Fraud fighters wanted in the Middle East

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Petri dishes. Image in the public domain.

Petri dishes. Image in the public domain.

[Originally published on OpenDemocracy]

I was recently approached by a scholar from the American University of Sharjah (UAE) who asked me to edit a draft of a research paper of his which needed“rephrasing and unifying”, a common request by non-native English speakers prior to submission in a peer-reviewed journal.

Having agreed on fee and timeline, I edited and returned the paper. The scholar’s response was astounding: “when I checked your rephrased document on a plagiarism detection site, it indicated that 87% is copied…the aim is to reach 10% at most”. His expectation, as it turns out, was for me to rewrite the paper, concealing plagiarised chunks of text. Though I had noticed entire paragraphs in irreproachable English, I had assumed co-authorship, not academic theft. Replying that I did not expect to devote my time to “forging research papers,” I was not surprised when payment was withheld.

This all took place while news made the headlines of a miracle cure developed by the Egyptian army for HIV and hepatitis C – today remaining in the anthology as ‘KoftaGate’ –  someone needed to address this culture of unethical scientific behaviour.

Forgery, plagiarism and other plagues

Plagiarism is one of the most widespread manifestations of scientific misconduct: it happens everywhere. When misconduct is identified, the publication is generally retracted. An independent watchdog launched in August 2010, Retraction Watch, has become the go-to institution for remarkable work in this field.

In 2012, a close examination of more than 2,000 retracted biomedical and life-science research articles showed that two-thirds were removed because of proven or suspected misconduct. Plagiarism accounted for nearly 10% of retractions. Fraud or suspected fraud, e.g. photoshopping images and “arranging data” to support one’s claims are other types of forgery. Last but not least, there are also scientists so fond of their own work that they practice duplicate publishing.

Follow-up studies make it clear that misconduct can happen at any stage of a career, from the trainee to the senior researcher. Some blame the “publish or perish” rules that govern research. Others explain it by limited resources: if a lab does not have enough money to sustain its projects, then it might as well resort to crafting what is deemed necessary to publish the study in the hopes of getting better funding. Whatever the reason, however, lies and copy-paste habits are unethical and harm science as they influence research trends, waste public funds and can have a direct impact on people’s lives.

Misconduct also spans across all scientific domains. Some experts evenbelieve that as much as 90% “of all [archeological] artefacts and coins sold on internet auctions as genuine are nothing but fakes.” Among antiquities forgery cases fall the largely overlooked traffic of real but stolen artefacts, a long-lived practice found to occur in many countries across the Middle East including embattled Syria.

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Gendered Quantified Self: Privacy Meets Technology Meets Health

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Last month, I spoke at FLOSSIE 2013 addressing gendered quantified self and challenges we face when our sensitive data are massively tracked and collected by wide range of entities in times of generalized surveillance.

“FLOSSIE brings together FLOSS women developers, entrepreneurs, researchers and policy-makers, digital artists and social innovators for an exciting mix of talks, spontaneous discussions and open workshops. Flossie 2013 brings the benefits of open thinking to artist and entrepreneurs and the insights of diverse innovators to FLOSS development.”

My slides are below. FLOSSIE didn’t have video/audio recording available, reflexions on the topic are scarce and many people have explicitly asked me to make these slides meatier, I’ll be writing my thoughts shortly. Stay tuned 🙂

What the Health, MENA?

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Last year, I was closely following doctors’ strikes in Tunisia and Egypt. I wrote the major part of the piece below back in October-November 2012. For various reasons, the piece wasn’t published at that time. I am publishing it here now because the situation hasn’t changed since then: Tunisian doctors continue to stage strikes and Egyptian healthcare system hasn’t improved under now deposed president Morsi’s rule. And it’s about time something gets done to change the status quo.

In a considerable part of the MENA countries, a small part of national budgets are allocated to health [see infographic below]. Such chronic starvation naturally translates into poor status of the country’s healthcare infrastructure. Practitioners have regularly addressed funding deficiency and pandemic mismanagement in the last years, but no adequate response has been given. As is often the case in such stalemates, protests go on strikes to draw attention.

What the Health, MENA? Click to zoom in

What the Health, MENA? Click to zoom in

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Blogging the 2013 Global Forum on Development at OECD

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OECD Development 2013
Save the date 🙂 I’ll be covering the OECD’s 2013 Global Forum on Development (April 4-5) along with fabulous Lova Rakotomalala and Julie Owono. We have been invited to do so on as Global Voices authors interested in spreading the word about challenges developing countries face:

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is an international economic organisation of 34 countries that supports democracy and world trade. The Global Forum on Development is focussed on poverty reduction and social cohesion and attracts a wide range of participants from governments and civil society to help discuss solutions.

As for now, you can follow the Twitter hashtag #oecdgfd (OECD Global Forum on Development). I also recommend you to read these thought-provoking and insightful pieces and get involved in the conversation!

