Build a career in cybersecurity: tips, tricks… and traps

Build a career in cybersecurity: tips, tricks and traps
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On 19 Feb 2021, I spoke about how to build a career in cybersecurity at the Women4Cyber Masterclass with a Role Model. Happening every month, the Masterclass aims to highlight the achievements and expertise of women who shape cybersecurity in the EU today. Women4Cyber is a non-profit European private foundation with the objective to promote, encourage and support the participation of women in the field of cybersecurity. The strategic objectives and actions of the Foundation are supported by the Women4Cyber Council, an ad hoc advisory body, of which I am a proud member.

Yes, girls outperform boys at school. Yes, women managers outperform their men counterparts at work. Watt zillion initiatives exist to encourage more entry-level diversity. But how many initiatives exist to tackle the leaky pipeline?

So, is there a perfect profile to build a career in cybersecurity? Or is it more of a perfect combination of skills? How, as a woman, do we tackle ambition? Let’s talk about navigating those avenues because helping other women move forward with their career is good business.

The effort is there, but why doesn’t it transform into fast change? Cultural change for gender equality requires system change. It is not just about women “leaning in”. It is also about men reaching out and stepping aside. You can invite a diverse crowd to a party; but then, you also need to invite them to dance.

You can watch the recording with the Q&A session by clicking the “Play” button.

A summary of the discussion and the recording are also available over at the Women4Cyber Foundation website. Below are the full notes of what I discussed along with additional notes we didn’t address. Hope that helps!

🎧 Listen to this post!

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Commuting is taking a toll on ya? Podcasts are the solution

Here is the ultimate podcast list for infosec and data protection. Enjoy!
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The other day, I was participating in an after-work panel centring on the professional opportunities cybersecurity at large presents. The discussion primarily focused on drawing in women to the field as a way to diversify and enrich the talent pool. Yet, few of us insisted on focusing on diversity, be it gender, social, etc.

Amongst the main questions was: how do I get into the field? Trying to provide sound advice on that made me realise we have a handful of resources to building up new and/or extra skills within the realm. However, starting off if you are, say, a developer or a legal person may turn bumpy and challenging.

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#OrangeIsTheNewBlacklist: In France, Google and Wikipedia briefly censored for “apologia of terrorism”

Oops, something didn't go as planned.
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You dislike Mondays? You’d have loved this one: Google and Wikipedia were censored for an hour in France, for “apologia of terrorism”.

Yesterday 17 October 2016, an ordinary Monday morning, I was searching for a document online. Using different search engines — DuckDuckGo, Qwant, Google — helps me find out more details; incidentally and in contrast with Google, alternative engines also respect my privacy since they neither log nor keep track of my search requests.

Weirdly enough, Google was timing out. I tried out a few more times, to no success. My Internet connection was fine, though, and Qwant was also responding. Even more bizarre, my Gmail account was functional. On Twitter, some people were also flagging a “Google down” situation and started asking me which my ISP is. My Internet service provider (ISP) is Orange. It turned out that the issue seemed to affect only subscribers at Orange and its low-cost subsidiary, Sosh.

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What exactly happened in North Sinai today?

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[UPDATED: please scroll] Violence erupted in North Sinai early on 1 July 2015. The attack is widely attributed to the local ISIS faction. The below account is of the developing situation with live fact-checking based on open-source intelligence (OSINT).

With the coming celebration of the military takeover of power in Egypt, terrorist attacks have intensified. Or this is at least what some claim. I am not exactly sure how much this is true. Others seem to doubt it as well. Another reason why I doubt the July 3 anniversary is THE reason is because of recent encouragements by ISIS to intensify attacks during the holy month of Ramadan. ISIS was coming anyway, Morsi or not Morsi, Sisi or not Sisi; and its horrors are not restricted to Egypt.

Anyhow, the question in this situation is hardly one’s capability to speculate about what the reason is behind these fierce attacks by ISIS-affiliated terrorists. Instead, I figured there is—perhaps a bit more than usual—too much of rumours and beefed-up images and numbers. And as the great people from reported.ly are a bit busy with the Greek euro crisis, I decided to sum up a few findings from this morning.

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Youth, “the Internet” and speech

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Last week, just a few days after I returned from Cairo, I stumbled upon an event organised by UNESCO and whose combination of supporting countries amused me. The two-day conference, “Youth and the internet: Fighting radicalisation and extremism”, was supported by Bulgaria and Egypt. Everyone who knows me understands the amusement.

Beyond this fun fact of limited importance, the topic and its relationship to my own work and interests were intriguing enough to give the event a day. I know quite a few people around me are interested in this write-up. So, I took the time to actually expand it, in a way that it can relate to a broader work I am into exploring excitable speech through post-colonial lenses in the Balkans and MENA. Also, enriching the write-up helps me contribute to a project to train citizens to mitigate hate speech online in South Sudan. More on the distinction between ‘hate speech’ and ‘excitable speech’ later (a research paper coming up on that).

I had my own expectations about the line-up of speakers and the probable directions the discussions would head to. And I was entirely correct.

🎧 You can also listen to this blog post:

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Plug & Play News: Sourcing, Verifying and Publishing Info in Real-Time Crisis

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Earlier in May, I attended re:publica, aka Berlin’s annual gathering of innovators from the worldover. This year’s topic was “Finding Europe”. One of the two talks I gave focused on sourcing, verifying and disseminating information in a rapidly evolving situation, e.g. a real-time crisis.

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Wonderings and wanderings: Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

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Bishkek is the Eastern Europe of 30 years ago, except with mobile phones and internet access. It is more or less a museum relic of the former Soviet Union Bloc.

This quote translates my exact feelings upon arrival in Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan. Although I remember nothing from the Soviet Union bloc 30 years ago, I do remember how my own homecountry looked like 15 years ago. And even if Bulgaria was not formally a part of the Soviet Union, it was close enough to the Big Brother to look strikingly alike. I have done my best to collect my impressions in a dedicated photoset: a concrete post-Soviet experience, in both senses of the term ‘concrete’.

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Egypt: News websites and alternative voices

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🎧 Listen to the announcement!

In a country deeply polarised after three years of tumultuous change, Egyptian news websites have become very important media for free expression. This study looks at some of the pressures they are experiencing. News websites are among the most popular websites in Egypt. They represent an alternative to ‘traditional’ broadcast and print media, with their long histories of state control and supervision.

Online news is a partially regulated space – freer than the traditional media but not as free from regulation as social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. But there are indications that the space for free expression on news websites may shrink in the near future, under pressure from a combination of new legislation and, reportedly, new surveillance tactics that may set precedents for the whole of the Middle East and North Africa.

Read the research report I co-authored with Mohamed ElDahshan, a joint project with ARTICLE 19:

English

Arabic: مصر: مواقع اخبارية وأصوات بديلة على الانترنت

French anti-terrorism draft law: what it says, in brief

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Back in July 2014, La Quadrature du Net, Paris-based digital rights advocacy NGO, was summing up the few developments around the proposed anti-terrorism draft law:

This new bill institutes a permanent state of emergency on the Internet that allows the judicial system to be largely bypassed and favours instead recourse to police and administrative systems that, besides failing to guarantee fair hearing, are largely disproportionate, ill-equipped and thus ineffective in reaching the stated goal of fighting terrorism.

What is my post about?

As the bill was to be discussed in the Parliament, la Quadrature du Net has launched a dedicated mini-website to help inform and educate the public about everything one needs to know regarding the measures in the draft.

This post is not aimed at analysing the bill and its possible impact on civil liberties and, more broadly, digital rights in France. The parliamentary debate has kicked off on Sept 15 and will resume on Sept 16.

It is urgent to have more attention drawn to this dangerous text; yet, I realised that French impaired completely ignored the ongoing fight. The post thus contains a tentative translation in English of the most important articles from the bill. Amendments have been proposed as well, but I will hopefully get to them later. If you wanna help to translate, leave a comment.

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Fraud fighters wanted in the Middle East

Scientific misconduct and research fraud are tolerated in the Middle East and North Africa region. What is the impact? How do we move forward?
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I recently interacted with a scholar from the American University of Sharjah (UAE). The person asked me to edit a draft research paper of his which needed “rephrasing and unifying.” Such a request is common with non-native English speakers before 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 faultless English, I had assumed co-authorship, not academic theft. I responded that I was not to devote my time to “forging research papers.” As expected, payment never came through.

This all happened while news made the headlines of a miracle cure developed by the Egyptian army for HIV and hepatitis C. That ‘cure’ today remains in the anthology as ‘KoftaGate’. I felt the need 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 occurs, 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 per cent 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 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 resort to crafting what is ‘necessary’ to publish the study and hope for 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 even believe that as much as 90 per cent “of all [archaeological] 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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Shuttleworth Foundation Flash Grant for Furthering Open Knowledge

Love your research data and let others love it, too
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I have been rewarded a Shuttleworth Foundation Flash Grant! The grant comes from the Shuttleworth Foundation as a way to help budding initiatives in favour of open knowledge at large. In my case, it is a nudge in support of RS Strategy‘s efforts to further open knowledge in the MENA region through the OpenMENA project.

A lot to unpack here! Let’s discuss each of these separately then.

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Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression (Conditions apply)

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[First published on openDemocracy.]

12 March marked the World Day against online censorship. Reporters Without Borders remained faithful to their habits and announced this year’s ‘Enemies of the Internet’. Repressive governments in the Middle East also remained faithful to their habits; they continued to crack down on free speech, both online and offline.

The Algerian government, for instance, marked this day in a special way: by taking Jordanian Noorsat satellite TV channel Al-Atlas completely off-air. Addressing each and every event of suppressed free speech is impossible. I believe, however, that the few examples below will suffice to highlight the unconditional disrespect for freedom of expression citizens encounter every day across the MENA region.

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Legal Challenges to Opening up Research Data in France

There are a lot of legal challenges to opening research data
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We at RS Strategy are strong supporters of open knowledge. Our founder is a trained scientist, thus opening up science and research are a soft spot for us.

We are thus happy to join a dedicated workgroup at the French National Institute for Agriculture Research (Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, INRA) aiming to map the current legal framework of research data production and management. To our knowledge, this workgroup is the first of its kind at the institutional level in France. The group’s members wish to explore the legal challenges ahead of opening the Institute’s data. An expected outcome is a handbook for researchers to smoothen their journey towards Open Science Data.

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Bulgaria’s ‘chilly welcome’ to Syrian refugees

Bulgaria's chilly welcome to Syrian refugees
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[First published on openDemocracy.]

Over two million people have fled the havoc in Syria and sought refuge in bordering countries; at least one million of them are children, estimated the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) back in August 2013. Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq are the top five countries where most have resettled. Over the past several months, however, the exodus has shifted to Europe. For the majority of Syrians searching for a safe EU haven, the journey starts in Turkey where refugee smuggling blossoms. Today, Bulgaria counts over 10,000 refugees, an atypical surge this European border country was unprepared for.

Despite financial help from the EU, the Bulgarian government has consistently preferred to engage in exacerbating the situation. Intensifying influx of refugees in the country prompted the opening of more camps to host the newcomers. These hellholes are in incredibly squalid conditions, but this is where the Bulgarian government welcomes asylum seekers. In October 2013, Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev played the tough guy and sacked the head of Bulgaria’s Refugee Agency for “failing to handle the influx.” Yet, reception centres continue to be overcrowded, Syrians undergo an administrative hassle for weeks; food, clothing and medicine are largely funded by donations from ordinary citizens.

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Love Your Data—And Let Others Love It, Too

Love your research data and let others love it, too
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[Lire en français]

The Projects initiative is a Digital Science endeavour. Projects is a desktop app that allows you to comprehensively organise and manage data you produce as research projects progress. The rationale behind Projects is that scientific data needs to be properly managed and preserved if we want it to be perennial. There’s indeed a worrisome trend showcasing that every year, the amount of research data being generated increases by 30%, and yet a massive 80% of scientific data is lost within two decades.

Projects and open science data-sharing platform figshare published an impressive and pretty telling infographic on science data preservation and chronic mismanagement [scroll down to see it]. What struck me looking at these numbers is neither the high-throughput data production nor the overall funds it requires – 1,5 trillion USD spent on R&D! – but the little to no information on public policies aimed at solving the problem.

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Gendered Quantified Self: Privacy Meets Tech Meets Health

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Last month, I spoke at FLOSSIE 2013. My talk addressed gendered quantified self and the challenges we face when our sensitive data are massively tracked and collected by a wide range of entities. Above all, this discussion matters in times of generalised 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.”

Unfortunately, FLOSSIE did not have video/audio recording available. But I am sharing my slides below. Indeed, reflections on the topic are scarce. Besides, many people have explicitly asked me to make these slides meatier, I’ll be writing my thoughts shortly. Stay tuned 🙂

The Startup Revolution in the Arab World

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It’s a fact, the startup ecosystem is blossoming in the Arab world. How did it happen? Who are the main players? How can the Arab diaspora help?

In partnership with WamdaSimplon.co, a French diversity-aiming digital co-working space, and StartupBRICS, a French-written blog on startups in the BRICS countries, are inviting French entrepreneurs and members of the Arab diaspora to discuss this startup revolution.

Several key players will lead the debate:

  • Julien Le Bot, co-founder at Yakwala, a French media focusing on hyperlocal news and data;
  • Rayna Stamboliyska, expert on open data and technology in the Middle East, founder at RS Strategy;
  • Ahmed Chebil, Tunisian entrepreneur (hosting, cloud and data security), via Skype;
  • Aline MayardWamda‘s French Editor;
  • Akram Belkaïd, author of “Être Arabe aujourd’hui”.

The debate will be curated by Hugo Sedouramane, a journalist at l’Opinion and project manager at Club 21ème Siècle. The event is #Simploff 3, and will take place on 2 December 2013, at Simplon.co’s premises in Montreuil.


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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Autumn 2013 Collection: MENA Digital News

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I have been struggling to find a good format for this. Writing a monthly review can be challenging (length, my own time availability, etc.). But then, a three-month wrap-up is huge…

Thus, I decided to organise the whole as follows: one part covering general developments in the region, another part covering the Mashrek (North Africa, Egypt, Lybia) and the Levant (Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Iraq), and a third part covering the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula (Qatar, KSA, UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Yemen, Bahrain). Enjoy the read, add comments if any (always welcome!) and see you again for the Spring Edition.

