Monday, March 30, 2015

What's the matter with Indiana?

Another reason to avoid Indiana. Unless you don't mind being imprisoned for 20 years for the contradictory convictions of feticide and neglect of a dependent.
Following her conviction last month, an Indiana judge has sentenced 33-year-old Purvi Patel to what effectively amounts to 20 years (of a possible 70) in prison for feticide and neglect of a dependent.
In addition to the charge of neglect, prosecutors later added a charge of “feticide” based on text messages found on Patel’s phone showing that she took miscarriage-inducing drugs purchased online. Toxicologists could not find any trace of such drugs in her body or that of the fetus, but the evidence was enough to convince a jury that Patel had committed feticide, a charge normally used against those who harm pregnant women, not pregnant women themselves.
Patel is the first woman convicted of feticide in Indiana, and only the second to be charged. Chinese immigrant Bei Bei Shuai faced feticide charges two years ago in the state, and both cases highlight an emerging “gray area” for pregnant women within the US legal system.
I suspect that it is no accident that both women charged with feticide in Indiana were non-white.

More invitations from fake academic publishers

I got two emails with calls for papers from fake publishers in the last few days---one from my old friends at Open Journal of Philosophy put out by Beall's listed publishers SCIRP, and the other from the International Journal of Applied Science and Technology, put out by the promisingly named Center for Promoting Ideas (CPI), also Beall's listed. The latter email came from one "Alek Stwert" who doesn't seem to exist so far as google is concerned, and the CPI operation seems to be in Bangladesh.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Adventures in academic publishing: BioMed Central peer review fraud edition

Whoops. It looks as if BioMed Central, an open access purportedly legitimate scientific journal publisher, has a big mess to clean up:
A major publisher of scholarly medical and science articles has retracted 43 papers because of “fabricated” peer reviews amid signs of a broader fake peer review racket affecting many more publications.
The publisher is BioMed Central, based in the United Kingdom, which puts out 277 peer-reviewed journals. A partial list of the retracted articles suggests most of them were written by scholars at universities in China, including China Medical University, Sichuan University, Shandong University and Jiaotong University Medical School. But Jigisha Patel, associate editorial director for research integrity at BioMed Central, said it’s not “a China problem. We get a lot of robust research of China. We see this as a broader problem of how scientists are judged.”
Meanwhile, the Committee on Publication Ethics, a multidisciplinary group that includes more than 9,000 journal editors, issued a statement suggesting a much broader potential problem. The committee, it said, “has become aware of systematic, inappropriate attempts to manipulate the peer review processes of several journals across different publishers.” Those journals are now reviewing manuscripts to determine how many may need to be retracted, it said

Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus, the co-editors of Retraction Watch, a blog that tracks research integrity and first reported the BioMed Central retractions, have counted a total of 170 retractions in the past few years across several journals because of fake peer reviews.
“The problem of fake peer reviewers is affecting the whole of academic journal publishing and we are among the ranks of publishers hit by this type of fraud,” Patel of BioMed’s ethics group wrote in November. “The spectrum of ‘fakery’ has ranged from authors suggesting their friends who agree in advance to provide a positive review, to elaborate peer review circles where a group of authors agree to peer review each others’ manuscripts, to impersonating real people, and to generating completely fictitious characters. From what we have discovered amongst our journals, it appears to have reached a higher level of sophistication. The pattern we have found, where there is no apparent connection between the authors but similarities between the suggested reviewers, suggests that a third party could be behind this sophisticated fraud.”

In a blog post yesterday, Elizabeth Moylan, BioMed Central’s senior editor for research integrity, said an investigation begun last year revealed a scheme to “deceive” journal editors by suggesting “fabricated” reviewers for submitted articles. She wrote that some of the “manipulations” appeared to have been conducted by agencies that offer language-editing and submission assistance to non-English speaking authors.
“It is unclear,” she wrote, “whether the authors of the manuscripts involved were aware that the agencies were proposing fabricated reviewers on their behalf or whether authors proposed fabricated names directly themselves.”

Patel, in an interview, said the peer review reports submitted “were actually very convincing.” BioMed Central became suspicious because they spotted a pattern of unusual e-mail addresses among the reviewers that seemed “odd” for scientists working in an institution. Also odd was the fact that the same author was reviewing different topics, which did not make sense in highly specialized fields.
Ultimately, when they tracked down some of the scientists in whose names reviews were written, they found that they hadn’t written them at all. Someone else had, using the scientists’ names.
BioMed Central, acquired in 2008 by purportedly legitimate but predatory academic publisher Springer, is open access---it makes its journals available to readers online but charges authors
@  $1,755-$2,321 (£1,115-£1,475) per article. And yet, with that revenue stream, it still is unable to do the simplest verifications of its 'peer reviewers'.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Left Behind

