Thursday, May 26, 2016

Infectious stupidity: Indiana edition

The epidemic of infectious stupidity is spreading around the US, particularly in the interior states under GOP control.. Look what is happening in Indiana.
 Indiana University on Wednesday challenged a new state abortion law in federal court, arguing it restricts academic freedom by criminalizing the acquisition or transfer of fetal tissue used for research.
This abortion law, similar to one making its way through Ohio, and following a model anti-abortion bill drafted by a right to life group, AUL, and discussed at an ALEC conference, requires the burial or cremation of all fetal remains, and prohibits transfers or acquisitions for other purposes.
The Indiana law in question was approved as House Bill 1337 in March, and it goes into effect at the beginning of July. Its provisions include requiring miscarried and aborted fetuses to be buried or cremated. Other parts of the law prohibit individuals from acquiring, receiving, selling or transferring fetal tissue. It makes the transfer or collection of fetal tissue a felony punishable by up to six years in prison.
Supporters of the law have argued it is a moral move affirming the value of human life. But IU leaders claim it leaves the university in an untenable position. The university legally obtained fetal tissue for important research, they said. Yet the law would leave it trapped with that tissue and unable to transfer it, putting its researchers at legal risk.
The law would also prohibit any researchers from obtaining additional fetal tissue for future needs.
Indiana is arguing the law is unconstitutionally vague and burdensome. The university’s complaint also said the law violates the First Amendment academic freedom rights of Debomoy Lahiri, a professor of psychiatry and a primary investigator for its Stark Neurosciences Research Institute in Indianapolis. IU and Lahiri conduct Alzheimer’s disease research using mixed cell cultures and components like RNA and DNA derived from fetal tissue.
Ah, but all lives matter, even microscopic ones, says Indiana GOP governor Mike Pence.
Indiana Governor Mike Pence did not immediately return a request for comment.
But Pence, a Republican, praised the act when he signed it. The governor called the legislation a “comprehensive pro-life measure that affirms the value of all human life.” The act contains a number of provisions focused on abortion but not directly on fetal tissue. It prohibits performing an abortion if a provider knows a woman is seeking the procedure solely because of a fetus’s ethnicity or sex, or because a fetus could be diagnosed with a disability.
“I believe that a society can be judged by how it deals with its most vulnerable -- the aged, the infirm, the disabled and the unborn,” Pence said in a statement in March. “HEA 1337 will ensure the dignified final treatment of the unborn and prohibits abortions that are based only on the unborn child's sex, race, color, national origin, ancestry or disability, including Down syndrome.”
Yes, all lives matter to Pence, governor of a state which in 2014 was one of the worst states for infant mortality, ranking 45th out of 50. I hesitate to get all judge-y, as the kids say, but Indiana under Pence is not going to be evaluated well given Pence's own standard.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

wtf philosophy: more on Pogge

More on the clusterfuck that is l'affaire Pogge, from Daily Nous pointing us to Huffington Post. Leiter has some stuff as well.

Apparently, Pogge blames his heart attack on the legal action against him.
“I remember the heart attack vividly,” Pogge told HuffPost on Tuesday. “Its proximate cause was an article I read. The article convinced me that Olivarius could just write anything they like to all my students, former students and anyone they choose even if they know it to be false (as their letters were). There was no recourse, no way to make them stop.”
This is just stupid, too stupid for a professional philosopher who must know the difference between temporal and causal relationships. It gets worse. In the  HuffPost article, we also learn that he filed his complaint against the law firm representing Fernanda Lopez Aguila, the student who complained to Yale about Pogge's sex harassment and assault.
A few months after hearing from Olivarius, Pogge filed his complaint. “The behaviors attributed to me go fundamentally against what I believe, teach and write about,” he wrote in the filing. “By the end of this summer I suffered a heart attack with my [primary care physician] commenting that I am the very last person he would have deemed at risk. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, (never have), I am not overweight (143 lbs), I have not owned a car for decade (doing everything by bicycle), and my cholesterol on the day of the heart attack was in the 160s.
This is stupid on steroids. Good numbers and health habits lower the probability for heart disease, but do not bring it to zero. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Fake dissertations: Russian edition