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#HackDataCulture, Automne Numérique and the Public Domain

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I participated in a series of events organised by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication (Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication, MCC). In the Ministry’s framework for cultural and art education, three events were organised:

  • 23 Nov 2013: a day dedicated to public domain works mashup at ENSCI Les Ateliers, an art-design school in the heart of Paris. I was a mentor this day;
Public domain mash-up, #MashupENSCI | Mash-up du domaine public. #MashupENSCI. CC-by-SA 3.0
Public domain mash-up, #MashupENSCI | Mash-up du domaine public. #MashupENSCI. CC-by-SA 3.0
  • 25-27 Nov 2013: a 52-hour long hackathon, the first-ever such event organised by the Ministry and revolving around cultural Open Data (more than 150 datasets released by the MCC); I was invited by the Ministry to be a member of the jury;
The jury deliberating. (Le jury est en train de délibérer ! Les équipes seront jugées sur les données publiques mobilisées, l’utilité, le design et le caractère innovant du service.)
The jury deliberating. (Le jury est en train de délibérer ! Les équipes seront jugées sur les données publiques mobilisées, l’utilité, le design et le caractère innovant du service.)
  • 7 Nov 2013: the closing day of the Automne Numérique culminated unveiling the hackathon winners and an announcement of new initiatives the MCC has engaged into in favour of Open Culture.

Learn more about the events on the Ministry’s C/Blog (in French).


Egypt: Draft Law on Internet Terrorism

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Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm (AMAY) has published a transcript of the draft law on combattling terrorism on the internet in Egypt. From what I’ve been told, anti-terror law has been on the table for many years  and the battle against it was that it will inscribe the emergency laws in the criminal code. It seems here that the internet is given a significant attention, at least at the first reading. Whatever the provisions, the draft law aims at legalizing pervasive surveillance and and will be a very convenient tool for jailing bloggers and all kinds of people estimated as junta-noncompliant.

Here are the most notable excerpts after a quick read-through. My comments are in blue.

The draft law contains four chapters: Chapter One is on the general provisions; Chapter Two is on punishment; Chapter Three is on procedural provisions; and Chapter Four deals with international judicial cooperation.

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Open Data Index 2013: Fundamental Public Sector Data Still Unavailable in MENA

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Rayna Stamboliyska, the founder of RS Strategy and Open MENA, served as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Editor for the Open Data Index.

The Index ranks countries based on the availability and accessibility of information in ten key areas, including government spending, election results, transport timetables, and pollution levels, and reveals that whilst some good progress is being made, much remains to be done.

The Open Data Index 2013 is the first assessment of openness of fundamental government data in the Middle East and North Africa, including full scorecards for six countries (Israel, Tunisia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen). The six countries from the Middle East, featured in the Index, globally show very low openness.

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Science, ‘whores’ and dissent

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First published as an op-ed at Al-Jazeera English.

Privately owned publications and governments threaten to cut to the bone of intellectual freedom in science.

Last Friday, popular science magazine Scientific American (SciAm) removed a blog post by a black female scientist and blogger discussing a recent professional exchange and the issue of integrity.

The incident – which SciAm justified by claiming that her article was not “scientific enough” – highlights the insidious forms of censorship in the science and research worlds.

So what exactly happened? Danielle Lee, a scientist and blogger at SciAm-hosted blog Urban Scientist, had been approached by a staff member of Biology-Online.org – referred to as “Ofek” – to contribute an article. When Lee asked for compensation details and learned she’d be writing for free, she kindly turned down the offer. In response, Ofek called her a “whore”. Consequently, Lee wrote a post on her SciAm-hosted blog addressing integrity and misconduct in science. Shortly afterwards, the post was removed without any explanation or prior notice.

Following SciAm’s seemingly arbitrary decision, a few scientists and bloggers started drawing attention to this bizarre development. Some noticed that Biology Online is SciAm’s partner; others (including yours truly) re-blogged the original post so everyone could read it. SciAm started getting a lot of heat. Pressing questions and critical debate followed, but SciAm’s editor-in-chief Mariette di Christina responded with two magnanimous tweets. The first one explained that pulling the post down is due to insufficient scientific content; the second one claimed the partnership between SciAm and Biology Online has nothing to do with the removal.

So on the face of it, a woman is called a “whore” in a professional setting, and then denied a voice in this environment to discuss her (mis)treatment. Uh oh, SciAm. I saw the regular blame-the-victim rhetoric on Twitter, too.

But wait: This isn’t the first time SciAm has removed content on the basis of “not [being] ‘sciencey’ enough”. Back in August 2013, the MIND Guest Blog published a post on sexual harassment female scientists encountered at work. The post was removed. At that time, Karen Stollznow, a prominent linguist, wrote about years of harassment escalating in job-related retaliation and even physical assault. SciAm removed her guest post (that is, content published after editor’s approval) without prior notice. When she asked about the rationale, it emerged that Stollznow’s employer involved their legal department in the matter, and in doing so potentially intimidated SciAm into action.

Let’s say, SciAm got swamped under a sudden wave of timidity. But have a look at a Slate editor’s note on a piece entitled “Skepticism and Secularism Have a Serious Sexual Harassment Problem”, describing Stollznow’s experience. The piece, available thanks to the WebArchive, tells of traumatising stalking and aggression by a fellow male scientist that began in 2009. Apparently, such an account “did not meet [Slate‘s] standards for verification and fairness, and we have taken it down”, says the editor’s note. Really, Slate?

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Scientific American screws it up big time, or censorship in science

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UPDATE: To sum up the story and highlight SciAm’s (lack of) reaction, I wrote this for Medium.

Earlier today, I spotted Dr. Isis’s #batsignal about @DNLee5’s delirious encounter with biology-online.org editor. DNLee is a biologist who was called a “whore” by Biology Online editor who asked her to blog for free, a gig she kindly refused. Later on, DNLee5 wrote a response over on her blog hosted by Scientific American, but the post was pulled down. According to Dr. Isis, DNLee’s happy to have the original post reproduced, so here it is below, with the original images and screenshots that I hosted here (they linked to SciAm’s servers, but since SciAm removed the post, they may as well remove the pics, too, for the sake of consistency, of course.).

Here also a link to the Storify I curated gathering quite a few outrageous reactions. And — more and more disappointingly — the deafening silence SciAm crew is being burying itself in.

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Nature Middle East’s weekly science dose (Oct 4 — Oct 10)

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Have you heard of reptiles that swim? Such animals used to exist back in the Late Cretaceous period (that is, 98–66 million years ago). Mosasaurs were discovered back in 1764; it quickly became clear that they were marine predators, but the debate still continues on how exactly they swam. A part of the scientific community argues they moved like snakes. Bringing robust analysis and proofs, a recent study demonstrates that Mosasaurs were skilled swimmers, achieving swim speed comparable to sharks.

On a different and more to-the-ground note, researchers have identified a better curative approach for acute leukaemia. The latter is the blood cancer that claims hundreds of lives every year. A comparison between more than 1,000 samples revealed that a drug treatment gives much better remission results. It thus improves survival rates than total body irradiation.

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Big Data, Bad Data: My keynote at the Open World Forum 2013

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I was honoured to be giving the closing keynote at the Open World Forum 2013. The event took place in Paris on 4 October 2013. I shared the stage with Rand Hindi of :SNIPS and Romain Lacombe of French Prime Minister’s Commission Etalab.

We spoke about what big data can bring to society. Thus, I focused on critically discussing common misconceptions in both Big Data meaning and analysis.

Most importantly, my take-home message is that numbers do not speak of themselves. Rather, data’s meaning in the eye of the beholder. Therefore, context, interpretation, what counts even, are all a function of who runs the analysis.


RS Strategy at the Open World Forum

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RS Strategy actively contributed to this year’s edition of the Open World Forum. Our involvement encompassed chairing a whole session (from programme curation to on-site delivery) and two keynotes.

As previously mentioned, I curated the programme for and organised the Open Data track. Experts from Morocco, the French national railway company SNCF, and the French Prime Minister’s Open Data Taskforce Etalab shared views on opening governance and public sector data.

Also, contributing to specific tracks, I gave two talks:

“Open Data in Science and Research” (track ‘Public Policies’), introducing the audience to the vital importance of opening up scientific research:

(also view directly on Slideshare)

“Big Data, Bad Data” (closing keynote, with Romain Lacombe from French Prime Minister’s Taskforce Etalab and Rand Hindi from :SNIPS:), a critical look at the misconceptions ‘big data’ can endorse — and how to account for them:


[Announcement] OKCon Open & Citizen Science hackday: submissions

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I’ve already announced the OKCon ‘Open & Citizen Science satellite event’. As you may remember, we launched idea submissions several days ago. The detailed descriptions are below. You can vote for your favourite one and join us geeking out next Thursday, Sept 19. Don’t hesitate to get back to us either via Twitter (@MaliciaRogue, @stefankasberger) or via mail.

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Syria’s vanishing history

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[This was first published on Nature Middle East.]

The war in Syria is laying waste to ancient monuments and artefacts, while archaeologists and citizens scramble to protect what they can.

Syria’s rich cultural heritage, which stretches back to the beginnings of human history, is at risk as fighting ravages the country.

Gathering accurate information is a challenge, but despite the violence, archaeologists and citizens have been trying to document the destruction of historical sites in the wake of all international archaeological missions leaving Syria.

From Babylonians to Arabs and the Crusaders, numerous civilisations have left their mark on Syria. Six of the country’s sites appear on UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites list: Damascus, Aleppo, the Crac des Chevaliers, Palmyra, Bosra and the Ancient Villages in Northern Syria. Hundreds of monuments are on UNESCO’s Tentative List, and the national heritage register also boasts a wealth of treasures.

Since the unrest began in March 2011, the destruction of cultural sites has often been reported. The cause of damage ranges from shelling and gunfire to army occupation and bombing. Rampant looting and illegal developments on unguarded archaeological sites is also rife.

Syria’s Directorate-General of the Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) is the authority in charge of the maintaining, safeguarding and preserving the country’s heritage, but the ongoing conflict makes DGAM’s remit increasingly difficult.

Before the violence started, about 180 national and international archaeological missions were represented in Syria, but they all left the country in 2011.

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[Announcement] Open and Citizen Science in the heart of Europe

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Stefan Kasberger from OKFn Austria and myself are organizing this one-day workshop as an OKCon satellite event. Join us!

Thursday 19 September, 10:00 – 17:00 @ Centre Universitaire d’Informatique Université de Genève, Auditorium, Ground Floor

Coordinators: Stefan Kasberger (Open Knowledge Foundation Austria) and Rayna Stamboliyska (Open Knowledge Foundation France), in collaboration with Daniel Lombraña González (Citizen Cyberscience Center / Citizen CyberlabFrançois Grey (Citizen Cyberscience Center / University of Geneva), Margaret Gold/ Brian Fuchs (Citizen Cyberlab The Mobile Collective)

Hacking science makes us happy. If it makes you happy, too, then, this year’s Open Knowledge Conference is the place to be!

Indeed, OKCon 2013 is where an amazing bouquet of insights from Open and Citizen science will converge. But if you thought there would be only food for the brain, you were wrong. A satellite event will take place on 19 September aiming at giving space for everyone to actually get great things done.

With our friends Daniel Lombraña González (Citizen Cyberscience Center / Citizen Cyberlab) François Grey (Citizen Cyberscience Center / University of Geneva), Margaret Gold/ Brian Fuchs (Citizen Cyberlab The Mobile Collective), we have come up with a way allowing everyone to take part to this exciting day.

I have an idea!

We know you do. Hence, we have a dedicated form ready for you to submit a short description of what you are keen to work on. You can also indicate what additional competences you need in order to get your project done.

Idea submission will be running from today until 10 September. Every week, we will be updating everyone (through the Open Science mailing list) telling you about the new ideas submitted. In addition, a community call will be scheduled to discuss and narrow down these ideas so that they actually become feasible within one-day long hands-on sprint.

Working together

The idea of the satellite event is to geek out together. On 11 September, we will be publishing a poll with all ideas so that you can be able to vote for the project you want to work on on Day D. Voting will run until 18 September.

Do not forget to bring your favourite geeking gear (laptop, some flavour of mobile device or a fancy notebook in the perfect 1.0 fashion). We will have WiFi, cookies and fun!

The workshop space can accommodate up to 45 people. To sign-up, express your interest in the topic and get in touch with the coordinators please write to openandcitizenscience@okcon.org.

Losing Egyptian heritage: losing tidbits of humankind history

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[This was originally published on Nature Middle East.]

As political unrest continues in Egypt, thieves have attacked a museum in the country’s south, stealing or burning evidence of thousands of years of history.

While Egypt focused on violent outbreaks in the rest of the country, raiders broke into the halls of the Malawi National Museum and ransacked its collections on two consecutive nights, stealing or destroying almost all of its artefacts.

The museum, 300 Km sound of Cairo in the Upper Egypt city of Minya, is a little-known cultural centre, but is home to a rich and diverse collection that spans Egyptian history from Greco-Roman to the 18th Dynasty eras. Many of the antiquities housed in the museum date back to the eras of the pharaoh Akhenaten and Nefertiti; some are animal mummies and statues dedicated to the worship of the Egyptian god Thoth, a deity represented with the head of an ibis.

Looters are widely believed to be supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi. But Monica Hanna, an Egyptian archaeologist at Humboldt University of Berlin, closely following the events, blamed the looting on “people’s greed under political and religious cover.”

Archaeologists and museum workers have started to identify and list the stolen objects, believed to number around 1,040. According to preliminary evaluations, 1040 of the 1089 artefacts that the museum housed have so far been reported missing. The Facebook page “Egypt’s Heritage Task Force”, launched by Hanna in June in response to a growing number of thefts from Egyptian heritage sites, has an updated album of images of the stolen items.

“All small pieces of the Malawi museum are completely looted, and all of them are from the Amarna Period,” says Hanna. The Amarna Period art is distinctive from more conventional Egyptian art styles, with artists of the era opting for a more relaxed, realistic portrayal than the traditional stylized and rigid formality of previous dynasties.

