Monday, June 28, 2010

G8 and G20 cost

What's the point of hosting these G8 and G20 events in big cities? Toronto was transformed into a police state for the duration of the event, the losses in terms of tourism revenue and productivity were/are large, and the list goes on.

I can see that there is an argument to be had that democratically elected heads of state should be able to meet even if there's violent protesters threatening to disrupt their meeting. In Canada, what was odd were marketing exercises (like a - get this - fake lake) that might have been of interest to tourists (who saw mostly violent protests on TV) but that were certainly of no interest to the attending heads of state (they got their own lakes). The photo shows an artist rendering of the lake ...

So, my question is this: if these heads of state believe it's worth meeting - the official results along would suggest that perhaps they might be mistaken - why can't they meet in some out-of-nowhere place? You know, all things considered, it might be cheaper building them a hotel in some place in the sticks and have em take their helicopters or planes there. Should be cheaper than shutting down multi-million people cities. What a waste!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Assisted dying OK in Germany under certain circumstances

Imagine my surprise when I read in today's paper about a judgment from Germany's Federal Court in an assisted dying case. Just so you get the significance of this, here's a blurb from Wikipedia about the relevance of the Federal Court in Germany's legal pecking order: 'The Federal Court of Justice of Germany (German: Bundesgerichtshof, BGH) is the highest court in the system of ordinary jurisdiction (ordentliche Gerichtsbarkeit) in Germany. It is the supreme court (court of last resort) in all matters of criminal and private law. A decision handed down by the BGH can only be reversed by the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany in rare cases when the Constitutional Court rules on constitutionality (compatibility with the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany).'

So, today said court ruled that if someone competent has decided they wish to die, even if the nature of their illness does not suggest that their dying process has begun, whoever removes pro-actively their means of life-support has not broken German law. Further, in the case of unconscious patients the patients' likely intention is considered sufficient to make the removal of life support systems legal. In the case under consideration a reportedly a woman who had been in persistent vegetative state for 5 years had her means of life support terminated by her daughter based on the patient's expressed wishes. Part of the problem was that her wishes were only expressed verbally to her daughter prior to her coma, hence no written advance directive existed. The patient had no chance of an improvement of her clinical situation. I wonder whether different circumstances might have changed the verdict or whether this really suggests that self-determination takes priority over the purported sanctity of life in German law.

This, of course, is terrible news for those God people who believe that we are not entitled to make respect demanding decisions about how we wish to die.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Publicationethics.org on Ghostwriting

Publicationethics.org has a feature about several papers from the current issue of Bioethics on ghostwriting of medical journal articles.

Ghostauthors, ghost management and the manipulation of medical research

There are three articles in the June issue of Bioethics on different aspects of ghostwriting.

The first article, by Tobenna D Anekwe, “Profits and plagiarism: the case of medical ghostwriting” argues that “medical ghostwriting often involves plagiarism and, in those cases, can be treated as an act of research misconduct” and suggests measures to counter ghostwriting.

The second article, by Sergio Sismondo and Mathieu Doucet, “Publication ethics and the ghost management of medical publication" discusses the wider issue of management of the whole publication process, showing how “pharmaceutical companies engage in the ghost management of the scientific literature, by controlling or shaping several crucial steps in the research, writing, and publication of scientific articles."

The final article, by Carl Elliott and Amy Snow Landa, "What’s wrong with ghostwriting?" concludes that ghost authorship and ghost management are part of a much larger problem, “the manipulation of medical research for marketing purposes.”

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Bioethics and Developing World Bioethics show improved impact factors

As you probably know, I am a co-editor of two peer reviewed international journals called Bioethics and Developing World Bioethics. Each year a commercial Canadian outfit called ISI (owned by Thomson Reuters) delivers its verdict on journals' impact (often confused with quality by journalists, academics and university administrators).

Publishers invariably get excited about their journals as good impact factors mean 'better' journals mean better marketing opportunities mean more money. There is plenty of evidence to go around that the impact factor is highly unreliable (in fact, ISI failed to reproduce, on request, its own impact factors in several test cases). Still, much like donors, students and government funders take notoriously nonsensical university rankings as their gospel, academics use high-ranked journals as preferred outlets and so this stuff becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In many universities academics are receiving bonuses for publishing in high-ranking journals. The idea is that a high-ranking journal is difficult to get into and voila, another quality standard is born. Duly, once you're high-ranking individual national science agencies begin dumping A's and similar rankings on you. More incentives for academics working under the influence of these agencies to publish in 'A' ranked journals. Of course, this all translates into creating self-fulfilling prophecies. It seems it hasn't occurred to anyone yet that a 'journal' publishing one article per year that gets cited a lot would have a stratospheric impact factor, and it would be difficult to get published in. So that useless journal with its one article per volume would be very 'prestigious' on the relevant counts.