Years ago, I recall reading about endemic academic cheating in the Post-Soviet world---students routinely paid for grades, corruption partly incentivized by low teacher salaries. This Slate piece updates us on new forms of academic corruption and perhaps entrepreneurship: plagiarized dissertations.
In all these cases, the alleged fraud was exposed by members of a volunteer organization that calls itself “Dissernet”—the “website” Naryshkin referred to so dismissively. Started in early 2013 by a handful of scientists and journalists, the group has undertaken the task of identifying and publicly shaming government functionaries, academic administrators, and members of Russia’s so-called elite who allegedly hold advanced degrees they did not earn through legitimate means. Using software that looks for sections of text that resemble previously published work, Dissernet has, to date, identified roughly 5,600 suspected plagiarists and published damning reports on about 1,300 of them. In an exposé posted earlier this year, Dissernet showed that 1 in 9 members of the Russian State Duma—the parliamentary body that Naryshkin presides over—had received their diplomas using dissertations that contained large portions of other people’s work and that had, most likely, been purchased from ghostwriters.
Andrei Rostovtsev, a physicist who co-founded Dissernet and developed its plagiarism-detection software, explained to me how the group catches its quarry. “Currently we’re doing doctors,” he said. “The machine is constantly working, and it chooses suspicious cases. So, we see from the state library that roughly 100,000 doctors have defended theses in the last 15 years. The machine chooses a paper from this digital bank, analyzes it for overlaps, and if there are too many matches, it flags it for us. Then our volunteers examine it by hand. And this process is running 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Some splendid examples:
Some of the intellectual theft Dissernet has identified is comic in its brazenness and absurdity. Duma member Igor Igoshin allegedly earned his economics degree by turning someone else’s paper on the Russian chocolate industry into a thesis on meat; the dissertation replaced every mention of “chocolate” with “beef,” “dark chocolate” with “home-grown beef,” and “white chocolate” with “imported beef.” All numbers, charts, and analysis were preserved in their original form. More recently, Dissernet revealed that an oncologist named Yuri Tsarapkin had handed in a medical article about breast cancer that was adapted—data and all—from someone else’s paper on stomach cancer. That paper, which was presented as a study of human subjects, turned out to have been plagiarized from yet another source: a study of cancer in dogs and rats.
While academic fraud exists all over the world, the pervasiveness of the deception in Russia is unparalleled, as is the extent to which it is tolerated. As MIT historian Loren Graham points out, even Vladimir Putin has been accused, in a 2006 investigation by the Brookings Institution, of plagiarizing parts of his Ph.D. thesis in economics. It has not had much effect on the Russian president’s career. “The fact that that had no resonance—doesn’t that sort of tell you what’s going on?” said Graham, who specializes in the history of Russian science. “If Putin can get away with it, it’s a blessing for others to do the same thing.”
Why so much fraud?
The prevalence of academic fraud in Russia is fueled in part by the structure of the country’s higher education system. Unlike their American counterparts, would-be academics in Russia can receive doctoral degrees without doing any substantial coursework, as long as they convince a “dissertation board” to approve their theses. These dissertation boards exist inside universities, where they are organized by discipline and staffed by faculty members; there are several thousand of them throughout the country. “If it’s a big university, they might have 10 of these boards, each one devoted to a different academic field—one for European history, one for Russian history, one for philology, one for French language, one for philosophy, and so on,” said Parkhomenko.
Over the past 25 years many of these boards have become corrupt, with faculty members and academic advisers taking bribes in exchange for rubber-stamping obviously shoddy, or stolen, work, according to Osipian, who is not a member of Dissernet. “Everyone wants to get his cut,” he said. “You bought a dissertation, fine, but you still have to pay the people on the board to let this dissertation go through. At these universities, everyone needs money—they are all overworked and underpaid.”
Corrupt dissertation boards, according to Zayakin, are the “core” of the supply chain for academic fraud, and some of them “have effectively become places where fake degrees are manufactured.” But what really makes the system hum is the thriving marketplace of dissertation-writing firms, which often masquerade as mere academic consultancies, that broker deals for buyers. For the most part, these firms do their business out in the open and are easy to find by looking up “dissertation for order” on Google or the Russian search engine Yandex. One representative outfit sports a user-friendly website featuring a picture of a smart-looking man in glasses and offering dissertations for the bargain price of 100,000 rubles (about $1,500). Your order can be ready in as little as 30 days. Customer reviews promise excellent outcomes: “Oleg” reports that the dissertation he received from the company was “perfectly done” and was approved by every expert who examined it. “I couldn’t have done it this well myself,” he avows.
 Underemployed Ph.D's worldwide can (and let's be real---some already have) seize the opportunity to monetize their expertise in the fake academic writing market. Not only can you write a dissertation for a customer, you can write fake journal articles to stuff into the citations of the fake dissertation. Hell, you can start a line of fake journals to publish the fake articles for citation in the fake dissertations. And you can scale up---once you have developed a good template or two, you can use it for multiple dissertations, just changing key terms along the way. With your network of fellow underemployed Ph.D's, you can franchise the operation, and with some of you still teaching, you can market your product (everything from dissertations to plain old term papers) to your students.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

*sigh* : Pogge responds (with update)

Daily Nous has more on the Pogge matter, including a response from Pogge and of course, discussion. For my part, this all makes me feel too tired to do anything more than *sigh* , and to wonder whether the facility with clever reasoning so prized among contemporary philosophers can turn into a convenient facile cleverness able to rationalize anything, including serial sexual exploitation, as justified.