According to reports, in the second raid, the museum was set alight and objects not stolen on the first night were badly burnt. Objects too heavy to carry out of the museum, such as wooden and stone sarcophagi, have been severely damaged. “Two mummies were burnt down, but fortunately two others could be saved as well as a huge number of fragments,” says Hanna.

Yesterday, curators from the Malawi National Museum confirmed that five painted wooden sarcophagi, two mummies and a papyrus handwritten in Demotic, as well as a collection of broken ancient statues, have been sent for restoration.

Once archaeologists complete the investigations and finalize a list of stolen objects, it will be distributed to all Egyptian ports to thwart any smuggling attempts. All missing artefacts will be put on UNESCO’s red list to avoid being smuggled and sold on the international antiquities market. “Egypt’s Heritage Task Force contacted INTERPOL immediately, independently of the Ministry of Antiquities, and alerted the International Council of Museums and the International Committee for Egyptology,” adds Hanna.

The Ministry of Antiquities also announced a campaign to retrieve stolen objects, offering compensation for those who will return the artefacts. The al-Ashmounein storehouse near the museum is receiving the returned antiquities, but so far, only two objects have been returned, according to Hanna.

Vandalism of museums is frequently reported in times of major political disturbances. Additionally, looting of Egyptian archaeological sites has been on the rise as the black market for antiquities grows.

Egypt: Attacks on Churches Continue Amidst Nationwide Violence

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The list below sums up continuing sectarian violence nationwide for Friday, August 16. I have started to collect images separately in a dedicated gallery. This is an ongoing work, so please ping us on Twitter (myself or @moftasa) or leave a comment below to let me know if I have missed something or if I need to fix anything below.

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Egypt’s Heritage in Danger

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Since the brutal clear-out of the two pro-Morsi sit-ins in Cairo, grim and worrisome details of looting and theft emerge. I have already thoroughly documented destruction of diverse Christian properties. Below are details about stolen/looted cultural heritage (museums, archaeological sites, antiquities of all sorts).

This is ongoing work, thanks for letting me know if I’ve missed anything, either by leaving a comment below or through tweeting at me.

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#EgyChurch: Sectarian Violence Wrap-up

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Ongoing work, regularly updated. List curated by @moftasa and @MaliciaRogue.

Yesterday was a tough day that saw bloodbath and destruction everywhere. We tried to document and curate things, but I’m realizing some parts 1/ need better focus; and 2/ the current description may be a bit confusing as it mixes updates, different languages and final estimations. Yes, there is life outside Cairo, and while all eyes were on the capital, bloodthirst useless insidious events were taking place elsewhere in the country.

So, below is a (thus far) verified list of Christian churches, schools and institutions having undergone attacks yesterday. I truly hope there won’t be more to add. Don’t forget to label reports with the hashtag #EgyChurch. A dedicated gallery is available here. If you hear of other religious minorities being attacked (Shi’a, Baha’a, etc.), let me know either through a comment below or through Twitter.

Amira Mikhail, Mai El-Sadani and Amir Beshay have independently done high-quality curation as well. Info is available on Amira’s blog.

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[UPDATED] Wrapping Up: Egyptian Security Disperse Muslim Brotherhood Sit-ins

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Content below curated by @moftasa & @MaliciaRogue. Translations in French and Arabic coming shortly. Content is regularly updated.

Egypt presidency declared a 30-day long state of emergency starting August 14, 4pm, and orders the Armed Forces to work closely with police to “do what is needed for the calm to return.” Curfew to be instaured after 7pm every evening except today (starting from 9pm); journalists announced to be exempt from curfew. State of emergency gives the state the following extraordinary powers (non-exhaustive):

– Censorship over any texting, media

– Assigning individuals with specific tasks

– Frisking, inspecting and searching any place or individual without court order

– Arrest under suspicion.

– Limiting individual’s transportation, gathering and residency

– Confiscating any prints, flyers and shutting down the publishing source

Mohamed El-Baradei has resigned in the end of the afternoon. The National Salvation Front (NSF) has allegedly issued a statement on the situation. His full resignation letter translated into English is below.

Announcement: For security reasons, the Biblioteca Alexandrina will be closed tomorrow, Aug 15. Reports about hooded armed men inside the building have been denied, but such individuals remain outside of the building and some of the outside glasses have been broken.

The hashtag #EgyChurch is used to curate information on Twitter about attacked churches nationwide.

Comprehensive Wrap-Up of the Events

Map of the pro-Morsi sit-ins from Al-Jazeera English:

Map of the pro-Morsi sit-ins in Cairo. Image from AJE. Click to see full size.

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Open Data at the Open World Forum!

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I am the ‘Open Data’ track leader for the Open World Forum to be held in early October in Paris. To follow the event as it’s been built up, please visit the Open World Forum’s website.

For this year’s event, we have already confirmed an impressive line-up of speakers (abstracts are in French, as the session is in French):

  • Romain Lalanne (Director, Open Data at SNCF): “Open Transport: Rethink Mobility with Open Data”

Dans le domaine du transport, l’Open Data, a le pouvoir de relever les défis d’une mobilité plus informée, plus fluide, plus personnalisée. Optimisation et valorisation du temps de voyage, gestion de l’affluence dans les trains, adaptation aux besoins de chaque voyageur : Romain Lalanne propose un retour d’expérience de l’engagement du groupe SNCF en matière d’Open Data et présente un panorama des perspectives à venir dans l’Open Transport.

  • Abderahman Zohry and Yassir Kazar (Morocco): “Is Open Data Possible in Morocco?”
  • Alexandre Quintard-Kaigre (Legal Advisor, Etalab, Prime Minister Taskforce for Open Data): “Renew Democracy with the Internet and Open Data”

Réserve parlementaire, financement des syndicats, dépenses de la Sécurité sociale, faits constatés de délinquance et de criminalité, adresses des écoles publiques, prix des carburants dans chaque station essence, masse salariale des cabinets ministériels, attribution des véhicules de fonction, subventions de l’Etat aux associations, interventions économiques aux entreprises, dotations globales de fonctionnement aux collectivités territoriales, aides de la PAC, effectifs des fonctions publiques, nombre d’agents et de chômeurs dans chaque agence de Pôle Emploi…

Les attentes des Français sont très fortes en matière de transparence des services publics et d’exemplarité dans l’action de leurs représentants. Sans confiance des citoyens dans les Institutions, la République vacille et la cohésion sociale s’effrite. Intégrer les valeurs d’Internet dans la gouvernance publique participe ainsi au renouvellement et à l’intégrité de notre démocratie : rendre des comptes sur Internet en partageant gratuitement et librement les informations et les données produites par les services publics avec tous les citoyens – quelque soit leur statut ou leur catégorie socio-professionnelle – contribue à renforcer la liberté d’information et l’Etat de droit, in fine les libertés fondamentales de chaque citoyen.

  • Antoine Courmont (Project Leader, Open Data for Lyon): “Opening Up Data: On the Road to a Smart City”

L’ouverture des données (open data) et la ville intelligente (smart city) sont régulièrement associés. Et pour cause, les données sont au cœur de la ville de demain, et les mettre à disposition du plus grand nombre ne peut que faciliter l’innovation et la création de services aux usagers. Le Grand Lyon s’inscrit dans cette perspective par la mise en place d’une plateforme de diffusion de données territoriales au service de ses politiques publiques, des entreprises et des citoyens. Cette démarche d’ouverture est une invitation à repenser à la fois le rôle des acteurs et les façons de faire pour proposer de nouvelles expériences de la vie en ville.

  • Stéphane Gigandet (Founder, Open Food Facts): “Open Food Facts: Citizen Crowdsourcing of Food Data for better transparency in our plates”

Huile de palme dans le Nutella, viande de cheval dans les lasagnes au boeuf : pour les consommateurs, l’industrie alimentaire est trop souvent une boîte noire. Bien malin qui sait aujourd’hui ce qu’il y a vraiment dans son assiette. Pour apporter plus de transparence, des citoyens ont créé Open Food Facts, une base de données libre et ouverte sur les produits alimentaires du monde entier. Armés de leur smartphone ou d’un appareil photo, ils collectent les données sur les produits alimentaires pour qu’elles puissent être décryptées, analysées et comparées.

Qu’est ce que le colorant E150d et dans quoi le trouve-t-on, quels sont les sodas les plus sucrés, les biscuits qui contiennent le plus d’additifs, quelles usines préparent les produits de quelles marques : voici quelques exemples de questions auxquelles Open Food Facts apporte une réponse. Toutes les données collectées sont diffusées sous une licence libre : ce sont des données ouvertes (open data). Elles peuvent être utilisées et ré-utilisées librement et gratuitement par tous et pour tous usages. Venez en découvrir quelques uns et peut-être en imaginer et en réaliser d’autres !

Looking forward to meeting you there!

MENA Infographic Roundup: Education, Tech, Work Dynamics

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I was feeling like wrapping up a few interesting tidbits I stumbled upon earlier. These are all infographics, some are in Arabic. Enjoy 🙂

Tech

Wamda publishes a nice and comprehensive infographic (full size) summing up the ways Jordanians use the Internet. For Arabic-impared, here are a few highlights:

  • internet penetration in Jordan is only around 48%;
  • of the 1.5 million internet users in Jordan, 90% of women and 87% of men use social networks;
  • the vast majority of internet users are men between 20 and 30 years old;
  • men spend more time on social networks than women (one hour 37 min vs. 50 min, respectively), but streaming websites — amongst the most popular in Jordan — have equal visit rates;
  • Internet users aged above 40 represent 11% of the total number of all internet users in the country.

Internet Use in Jordan, by Y2D and Ipsos.

I have previously written on Jordan (and spoke on radio about it). The most recent piece is here: Jordan Starts Blocking ‘Unlicensed Websites’ (published in Jadaliyya).

Education

I stumbled upon an interesting infographic by the Worldbank, entitled “What Will It Take to Achieve Education for All?”. The infographic doesn’t focus on the Middle East specifically but wraps up global trends. It was published back in April 2013, preparing for the ‘Learning for All’ Ministerial Meeting. The Worldbank Blog published excerpts from the associated social media campaign that I recommed you have a look at.

  • إنفوجرافيك: ما المطلوب لتحقيق هدف التعليم للجميع؟ (full size)
  • “What Will It Take to Achieve Education for All?” (full size)

infographic-educ-ar

I have recently written on more Middle East-targeted education topics: Information Technologies and Education in the Arab World (published in Nature Middle East).

Workplace

Bayt.com, the famous online job search platform, has conducted a poll which saw 9,845 respondents covering the UAE, KSA, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia. The results are presented in a comprehensive infographic (full size); highlights:

  • 20% of job seekers blame the educational system for being ill-prepared for the current job market;
  • 54% of professionals are active job seekers who apply regularly (vs. 46% who are passive job seekers, that is they wait for employers to find them);
  • 30% of professionals feel the biggest turn-off in a manager is the lack of vision;
  • top industries perceived to be employing the most talent are Oil and Gas, & IT and Telecom.

Workplace Dynamics in MENA

From Bahrain to Bulgaria: Creating Pleasant Online Space for LGBTQ-related Discussions

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What do Bahrain and Bulgaria have in common? No, it’s not the B…

Bahraini entrepreuner and activist Esra’a Al-Shaffei launched Ahwaa.org back in 2011 as an online space for LGBTQ-related discussions in the Middle East. Today, Bulgarian Kilera.org kicked off.

Kilera.org is an online forum dedicated to the LGBTQ community in Bulgaria. It was built after Ahwaa.org, in conjunction with Bulgarian LGBTQ NGO Deystvie (‘action’). Kilera (‘closet’) in Bulgarian is the slang word used to describe the period of time when LGBTQ people hide their sexual orientations and/or identity: ‘locked in the closet’. Kilera.org thus comes at a very timely moment, and I am sure it’ll really make a difference.

The situation with the LGBTQ community in Bulgaria is worrisome as homophobia is rampant and hate speech is prevalent. Thus, a 25-year old medical student was beaten to death by other young people because “he looked gay” and the young men were trying to “clean up” a famous park in the capital city of Sofia from gays. Such dreadful crackdown is one of the manifest signs of homophobia in the country: in 2009 and 2011, Bulgaria was the most homophobic EU Member State as reported by dedicated studies from the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights.

The International Day Against Homophobia (May 17) was marked by new worrying studies showing that more than 1/4 of LGBTQ people have sufferred some type of physical violence in the last five years, attacks generally led by small groups of male aggressors and occurring in public places. Despite the high frequency of attacks, complaints are rarely filed as people don’t consider the police and the judiciary to be anyway willing to do something.

Although the situation seems to improve in 2012 — Bulgaria is “just” among the most homophobic EU states, not the most homophobic — 53% of the LGBTQ community members have undergone some kind of harassment or retaliation for their sexual orientation and/or identity in the last 12 months preceeding the study. Gay pride marches are also welcomed with obvious hostility.

MENA Nukes

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Some time ago, I created the infographic below. It looks at the transparency of nuclear power across the MENA (the Middle East and North Africa) countries.

Now that I have a look at it, it is pretty much Q&D thingy, but the important is there: data is correct, proof-checked and properly introduced. I thus decided to anyway publish it.

Nuclear power in the Middle East. Click to zoom in. Ask me for the .svg source
Nuclear power in the Middle East. Click to zoom in. Ask me for the .svg source

Data source

Jordan Starts Blocking ‘Unlicensed Websites’

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[First published on Jadaliyya.]

[…] the [Telecommunications Regulatory] Commission directs you to do what is required to block the websites listed in the attached document and prevent your subscribers from accessing them before the end of today, June 2, 2013. Note that the websites that don’t have a URL in the list, you will be provided with later.

What followed was a list of 304 websites.

This is the request sent by the Jordanian Telecommunications Regulatory Commission to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) on 2 June 2013, and published by Jordanian citizen media platform 7iber. The request is in line with legislation enforced back in September 2012––the Press and Publications Law. The Press and Publications Department, a state entity once formally known as thee Censorship Department, is now in charge of applying this law.