Healthcare Ailments

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This was initially published on FutureChallenges.org. I’m particularly glad of this post as it constitutes an insight on Eastern Europe healthcare, and complements the global topic “In Sickness and In Health” that I suggested to the FutureChallenges.org community back in December 2012: ‘From Uganda to the United States and from China to Chile, access to healthcare is an enormous issue for citizens and governments. The economic burdens of many countries’ healthcare systems can seem trivial when compared with the persistent health crises that continue to trouble other countries. Access to healthcare differs not just between countries, but between regions, genders and classes. What role does healthcare play in determining economic success or failure? How can we bring better health to more people without bankrupting ourselves?’

With scary news about the “financial crisis shaking the world!” making the headlines every second day, you can easily end up blaming the godawful traders for every single bit of wrong-doing. Or Greece. As time goes by, I more and more have the impression that everyone around is turning into a life hacker: tinkering with life habits to avoid a disease has become a regular mission.

While the poverty gap continues to widen between member states of the eurozone, jobs in the south-eastern part of the European Union (EU) are vanishing at an alarming rate. We have all heard about those mind-blowing budget cuts such as the end of funding for the Erasmus educational exchange program. Generalized austerity is praised by most of the iron fists in European governments as the panacea to the financial crisis although its implementation is controversial and its effects are far from obvious. Which is only logical given that austerity measures are not imposed on the cradle of the crisis: traders and their ilk.

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Egypt: The Right to Water

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This was originally posted on FutureChallenges.com. I am particularly proud of it as it is the first time ever I do an infographic and I dare submit it for publication 🙂

Water is indispensable to human life. As a basic need, it is highly vulnerable to exploitation and has been recognized as a human right in several international human rights treaties and declarations. Addressing the right to water in terms of sustaining life highlights how important proper policies are for securing health and welfare in human populations. One of the greatest challenges Egypt faces today is implementing appropriate measures to close the worrying gap between limited water resources and increasing water demand (see our infographic below).

The Right to Water, an Egyptian Perspective. Click to see full size. Credit: the author (CC-by 3.0)

The Right to Water, an Egyptian Perspective. Click to see full size. Credit: the author (CC-by 3.0)

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World AIDS Day 2012: When Will We Live in an AIDS-free World?

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This was originally posted on FutureChallenges.com

HIV & AIDS. Image by the author (CC-by-SA 3.0)

HIV & AIDS. Click to view full size. Image by the author (CC-by-SA 3.0)

On Nov 20, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Executive Director Michel Sidibé announced the main findings published in the latest AIDS report. Encouragingly, the number of adults and children worldwide acquiring HIV infection in 2011 was 20% lower than in 2001. Noticeably, AIDS-related deaths have decreased by ⅓ in Sub-Saharan Africa (the region which suffers AIDS the most) for the last six years. Are we reasonably close to the end of AIDS world over?

All this sounds definitely promising. Fewer people die from AIDS-related ailments, fewer babies are born with HIV. Our optimism, however, should not make us forget those 34 million world over living with HIV today. There are still nearly 7 million eligible for therapy but without access to it. Even more disturbing is to know that half of these 34 million are unaware they have HIV. These observations point to the urgent need to work for substantial reductions in HIV infections as well as for better care for those suffering AIDS already.

As a high school pupil in Bulgaria, a friend and I had a youth NGO. We organized campaigns to teach our buddies that AIDS can happen to anyone. Once you’ve been through the very colourful moment of putting a condom on a banana to show how it is done in front of a crowd of high-on-hormones teens, you find it easy to read tedious reports and studies on trends in HIV/AIDS. And when you read a press release by the International AIDS Society (IAS) officially launching its Global Strategy “Towards an HIV Cure”, you just jump to the roof.

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Bad Health Care: The Pandemics of Poverty

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This was first published on FutureChallenges.org

The content package of this post relates to the “Death Threat,” and addresses non-communicable diseases. The one I want to speak about is poverty. Because all the other NCDs  you can think of — like obesity, cancer, etc. — are just a consequence of pandemic poverty. Pandemic poverty is an incurable pathogen, and its chronic infection causes an infuriating amount of disorders.

When I started following the Egyptian doctors strike, the first thing that came to mind was to wonder how viral it would go. The working conditions of medical practitioners in Egypt provoke a kind of trauma. Generously, the government spends 5.7% of its total budget on health (many countries spend 15%). This inevitably means that if people want access to healthcare, they have to pay out of their own pockets. Which they do. A lot.

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Bulgaria: Recovering Drug Addicts Targeted by Police Bullying

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This was initially published on FutureChallenges.org.

Non-communicable diseases is a puzzling term for many. Personally. I am bothered because it does not include a wide range of socially-relevant disorders. The pandemics of poverty as well as stigma and extra-legal investigation of people in a poor health condition are a chronic scourge along with obesity and cancer.

My country of birth is officially Bulgaria. The amazing amount of inanities spouted by its rulers are among the bunch of reasons that justifies its (thus far) officious name: Absurdistan. The recent outbreak of militia questionitis [*] in the country might change this.

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