Junk publishers threaten what we know

Most of what we know is not from our day-to-day experience. If I were to trust my intuition, I would believe that the Earth is flat. I depend on others who have studied our planet to inform me.

imge: University of Phoenix Research Hub

The only way we can separate fake news from genuine knowledge is through the meticulous investigations of others. Regrettably, junk publishers give me reason to doubt the reliability of what should be indisputable.

Driven by the dictum of “publish or perish,” otherwise honest scholars cut corners and submit to junk publishing.

“If a critical mass of scientists become untrustworthy,” say engineers Marc Edwards and Siddhartha Roy who researched the problem, “a tipping point is possible in which the scientific enterprise itself becomes inherently corrupt and public trust is lost, risking a new dark age with devastating consequences to humanity (Walrus, June, 2019).”

The problem is so bad that that for the first time in history more fraudulent and flawed studies are published than legitimate research.

Professors who expose the extent of the problem are sometimes celebrated. One those is Eduardo Franco, a professor in the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University. In 2017 he sent an email to his colleagues warning them of a global “epidemic” of scams by academic journals that was corrupting research and endangering the public.

The dean of medicine at McGill praised Franco as “the champion in our faculty in dealing with this problem.”

Derek Pyne, economics professor at Thompson Rivers University was less celebrated.  In 2017, Pyne published a study that found that 38 of his colleagues wrote for junk journals.  He wrote that “the school has adopted a research metric that counts predatory publications equally with real publications.”

Pyne found that predatory publications advanced careers. He determined that there was a direct connection between padded CVs and higher salaries and promotions at TRU.

TRU administration had no accolades for Professor Pyne. He was banished from the campus in May 2018, suspended in July, and allowed back on campus in December. He says he was threatened with medical leave if he didn’t agree to a “psychological evaluation.”

One doesn’t expect such Kafkaesque treatment of academics who blow the whistle. Professor Pyne is credited for being one of the top three prominent academics in Canada for tackling the problem of corruption in academic publishing.

Professor Pyne says his suspension is tied to his findings of predatory publications but TRU administration disagrees. Christine Bovis-Cnossen, university’s interim president said:

“Much of the media attention has incorrectly stated that faculty member Dr. Derek Pyne was disciplined for his research. This is not the case. The discipline imposed is related to matters which I am unable to comment on due to both employment and privacy law (Kamloops This Week, November 16, 2018).”

I asked Professor Pyne if it was still TRU’s position that his suspension had nothing to do with his exposure of junk publications. He replied by email:

“That is a good question. Back in the fall, they were openly saying that to the media. In February, their submission to the LRB made the same claim.   However, since then, I have been told by a couple of media outlets that they are not commenting on my case.”

 

Can blockchain save Robin Hood?

The Robin Hood Co-op was started by a group of artists at the University of Aalto outside Helsinki in Finland. It’s a hedge fund like no other, formed as a piece of “economic performance art.”

image: Information Age

Problems started when the artists began to raise money and invest in the stock market. The university administration took issue with the concept and forced the co-op to shut down.

Instead of shutting down, the artists left the university to venture out on their own.

Since then they focused on building a global network of countercultural investors from Helsinki to California.

The Robin Hood Co-op doesn’t exactly steal from the rich to give to the poor. The goal is to distribute profits to worthwhile causes globally. “Part of the profit generated by the fund is invested into projects building the commons,” according to their website.

They have no regular offices and meet in different places, often abandoned buildings, to hold workshops in conjunction with a local host group.

Reporter Brett Scott went to one of these places in a graffiti-strewn former slaughterhouse in Milan occupied by a radical arts group called Macao. He writes:

“In the hall is a naked woman painted blue, wearing a gas mask, dancing to the sonic violence of industrial deathmetal music. Next door is a punk street-theatre collective manufacturing artificial vomit in buckets to throw at a protest (CCPA Monitor, Nov/Dec, 2018).” Among the assembled were hackers, coders, designers and artists. The meeting had the feeling of the blend of an intellectual salon, a hackathon and a political campaign meeting.

Not your average corporate boardroom.

Portuguese artist Ana Fradique, who co-manages the fund, describes Robin Hood as “artivism”—a mix of arts and activism.

Robin Hood has its critics like Serbian activist Branko Popovic. “I understand you’re trying to be like a vampire on the market,” he says, “but why be a vampire on vampires? They have nothing to give us.”

That’s an ongoing tension amongst activists: do you work within the system to build a more equitable world or tear down the system and rebuild it from scratch?

I many respects, Robin Hood Co-op is conventional. They invest in the Wall Street stock exchange using an algorithm they invented called “The Parasite.” Assets in the co-op are called Robyns. In the first year of investment, they made double-digit returns.