Jordan counts nearly 500 online news outlets. According to the current version of the Press and Publications Law, any such website has to register with the Press and Publications Department in order to obtain a license. Registering is reported to cost 1,000 Jordanian dinars (1,400USD). The websites listed in the blocking request are deemed “unlicensed,” meaning having neither obtained a license nor applied to obtain one. Reportedly, 102 websites remain accessible for either having obtained a license or for having applied for such within the official deadlines.

The move caused a deluge of discussions on a wide range of media channels, when Press and Publications Department director denied a fee is required to get registered and after a cement factory website was identified as listed among the websites to be blocked for allegedly manufacturing paper. As no official has offered commentary on these discrepancies, the process through which websites are selected for blocking remains obscure.

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Information technologies and education in the Arab World

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A new UNESCO report looks at how ICT is being used in education across five Arab states.

In spite of a push to incorporate ICT (information and communication technology) in education across the Arab world, several countries still lag behind, according to a new report from UNESCO.

The report is the first to focus on how ICT is being used in the region and focuses on five countries in the Middle East: Egypt, Jordan, Oman, the Occupied Palestinian Territories (data from the West Bank only) and Qatar. It identifies four main indicators of how ICT rates in education: infrastructure, gender, teacher preparedness and policy.

The basic infrastructure indicator looks at student access to technology and access to the Internet. Of the five countries, Egypt is a clear outlier. At the primary school level, an average of 120 pupils share one computer, and at the secondary level, the number reduces to 25 students. The average number in the other four countries is between seven and 19 at the primary school level (Qatar and Palestine, respectively). These numbers drop to five students at the secondary school level.

The disparity between Egypt and the others becomes even more striking when looking at access to computers connected to the internet. Every 441 pupils at the primary school level share one such computer, dropping to 94 at the secondary school level.

Fewer than a third of the computers at schools in Egypt and the Occupied Palestinian Territories are connected to the internet, computers for educational and administrative purposes are both counted. In contrast, about two-thirds of computers in schools in Jordan, Oman and Qatar are online.

“Computers are not necessary as a pre-requisite for good thinking; good teachers are. But young learners need to use computers to be competitive in the global marketplace,” says Marina Apaydin, professor of Strategic Management and Innovation at the American University of Beirut. “Not knowing ITC and language makes kids illiterate in the modern world and this is one of the reasons MENA lags behind say China and India in producing competitive and mobile workforce.”

Insights

When surveying teacher preparedness to use ICTs in classrooms, according to nationally-defined qualification standards, the report found that only “a minority of teachers are prepared to teach basic computer skills or computing” across the five states in both primary and secondary schools.

The report found that gender did not factor significantly in access to ICT in education. Interestingly, wherever such differences appear, they seem to favour access to and use of ICT by girls. These findings need, however, to be considered cautiously as the authors point out that the data speaks little about the methods of use of ICT by gender.

All five countries have formally developed policies to integrate ICT in education by establishing “regulatory institutions to ensure that ICT-assisted educational reform takes place.” These policies do not translate, however into practice, the report says. Egypt and the Occupied Palestinian Territories also lag behind the three other countries when it comes to permeation of ICT curricula across all grades of primary and secondary education.

“The problem in Egypt is that a very ambitious modernisation campaign was led to equipping schools with computers and internet while less attention was given to building human capacities to use them, resulting in a lack of vision for the sustainability of such initiatives,” says Karim Kasim, telecentres regional coordinator for the Egypt ICT Trust Fund —, which was jointly established by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

You can download the full report from UNESCO’s website

[First published on Nature Middle East. More MENA content.]

Thoughts on Open Innovation: The Rebirth of the Citizen Scientist

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This is the section in a chapter I co-wrote and edited with friends from the Open Science group of the Open Knowledge Foundation. The chapter is part of the insightful discussion that the Open Forum Academy (OFA) initiated earlier this year, and I am very glad to have been part of it. The chapter, entitled “Bottom-Up Creation of Open Scientific Knowledge”, is part of OFA’s second book, “Thoughts on Open Innovation”. Enjoy the read!

🎧 Listen to this post:

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University of Geneva hosts Citizen Cyberscience on PLoS Blogs ‘CitizenSci’

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Citizen Cyberscience was at the honour at the University of Geneva on April 22-23, 2013. I wrote a brief sum-up on it for PLoS Blogs ‘Citizen Science’.

A short time ago, I attended a two-day Citizen Cyberscience workshop at the University of Geneva. As much as the USA and the UK are happy having a vibrant community of citizen scientists, such initiatives in many other European countries are still stuttering. A dedicated workshop in one such country was thus even more exciting. I was there not only because of my interest in the topic but also on behalf of my current position within the EU-funded Citizen Cyberlab’s Synthetic Biology section.

The goal of the workshop was both to get everyone updated on the latest developments of tools for actual citizen science doing and “to work in teams to design and implement a first prototype of a citizen cyberscience project”. The first day was dedicated to talks, and the second day – to hands-on activities. As I recently launched the ‘Open & Citizen Science’ workgroup at the Open Knowledge Foundation France, I am pretty much interested into concrete tools I can use to get people involved into actual projects. Thus, there were two talks of special interest for me: the presentations of Epicollect and Crowdcrafting.

[read more on PLoS Blogs]
[View the story “#CitizenCyberscience workshop in Geneva” on Storify]

#UAE94: Thought Trial in the United Arab Emirates

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I am finally done curating this awful thing… Five months, twelve hearings, nearly 100 defendants and countless ‘collateral’ victims detained over delirious charges. Albeit some of the defendants belonging to Al-Islah (UAE’s Ikhwan division), this is just a very badly disguised thought trial. The Storify, gathering nearly all that exists in English on the topic, covers the timespan between Jan 29, 2012 and May 20, 2013. It’ll be regularly updated:
View the story “#UAE94: Thought Trial in the UAE”

Living on Mars

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[This op-ed was first published on Al-Jazeera English.]

“Touchdown confirmed. We are safe on Mars.”

It has been nearly nine months now that the Curiosity Rover touched down on Mars. Do not be fooled by its cockamamie drawing penchant: the Rover has identified traces of calcium (often associated with water), and a stream bed. Around Christmas 2012, the NASA team winnowed down rich in clay mudstone containing small amounts of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, sulphur and phosphorus – the building blocks of life. The dizzying amount of data Curiosity has been sending is by all accounts changing our perceptions and the possibilities we envision.

The Curiosity Rover’s startling wander on Mars has energised burgeoning – and often private – space tourism endeavours. US millionaire Dennis Tito for instance thinks going to Mars is so simple that it just might work. His Inspiration Mars programme launched back in February 2013 aims at sending a couple of humans on a journey on January 5, 2018, as Mars and the Earth would align on this day which enables a no-fuss trajectory. They will return 501 days later having flown by, but not landed on, Mars. Albeit still scant details about the five-year development plan, NASA hailed “the adventurous spirit of […] citizen explorers”.

Bold minds have come up with Mars One, a non-profit/for-profit hybrid plan to send people settle a colony on Mars. Living on Mars thus does not seem to be a nut job any more. Mars Onewill train people – no specific skills required – for eight years prior to sending them in such a mission. Going to Mars seems within reach, and we are planning to send people to live there. The question is thus not when but how: how do you live on Mars?

The NASA does many things well, and the reason why is because it buries every problem in experts. Recently, the NASA used a crowd-sourced approach to better prepare the Mars Exploration Program. The NASA Space Apps Challenges make no exception: during a two-day (April 20-21) event held simultaneously in multiple cities across the world, experts from all backgrounds gathered to address a total of 50 challenges. These ranged from software to hardware and visualisation challenges, including robotics and citizen science platforms. Paris – where I live – also participated, and I was invited to lead the “Citizen Science” section.

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Bulgaria: Investigative Journalist Receives Death Threats

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(French, Bulgarian below / Français et bulgare ci-dessous / Френски и български по-долу)

The Bulgarian chapter of the European Association of Journalists calls for swift measures against death threats received by investigative journalist Hristo Hristov and his family. Hristov has been investigating the history, development and ramifications of intelligence services under the former totalitarian regime and their implications in the current governing bodies.

The press release is available in Bulgarian.

La section bulgare de l’Association des Journalistes Européens appelle à des actions immédiates de la part des pouvoirs compétents en réaction aux menaces de mort adressées au journalisme d’investigation Hristo Hristov et sa famille. Mr Hristov a consacré ses recherches des dernières années à l’histoire, le développement et les évolutions des services secrets de l’ère sovietique et leurs implications dans la gouvernance du pays depuis la chute du Mur de Berlin jusqu’à aujourd’hui.

Le communiqué de presse est disponible en bulgare.

АЕЖ-България настоява компетентните органи бързо да предприемат всички необходими мерки както за гарантиране на живота, здравето и сигурността на колегата и неговите близки, така и за разкриването и осъждането на извършителите на това престъпление.
Комуникето можете да прочетете на сайта на АЕЖ-България.

Refugee brides: the bounties of war

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[This op-ed was originally published on FutureChallenges.org.]

“There are many who don’t wish to sleep for fear of nightmares. Sadly, there are many who don’t wish to wake for the same fear.” (Richelle Goodrich)

It’s two years now since the Syrian people first took to the streets to protest against the dictatorial iron fist of Bashar Al-Assad. His blood-thirsty repression has left countless injured and dead while more than a million people have fled the country seeking a safer and better life for themselves and their families.

I want to talk here about Syrian refugees and more particularly about women refugees and their daily nightmare. Of course, I could lambast the criminality of  international political sluggishness or argue there is still hope for this beautiful country and its people. But others have done high-voltage political analysis before me and I don’t feel any need to dress up in words my gut instinct that the days of the foul Bashar dictatorship are numbered.

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Opening the Black Box of Governance: Alleviating Poverty With Data

Let's work together!
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[First published on OECD’s website, prior to OECD’s Global Forum for Development.]

The constant rise of Internet and mobile phone use is an opportunity to enable more citizens to engage with governance. Technology can help improve citizen participation in decision-making and can re-energise participation in public life. Transparency and accountability are becoming a diverse and dynamic field for exploration worldwide. Opening the data produced by public administrations is part of an effective approach to poverty alleviation.

Incredible amounts of data are produced every day, by a wide range of stakeholders: governments, media, mobile operators, citizens themselves. Despite the huge potential for using data about society or government for the public good, it is rarely released and shared for public use. Additionally, reliable statistics can be hard to come by or are still the exclusive property of government or corporate officials.

Open Government Data by Justin Grimes on flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Open Government Data by Justin Grimes on flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
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Governments and citizens status: it’s complicated

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[This post was initially published on FutureChallenges.org.]

I have been mulling over how to frame my thoughts about the ‘relationship trouble’ between the people and the institutions that govern them. On FutureChallenges, Corina Murafa phrased a very interesting perspective; I, however, disagree with her main proposition: “governments, be they local, regional or national, are no better than their constituencies.”

I believe many out there have read Jacques Rousseau’s “The Social Contract”, either during the seemingly never-ending philosophy classes at high school or on some whimsical Sunday afternoon later on. In this foundation work, Rousseau firmly rejects a (not only at that time) pervasive idea that people can invest some group or individual with the authority to act on their behalf and rule over them. Instead, Rousseau considers that when you hand over your general rule to another person or entity, this constitutes a kind of slavery. More importantly, the mere fact of recognizing this authority is an abdication of moral agency. Such a surrender is even more striking when  you consider the hostility with which Rousseau approaches the election of representatives to sovereign assemblies: these vote and pass laws that bind citizens to terms and obligations the citizens themselves have not agreed upon.

Now, this is no scoop: many people have come to think that such an infantilizing political system needs to be challenged and reconstructed. Take the #Occupy movements, the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, 15M, #IdleNoMore, the huge protests that have erupted even in a country as apathetic as Bulgaria… But I don’t want to get into an analysis of popular movements here: I’d much prefer to talk about a more ’2.0 version’ of a Rousseau-inspired fight against the abdication of moral agency. Let’s talk about Open Government initiatives.

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Blogging the 2013 Global Forum on Development at OECD

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Save the date! On behalf of RS Strategy, I will be covering the OECD’s 2013 Global Forum on Development (April 4-5, 2013):

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.

Leading up to the meeting, I am reflecting on development issues that help serve as weekly online discussion topics on the OECD website.

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The Democratic Bahraini Regime Kills Irony Once More

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Today March 12 is the World Day Against Cyber-Censorship. Initiated by Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières, RSF) back in 2011, the Day aims “to rally everyone in support of a single Internet without restrictions and accessible to all.” RSF released a special report highlighting the “Enemies of the Internet.” The report, which presents the 2012 list of countries, has identified five State Enemies of the Internet: these are all ‘spy’ states as they conduct systematic online surveillance which results in human rights violations. They are Syria, China, Iran, Bahrain and Vietnam.

The report also emphasize the importance of advanced technology which enables authoritarian regimes to
spy on their citizens. RSF has thus compiled a list of five “Corporate Enemies of the Internet,” that is 5 privately held companies which it names ‘digital era mercenaries’ because they sell software used by authoritarian governments to commit violations of human rights and freedom of information. With no surprises, these are Gamma Group, Trovicor, Hacking Team, Amesys/Bull and Blue Coat.

I guess the Bahraini repressive regime is greedy for becoming even more famous: in celebration of its excellent rank in the top 5 of the ‘Enemies of the Internet,’ it has arrested 6 tweeps. The Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights lists the names and a few details on each case. The Bahraini Ministry of Interior cheekily explained:

The General Director of Anti-Corruption and Economic and Electronic Security announced on Tuesday that a group of individuals were monitored for using social media for defamation of the King. Investigation identified six of them, in which they were referred to the public prosecution.

He said that freedom of expression in protected within the constitution and law, while urging for the best use of social media to avoid breaking the law.

I guess no comment is needed at this point…

#aMomentaryLapseOfReason + #GeekyTreasures on Twitter

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After some thinking and web crawling, I decided to launch these two hashtags on Twitter: #aMomentaryLapseOfReason and #GeekyTreasures.

Why? Well, because I do curate stuff anyway. The thing is that I tweet about so many different things that all the geeky, funny, weird, creative things can easily go unnoticed. Hence these two hashtags.

