Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Notes from the kakistocracy*: Worse to come?

After the election last November, I worried that the Trump regime would end in smoking pile of radioactive rubble. Nothing that has happened since has erased that vision, but now I am worrying that the smoking pile of radioactive rubble won't be the end, but only the middle, with worse to follow---What is that worse? Human sacrifice? Cannibalism? I find myself pushing at the limits of what I allow myself to imagine. Hysterical? Hyperbolic? I hope so. But think: Trump and his supporters have already demonstrated their willingness to sacrifice others to feed their endless resentment---how else can you explain the thirst to deny millions of people access to medical care? Hunger to exile 11 million people, workers, tax payers, community stalwarts, students, members of the US military---American in everything except legal status?

*(I have switched from "kakocracy" to "kakistocracy" since the internet tells me that the former is the dated usage. The meaning is the same, and alas, continues to be all too apt.)

Monday, October 9, 2017

Death threats in academia

Articles in scholarly journals at most put folks at risk of being bored to death. They are not supposed to trigger actual death threats.
Bruce Gilley’s eyebrow-raising essay in favor of colonialism has been scrubbed from the scholarly record, but not for any of the reasons cited by its critics. (Among them: that it was historically inaccurate, that it ignored the vast literature on colonialism and colonial-era atrocities, that it was rejected by three peer reviewers, and that Gilley himself requested it be pulled.)
Rather, the article has been withdrawn because the editor of Third World Quarterly, the journal in which it appeared, has received credible threats of violence. That’s according to a note posted online by journal's publisher, Taylor & Francis.
“Following a number of complaints, Taylor & Francis conducted a thorough investigation into the peer-review process on this article,” the note reads. “Whilst this clearly demonstrated the essay had undergone double-blind peer review, in line with the journal's editorial policy, the journal editor has subsequently received serious and credible threats of personal violence.”
The threats are linked with the publication of Gilley's piece, the statement says, and as the publisher, “we must take this seriously. Taylor & Francis has a strong and supportive duty of care to all our academic editorial teams, and this is why we are withdrawing this essay.”
The journal’s London-based editor, Shahid Qadir, said that the essay, like all articles, did in fact go through double-blind peer review. Yet soon even Gilley asked for the article to be withdrawn, saying in a statement, “I regret the pain and anger that it has caused for many people.”
Taylor & Francis later said it was reviewing the matter in a “rigorous, methodical and measured way,” according to guidelines established by the international Committee on Publication Ethics. Those guidelines don’t prescribe one particular editorial process but do emphasize transparency in procedures. Through weeks of controversy, the publisher had not removed the article. Now that's changed.
Taylor & Francis did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday, but its most recent statement about the essay’s withdrawal suggests that review process is complete. Yet the rationale for pulling the article has some concerned, since it seemingly legitimizes threats as a way of getting controversial journal articles withdrawn.
Qadir, who, like Gilley, did not respond to requests for comment, is far from the only academic to face death threats for their speech or actions in recent months. Of that trend, Wilson said that colleges, universities and police departments “need to make a much more concerted effort to identify people who make actual death threats and prosecute them.”
This is a very worrisome trend. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Notes from the Trump kakocracy: NYC edition