Some of its first distributions went to the autonomous arts space Casa Nuvem in Rio de Janeiro (€5,000) and the activist broadcaster Radio Schizoanalytique in Greece (€6,000).

However, Robin Hood Co-op members are impatient to grow. They plan to expand the model beyond the Parasite algorithm to implementing blockchain. “Robin Hood 2.0.” will be “even more monstrous” than the first incarnation said one of the co-founders.

Rather than being based in Finland, they wants to transform Robin Hood into a decentralized global cryptofund using blockchain -the underlying technology of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum.

While Bitcoins are turning out to be a bit of a dud, the technology of blockchain is promising. It’s an indelible ledger in which anything can be permanently recorded, including shares in an activist hedge fund. The advantage of blockchain is that it’s decentralized and global.

It’s a big leap. Implementation of blockchain will require a change in the culture of the co-op and paid staff.

Time will tell whether this chimera of art and capitalism will prosper.

 

Redefining pro-life

The hardening of abortion into the pillars of political parties is showing fractures.

image: Heidi Will

Whether abortion is a human right belonging to a woman or a human right that belongs to the foetus used to be a philosophical and religious debate. Now it’s about politics. Republicans in the U.S. and a majority of conservatives in Canada are against abortion. Democrats and progressives in Canada support justifiable abortions.

The abortion issue moved into political camps decades ago. The landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade in 1973 declared that women had the right to choose an abortion. In response, anti-abortion groups began to rapidly mobilize and the “Human Life Amendment” was proposed.

Because it’s better to be seen as for something rather than against it, anti-abortion groups decided to call themselves “pro-life.”

Abortion supporters argue that the when life is at stake, it’s the life of the mother which matters. In a reaction to the pro-life branding, abortion supporters had to come up with a strong brand of their own. “Pro-abortion” doesn’t quite do it because women don’t necessarily want to have an abortion –they just want to shed the yoke of paternalism that dictates what’s best for them.

In response to the pro-life movement, supporters of abortion-as-an-option branded themselves as “pro-choice.” It’s a clever label in an age of commercialism because what consumer doesn’t want a choice? It also fits nicely into to the evolving image of women, and citizens in general, as individual agents rather than servants of the church and state.

Women as free-thinking-citizens is a relatively new phenomena. Only a hundred years ago, women and children were considered the property of men and property doesn’t have an opinion worth considering.

Thanks to U.S. President Trump, the tribalism of pro-life is beginning to fracture. Pro-life Republicans are conflicted by support of this misogynist president.

Tess Clark grew up in Texas and always considered support for the Republican party her “Christian duty (Globe and Mail, December 7, 2018).” All of her life the issues of abortion and immigration made voting Republican her “Christian duty.” Clark recently told The New York Times that the pro-life movement should oppose hard-line treatment of border crossers.

Clark was so sickened by Trump and his crackdown on Honduran families trying to enter the U.S. that she has redefined what it means to be pro-life. She now equates the separation of Honduran families with “a baby in its mother’s womb.” “I feel that being pro-life is being pro all life,” she said.

Chelsey Yeaton, a student at a Christian college in Illinois and a member of Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, has also redefined what pro-life means to her in environmental terms.

“If we say we’re pro-life, we have to care for people who are experiencing incredible environmental degradation …,” Yeaton said in a recent interview. “If we’re pro-life, that’s a bigger issue to me than abortion.”

Whether to have an abortion or not is obviously not a trivial matter but the decision shouldn’t be based on politics. The expansion of the pro-life movement into other aspects of a healthy life is a welcome approach.

 

Climate-change denial is not about science

The minds of climate-change deniers won’t be changed with scientific facts. For them, the real issue isn’t science.

image: @politicaltribe

There’s a temptation to think that if all the facts were presented to deniers, that suddenly they would see the light. Professor Katharine Hayhoe says that doesn’t work:

“The number-one question I get from people is, ‘Could you just talk to my father-in-law, my congressman, my colleague? If you could just explain the facts to them, I’m sure it will change their mind.’ This is a trap. . . It almost never works. The only constructive dialogue with a dismissive person in on the level at which he or she really has the issue,” she told Scientific American (October 2017.) The Canadian political scientist teaches at Texas Tech University.

The real issue isn’t science. Sure, deniers like to couch arguments in science-y terms like –it’s just a natural cycle, scientists aren’t sure, actually its global cooling, volcanoes are the cause.  They use the language of science because they understand, or they have heard, that the scientific method tests theories in an irrefutable way.

The implications of reducing carbon emissions are scary for deniers. There are two. Entire economies have been built around the burning of fossil fuels. Therefore, the reasoning goes, if we stop burning fossils fuels our modern lifestyle will cease to exist. Economies will collapse. People will lose their jobs. Big Oil fuels these fears –it’s an existential issue for them.