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Closed-source software recommended to Syrian activists as 100% secure…

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It is about Wickr, an app only available for iOS thus far. I remember this app made me smile when it was announced back in June 2012: it sends messages and photos that will be erased. The funny thing is that the user chooses for how long the messages/photos will last.

Nico Sell, co-founder of Wickr and one of the organisers of the DefCon, says Wickr will bring “NSA top-secret level encryption to the masses.” It seems absolutely awesome.

As operating on entirely proprietary and locked OS was not enough, Wickr also uses proprietary cryptography algorithms and its source code is closed. I’m confused about the “geek utopia” Sell depicts as follows:

Wickr has a patent pending on technology which Sell said could give people ways to safeguard anything they send or put online, even digital bytes in Internet telephone calls or posts to leading social network Facebook.

Loads of discussions (Mashable, for the non-crypto specialists and Liberationtech for the geekier) have been taking place around how much one could trust this tool. As quite a few security concerns have been addressed (see the Liberationtech messages above), I was particularly alarmed by the following in the Mashable article:

So could Wickr be used by an activist in Syria who is worried about enemy spies and Assad’s regime? Sell has no doubts — she answers that question with an unflickering “yes.”

You mean, people at risk of dying for communicating through technology could use a tool that only a small crowd knows the secrets of?
The blackbox software is good for you

Open and Connected: Impressions from the Social Media Week Hamburg and Paris

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[Co-written by Mario Sorgalla and yours truly, this post was first published on FutureChallenges.org.]

This year, Social Media Week celebrated its fifth birthday. Ten cities all over the world were hosts of this truly global conference. The organizers marked this milestone with a unifying global theme that explored openness in a connected and collaborative world.

Future Challenges first got in contact with Social Media Week last year. The Future Challenges team gave a crowdsourced presentation titled “Big World – Big Challenges: can a big network help?”. Twenty bloggers from our worldwide blogger network contributed to this presentation. That’s just one of the reasons why we at Future Challenges are familiar with the benefits of openness and collaboration – especially across borders.

Social Media Week 2013

Our globalized world forces us to rethink accustomed practices. The organizers of the Social Media Week assert:

Emerging technologies have dramatically changed the way we communicate and engage (with) the world around us. One voice can now ripple to millions, and we can now share our passions openly and across cultural and geographic boundaries. Change is happening everywhere (…). Groups are self organizing to take positive action. Transparency, accountability, information sharing, and collaboration are accelerating progress to levels never seen before.

FutureChallenges.org joined Social Media Week in two European cities: Hamburg (Germany) and Paris (France). Mario Sorgalla reports from Hamburg and Rayna Stamboliyska participated in Paris.

Hamburg

One week and 170 events. You don’t need to be a professional statistician to seee that one person couldn’t possibly attend all the sessions that the organizers of Social Media Week (SMW) Hamburg got going. But this abundance of interesting sessions was a great opportunity for cherry-picking. Which new trends, tools and perspectives did Social Media Week Hamburg offer its participants regarding “Principles for a Collaborative World”?

My personal Social Media Week started with a presentation about corporate blogs. Many, or actually most of, the big corporations are still hesitating to start their own blog. A loss of control is probably the main reason for such reluctance. The classical mindset in Public Relations and Communication departments is that the information flow has to be controlled and directed. Such a mindset necessarily clashes with the attitude that prevails in the blogosphere and on social media channels. However, there are some good examples of big corporations that run their own blogs, like the Daimler blog. Setting up blogs could be of particular interest for transnational corporations. Don’t you think it would be exciting to get to know the faces in different countries behind an anonymous corporation?

Let’s jump to the second day in Hamburg, when the session “A Nerd Toolkit for Journalists” caught my attention. I’m not a journalist and not a nerd (though some people might challenge the latter point) but I’m convinced that data visualizations — the focus of this session — will become ever more important for our globalized world of big data. We learned about some useful visualization tools and got to know the technical basics of visualizations. Did you know that the Guardian provides all the data they use for their visualizations via Google spreadsheets? And why shouldn’t they? They don’t own the data and everybody in any corner of the world can take these data and create something new. This is how globalized data journalism looks like. If you’re interested in the technical basis of data visualizations and you understand German, you should take a look at this summary. You will find some useful notes from the session.

…It’s already Wednesday! My highlight of the day was “Wikipedia in Museums”, an inspiring project that I’ve also discussed on my blog. There is hardly any better example for our global, open and connected information society than Wikipedia. The German Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte (Museum for the History of Hamburg) has collaborated with members of the Wikipedia community in Hamburg in order to publish information and photos about many of the museum’s exhibits on Wikipedia, an endeavour resulting in a rich collection of information for all museum geeks out there. The museum’s visitors can access this information via QR codes that are placed next to the museum signage. I’m sure there will be many more projects like this in other parts of the world.

Paris

For its third edition, SMW in Paris hosted “only” 62 events. But what a tough choice it was, selecting which one to visit, especially when I was also speaking at a few of them. As a number of the organizers are also involved in what I’ll call the collaborative economy, many sessions were converging to the focal point of identifying economic models able to sustain open knowledge in the broadest sense. Here are my top 3 SMW events from the last week!

The first day kicked off with a whole afternoon at Paris’s City Hall. This building is an absolute jewel in terms of external architecture and the interior totally follows, which makes the venue even more striking as we discuss the ‘digital Parisian’ against a backdrop of 19th century marble chimneys. The goal was to build a bond between the Parisians and their (well, our) city. One of the ways to do so was with the introduction of an app, “Dans ma rue” (translated: “In my street”), inspired by the British ‘Fix my street’. The app aims to provide Parisians with a handy tool to report the status of city works in the neighbourhood. Using the app, anyone can take a photo and geolocate the situation.

The event itself also allowed us to work in groups of 3-5 during an hour around a few other topics. In one group session, we worked on the idea of ‘Paris Answers’, a crowd-sourced Yahoo! Answers-inspired platform which will collect information on various topics related to services proposed by the city. A very interesting debate emerged around the possibility and the rationale behind crowd-funding of public services, an idea that clearly divided the participants. On one hand, some were putting forward the fact that a citizen already pays taxes, so s/he should not be asked an additional effort. From the other hand, why reject such a much more targeted contribution to the city and the neighbourhood? So many answers yet to find…

A session dear to my heart came on Tuesday: “Open & Connected: Research Joins, Too!”. In this session, we addressed vital questions about the economic models that underlie open libraries, open data produced by public institutions, and open labs. I talked a bit about open data and how it can change a person’s everyday life; one can stop being an observer and begin acting upon one’s environment. More specifically, the discussion emphasised the screaming need for opening the data produced by research groups, especially by those that receive public funds. If you read French, I greatly recommend you to allocate a neuron or two to the summary (and in any case, to watch the amazing video, no French speaking required).

Last but not least, I’d like to end this retrospective with a very short mention of the Open Hardware session. We had Open Source Software decades ago, now the time has come to have all the nerds united and geek out with Open Hardware. Actually, this is partly misleading, as anyone can hack: I leave you to the fabulous ‘Fabrique–Hacktion’ initiative (French & English) which will convince you that everyone can be creative and that wonderful things can be achieved when we work in an open, connected way.

Cairo Administrative Court Bans YouTube… | Une cour égyptienne veut bloquer YouTube…

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(Français ci-dessous)

This morning, February 9, the Cairo Administrative Court announced its decision to ban YouTube and “all other websites that showed the anti-Islam film” ‘The Innocence of Muslims’. The ban is for 30 days. The lawsuit was initially filed on 18 Sept 2012 by a lawyer, Mr. Mohamed Hamed Salem, in the middle of a MENA-wide turmoil the trailer provoked. The lawyer insisted on having the website removing all anti-Muslim videos as they “distort the image of the Prophet”.

Courtesy @asteris

Courtesy @asteris

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Retraction Watch suffers DMCA bugs*

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*Ok, trolling away, DMCA itself is a bug.

The background: Retraction Watch is one of the must-follow resources on the web for anyone who is interested in scientific publishing. The blog, maintained and nurtured by Ivan Oransky (Reuters health editor) and Adam Marcus (science journalist and managing editor of Anesthesiology News), is the place for keeping abreast of retractions and corrections in scientific and medical journals. Recently, the blog editors woke up to find out that 10 of the posts have been taken down.

What happened? Apparently, some firm from India copied these 10 posts — relating to Anil Potti, a cancer researcher whose career is imploding as 19 of his papers were already retracted, — then claimed them and filed a DMCA takedown notice. Consequently, the posts were pulled off by WordPress from Retraction Watch… and haven’t been restored thus far.

Petitioning Obama: Build a Death Star!

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This is my #LulzOfDaDay 🙂 Background: the Obama administration provides a web platform — We the People, — for citizens to send a petition to the President, and “if a petition gets enough support, White House staff will review it, ensure it’s sent to the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response.” Among the most popular petitions, you can find one calling for free access to scientific publications arising from taxpayer-funded research or the one asking for the removal of District Attorney Ortiz for overreach in Aaron Swartz case.

Star Wars Cookies, by Betsy Weber on Flickr (CC-by 2.0)

Star Wars Cookies, by Betsy Weber on Flickr (CC-by 2.0)

And here comes one of the most important petitions to Obama ever: “Secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016.” Launched on Nov 14, 2012 it has gathered nearly 35,000 signatures thus far. The rationale:

By focusing our defense resources into a space-superiority platform and weapon system such as a Death Star, the government can spur job creation in the fields of construction, engineering, space exploration, and more, and strengthen our national defense.

This makes you laugh? Come on, don’t go medieval on this concerned citizen. The Obama administration took his demand into consideration as it “shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense.” Unfortunately, a Death Star isn’t on the horizon:

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#ArsenicLife reviews leaked

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You certainly remember the allegedly revolutionary discovery of a bacterium using arsenic instead of phosphate to build its nucleic acids. Arsenic is a poison, and phosphate is mandatory for life. Thus, this alien, “the first known microorganism on Earth able to thrive and reproduce using the toxic chemical arsenic” as presented during the NASA HQs press conference, was supposed to be an alien constituting a paradigm shift, etc. — you remember the hype. The alien that wasn’t one as I already summed up critics shortly after the paper was published (ici en français). The story received an incredible media coverage as well as a huge number of comments from other fellow scientists. A few months after the paper was published in Science, follow-up studies revealed the bacterium does require phosphate — even though in small amounts — to be able to grow and sustain life.
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Data protection reform in the EU

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Français ci-dessous | Български по-долу

UPDATE: The Macedonian Metamorphosis Foundation For Internet and Society has translated the Brussels Declaration into Macedonian and is urging people to sign it.

The EU directive on data protection is to be amended (process already started), and massive corporate lobbying in Brussels against the data protection reform is happening. A few organisations, namely European Digital Rights (EDRi), Bits of Freedom and Privacy International, drafted a statement: the Brussels Declaration. Such an initiative is very needed as the first vote of the Consumer Committee of the European Parliament showcased how resistant is to US lobbies: not at all. I strongly encourage you to sign it (on your personal behalf and/or as an organization).

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Crunching raw stuff: on the road to #dataviz, part 1

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One day, my overcrowded inbox delivered a particular message: an invitation to enroll in a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) on information graphics and data visualization. This made me pause a bit, for a few reasons. First one is curiosity, of course: I’m obsessively curious, my memory is like a sponge, so anytime I bump into something new, my neurons start jiggling. This happened this time as well: I had never taken a MOOC before, and anyway #dataviz is something I’m quite interested in.

Second is this, precisely: I’m a hardcore scientist, and infographics are generally dismissed as “fancy, glossy and stupid” by a majority of my peers who hail the idea of presenting raw, dry facts which supposedly speak for themselves. Indeed, many infographics I have seen when browsing the web are not far from this pejorative definition as they are just a nicely put brag of a gifted designer but bring no insight whatsoever in the information they are supposed to present you.

Third is that I somehow got into data storytelling, or making big boring numbers relevant for the layman. I know many people — including myself! — who are not keen at all digging into the World Bank Database and reading about GDP or GNI or whatever the eggheads out there have decided to call it. This repulsion is, however, much easier to overcome when you are scientist for the mere reason that a major part of your daylight job is just this: crunching raw boring stuff to make sense of it.

How was I supposed to reconcile my somewhat innate obsession of analysis, of uncovering mechanisms and ‘reverse engineering’ even art pieces — which supposes a great sense of detail and possibly a quite rigid mindset, unwilling to give up on details — with depicting and abstracting this incredibly broad range of information into an infographic? I gave it a try or two on my own. I was not happy, either because I feared it was too heavy on facts (the mechanistic freak was too present) or because in an attempt to make it understandable, it was sloppy (the perfectionist came forward).

Then the course kicked off. And my talespinner-scientist schizophrenia got a breathing space 🙂 This sums it pretty well: “The life of a visual communicator should be one of systematic and exciting intellectual chaos.” This just sounded right to me and for me. The quote is courtesy of Alberto Cairo, our instructor, who does an amazing job introducing things in a progressive and logical fashion. I recommend you follow him on Twitter and/or read his blog as his prolific remarks are really worht the read (and funny).

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Science blogging in the Arab world (or the lack thereof)

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This was first posted at Nature Middle East blog ‘House of Wisdom’.

When I started browsing the web for science blogs from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, I didn’t think it would be such an adventure. And for a quest, it was one.

I thus started entering keywords in the search engine. The outcome was disappointing: one or two blogs in English popped up. I thought it is because I was only searching in English, but French and Arabic searches did not harbour significantly more results. When I asked friends to point me out my wrongdoing, they just laughed and the comment invariably was: “dear, spare your efforts, there is no such thing like science blogging in the region.”

The blogging culture in the Arab world thus seems to mainly touch opinionated people with a say in politics and economy. There is nothing wrong with this. I’ll spare you a lecture on the importance of social media for changing the society we live in, this has been thoroughly discussed elsewhere. Loads of bits and ink have also been spilled to demonstrate the importance of science blogging. Given the paucity of science blogs in the Arab World, I guess a reminder is more than useful.

Why writing about science? Reason #1: scientists get to speak directly to the public. Reason #2: lay scientists or enthusiasts engage and keep up to date with developments in various scientific fields. Reason #3: open discussions on research topics are promoted among peers.