(update): Yale Daily News has a fuller response from Pogge and further reporting.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

WTF philosophy: Pogge edition

*sigh* Daily Nous summarizes and discusses the Buzz Feed story that chronicles allegations spanning decades, schools and women claiming Yale global ethics superstar Thomas Pogge sexually assaulted and harassed them. Here's what the Yale Daily News says:
The Buzzfeed story focuses on the experience of Fernanda Lopez Aguilar ’10, a former student of Pogge’s who accused him of sexual harassment and assault in 2010 and formally filed a complaint with Yale in 2011.
In October 2015, Lopez Aguilar also filed a complaint with the federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, alleging that Yale violated Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination, by not properly handling or investigating her allegations. Her complaint also accuses Yale of violating Title VI, which prohibits race discrimination, as it alleges that Pogge targeted foreign women of color unfamiliar with the United States.
In a Friday email to the News, Lopez Aguilar reaffirmed her allegations and added that she has had to take on a “mother’s role” in protecting women who attend Yale in light of her own experience.
The News has obtained dozens of documents and hundreds of pages of legal affidavits, emails and official filings — almost exclusively provided by Lopez Aguilar — related to these allegations. Those documents shed light on the University’s response to her claims, as well as onto the interactions between Pogge and Lopez Aguilar.
Pogge has vigorously denied any wrongdoing over the five-year process. He did not respond to an email from the News sent Tuesday night.
According to the documents, Lopez Aguilar claimed that when Pogge was her senior thesis adviser, and during the summer after her graduation, Pogge conducted himself in ways that created “a sexually charged environment.” He then refused to honor an alleged agreement to have her work in a paid capacity at his Global Justice program, a Yale initiative founded and directed by Pogge that works on the relationship between public health and poverty. According to Lopez Aguilar, Pogge’s refusal was an act of professional retaliation after she rebuffed his advances.
At the time, Yale found “substantial evidence” that Pogge engaged in “unprofessional conduct.”
“Pogge created an intimate and unprofessional atmosphere [with Lopez Aguilar],” the University’s adjudicative panel wrote in 2011. “We understand why some of this behavior may have made [Lopez Aguilar] confused, anxious or uncomfortable, and given the unequal power of the professor and his student, trainee or prospective employee, we understand why [Lopez Aguilar] may have had difficulty expressing any discomfort. In sum, we question [Pogge’s] judgment, and we note his failure to exercise his professional authority responsibly.”
However, the panel did not find Pogge guilty of sexual harassment, nor did it find that professional retaliation had occurred. The only infraction the panel found was that Pogge had misused Yale stationary by drafting a letter to help Lopez Aguilar secure housing at the Taft Apartments. The panel recommended that then-Provost Peter Salovey write a letter of reprimand for this infraction that would remain in Pogge’s employment file. Salovey approved these recommendations on November 19, 2011.[my bolding]
Since then, and after reading the anonymously authored Thought Catalog piece chronicling a similar story involving Pogge, Lopez Aguilar has taken further legal steps, filing a federal civil rights complaint.
However, the brief did contain legal affidavits from professors at other U.S. institutions that describe a previous history of sexual misconduct by Pogge.
The affidavits, which were disclosed to the News against the authors’ wishes, reveal that Pogge was accused of sexual harassment in the mid-1990s while he was a faculty member at Columbia. As a result of the accusations, Pogge was barred from entering the philosophy building whenever his alleged victim had classes there. According to one philosophy professor cited in the affidavits, Yale was aware of these events when it hired Pogge in 2008.
Buzzfeed also wrote that a Ph.D. student at a European university accused Pogge of using career opportunities to begin a sexual relationship in 2014.

Despite the accusations, Pogge has remained at Yale, teaching Introduction to Political Philosophy in fall 2015 and two seminars this past spring.
Good to know that Yale continues to stand behind Prof. Grabby McHandsie, (insert sarcasm indicator here) but it would be genuinely gratifying to see more philosophers, following the example of Nussbaum and others in turning away from him.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Oklahoma not OK