Ivanka and Don Jr. narrowly escaped criminal indictment in New York for defrauding investors, and their narrow escape seems to have been lubricated accompanied by bribes campaign contributions from their lawyer to the DA.
This article is a collaboration between WNYC, ProPublica and The New Yorker.
In the spring of 2012, Donald Trump’s two eldest children, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr., found themselves in a precarious legal position. For two years, prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office had been building a criminal case against them for misleading prospective buyers of units in the Trump SoHo, a hotel and condo development that was failing to sell. Despite the best efforts of the siblings’ defense team, the case had not gone away. An indictment seemed like a real possibility. The evidence included emails from the Trumps making clear that they were aware they were using inflated figures about how well the condos were selling to lure buyers.
In one email, according to four people who have seen it, the Trumps discussed how to coordinate false information they had given to prospective buyers. In another, according to a person who read the emails, they worried that a reporter might be onto them. In yet another, Donald, Jr. spoke reassuringly to a broker who was concerned about the false statements, saying that nobody would ever find out, because only people on the email chain or in the Trump Organization knew about the deception, according to a person who saw the email.
There was “no doubt” that the Trump children “approved, knew of, agreed to, and intentionally inflated the numbers to make more sales,” one person who saw the emails told us. “They knew it was wrong.”
In 2010, when the Major Economic Crimes Bureau of the D.A.’s office opened an investigation of the siblings, the Trump Organization had hired several top New York criminal defense lawyers to represent Donald, Jr. and Ivanka. These attorneys had met with prosecutors in the bureau several times. They conceded that their clients had made exaggerated claims, but argued that the overstatements didn’t amount to criminal misconduct. Still, the case dragged on. In a meeting with the defense team, Donald Trump, Sr., expressed frustration that the investigation had not been closed. Soon after, his longtime personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz entered the case.
Kasowitz, who by then had been the elder Donald Trump’s attorney for a decade, is primarily a civil litigator with little experience in criminal matters. But in 2012, Kasowitz donated $25,000 to the re-election campaign of Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., making Kasowitz one of Vance’s largest donors. Kasowitz decided to bypass the lower-level prosecutors and went directly to Vance to ask that the investigation be dropped.
On May 16, 2012, Kasowitz visited Vance’s office at One Hogan Place in downtown Manhattan — a faded edifice made famous by the television show, “Law & Order.” Dan Alonso, the chief assistant district attorney, and Adam Kaufmann, the chief of the investigative division, were also at the meeting, but no one from the Major Economic Crimes Bureau attended. Kasowitz did not introduce any new arguments or facts during his session. He simply repeated the arguments that the other defense lawyers had been making for months.
Ultimately, Vance overruled his own prosecutors. Three months after the meeting, he told them to drop the case. Kasowitz subsequently boasted to colleagues about representing the Trump children, according to two people. He said that the case was “really dangerous,” one person said, and that it was “amazing I got them off.” (Kasowitz denied making such a statement.)
Vance defended his decision. “I did not at the time believe beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime had been committed,” he told us. “I had to make a call and I made the call, and I think I made the right call.”
Just before the 2012 meeting, Vance’s campaign had returned Kasowitz’s $25,000 contribution, in keeping with what Vance describes as standard practice when a donor has a case before his office. Kasowitz “had no influence and his contributions had no influence whatsoever on my decision-making in the case,” Vance said.
But less than six months after the D.A.’s office dropped the case, Kasowitz made an even larger donation to Vance’s campaign, and helped raise more from others—eventually, a total of more than $50,000. After being asked about these donations as part of the reporting for this article—more than four years after the fact—Vance said he now plans to give back Kasowitz’s second contribution, too. “I don’t want the money to be a millstone around anybody’s neck, including the office’s,” he said.
The Trump spawn were kakcrocrats long before they invaded the white house. There's much more detail. Read or listen to the whole story here.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Homeless academics

I am well known among my colleagues for cautioning students who are chomping at the bit to apply to graduate school in philosophy and pursue and academic career that their "academic career" will probably end up being poorly paid adjunct teaching which could leave them permanently impoverished and spending more than half their waking time driving from one low paid adjunct gig to another in a 15 year old car. But I have never told them (and it didn't occur to me) they might end up living in that car, or turning tricks for extra cash.
There is nothing she would rather do than teach.But after supplementing her career with tutoring and proofreading, the university lecturer decided to go to remarkable lengths to make her career financially viable.
She first opted for her side gig during a particularly rough patch, several years ago, when her course load was suddenly cut in half and her income plunged, putting her on the brink of eviction. “In my mind I was like, I’ve had one-night stands, how bad can it be?” she said. “And it wasn’t that bad.”
The wry but weary-sounding middle-aged woman, who lives in a large US city and asked to remain anonymous to protect her reputation, is an adjunct instructor, meaning she is not a full-time faculty member at any one institution and strings together a living by teaching individual courses, in her case at multiple colleges.
“I feel committed to being the person who’s there to help millennials, the next generation, go on to become critical thinkers,” she said. “And I’m really good at it, and I really like it. And it’s heartbreaking to me it doesn’t pay what I feel it should.”
Sex work is one of the more unusual ways that adjuncts have avoided living in poverty, and perhaps even homelessness. A quarter of part-time college academics (many of whom are adjuncts, though it’s not uncommon for adjuncts to work 40 hours a week or more) are said to be enrolled in public assistance programs such as Medicaid.
Recent reports have revealed the extent of poverty among professors, but the issue is longstanding. Several years ago, it was thrust into the headlines in dramatic fashion when Mary-Faith Cerasoli, an adjunct professor of Romance languages in her 50s, revealed she was homeless and protested outside the New York state education department.
“We take a kind of vow of poverty to continue practicing our profession,” Debra Leigh Scott, who is working on a documentary about adjuncts, said in an e-mail. “We do it because we are dedicated to scholarship, to learning, to our students and to our disciplines.”
But it is hard to do scholarship, much less access it, teaching 6 courses a semester at 3 different campuses and struggling to pay the rent.
 Homelessness is a genuine prospect for adjuncts. When Ellen Tara James-Penney finishes work, teaching English composition and critical thinking at San Jose State University in Silicon Valley, her husband, Jim, picks her up. They have dinner and drive to a local church, where Jim pitches a tent by the car and sleeps there with one of their rescue dogs. In the car, James-Penney puts the car seats down and sleeps with another dog. She grades papers using a headlamp.