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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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Freedom fighter Aaron Swartz commits suicide

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I guess anyone out there has come up to know Aaron one way or the other. For me, it was when he created the RSS 1.0 specification, but more importantly after he freed an impressive amount of the JSTOR scientific publications repository. This bold action of knowledge sharing called for another copyright-prompted obscenity: he was charged with “data theft” and indicted on a wide range of charges. The prosecution continues, and Aaron was facing up to 35 years imprisonment. The thief who stole knowledge later founded DemandProgress.org, the movement that kicked off the campaign against internet censorship bills SOPA and PIPA.

MIT’s The Tech announced this morning that Aaron has committed suicide on January 11. May he rest in peace.

[Brevia] Slovenia Backs Net Neutrality

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The government adopted an Economic Communications Bill in September 2012, more importantly enforcing net neutrality. The government has also engaged into transposing the EU ‘cookie’ directive after it consistently failed enacting it (along with four other EU countries) and was referred to the European Court of Justice.

On 19 December 2012, the Electronic Communications Bill was passed by the Slovenian Parliament, and the rules are now officially published in the Official Journal on 31 December [PDF]. This makes Slovenia the second EU country — after the Netherlands — to have officially enforced net neutrality in its national legislation.

When will the EU Commissioner for the Digital Agenda wake up and resume working on enforcing this fundamental principle?


Note: for more on the Cookie Law Enforcement within the EU, check Cookiepedia out.

Egypt’s Constitutional Referendum Results

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[This analysis was first published on Jadaliyya.]

Based on numbers reported by Egyptian media outlets, below is a summary of the constitutional referendum vote results broken down by governorate.

What do these numbers tell us?

  • In two stages of voting, average turnout across governorates was 30%, with Egyptians abroad participation being the most notable outlier with a 41% turnout rate.
  • The only three governorates where the majority of voters elected to reject the draft constitution are Cairo, Gharbiyya, and Menofia.

What do these numbers not tell us?

  • Given that the vast majority of eligible voters (68% or 33,855,564) did not participate in the referendum, we can neither conclude that the majority of the eligible voting population supports the constitution, nor can we conclude that a majority rejects it.
  • Only 16,232,035 or 32% of eligible voters have reportedly cast a vote. It is, therefore, misleading to claim that the silence of the other 68% is reflective of support for one position or another.
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The Sinai Peninsula: Egypt’s “Wild West”?

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[This op-ed was first published at ISN — ETH Switzerland blog, a place where analyses on international relations and security converge.]

From the series "Sinai's most wanted militants", by Mosa'ab Elshamy. Image used with permission.

From the series “Sinai’s most wanted militants”, by Mosa’ab Elshamy. Image used with permission.

In April of this year, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dubbed the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt a “kind of Wild West” after rockets fired from there targeted the resort town of Eilat. According to Netanyahu, the peninsula is exploited by Islamist militants helped by Iran to smuggle weapons and stage attacks on Israel. In August, 16 Egyptian border guards were killed in an attack by Islamist militants who then crossed the border. This is one of a string of violent incidents since Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi was elected president of Egypt in June.

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How do we make DIYBio sustainable?

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At December 13th’s SoNYC discussion, hosted by Nature Publishing Group (NPG), a panel will discuss the growth of DIY science, describing some of the opportunities it presents and looking towards the future. The conversation will cover the challenges faced by DIY science enthusiasts, such as safety and accurate data collection, as well as the ways to deal with these concerns within an online world of support. In the build up to this event, the folks at NPG are publishing a mini-series of guest posts from DIY science tinkerers, amateur astronomers, enablers, as well as educators interested in this field. Follow the online chatter using the #DIYSci hashtag and feel free to share your own experiences.

This post is cross-posted on the SpotOn blog and published on SciLogs.com’s ‘Beyond the Lab’.

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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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“The Art of Being Still”

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I am my character, pedaling down to the beach after a long day of working as a hotel housekeeper. I see the world through his eyes. I imagine what he is thinking. I use that brief time to become him.

I transform the mundane task of grocery shopping into a writing exercise by studying my fellow shoppers through the eyes of my character, a man who is on the run from the law.

I eye each one with suspicion and dodge any cop who might be trotting along with a grocery basket in hand. I sometimes steal a quirk from a woman nearby to apply to one of my female characters in the book. I am multitasking, but there is stillness at work here.

Silas House on the quietness of writing.

Life performs computation much more than you’ve ever thought

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This post was first published on SciLogs.com ‘Beyond the Lab’

“The level of intelligence has been tremendously increased, because people are thinking and communicating in terms of screens, and not in lettered books. Much of the real action is taking place in what is called cyberspace. People have learned how to boot up, activate, and transmit their brains.

Essentially, there’s a universe inside your brain. The number of connections possible inside your brain is limitless. And as people have learned to have more managerial and direct creative access to their brains, they have also developed matrices or networks of people that communicate electronically. There are direct brain/computer link-ups. You can just jack yourself in and pilot your brain around in cyberspace-electronic space.” ― Timothy Leary, Chaos & Cyber Culture

This quote brings up thoroughly discussed concepts of “wired human interactions” and “globalized self,” all describing our relationship to the internet. The quote also highlights another perspective: the ultimate connection as showcased in cyberpunk culture through the “console cowboy” Case in the Neuromancer or the “game pods”, these outlets plugged through bio-ports in Cronenberg’s movie, Existenz. But if this sounded as daring science fiction 10 years ago, achieving this ‘ultimate connection’ now looks feasible in the near future. Research unveiling the hidden potential of DNA in terms of molecular computation has been ongoing for years, and its outcomes are more promising and mind-blowing than one might have imagined. I kindly invite you to join me in a dive into the exciting waters of DNA-based computers.
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No to Cuts: Secure EU Budget for Science

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[En français]

Since yesterday (22 November), the European Union holds a very important meeting: EU heads of states decide upon member states budgets. Naturally, EU budget for research is discussed during this meeting, and its amount for the next seven years is determined (re HORIZON 2020, the follow-up of FP7). Researchers have mobilized to have their voices heard as the European Commission proposes the minimal amount of 80 billion euros for HORIZON 2020 budget, opposing the 100 billion euros suggested by the European Parliament. As the initiative No Cuts on Research highlights it, “for the European Research Council (ERC) that means annual increases of about 6% which is just enough to allow the ERC to consolidate its funding activity and its mission to support European leadership in world class research. It will not be sufficient, though, to launch any new activities.” Fears persist, however, that these 80 billion euros melt down to much less.

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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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Bacon Fans United: The Pig Genome Sequenced

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This was initially published on Australian Science.

Breeding healthier and meatier piggies has been one of the many scientific challenges of the past decades; creating more reliable models to study human diseases is another. The swine disease model is indeed much better to use when studying human disorders than the (thus far) widely used murine models. Although pigs reproduce slower than mice and are more expensive to take care of, they are more similar to humans when it comes to anatomy and physiology. These common grounds have allowed the development of accurate swine models for diabetes, cystic fibrosis or retinitis pigmentosa (a cause of blindness). In its issue of 15 November, Nature published the fully sequenced and annotated pig genome. This is a major achievement, and will allow considerable progress to be made on both the yummy and the healthy fronts.

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The Freefall of the Egyptian Judiciary

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This opinion was wrote back in August of this year. For some reason, the editor for where it was aimed at being published just didn’t take care of it until now. Given the recent developments in the country, this is really a pity for his website. This said, I like the piece (yes, it happens to me that I like what I write), so I didn’t feel like trashing it. And as remembering is important if we want to move forward, I guess publishing this even with some delay is not a totally meaningless idea 🙂

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Egypt: In Knowledge We Trust

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[This op-ed was first published on FutureChallenges.org.]

Loads of bits and gallons of ink have been spilled over the Arab Spring, the advent of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Arab Winter, etc. Yet not much attention has been paid to education although it all boils down to education, as the general idea goes.

Education is igniting a brain to find and make its own knowledge. Image adapted by the author  (CC-by 2.0)

Education is igniting a brain to find and make its own knowledge. Image adapted by the author (CC-by 2.0)

Of course, you can assume I am just a regular westerner in her late twenties with a secure well-paid job just bashing around behind a mask of self-attributed cheeky maturity. You do have the right to be wrong all along the line. So, before someone starts asking what this rant has to do with education and Arab revolutions, let me put it plainly: a revolution is not only about politics, but also about how we produce our rulers.

I think we should avoid confiding our future to a school of mentally disturbed teachers. In other words, we need to rebuild education and focus the whole process on acquiring the ability to learn and unlearn. People are knowledgeable at any level of their lives, so teaching them what to think rather than how to think is a slap in the face.

Implementation of such an idea is, however, extremely complex and requires more than a little political goodwill. As a recent Guide to Egypt’s Challenges has starkly stated, illiteracy and drop-outs rates are critical — but even more alarming is the quality of education which is unadapted to employment and business markets. In Egypt, 15% of the population falls in the 15-24 age group [pdf] and makes up 30% of the working-age population. Yet this group also suffers the highest unemployment rate: yes, rebuilding education is vital. A committee of experts was established at the dawn of the revolution with the task of defining a fresh curriculum. With all due respect, how do you intend to rejuvenate old-fashioned programs by putting dusty minds to work? This is not a rhetorical question, but let’s proceed.

This committee suggested various changes such as encouraging use of computers in schools and investing more in science and research. A thoughtful article published in 2004 discussed Egypt’s “academic entrepreneurs” and the exciting array of initiatives to promote biotech research in the region. Back then, the hype was already strong for the Nile University, the very first non-profit private research university in the country and the region, “the kind of eye-catching initiative that Egypt’s government hopes will help it close the gap on countries with a more advanced R&D infrastructure”.

Nile University opened its doors in 2006. And the hype was not in vain: its rich applied research curriculum attracted many highly qualified students and professors and soon collaborations with foreign institutions blossomed. In June 2011, the first post-revolution budget was approved, and science was allocated a stunning 0.4% of GDP … Oh well, I am just badmouthing again: 0.4% of GDP is what fabulous scientific achievers like the Slovak Republic and Argentina spend, while Saudi Arabia invests a mere 0.1%. Irony aside, this was the double the funding in 2010, and the plan was to reach 2% of the GDP in 2015, which is ambitious but positive.

I support Nile University. Image by oskay on Flickr (CC-by 2.0)

I support Nile University. Image by oskay on Flickr (CC-by 2.0)

Interestingly enough, bolstering Egypt’s science and research includes the dismantlement of Nile University, Egypt’s research jewel. After the revolution, many of the Mubarak-era decisions were overruled, and in 2011 the government reassigned Nile University’s lands and buildings to the Zewail City of Science and Technology, a veritable monster of pristine glass and steel.

Since then, it’s been dog eat dog. Nile University researchers were forced to quit their labs and rent other facilities, if available, elsewhere to work for a few hours. Although Zewail claims a deal to merge the two is in the making, there is no guarantee that Nile University will remain independent as it wants to. A lawsuit has been filed, negotiations engaged, and even a government offer was made to compensate Nile University for all its outlay in equipping the labs. But what do you want to do with this money with no place to invest it in?

Students elsewhere resume class, but those enrolled in Nile University are still banned from their alma mater by Zewail. On August 28, around 60 students and their professors staged a sit-in to protest the ban on using any of the buildings on campus. Meanwhile, a committee – yes, this is one of Egypt’s fortes – has been formed to address the crisis brewing between a megalomaniac science entity with no staff, no departments, and no curricula on the one hand and a bunch of insolent disobedient youngsters on the other, impertinent enough to want to acquire knowledge in the right conditions.

Images: “Brain Injection” original and the heart sourced here (both CC-by 2.0)

The Genetic Fatality of What You Are

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This morning while checking my Twitter feed, I stumbled upon a tweet on the “internet addiction gene”. My reaction was: “Have pity. Please”. Thankfully, some people have had spare time to write and dismiss such a scientific breakthrough. It is perhaps a question of timing — all the very recent hysteria about how ENCODE unveiled the indispensability of “junk DNA” just got a bit on my nerves. I’ve written about this elsewhere, so would prefer to skip it here and focus on the ultimate honour for people like me (i.e., geneticists): identifying “the gene of [insert some word here]”.

Actually, I’m pretty committed to do all my best and discover no “gene of”. Before coming to the concrete reasons why, let me list the top ranking “gene of” below.

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Media in Bulgaria: Outlawing Freedom

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[This op-ed was first published on FutureChallenges.org.]

Democracy à la Bulgarian

Oligarchy. This sounds like a scary disease in a pathetic soap opera. I agree: oligarchy is a type of plague. It is contagious, insidious and pandemic. Without pathos: the beautiful country I come from suffers from chronic oligarchy.

It is no new illness: Aristotle defined plutocracy centuries ago, and oligarchy is just one of its flavors along with meritocracy or military juntas. The Bulgarian system of oligarchy is pretty straightforward: after 1989, organized crime spread all over at the speed of light. Former sportsmen, policemen and military officers all created their own “security agencies”. Unemployment, inflation, pervasive violence and corruption thus became our familiar everyday Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

But the Apocalypse failed to materialize. What happened instead was that the European Union (EU) announced that the transition to democracy in Bulgaria was achieved in 1999. This was daring – or in more politically correct terms “controversial”. Transitions to democracy are naturally tumultuous both in terms of economics and political development. However, the end of transition should be social, economic, political and judicial stability which means that naturally, transparency and participation of sane citizens should be the main props of the governance processes.

Yet the dirty mirror of Bulgarian democracy reflects the image of the poorest country in the EU where the mafia is an intimate part of the political establishment. The white-collar workers of today are the security entrepreneurs of yesterday. Our big shots started their symbiosis with key politicians very early on at a time when their Russian brothers in arms were resorting to violence as an entry to the political establishment. Such a strategy from the Bulgarian oligarchs later allowed for replacement of unaccommodating managers in corporations and for unlimited credit lines from national banks.

 

The point where Bulgarian and Russian oligarchs converge is in their use of communication strategies. Secrecy is one of them: you simply do not let people know about your juicy deals. Aggressive PR is the other. People give you the bad eye? Change it: buy campaigns, be sweet to journalists and TV show producers… buy freedom from media. Bulgarian oligarchs learned fast from their Russian counterparts how to transform media power into the political ascendancy which in turn gives economic dominion.