You're not doing fine, Oklahoma:
The Oklahoma Legislature on Thursday passed a bill that would effectively ban abortions by subjecting doctors who perform them to felony charges and revoking their medical licenses — the first legislation of its kind.
In a year in which states have tried to outlaw abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy, to ban the main surgical method used in the second trimester and to shut down abortion clinics with onerous regulations, Oklahoma’s bill is the most far-reaching.
The measure, which passed the Republican-dominated Senate by a vote of 33 to 12, will be presented to Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican, who will have five days to sign it, veto it or allow it to take effect without her signature.
If it becomes law, it is certain to face a quick challenge in state or federal court. And because the Supreme Court has consistently ruled that women have a right to obtain abortions until the fetus is viable outside the womb, legal experts say, it will soon be declared unconstitutional.
And until then, perhaps Oklahomans can get abortions in Texas---no, wait---
Oklahoma’s proposal to criminalize abortion may be the most stringent, but it is one of many new measures that continue in conservative states. This year, South Dakota joined 12 other states in banning abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy, with a similar bill in South Carolina awaiting the signature of Gov. Nikki R. Haley.
Alabama, Mississippi and West Virginia have passed laws to ban the use of the second-trimester surgical technique even though courts in Oklahoma and elsewhere have previously overturned such laws.
Texas regulations that could force a majority of the state’s abortion clinics to close are the subject of a major Supreme Court case. The rules require that doctors have admitting privileges at local hospitals and that abortion clinics meet the stringent building and staffing standards of ambulatory surgery centers. The decision, expected in June, could have major effects on access to abortion in several other states.
One republican state senator opposing the bill summed it up succinctly:
The Senate’s only physician, Sen. Ervin Yen, R-Oklahoma City, called the measure “insane” and said he was certain it would be successfully challenged in court.
Update: Fallin vetoed the bill.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Our Saudi allies

From her refuge in Canada, where she and her children found safe haven from the murderous clerics in Saudi Arabia, Ensaf Haidar, wife of blogger Raif Haidar, currently imprisoned in Saudi Arabia, essentially for blogging, and sentenced to 1000 lashes, essentially a slow death penalty by public torture, recounts her experience of her husband's first fifty lashes.
It wasn’t hard to find. By now some of my Facebook friends were referring to it. It also appeared immediately on YouTube when you searched for “Raif Badawi” and “lashes”. It was as if I was being operated by remote control. With trembling hands I clicked on the video to set it in motion. I saw Raif’s delicate frame from behind, in the middle of a big crowd of people. He was wearing a white shirt and dark trousers, and his hair hung down to his shoulders. He looked thin. His hands were cuffed in front of his body. I couldn’t see his face. The men around him were wearing the usual white gowns and shouting “Allahu Akbar”.
The man himself could not be made out in the video. But I saw clearly that he was striking Raif with all his might. Raif’s head was bowed. In very quick succession he took the blows all over the back of his body: he was lashed from shoulders to calves, while the men around him clapped and uttered pious phrases. It was too much for me. It’s indescribable, watching something like that being done to the person you love. I felt the pain they were inflicting on Raif as if it was my own.
The men I had seen in the video might as well have put me in a square and flogged me. But worst of all was the feeling of helplessness. I sat on my sofa, wrapped my arms around my legs and wept. I don’t know how long I sat there for. The phone rang several times, but I didn’t answer. How was Raif now, I wondered. How severe were the wounds that he had suffered from this brutal abuse? Had they broken his bones? The violence of the blows almost made me suspect as much. Did he get medical treatment for his wounds? If only I could have done something for him!
For almost a week we heard nothing more about Raif. Then all of a sudden we received the call we were so desperate for. If I’m not mistaken it was a Thursday again when Raif was allowed to call us. His voice was weak, but he was trying to make it sound firm. “All OK where you are? How are you and the children?” he asked. I immediately started to cry. “But Ensaf,” he said soothingly. “You’re not going to weep in front of the children?” “How are you?” I sniffed. “Are you in great pain?” “It’s all fine. The wounds heal slowly.” “Are you receiving medical treatment?” “Yes, a doctor examined me. He gave me a note saying that I’m not yet fit enough to be whipped again.” “Thank God,” I said. Even if it didn’t tell me anything good about Raif’s physical state, at the same time it was positive news: at least this week they wouldn’t be torturing him anymore. He couldn’t tell me how things would go after that. “Raif,” I said, “the whole world is talking about your fate.” I took a deep breath. “The children know about it, too.” Again the tears came. “There was nothing I could do about it. Believe me, I would rather have spared them all that too.”
This sentence is not survivable. If the Saudi's whip him again, he could die from what amounts to being flayed alive, or he could heal up enough to die on the third of fourth round. So far, the Saudi authorities continue to postpone the second flogging, due to expressions of international outrage, but they haven't rescinded the sentence.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Spam from fake academic publisher IOSR

Today, along with a number of my faculty colleagues in various departments, I was spammed by the splendidly named International Organization for Scientific Research, a fake academic publishing outfit previously unknown to me but well known to Beall,who also posted about it several years ago.

On the positive side, the spam email soliciting papers to its many and various journals (listed, in the email, under the heading, "List of Journal") does promise notice of acceptance of submitted papers ten days after submission, a time frame which presumably includes the 'blind peer review' it mentions. Publication of today's submissions is by June 10. There is no mention of a rejection, or a 'revise and resubmit', but we can imagine that the submitted papers are of such quality to make those outcomes irrelevant.