This year ISI has increased the number of non-English journals it ranks, but there's an inherent bias in its ranking of these journals as ISI has no way to actually measure the citations of these journals reliably. As a result of the new inclusion policies these journals rank consistently low and assist in artificially boosting the group ranking of English language journals. For instance, a little-known English language bioethics journal that normally would have been safely ensconded on the bottom of the ranking is now being surpassed in the race to the bottom by Italian and German language bioethics journals.

Anyhow, this is just to report that Bioethics increased its impact factor to 1.136 while Developing World Bioethics, in its first entry scored a nice 1.256. Both journals managed to 'beat' quite a few very well-known competing publications. So all is good on the journals front. In a list of 34 journals in the 'ethics' category we made it to ranks 7 and 9 respectively,

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Should someone smack her or her parents?

I am not in favor of corporal punishment (really). Still, in the case of the recently rescued teenage woman who was determined to sail around the world, I can't help but think some should smack her for attempting this or her parents for permitting her to attempt this. Her voyage floundered in bad weather and a major rescue operation had to be launched, involving planes, boats and whatnot. I hope someone, someone please bankrupt this family for its selfish conduct. Sue them for the resources wasted in this unnecessary rescue mission. This woman should have entertained herself (and her ego) by staying at home and doing something useful (for crying out loud: help in the local homeless shelter, teach younger folks locally how to sail etc etc). Beats me why this kind of stuff happens again and again and again. What drove this family to permit her ill-prepared daughter to undertake this trip? And why should anyone other than the family pay for rescuing this person out of her self-inflicted problems?

On a more personal note, I will be away for about a week (working away from my homebase). I am likely unable to update the blog during this week.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

More corruption at UN?

Turns out what most interested observers have been arguing for a long time has been proven correct. The WHO's panic mongering in relation to the swine flu pandemic was just that, panic mongering. The primary beneficiaries were pharmaceutical companies whose products were stockpiled by many countries that responded to WHO recommendations. Finally, in-depth reports accuse WHO of exaggerating the real danger. The reports also note that on the WHO committee writing the report served several scientists who arguably had a conflict of interest (related to their relationships with pharmaceutical companies). The Washington Post wonders whether or not the WHO advert for flu medicines (aka its flu guidance) informed its member countries of these commercial conflicts of interest.

Do not trust a word BP is uttering

April 28 2010, BP - against the opinions of many qualified scientists - insists that a maximum of 5000 barrels of oil per day flows into the sea. The company is duly supported by US Pres (yes we can walk on vacuous pronouncements) Obama's experts. Well, today the company announces that its current fix results into them pumping 10000 barrels of oil per day to a ship above the leak. In case you still watch the live video from the leak, you will have noticed that despite this effort oil is leaking in large quantities into the ocean. 5000 barrels a day, BP, really?

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Offense ain't a good reason for censorship

This debate about whether it's acceptable (with reference to free speech) to draw cartoons of the Muslim's prophet Muhammad or not is just weird. Let's be clear about what I mean by acceptable: Acceptable in the sense of unacceptable being a sufficient reason to prohibit (or prevent by threat of violence) someone else from drawing a cartoon of the prophet (both depicting him negatively or positively). Islam seems to have a prohibition to depict the prophet. That's all quite all right for adherents of that ideology who voluntarily agree not to draw such cartoons. However, what about the majority of people on the planet who happen to be adherents of other ideologies (or none)? Should they be bound (as in legally, or by threat of force) by such a prohibition?

The main rationale that I could find as a justification for declaring depictions of the prophet unacceptable (by my above definition) is that it offends Muslims. So, a lot has been made of good neighborly behavior (Christians, no doubt wouldn't appreciate cartoons of their Jesus as a gay guy who surrounds himself mostly with men, for instance - btw, I am not suggesting Jesus was gay, hey, I'm not even qualified to judge whether or not there's a historical Jesus to begin with). There's probably a point to be made that it would be nice if people stopped depicting the figureheads of major ideologies (religious or otherwise) as pinheads of some sort or other. Less people would be upset (the standard burning of flags and people by some Muslims in developing countries that routinely follows rumors of a new cartoon is, of course, distinctly unhinged and undoubtedly explainable by the low levels of education in such places), and so our world would be a more peaceful place.

However, is that a sufficient reason to declare such cartoons unacceptable (by my above definition)? I don't think so. One reason for this is that the most radical adherents of such ideologies would otherwise be able to dictate to the majority what kinds of cartoons may or may not be drawn and seen. Very clearly those most fanatic about the ideological convictions would also be most likely to be most offended by such speech acts (a cartoon is a kind of speech act after all). Should we really determine the permissibility of speech acts by whoever is the most fanatic? I don't think so.

The bottom line, to me, seems to be that no one has a right not to be offended. Freedom of speech is not absolute, but the right to offend must surely be included in any definition of free speech. All the time honored rationales for free speech are sufficient to justify this conclusion, but just as well, we got to realize that the consequences of allowing the most radical adherents of any given ideology to determine what's too offensive in public debate, are plain unpalatable.