Grow Your Own Media

This sprawling “oligarchization” of mass communications has become especially pervasive since 2009 when the right wing party GERB won the majority of seats in Parliament. This provoked a deep and enduring change in media discourse. Various media watchdogs have observed an ever-deteriorating landscape with respect to media independence.

More importantly, a report from the Bulgarian Media Democracy Foundation detailed the complex interactions observed in 2010. It highlighted what they define as the “mediatization of politics”: instead of being the ombudsman between political institutions and citizens, the media is increasingly becoming a key player in the political arena. The report also underlines the politicization of the media message and its growing subordination to political circles.

Injecting oligarchy-compliant content is not the only consequence of political interference in media freedom. The presidential elections in 2011 prompted the re-organization of the media market. Diversity of ownership of news outlets shrunk severely, resulting in corporate journalism and unclear funding channels. The privately owned media was most affected and is now dominated by hidden political agendas.

Harvesters of Sorrow

We were used to harassment, assaults, death threats, car bombing and various other “accidents” happening to inquisitive journalists. We got used to hysterical female journalists herding around a lewd Prime Minister posing naked for a tabloid. We are also used to reading self-aggrandizing headlines of such staggering importance as “Boyko makes Beker sweat” or “Boyko saves parrots” [the Bulgarian PM’s name is Boyko Borissov]. Panem et circenses are Bulgaria’s media gamemasters.

“The Bulgarian media make democracy sick”, as a professor said recently. If the communicating vessels ‘media’ and ‘ruling majority’ do not break off their incestuous relationship anytime soon, we must fear that the patient’s health status will turn critical.

Image: “Freedom of Speech”, Khalid Albaih (CC-by 2.0)

The *pr0n wave

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It is now more or less a public secret that my PhD deals with sexual behaviour, sex-biased genes, and all kinds of sex-related stuff. Until now, it was doing so with flies.

Recently, I started broadening my expertise. Here is some evidence.

It all started with this one. Not my fault, the Absolutely Madness Tumblr blog just bumped into me.

It all started with this one. Not my fault, the Absolutely Madness Tumblr blog just bumped into me.

Flower pr0n.

Flower pr0n.

Turtle pr0n. Captured by yours truly when visiting the Snake Park in Nairobi, Kenya.

Turtle pr0n. Captured by yours truly when visiting the Snake Park in Nairobi, Kenya.

And then, a friend going to Mombasa (Kenya), without me, bumps into this.

In the meantime, a friend going to Mombasa (Kenya), without me, bumps into this.

And today I was pointed to these images.

And today I was pointed to these images.

(source for the last one: La séxualité des dinosaures vue par un artiste)

And a small update (a close friend used to call me Medusa, which pretty much resembles me… 🙂 ):

Medusa :)

Medusa 🙂

Another update: the ultimate pr0n

Cyberpunk mayonnaise: Thoughts about the cyberspace in a day without internet

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The awkward moment when you wake up and realize your internet connection is screwed up is the moment where you start thinking in a different way. Yes, in 2012, in a rich Western country, a storm can still cut the internet. In such a case, “storming the internet” takes a very clear, ground-level meaning… Well, ok, let’s get to something tasty yet nearly forgotten: being home alone and reading a book.

I get bored very easily and have a particular propensity of making myself accomplish miracles. In other words, I start a huge amount of complex tasks that I often have little knowledge about: what is more exciting than exploring immense territories of human minds and imagination? This is a rhetorical question. Coherent with myself, I’m in the situation where my third year of PhD in science coincides with the year when I have to complete my Bachelor’s in Law of the industrial property. Yeah, I know. But I spoke miracles, right.

Anyway, lyrical auto-centered swerve ends here. After 5 minutes of deep exhausting thinking, I decided that my Bachelor’s thesis should encompass not only the privatization of biological matter and genetic information – where I could thoroughly explain why biopatents are a very ugly and unnatural idea – but that I should broaden the spectrum of ugly and unnatural ideas to the basic, the fundamental one: intellectual property itself. I thus decided to include the so called “new technologies” (that is, the Internets) and software patents.

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This is why we fight

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Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with the golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams beneath your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams…

“He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven”, William Butler Yeats

Updates on #EgyPresElex: irregularities, #SabahiPresser

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Updates added as news come out, so check out regularly.

Things unfold really quickly in Egypt. Yesterday, I was writing about the possible options of getting out of the current presidential stranglehold. Things go into the most reasonable and secure direction, IMHO, which is: show how much Shafik does the things wrongly, not only when he was Mubarak’s buddy — because apparently being felool doesn’t prevent Egyptians to vote for him, — but also and more importantly how thirsty for power he is and eager to re-impose the old dictatorship. How? By proving he has cheated during the election process.

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#EgyPresElex: a suggestion for a way out of schizophrenic best evil/least pest

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The illusion of free choice Egypt, the country of my heart, held its first presidential elections on May 23-24. I’ll skip the frenzy before, during and after the elections, there are tons of articles, tweets, Storify-curations, Facebook reports and pictures. What is interesting for me to address here is the possibility of having to choose between Morsi and Shafik, the “spare tyre” as dubbed by the Times for the former and the felool and former Mubarak best buddy for the latter.

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Coming back to life

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Brain Bookshelf. Image from dokumaciorumcek

Brain Bookshelf. Image from dokumaciorumcek

It’s been quite some time I haven’t written anything. This has an explanation. Well, actually, many explanations 🙂 I started writing for other media — such as Global Voices Advocacy and Global Voices Online. Also, since I am coming closer and closer to the end of my PhD, I don’t have that much time to read any paper that comes around and tickles my curiosity. Which is frustrating.

Well, to a certain extent, in fact. The good news is that with some fellow geeks, we started the very first French-speaking crowd-sourced blog about bioinformatics. It all happens here. Yours truly is among the nasty people who require that there are no spelling errors, who require modifications of the content cuz it is better this way and not that way, and who ravages poor authors with licenses… 🙂 Well, yeah, this is what the editor’s job is about.

Cuz editor’s never enough and writing is a burning passion, I also write for the blog. Thus, I have my monthly column: Journal Club. Oh, how astonishing, huh: it is nothing else but science blogging about what is new in bioinformatics 🙂

Screenshot Bioinfo-fr

Screenshot Bioinfo-fr

So, I said “crowd-sourced blog”. Actually, we are quite a few enthusiasts, everyone coming along with a different expertise. Amongst us, there are not only research engineers in bioinformatics, but also PhDs, post-docs and even full-time researchers. We thus talk about many things: from discovering a particular domain to a description of a graduate program on bioinformatics through feedback from various conferences and various practical tips making your everyday scripting easier 🙂

Honestly? It is time-consuming, sometimes you feel like you become Hannibal Lecter… but it is finally so much fun. Getting to know people, their backgrounds and helping them to improve writing and expressing themselves is really a great experience. I’m sure you are particularly envious if you happen to be French-impaired… 😉

Alongside, I recently became the editor for the newest chapter of Global Voices, namely Global Voices Bulgarian. This is a rather different incentive when compared with bioinformatics, for sure. But this is another type of accessing the world and its never-ending evolution.

Screenshot GV Bulgarian

Screenshot GV Bulgarian

So far, we are a very small team, but we believe this will improve over time. My interest here is getting the way citizen media makes the world to Bulgaria, where this kind of things are still underdevelopped. This is really a great opportunity and a challenging entreprise. Cross your fingers it all goes well! And, of course, you are warmly welcome to follow us on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.

Last but not least: I am actively searching for a post-doc. If you see something that encompasses a combination of bioinformatics analyses and experimental work, do let me know through the comments 🙂

Men, women, gender equality and… natural laws?

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As you may have noticed it already, I am kinda interested in gender issues. This means quite a few things, “gender issues”. Sounds trendy, fashionable, LGBT-compliant, gently feminist, etc. Dunno, it is just end of any form of sexism for me. In “gender issues”, there is gender = not only women, not only men, but both.

Anyway. I am not intending to write a crash course on gender studies here. Although, honestly, after what will follow, I think some people should urgently take one. For the context: I was attending an one-day seminar where I presented an international workgroup I will chair and which will focus on encouraging women in science. As this is a long story, I’ll skip it here and come back to it later.

So, the context, was I saying: at this seminar, as at any seminar or conference, there are brochures, leaflets and stuff presenting various initiatives. I always take them all to read them calmly once I am home and have time. This time, no exceptions: I got back home with nearly a kilogram of brochures that I read from page 1 to the end. The part #mylife stops here. I wanted to tell you about one of them which definitely got my attention. It is a… surprising reading.

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RIP Lynn Margulis

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Sad news, everyone. Lynn Margulis passed away two days ago.

Important? Hell, yeah. Never met her in person. But she came up with one of the most fascinating scientific theories ever: the endosymbiotic theory. Remember, the stuff you are told from high school: mitochondria and plastids (such as chloroplasts) originated from free-living bacteria that were integrated in other cells. The whole system ended up being an eukaryotic cell, in other words what composes us.

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Bulgaria to Teach Tunisia How to “Do Democracy”

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[This post was first published on FutureChallenges.org.]

When Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire in the Tunisian city of Sidi Bouzid in December 2010, nobody expected what was going to happen afterwards. Several observers and experts attempted to draw a parallel between events in Tunisia and the dramatic changes that took place in eastern European countries after the Berlin Wall fell 20 years ago. This comparison was taken so seriously that Bulgarian government announced, after a meeting between the Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and his Tunisian interim counterpart, that Bulgaria was opening a special school to teach future Tunisian politicians how to succeed in democratic transition.

When I read about this in nearly all the Bulgarian newspapers, I thought it was some kind of bad joke. When Tunisians went down into the streets, they were protesting against corruption, despotism and joblessness. They were chanting for basic human rights, free speech, and an end to arbitrary repression.

What example could Bulgaria give in these matters after 20 years of democratic transition?

The EC report published in 2008 under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) qualified the situation in Bulgaria as “grave” and highlighted the inadequacy of measures the government was employing to fight corruption. The very last such report, published on July 20 this year, pointed out that while efforts have been made to fight corruption and improve the judiciary, doubts still persist about the how serious the government really is about implementing actual reform.

 

Democracy in Bulgaria: the unexisting stool with 2.17 legs. Image adapted by the author (CC-by-SA)

Democracy in Bulgaria: the non-existant stool with 2.17 legs. Image adapted by the author (CC-by-SA)

In 2009, the Washington-based watchdog Freedom House ranked Bulgaria 76th out of a total of 196 countries, and indicated erosion of freedom of the press and freedom of speech [1]. Moreover, a report from the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) pointed out that – with the exception of children’s rights – basic human rights have been dramatically downgraded in 2010. This picturesque landscape is complimented by an “increase in the frequency of arbitrary use of special surveillance devices (SSD) by security services”, the BHC reports. The SSD Act and the Criminal Procedure Code do not provide sufficient safeguards against arbitrary surveillance and the secret monitoring of other forms of private communication.

Five centuries of Ottoman rule ended in 1878 with a liberating war and were followed by several decades of constitutional monarchy. Half-a-century of totalitarian “communism” came after which was another period of anything but a balanced political system. In 1989, Bulgaria was caught up in the events following the fall of the Berlin Wall: the end of the “communist” regime was above all the result of an external breakdown, not an internal uprising. The domino effect initiated in Central Europe eventually reached Bulgaria, of course, but it was the Communist Party that decided on the first changes. The “ex-communists” became socialists[2] eager to maintain their influence in the face of an aggressive opposition from the solid body of “anti-communists” making up the United Democratic Forces[3] who wanted to take over all the levers of power in the name of democracy. This binary division has resulted in a mafia-like “gray” economy – an inexhaustible source of fraudulent enrichment.

The Constitution (adopted in July 1991) and this rudimentary two party system are clear indicators of the tremendous difficulties involved in building a sane electoral baseline and highlighted the fact that we were simply not ready to make this famous transition to democracy. And this political set is here to stay: the constitution of the parliament such as it is after the most recent elections in 2009 (see figure below) clearly shows the 2 poles (center-left with BSP and the Turkish minority movement[4] vs. all the others ranging from center-right to far-right[5]).

 

The make-up of Bulgarian Parliament since 2009. Image by the author (CC-by-SA)

The make-up of Bulgarian Parliament since 2009. Image by the author (CC-by-SA)

Nor do things look any better, economically speaking. Bulgaria is the poorest country in the EU. Even though the average salary is said to be  300€/month, the minimal salary remains ridiculously low (270 levs ~ 135€/month) and there are major disparities between the country’s regions. People have not forgotten the huge unemployment rate (18%) less than 10 years ago nor the galloping inflation (550% in 1997). In 2010, 10.2% of the population were unemployed, and the introduction of the euro to the country was postponed to 2015. Recently, the “gray economy” was estimated to make up as much as 40% of GDP. But I guess, we can always assure Tunisians that it is much better to have a “gray economy” than no economy at all, as the Bulgarian Minister of Finances and Transport Traycho Traychev put it a few months ago…

Against such a shabby and uncertain background, I honestly ask myself what kind of “How-To-Do Democracy” handbook Bulgarians can write for Tunisians. The infamous “Bulgarian umbrella” and our flourishing “gray economy” seem to be the only high-profile goods we can export…


[1] The report assigns a numerical ranking to each country based on legal, political, and economic factors; it considers regulations that restrict media content, editorial pressure by the government, intimidation of journalists, and the structure of media ownership.

[2] The socialists gather in the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP).

[3] SDS is Union of Democratic Forces (in Bulgarian: Съюз на демократичните сили, Sayuz na demokratichnite sili, СДС). For the parliamentary elections in 1997, an alliance named ODS for United Democratic Forces (Bulgarian: Обединени Демократични Сили, ОДС) was formed around SDS.

[4] The Rights and Freedom Movement (DPS; Bulgarian: Движение за права и свободи, Dvizhenie za prava i svobodi; Turkish: Hak ve Özgürlükler Hareketi) is the Turkish and Muslim minority party in Bulgaria.

[5] The current majority party GERB is classified as center-right; Ataka is the far-right movement, and all the other parties are in between these two.