This seems to be a good place to never go to:
 People reported seeing a man and woman traveling through McDowell County this week, snapping photographs as they drove through each town. And those people wanted to know why.
"I received a call that there was a suspicious vehicle, a light brown Volvo station wagon, Massachusetts plate, and there was a male and female in the Raysal area taking pictures of some children," says Chief Deputy, Roger Deel.
Jennifer Adkins, the mother of three kids, and a resident of Raysal, is the one who contacted Chief Deputy Deel. She also confronted the photographers, with a group of others.
Audio recording captured the encounter.You hear a McDowell resident say, "And there are no pictures of any children on there?”
“No. And you can check it, not of your kids. I can show you. Jesus Christ. We didn't stop and approach like, yeah; you guys are making us out to be like crazy pedophiles. You guys are making us out to be people that we are not,” says Marisha and Jesse Camp “Have you looked at yourself in the mirror? You all don't look like upstanding citizens," says Jennifer Adkins.
WVVA added the first person account of one of the photographers, Marisha Camp, to their online story:
My brother and I are currently on the last leg of a cross country road trip that began in California and has encompassed a number of states and communities. We love to document our travels and people we meet along the way. As a result, we were traveling through McDowell County yesterday (3/23) with cameras, telltale "you're not from around here" accents, and out of state plates. I'm not naive in regards to insular cultures and an attendant inability to understand outsiders, but a "misunderstanding" does not, CANNOT justify being held hostage and having one's life threatened. While I was happy to escape physically unscathed, I find it much harder to overcome the fear, the inescapable sense of vulnerability... the trauma of yesterday.
While traveling between Bradshaw and War, where we had planned to attend a church revival, we drove through a residential area that may have encompassed most or all of the town of Raysal. We were in this area for a few minutes, where I captured some imagery of houses and the surrounding landscape from the road. We then traveled quite some ways down the road and stopped at a gas station, where we crossed the street and interviewed and took posed portraits of several young adults.
Someone was screaming from the parking lot of the gas station, and I turned around to find a middle aged man and woman beckoning to us. Their minivan was parked right behind our car, effectively parking us in, as it were, but at the time I thought that maybe they'd accidentally bumped into our car. I began to cross the parking lot, still not entirely able to make out what they were saying, and then... Convinced that we had taken photographs of their teenaged sons, this couple had tracked us down and they were not leaving without our camera. I refused to hand it over. At this point, the woman opened the door of the minivan, pointed to a backseat, said that she had her gun right there, and we were not leaving until the police arrived. A hostile mob was beginning to gather, spurred by phone calls and the couple's loud insistence that they were just trying to protect "the kids" without having actually witnessed a crime or presented any tangible evidence of actual wrongdoing.
I spent the next forty minutes crying, shaking, and begging in every way possible for everyone to calm down. With no cell phone reception, and under threat of being beaten or shot if I tried to go into the store and use a landline, I nervously sent text after text, silently praying that somehow, against all odds, something would go through so my mother would know where I was and wouldn't spend weeks not knowing what had happened to her children.
It's important to note that photographing from a public place is not illegal, so we were being held hostage for 1. something that isn't a crime in the first place and 2. something that we had not, in fact, done.
An especially violent man with a kerchief on his head joined the mob early on, "You don't live around here. You don't need to take a picture of even a G-d damned rock. Y'all get in whatever the f-ck you're ridin..."
Wife: "No, they're not leaving until I see that camera and I see if it's got my kid's pictures on it."
Husband: "They've got pictures of our kids, they might have pictures of your kids."
Kerchief: "The man said you're not leaving. You're not leaving."
I showed the husband all of the images on both of my cameras, and while he was able to ascertain that we did not have any photos of his children, this wasn't enough, "I mean there's a five year old child in Pulaski that's been missing for two weeks." Now I felt like we'd truly passed a point of no return, that we could be accused of anything and everything and the mob was free to determine our "punishment." Everything was fair game because, to quote the wife, "Have y'all looked in the mirror? You don't look like upstanding citizens." The man in the kerchief continued to menace us, "Tell you what, you know what someone should do? Take all your f-cking cameras and beat 'em in the f-cking ground... This ain't no place to get loud. Shut up, Squeaky. I can beat you into the f-cking ground."
I was overjoyed when a state trooper finally arrived. Here was salvation. Except I'm now approaching this man with tears streaming down my face, "sir, we really need your help," and all he can say is "Have you been drinking?" As we were separated from the mob at this point, I don't know what they said to justify having held us captive for so long, but the resolution in the end was our being escorted out of the area. At no point were we given the opportunity to discuss being held hostage. In fact, we were left with a lecture about not making mean videos about the good people of West Virginia, which, while distasteful and at odds with everything we believe in, also isn't illegal.
Deliverance meets the X-files.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Germanwings: flying Breivik?