Who benefits?
Adjuncting has grown as funding for public universities has fallen by more than a quarter between 1990 and 2009. Private institutions also recognize the allure of part-time professors: generally they are cheaper than full-time staff, don’t receive benefits or support for their personal research, and their hours can be carefully limited so they do not teach enough to qualify for health insurance.
This is why adjuncts have been called “the fast-food workers of the academic world”: among labor experts adjuncting is defined as “precarious employment”, a growing category that includes temping and sharing-economy gigs such as driving for Uber. An American Sociological Association task force focusing on precarious academic jobs, meanwhile, has suggested that “faculty employment is no longer a stable middle-class career”.
These academics deserve better. Their students deserve better. The exploitation of adjuncts has resurrected the Victorian trope of the scholar as poor as a church mouse, only 19th century church mice had a stable place to sleep and a steady diet of crumbs.

 Freed from a limited, local point of view, scholarship may have no home, but scholars should.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Licensed to drive: Saudi women

How nice. A bunch of men have decided to let women drive without being beaten or imprisoned:
Women in Saudi Arabia will be permitted to drive in the kingdom, according to a royal decree issued in Riyadh on Tuesday that overturned one of the most widely criticized restrictions on human rights.
The decree, signed by King Salman and broadcast on state television, said that the “majority of senior scholars” had deemed the change legitimate under Sharia law, and ordered applicable government ministries to make whatever legal adjustments are required to implement it by next June.
The change aligns Saudi Arabia with virtually every other country in the world, including other conservative monarchies in the Persian Gulf region that have long allowed more freedom for women.
It was unclear how the permission to drive would relate to other remaining restrictions, including laws requiring women to be accompanied by a male “guardian” when leaving their homes.
I should try harder to avoid snark. This is a major, positive step for hundreds of thousands of Saudi women.  Activists have been pushing for this for years, and paying a heavy price.
One of the activists, Manal al-Sharif, was arrested in May of 2011 as a grassroots Saudi campaign to overturn the ban gathered momentum, and spent nine days in prison. “As a result of my protest, I was threatened – imams wanted me to be publicly lashed – and monitored and harassed,” Sharif wrote in a first-person account of her arrest and exile from Saudi Arabia, that appeared in June in the New York Times.
Other activists also faced long term harassment for defying the ban. Loujain al-Hathloul, who was detained for 73 days in 2014 after attempting to drive into Saudi Arabia from the UAE, was rearrested earlier this year and held for several days. Shortly before her arrest, she said in an interview with the Post that she had not tried to drive since her arrest three years ago.
On Tuesday, following the news that the ban had been overturned, Sharif, in a Twitter post, wrote that “Saudi Arabia will never be the same again. The rain begins with a single drop.”
Now, let the rain fall on other communities of restricted women.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

GOP sneak attack on Americans

The republicans are relaunching their attack on Americans, this time using stealth tactics, trying to fly their most recent iteration of Obamacare repeal under the radar.
With only two weeks left to move forward with a partisan health care repeal bill, some Senate Republicans are trying one last time to rip coverage from millions of Americans. Their latest effort, introduced by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA), would make devastating cuts to Medicaid and cut and eventually eliminate funding that helps people in the individual insurance market afford coverage, leading to at least 32 million fewer people having coverage after 2026.
Those who did not lose coverage would see their premiums increase significantly. In the first year, premiums would increase by 20 percent. But the increases would be even greater for people with pre-existing conditions because the bill would let insurers in the individual market charge a premium markup based on health status and history, which could increase their premiums by tens of thousands of dollars.
How much could premiums increase? Here's one estimate:

Most republicans in the house and senate are bound and determined to pass this abomination, before it can be reviewed by committees, and scored by the CBO; debate on it will be restricted to seconds. The senate republicans are reported to be one vote away from passage.