Another implication has to with betrayal of your tribe. Although it wasn’t always the case, climate change has become politicized. I believe in climate change, not just because it can be scientifically proven but because it’s part of a set of values held by my tribe; along with pro-choice, fair wages, unionization, and environmental protection.

Climate change wasn’t always tribal. A few decades ago, the relationship between carbon dioxide and global warming was uncontroversial –it’s been known since the 1890’s. The trapping of heat with some sort of “blanket” is not only scientifically true, it’s observable: When clouds cover Kamloops at night, it stays warmer than when it’s clear.

However, once climate change moved from being a fact on the shelf to an actionable truth, Big Oil began to lobby politicians to fight against cutbacks in carbon emission. The prospect of reversing the fossil-fuel industry strikes fear in the corporate boardroom.

Climate change is the biggest issue facing humanity. We know the cause and we know the solution. Prof. Hayhoe has some tips. Shouting down the other tribe will not mobilize humanity to action. Avoid scientific arguments –they are not the real problem. Don’t use the words “climate” and “change” sequentially.

“With libertarians, we talk about free-market strategies,” says Prof. Hayhoe, “With mom’s groups, we talk about pollution affecting our kids’ health. With farmers, I say, ‘Hey, you’re the backbone of our food system, how have drought patterns changed?’ I don’t validate that there is a left and right side to climate change. And neither should the media.”

What’s the point in being right, in erecting tribal walls, when the future of our planet is at stake?

No going back on abuse of women

What was once a trickle has become a torrent of reports from women of how they were groped, fondled, molested, assaulted, raped, and verbally abused; how they fought off the unwanted sexual advances of men.

   Sergeant Vicky-Lynn Cox. Photo: CBC

High-profile reports have come out of the entertainment industry. Actress Daryl Hannah told the New Yorker about the consequences of rejecting film director Harvey Weinstein’s advances: “We are more than not believed – we are berated and criticized and blamed.”

Harassment and assault on women takes a toll. Globe and Mail columnist Elizabeth Renzetti talked to dozens of women:

“Some of the women I heard from are in their 60s, 70s and 80s. The pain they carried through the years is palpable. In many cases, they knew what was happening to them was wrong, even if the culture at the time was more accepting of predatory behaviour. Often they told no one. They felt shame for not speaking up or acting. Sometimes that shame has been corrosive though the years and, in other cases, women have pushed it aside (November 18, 2017).”

It’s not just the world of entertainment. Women from many walks of life are speaking up. Sergeant Vicky-Lynn Cox of the Canadian Armed Forces told CBC Radio’s The Current:

“My first incident, without going into detail about my first incident, happened three weeks into the military. From that point on I didn’t really sleep soundly for the next 20 years. I’m approaching on 21 years of service. So I’m recovering from that. For years and years, I didn’t say a thing and for years and years I tolerated the environment around me because of the love of my country and the love of my work.”

Three Canadian comediennes spoke to The Current about the problems they faced. Michelle Shaughnessy said that male comedians think bad behaviour can be excused by saying that it’s just a joke:

“I know there was one incident where a colleague who was a friend, like I think it was kind of like the equivalent of like a drunk dial type thing. Actually sent me like a picture of their penis like the middle of the night, when obviously they had been drinking too much . . . you can mention it to these guys and their first defence is ‘were all comics. It’s a joke.’”

Women who were once afraid that they wouldn’t be believed, who were told “that’s the way it is,” are now speaking up.

It’s no joke. A shift in culture is happening. The more women who come forward, the more that others will be encouraged to do so. And as more women move into positions of power in corporations, government, police, clergy, and the military, the more they will be believed. “The tide is turning,” said Leeann Tweeden, the former model who has accused Al Franken: the high-profile writer, comedian and senator. It’s not enough that Franken “feels terribly” about the accusations.

I have a selfish reason to see the end of bad behaviour by men. I want to live in a society where women don’t have to suspect and fear men. The predatory and toxic actions of men are a burden on us all.

The legacy of Occupy Kamloops

No one knew what would happen next. We gathered in anticipation in front of the Kamloops Library on October 15, 2011. The Occupy movement was sweeping the globe and its reach extended to Kamloops.

Kamloops Library. Photo: David Charbonneau

These giddy times reminded me of the Hippy Movement of the 1960’s but these participants were more focused and clear-headed: no drugs, psychedelic music and free love.

More than 950 demonstrations were planned for that day in 82 countries on every continent, in every Canadian province, eight in British Columbia.