The powers that be have ruled out terrorism as a motive in the apparently deliberate crash of the Germanwings flight. The alternative explanation for deliberately flying the plane into the Alps is....we're waiting for the blanks to be filled in. It seems an extravagant method for suicide. Driving your BMW off a bridge would be just as fast and simpler. My conjecture right now (and I believe it is likely it is wrong) is that the young pilot wanted to beat Anders Breivik for the world mass murder record*. If this theory is right, we can expect the police to find a listing of mass murder incidents on the pilot's computer, and possibly some photos with the pilot echoing the pose of the Columbine shooters or a manifesto proclaiming a rationale.

*(not connected with war or genocide)

Crash of the Phoenix

How quickly a worm can turn: it looks like Phoenix, the for profit self-styled university, has lost half its students customers:
 Enrollment at America's largest for-profit university was about 460,000 students five years ago. Now it's 213,000.
 For-profit colleges only enroll roughly 12% of the country's students, but students at for-profit colleges accounted for about half of student loan defaults in 2013, according to federal data.
In 2012, Phoenix closed half of its campuses outlets.
And then there is this:
The U.S. Department of Education is so concerned about the risk that dozens of colleges pose to students and taxpayers that it has curtailed access to federal money at those institutions -- but it won’t say which ones.
Even as it pushes to make far more information about colleges available to consumers, the department is keeping hidden from public view its decisions to punish certain colleges with funding restrictions known as heightened cash monitoring.
At the end of last October, 76 colleges or universities were subject to the most stringent form of those restrictions, according to the department. Another 455 institutions, as of last August, faced a lower level of scrutiny.
But the department has refused to provide the names of those colleges because of the “competitive injury” it may cause them.
The affected institutions include both for-profit and non-profits.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tales from Pennsyltucky: anti-Muslim edition

Ain't America grand? This just happened in a neighboring town in south central Pennsyltucky Pennsylvania.
A proposed cemetery for members of the Bosniak Islamic Cultural Center was voted down for the second time Monday night, this time by the West Pennsboro Township Board of Supervisors.
The vote came after more than two hours of at-times impassioned comments from the about 120 residents who packed the township fire hall and presentations by representatives for the cultural center. Much of the discussion centered around possible contamination of groundwater from the proposed cemetery at 315 McAllister Church Road, and township Supervisor Donald Agar cited health concerns in recommending denial of the plan.
Many of the residents who spoke expressed concern about groundwater contamination, particularly given the amount of residents in the area that use well water. The center follows the Islamic custom of burying bodies without a casket.
Do I have to tell you that Bosniaks are Muslim?
 Attorney Kurt Williams of Salzmann Hughes, representing the center, said that legally, this is a “pretty straightforward project” because cemeteries are clearly permitted within the R2 zone in which the property is located. In fact, the center chose the property specifically because they wanted to comply with zoning law, he said.
But what of groundwater concerns?

Nevin Mann, President of the Pennsylvania Cemetery Cremation and Funeral Association, said casketless burials are also popular with the environmentalist “green casket” movement, and there are no health concerns with burying a body directly in the ground, he told The Sentinel earlier on Monday.
Bob Buhrig, director of Mechanicsburg-based Myers-Buhrig funeral home, expressed similar thoughts to The Sentinel.
“From everything that I’ve seen and heard and read, and based on my own expertise, I do not currently perceive any health issues with natural burial when done correctly,” Buhrig said.
Project geologist Doug Cwienk of Camp Hill-based GeoServices Ltd. offered a scientific explanation of the rock features that will prevent pathogens and nitrogen deposits from the body from contaminating water supplies, and described methods the center can use to eliminate any potential concerns.
Mann said there are no state laws regulating the burial of bodies without an enclosed casket. There are some burial regulations enforced by various state agencies, including a requirement that bodies must be placed at least 2 feet within the ground.
Based on an agreement with the West Pennsboro Township’s planning commission, all burials at the proposed cemetery would be at least 5 feet below the ground, center representatives said.
Another pertinent fact. There are several cemeteries near the location of the proposed site. Not to mention truck terminals and trailer parks.
Several neighboring residents, however, said groundwater was not their only problem with the cemetery. They said the cemetery would decrease their property values, and they themselves simply don’t want a cemetery next door.
“If I’m standing at my kitchen sink, pouring a glass of water, I’ll be looking directly into where this burial ground is, and it’s a mind thing,” said resident Bill Sweet, whose land borders the property.
Many residents said their concerns had nothing to do with the center’s Islamic religion. However, others did reference the center’s religion, saying it was a “slap in the face” to local veterans or asking that the center follow typical American burial customs.
Yes, it's a mind thing: it's a shame there is such a lack of it.

Forever war: tenth of never edition

No surprises here. Too many stake holders have too much money at stake, plus too many military officers need to get their ticket punched.
Mr. Obama has pledged to withdraw all but about 1,000 troops by the time he leaves office at the beginning of 2017. Current plans call for the 10,000 troops now in the country to be reduced by half in the months ahead.
But Mr. Ghani is hoping to keep those troops in his country as long as possible.
Well, duh. Of course he wants US troops to stay---they drive the money train enriching government leaders, plus what puppet president doesn't want his own personal army?