', a bloke by the name of Li Hongzhi. I'm presenting these quotes here not to suggest that it is ok for the Chinese authorities to torture Falun Gong adherents, but to say that I agree with the authorities verdict that this is a dangerous cult. The cult is clearly racist and homophobic, not to forget outright crazy (see the 'Masters' blabber about aliens below). Think twice about supporting their campaigns.

This blog post is also available in Chinese translation here.


"Question: If people of mixed race practice cultivation, which paradise will they go to?

Teacher: As far as humans go, people of mixed race no longer have corresponding human races in heaven. If they’re cultivators, their outward appearances are no longer important and it all depends on the person’s Primordial Spirit (yuanshen). If his Primordial Spirit is of the white race, he’s white; if his Primordial Spirit is of the yellow race, he’s yellow; if his Primordial Spirit is of the black race, he’s black. It’s a different matter if he practices cultivation.
Make sure you have your kids learn Chinese; you can’t lose the characteristics of your yellow race. Since there’s no place for you in the Caucasian paradises, you still need to return to the paradises of the yellow race’s people."
"Question: Different races have different Heavenly Kingdoms. Why don’t black people from Africa have any?

Master: Black people, too, have the gods that created them. It’s just that they forgot them rather early."

Crazy and Racist:
"the way alien beings get human beings to shake free of the gods is to mix the races, causing human beings to become rootless people, just like the plant hybrids people make nowadays. South Americans, Central Americans, Mexicans and some people in South East Asia—all of these races have been mixed. None of this can evade the gods’ eyes. Alien beings have made rather extensive preparations for overtaking human beings."

"Why was their civilization destroyed? Homosexual things have been found in the archeological artifacts and remains of ancient Greek civilization. The lifestyle at that time was very corrupt, degenerate, and extravagant."

"People now want to find a partner of the same sex. Gods think that people do that because they no longer have human values. You are wantonly indulging your thoughts. Your thoughts, like the ones I just mentioned, are not actually you. The mentality that makes you homosexual was driven by postnatally-formed bad things. But you yourself were numbed by them and went along with them and wallowed in the mud. You need to find yourself again and stop doing those filthy things. Gods view them as filthy. No matter whether a government permits it, the law of your government is not the truth of the universe. That’s because the law of a government is made by humans, and when humans make laws, they have the intention to rule and punish others, or they make laws against their conscience in order to protect things and gain power or votes. So they are not made with good intentions."

Adele Mercier did some digging of her own and requested I add a further heading:

Sexist and misogynistic 

"According to the theory of yin and yang, females should be gentle and not strong. Males are yang  and strong, while females are yin and gentle. When strength and gentleness are put together, it’s sure to be really harmonious. ... this society has degenerated, there’s been a reversal of yin and yang in modern times, and it’s most noticeable in China. Look at the athletes—women always win more medals, while men seldom win medals.  Why is it that yin is very strong and yang is very weak in everything? This factor is caused by the reversal of yin and yang. And then there’s the side-effect of advocating so-called women’s liberation. It is the degeneration of society’s morality that causes the changes in people’s hearts in society

"Question: In today’s society, the concept of equality between men and women prevails. As female disciples, how can we be gentle and tender while progressing diligently in cultivation?

Teacher: People are saying nowadays that women are becoming more and more liberal and their personalities are getting stronger. ... If in your daily life you’re like a gentle, true woman, your competence will let you have everything you deserve all the same. You don’t necessarily have to express yourself in tough and manly ways to obtain those things. In other words, if you’re a woman, you must act like one, and be kind and gentle. Only then can you gain respect and love from men. If you aren’t kind and gentle, men will be afraid of you when they see you.  I remember that in the West before the fifties, men were very gentlemanly, and they treated women with respect. And because women acted like women, men loved to help them, respect them, and care for them. At the same time, in a womanly way, women cherished their husbands. That was human behavior. Yet today you have corrupted it all.

In Asian society, women have become overly strong, causing the men to become like women.  If the way of the society becomes like this, will men still be able to walk around with confidence and self-respect? Will they have their manhood? Two people can’t be the head of one household, just as there can’t be two kings of the same mountain. There has to be one head of the household. 

It’s even more blatant in Western society ... The sense of a woman relying on her man when they’re married is simply nonexistent. I’m telling you, that is not how human beings should be! (Applause)"

" When a person becomes a Buddha through cultivation, he or she will have a male body. ... I don’t hold any prejudice against women. ... Regardless of whether you are a man or a woman, if you have done bad things or done wrong in certain respects, you might reincarnate in a female body in your next life.... Perhaps women don’t easily generate large amounts of karma."

COVID19 and the ethics of hospital triage decision-making

There is a lot of talk these days about the predicted coming wave of COVID19 patients needing ICU beds and ventilators in particular, and th...