Question for discussion: to which circle of hell would Dante consing proponents of this legislation?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Beall's List Post-Mortem

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a illuminating and depressing post-mortem on the demise of Beall's list (alas, behind a paywall). If you can access it, you will find it well worth your time to read. Here's a taste:
Why, after toiling so hard for five years — and creating a resource cherished by scientists wary of exploitative publishers — did the University of Colorado at Denver’s Jeffrey Beall abruptly give it all up? Who, or what, forced his hand?
There are several prime suspects:
  • His fellow university librarians, whom Mr. Beall faults for overpromoting open-access publishing models.
  • A well-financed Swiss publisher, angry that Mr. Beall had had the temerity to put its journals on his list.
  • His own university, perhaps fatigued by complaints from the publisher, the librarians, or others.
  • The broader academic community — universities, funders of research, publishers, and fellow researchers, many of whom long understood the value of Mr. Beall’s list but did little to help him out.
  • Mr. Beall himself, who failed to recognize that a bit of online shaming wouldn’t stop many scientists from making common cause with journals that just don’t ask too many questions.
In the end, all played important roles in the demise of Beall’s List. On one level, Mr. Beall’s saga is just another tale of warring personalities. On another, though, it points to a broader problem in publishing: Universities still have a long way to go to create systems for researchers to share and collaborate with one another, evaluate one another’s work, and get credit for what really matters in research.
The second and third items are entangled---the Swiss publisher, Frontiers, headed by Frederick Fenter, executive editor in charge of open-access journals at Frontiers, complained to Beall's university:
When that didn’t win a reversal, Mr. Fenter traveled from Lausanne, Switzerland, to Denver in December 2015 to personally urge University of Colorado leaders to punish Mr. Beall. He accused the university of being "directly implicated in this absurd and slanderous action," and demanded an investigation of Mr. Beall.
The following month, the university accepted Frontiers’ demand and opened a research-misconduct case against the librarian. Mr. Beall responded almost immediately by killing his list.
The university took seven months to complete its review, which posed for Mr. Beall the threat of dismissal, even with his tenured status. After years of pushing back dozens of complaints, the university finally agreed to accept the Frontiers plea for a formal investigation into research misconduct on the grounds that Mr. Beall’s scholarship was "unethical and flawed," said Ms. Williams, the university spokeswoman. "The Frontiers complaint was unique in its composition, length, detail, and complexity," she said.
Ms. Williams said she could not comment on details of the investigative process, beyond confirming it ended in recent weeks with "no findings" or action taken against the professor. The experience nevertheless had its effect, leaving Mr. Beall unwilling to resume his list. Mr. Fenter had no comment on behalf of Frontiers.
The university initially served as a much more welcoming home for the project, which Mr. Beall began in 2012 after years of enduring the "spam" solicitations sent to researchers by the fast-expanding number of open-access publishers using an author-pays model. He chose the term "predatory," feeling such journals were victimizing smart scientists who just didn’t have the time to weed through mounds of solicitations to find quality suitors for their work.
"For a very long time, his university supported him," said Mr. Witwer.
But that tolerant attitude began to turn, Mr. Beall and Mr. Witwer said, as the list grew, case-by-case decisions became tougher, and better-financed publishers, such as Frontiers, more directly confronted him and his university.
The fifth point reveals another, disturbing feature of fake academic publishing---if it is predatory, as Beall labeled it, who is preying on whom?
When a scientist elects to use a "predatory" publisher, who, if anyone, is the real predator? It may be cynical to admit, said Brian A. Nosek, co-founder and director of the Center for Open Science, but if researchers choose a low-quality journal "and receive the rewards that they desire from publishing, then nothing predatory occurred."
A researcher’s claim to victimhood could be stronger, for instance, if he or she had genuine reason to expect a quality peer-review process but did not receive one, Mr. Nosek said. A predatory act also could occur, he said, if researchers unexpectedly found that their universities "actually care about quality and integrity of peer review," and deny career rewards to those published in poor journals.
Just last week, a research team at the University of Ottawa laid out evidence suggesting that while many low-quality journals are based in developing nations, it’s often scientists in wealthier nations who agree to publish in them. It’s hard to tell how many of those scientists are being genuinely misled, said one of the study’s authors, Kelly D. Cobey, an adjunct professor of epidemiology and public health at the University of Ottawa.
It seems more than merely possible that the explosive growth of the fake academic publishing industry is fed by the need of researchers to lard their cv's with published results in order to garner another research grant or position. 

Meanwhile, an anonymous European researcher has reposted Beall's list here,though due to lack of time and resources, it is unlikely to be curated and maintained the way Beall did.


Monday, September 11, 2017

Spam from scam journal: Omics edition

The Omics publication: Journal of Biosensors and Bioelectronics is asking me, and anyone else who reads its spam addressed to Dear Researcher, to submit a (or rather 'your') paper for its upcoming issue. I am not even sure I know what a biosensor is. I could send them my paper on Parfit's view that suffering makes every situation worse (I argue that he's wrong). but I suspect that whatever they are, biosensors do not play a role in my counterexamples.