Seven years later, the euphoria faded and the legacy unclear, I wanted to capture the moment before it was a lost. When Professor Trish Archibald from the Social Work program at Thompson Rivers University invited me to write a chapter in an upcoming book, I jumped at the chance. She was assembling a team to write a history of social justice in Kamloops since the Second World War.

To research my chapter, I interviewed ten people involved with the camp at Spirit Square. I met with each of them at Red Beard Cafe on Tranquille. That location was appropriate, not only because I’m a regular but because it was only a block away from the original campsite. Back in 2011 when it was called Cowboy Coffee I would see the occupiers, camp-worn, visiting the washrooms.

They were willing and eager to tell me about the events that changed their lives. Cassie Tremblay was a major force in the camp. Her training as a nurse gave her the skills necessary for to day-to-day routine and regular meetings.

They hadn’t intended to occupy the park to begin with. But after five hours of talking at Library Square (after I had left) a core of seven to ten people wondered what to do with the pent-up enthusiasm. They decided to set up the camp at Spirit Square, went home and gathered sleeping bags, tents and camping gear, and met that evening at the Park.

The long hours at the camp gave people time to reflect more deeply about what they had committed to – the occupation of public land. Some visitors to the camp were motivated by the same principles: idealism, global solidarity, and wage disparity. Some were not; such as the homeless, those with addiction and mental health issues, even runaway kids.

As the days grew colder, the practical matters of the camp became more urgent; such the need for toilets and heat. But because they were occupying public land, permits weren’t granted. The daily grind took its toll and by November 15, 2011 the occupiers’ camp at Spirit Square was gone.

What is the legacy of Occupy Kamloops, I asked occupier Kevin Wicheknap? “The goals of Occupy have yet to be accomplished. All things are always in transition. Occupy brought people together who were concerned about the environment and inequality. It was unlike anything I have ever seen. It was inspiring. Now it’s like, where next? We’ve learned to walk.”

Years in the making, our book was released Monday. Other chapters include made-in-Kamloops solutions to social injustice regarding food security, education, housing, and poverty. Our book, Building Community in Kamloops, Social Justice in Action, is available at the Brock Activity Centre.

 

 

Burn all books about Sir John A.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario doesn’t go far enough when they recommend the removal of former Prime Minister John A. Macdonald’s name from schools because of his role in the “genocide against Indigenous people.”

Image: Maryland Faerie Festival Blog

Macdonald established reserves in order to clear Indigenous people from the land to make way for the railway. He rationed food on reserves that led to malnutrition, disease, and the deaths of thousands.

He should be erased. Statues and monuments should be torn down. His image on our ten dollar bill should be removed. All traces of his memory should be expunged. Why should we honour such a racist?

I searched the TNRD library and found 12 books with offensive titles such as “John A.: the man who made us: the life and times of John A. Macdonald How could a killer shape Canada? And “Sir John’s table: the culinary life and times of Canada’s first prime minister.” Who cares what he ate while starving children?

I “borrowed” a digital copy from the TNRD library of “The destiny of Canada: Macdonald, Laurier, and the election of 1891.” In it I learn that Macdonald appointed Indian agents in the West who used open ballots to track who voted for whom to ensure the re-election of Tories.

As a symbol of our collective disgust of the treatment of Canada’s Indigenous people, the books should be burned. What a cathartic feeling that would give to Canadians in relieving our guilt at the treatment of Canada’s first people! A good date for the book-burning would be Guy Fawkes Night on November 5 when we would gather in public squares while bonfires raged. How therapeutic it would be to dance in the light of the flames as our national shame when up in smoke!

Public burnings of ten dollar bills would further expunge our blame, similar to the Chinese tradition of burning “joss notes (unofficial banknotes).” Whereas the Chinese do so as offerings to the deceased, wealthy Canadians and corporations could set examples of our collective outrage by burning large quantities of ten-dollar bills. Such burnings would fortify their images as good citizens.

The hard drives of people who downloaded borrowed digital copies from libraries should be seized (except for mine, of course, which is for the purpose of research only.) The names of those library patrons (except mine) who have borrowed hard and digital copies of books should be reported to the Ministry of Pure Thought.

The complete purge should start with Macdonald and continue with other villains such as Hector-Louis Langevin and Egerton Ryerson, who promoted residential schools; Edward Cornwallis, who placed a bounty on Mi’kmaq scalps; Judge Mathew Begbie, who ordered the hanging of chiefs of Tsilhqot’in Nation for defending their land; and Paul de Chomedey, who killed an Iroquois chief with his bare hands.

The cleansing of Canada’s spirit should continue with the re-writing of history. More than just the political leaders of the past are to blame. The majority of Canadians who voted for them are at fault. We cannot let the evil views of Canadians from the past to warp our values today! Those views cast an ominous shadow over Canadians. History should reflect who we are now, not the warped morals of the past.