Photo credits: Stool is originally by mrflip (licensed under CC-by-SA 2.0)

Unconcerned by 9/11? Think again!

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[This piece was first published on FutureChallenges.org.]

My skin is milk-white. I am from Eastern Europe. I am a successful student in Paris, France and I have nothing in common with a North-African girl with her lively French punctuated by Arabic words and her curly hair, often shyly hidden under a veil. I am anything but concerned by what happened on September 11.

Ain’t I?

Such individualities brutally coagulated into the solid, rigid block of “Muslims” – therefore potentially violent, thus probably jihadists – are everywhere around me. I meet them at the university, we buy the same cornflakes in the supermarket, we take the same noisy crowded train every day after work. A few are friends, it feels good having tea with them after an exhausting day of lectures. But the majority of them are just people I don’t know anything about. The fact is though that they have become “the enemy within”. Overnight people who were just living their lives have become terrorists.

But I see something else: myself and others of my age have spent 10 years of our young adult lives under various emergency laws and a regime of institutionalized racism, 10 years of carefully instilled fear of the Other, this cursed Muslim otherness, criminally justified by Huntington’s “clash of civilizations.” Only one month after 9/11, Bush’s government voted the Patriot Act, that carte blanche for feds to commit any illegal acts in the name of security, for psychological pressure and unlimited custody based on simple suspicion.

In France, the “plan Vigipirate” has become permanent: armed soldiers patrolling among civilians in train stations have become a standard part of everyday life even though a state of emergency has never been proclaimed. Do you feel secure with these guys hanging around with loaded Famas guns? Do you find it normal that policemen in the streets stop North African people to check their IDs only because these people have dark skins? Even though I am a foreigner in France – and thus equally likely to be controlled – I have never been asked to show my ID. In the métro you are politely asked to report “any item that might seem suspicious” and a forgotten bag leads to the closure of a whole line.

In the sacred name of anti-terrorism, cops dissect phone bills, passports have become biometric and the newest French identity cards will soon contain a RFID chip with all your personal biometric data on it, ensuring that citizens are under total surveillance without knowing it. As stated in the related law, this data will be collected from 45 million “honest French people” and stored in a centralized national biometrical database. This new ID card may also include a second chip, a smart card with a “unique digital signature” that identifies you on e-commerce websites. The data from such commercial transactions will be collected by the Ministry of Interior. The citizen is now an integrally traceable alleged offender with no choice but to obey the panoptic control of CCTV cameras and “security” gates which beep so very often – even in the museums. Say Cheese! You are videoprotected…

You are concerned. Even if you think 9/11 is just a very high-level political conflict quite beyond your comprehension or just a local issue, you should wake up and begin working to counteract ordinary everyday state terrorism. “1984” was fiction, not a “how-to-do-it” manuel.

[Brevia] Gendered Innovations portal

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I got this through the eq-uni mailing-list, from Londa Schiebinger, Stanford University, Ineke Klinge, Maastricht University and Martina Schraudner, Fraunhofer & TU Berlin. It is about the Gendered Innovations In Science, Health & Medicine, and Engineering Project.

This project develops practical methods of sex and gender analysis for scientists and engineers, and provides case studies as concrete illustrations of how sex and gender analysis leads to innovation.

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[Brevia] Open Letter to the European Commission on Socio-economic Sciences & Humanities research

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In the proposal for next EC Framework Programme — Horizon 2020, — no funding for research in the social sciences and humanities is mentioned. If you support the idea of maintaining specific research funding for the social sciences and humanities (as it is the case under FP7), you are kindly invited to sign the open letter to the European Commission

Please forward this invitation to sign to others.

The EMBO Meeting blogging coverage

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I think you will all be interested in finding more about the many and various topics that were approached during The EMBO Meeting 2011. That is why I hereafter link to the other certified bloggers’ pages 🙂 In case you want to refresh your memory about some of the topics I shortly wrote about during The EMBO Meeting 2010, I link them below as well. Enjoy!

The EMBO Meeting 2011 Continue reading

The EMBO Meeting Day 0: Career Advancement Day

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The EMBO Meeting 2011As I told you earlier, I was selected as certified blogger for The EMBO Meeting 🙂 This was really cool even though I had to travel a lot right afterwards and am now ill: definitely, when you come back from a place where it is 38°C every day to ~23°C, you feel the difference! But anyway: blogging about the conference makes me feel better 😉 Here is thus a short overview of the Day 0.

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[Brevia] The weed genome gets sequenced!

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Well, here comes Mary Jane with her brand new friends Medicinal Genomics and 454🙂 Medicinal Genomics announced it has sequenced the entire genomes of Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica (two strains of the therapeutic plant). They were using Roche’s GS FLX+ System to do so.
At the same time, I was browsing the last issue of Nature Reviews Genetics and spotting the title Technology: Getting Moore from DNA sequencing. Oh yes, for sure!

I find this totally awesome, of course 🙂 One of the good points is very pragmatic (and reassuring for sceptical fashionistas), as you may see it below:

This shoe is totally made out of cannabis 🙂

Sources: Oneras (CC-by-SA 2.0) & abaransk (CC-by-NC-ND 2.0)

Science Blogging at the EMBO Meeting 2011!

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Ahoi, ahoi. I know, I’m not writing that much anymore, this is bad, sad, etc.

But this will be very soonish subject to change! Awesome news: I was selected to be ‘certified blogger’ at the EMBO Meeting 😀 I’ll also have a poster there, in the ‘Microbiology’ section. Lastly, since I’ll be finishing my PhD in precisely 1 year from now, I’ll attend several sessions at the Career Development Day to improve my job-searching abilities 😉

The program looks really great and I am very much looking forward to attending some of the workshops dedicated on ‘Genome Evolution’, ‘Hosts & Microbes’ and — of course — Melissa Hines’s lecture on ‘Women In Science’! Naturally, you’ll hear from me on these topics.

The EMBO Meeting 2011If you want to apply, please do: the deadline was exceptionally extended to August 15.

See you in Vienna then!

To PhD or not to PhD?

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I believe PhD fellows are wrongly thought to be students. I argue that, given our responsibilities, PhDs are early career researchers.

Ok, so here is some quick thought. The other day, I received a nice mail from a Nature Staff member asking me whether I’d like to take part in a blogging initiative they had about PhD. I accepted with great pleasure: this is an excellent opportunity to talk about important things and to reach a huge amount of people. Whether they would agree with what I say or not is secondary. Nobody asked for. To me, the crucial thing was to tell about what people can live through their years as a PhD. My answers are here.

This is not all. Nature has a dedicated issue on PhDs this week.

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Size matters?

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Well, I don’t think so. But, since we all know that pessimists are out there, let’s try to convince them bringing some scientific evidence 😉 I found these maps below: you can see the sizes of penii all over the world, but also compare the distribution of the ratio IQ/penis size.

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Fellowships for divesity studies at CERN

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I saw this announcement and thought it might be of interest for people.

CERN  Graduate Fellowship position / Diversity studies at CERN

In keeping with its international and increasingly global character, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) has recently appointed a Diversity Officer to develop and implement a policy that will promote awareness and adherence to diversity, one of the established values of the Organisation.

In support of this new initiative, a position is now open to postgraduates in the framework of the CERN Fellowship Programme.
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The battle for Egypt

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Indescribable.

 

The dozens of rallies have been alternatively tense, surreal, and frightful, and, at times, whimsical. In between chants against at the government of President Mubarak, demonstrators break out in a dance -- with one of them balancing a broom on his chin -- during a massive rally Tuesday, Feb. 1, at Liberation Square in Cairo. (Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press)

Source

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[Brevia] Looking forward to hearing from you…

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Next speakers @ TED:

David Brooks David Brooks Columnist
New York Times columnist David Brooks is the author of “Bobos In Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There” and “On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (and Always Have) in the Future Tense.”

Session 1: Monumental
Tues Mar 1, 2011
11:00 – 12:45

Felisa Wolfe-Simon Felisa Wolfe-Simon Geobiochemist
With a background in molecular biology, biochemistry and phytoplankton physiology, Felisa Wolfe-Simon seeks to uncover the sequence of events that shaped the evolution of the modern oceans’ phytoplankton and life itself.

Session 5: Deep Mystery
Wed Mar 2, 2011
11:00 – 12:45

Well, folks, don’t forget the popcorn! This amazing piece is one of the worst pseudo-science writing I have ever read really deserves our attention. And of course, who could so quickly forget the exciting story of the presumably arsenic-loving alien on Earth?

Journal club and more

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So, as you may have noticed, I am a bit absent these days. Indeed, it is currently a lot of stuff to be completed, so I don’t have the time to write postings. But I’ll be back soon 😉 In the meantime, here are some papers and various blog postings I managed to read somehow:

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Bookmark: A parallel universe to be described soon

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I have to go to Journal Club now immediately, but the piece of news was just marvelously tempting to bookmark for later reading. So, here is what Reuters reports: “Physicists probing the origins of the cosmos hope that next year they will turn up the first proofs of the existence of concepts long dear to science-fiction writers such as hidden worlds and extra dimensions.” You can read the whole story here. Amazing!

 

Bookmark: NSF announces Wiki for Advancing Digitization of Biological Collection (ADBC)

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“The Emerging Frontiers office in the Directorate for Biological Sciences at the National Science Foundation recognizes the need to facilitate communication among diverse principal investigators, especially for new, highly collaborative programs such as Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections (ADBC)”, announces the NSF in The Dear Colleague Letter. They decided to use a wiki: you can access it here. Great initiative!

Boom boom boom, you knock me out right off of my feet…

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I really like this song! For those who do not know (shame on you!), it is John Lee Hoocker, one of the best bluesmen ever. I could keep on talking about blues, but my guess is it is far better to let you listen to it 🙂 So, let me go into something close to this song: turning Drosophila males’ heads. Indeed, a study published in the very last BMC Genomics shows that fruitfly males are under the spell: gene expression profiles in their heads are altered because of mating. Boom boom boom…

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When Tyrannosaurus rex had for breakfast… another Tyrannosaurus rex

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This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.org

(This was first published at The Urban Times)

In a study published in the online journal PLoS ONE yesterday, researchers show evidence for cannibalistic behaviour in Tyrannosaurus rex. Indeed, the king of the dinosaurs not only fed on other dinos but also on fellow T. rex, say the researchers after identifying bite marks on giants’ bones.

Tyrannosaurus rex was a quite amazing being: 42 ft in length, 13 ft tall at the hips and up to 7 tones in weight, with his two small but strong forelimbs and a running speed of 18km/h. It lived during the Late Cretaceous (which is between 67 and 65 millions of years ago), prior to the extension event. It was one of the few carnivorous species and is believed to have been preying upon hadrosaurs and ceratopsians; some experts have suggested it was primarily a scavenger.

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Gender equality and diversity do matter in FLOSS

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On September 30, 2010, the Gender Equality and Diversity sessions took place as a satellite event of the Open World Forum 2010. Please find below a short summary of the workshop held in the afternoon dedicated to a Diversity Statement to be realized in the near future. Here are the slides introducing this workshop (pdf). The program mentions two different workshops (one dedicated to communities and the other to companies), but indeed we merged them.

DISCLAIMER: Given that I was also participating, it is very possible that I forgot to mention details here.

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[Special bookmark] Open Access and Open Data only

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There were lot of very interesting things on the Web these last days on Open Access and Open Data. I would like to remind you that the very first Science 3.0 Blogging Contest starting on October 18 is dedicated to Open Access and will run parallel to the Open Access Week! I greatly invite you to take part, as a blogger, as a reader, as both! You will find below several links to make you feel even more eager than now October 18 comes.

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Science 3.0 Blogging Contest!

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Science 3.0 is a rapidly growing online community of scientists and people with wide-ranging interests. Discussing science with the current and future tools and concepts of information is a great endeavour we are all happy to take part in! In order to increase this emulation, we decided to launch the ‘Science 3.0 Blogging Contest’.

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Bookmark: “A healthy dose of skepticism”

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Science publishes today a Science & Policy article about regulation of the famous Direct-To-Consumer (DTC) genome testing. An interesting discussion highlighting the crucial importance of joint efforts:

Effective regulation will require cooperation from governmental agencies, and flexibility to accommodate the complexities of tests, like those offered by DTC companies, that provide genome-wide analysis producing results with variable and often uncertain validity and clinical utility.

Bookmark: Links to read, from here and there

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I am currently spending my time reading papers. And user guides. The cliché of the lab rat is not applicable anymore. The cliché of the computer geek neither: I am hardly launching sudo aptitude update && sudo aptitude safe-upgrade on my Debian and this is it. The number of tabs in my browser is dangerously approaching 200 and this makes me nervous 🙂 So, here is a nice bunch of links:

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On savvy and groups

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CollaborationA report was published in Science last week titled “Evidence for a collective intelligence factor in the performance of human groups”. They set up the “c factor”, for collective intelligence, somehow a parallel of the g (for general intelligence. I told a bit about this after Prof. Haier’s conference at the EMBO meeting). In brief, what the authors report, is that individual intelligence of people constituting a group (a team) is not correlated with the success of the team to solve a problem. Further, when extending the tests, it came up that having more women in the team increases the so called “social sensitivity” and improves performance. Groovy, eh?

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Science Online 2011 is coming!

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In 2011 will be held the 5th edition of Science Online, the conference on online science. You are a blogger? You enjoy reading blogs about science? You are not that comfortable about how to begin discussing science through a blog and want to meet some veterans? Join Science Online 2011!

But beforehand: let all of us help Bora and Anton to make this happen! Here are the 10 things everyone can do:

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Bookmark: Who is in the lab?

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Here is this highly colourful description of people you (can) meet in the lab. Actually, it happens quite often that you meet more than 2 of those at a time in a given lab. This essay by Adam Ruben is titled “Don’t Worry, I’m (Un)Professional: A Guide to Your Laboratory Colleagues” and reminded me some colleagues 😉 . And what about you?

I had always thought of scientists as serious, responsible people. A bit socially awkward, maybe, but certainly smart and probably boring — the sort of folks you’d have dinner with and then tell your spouse, “Well, I didn’t understand everything they were saying about tuberculosis, but in general they seemed pleasant.” In reality, though, scientists are as idiosyncratic, incompetent, and irresponsible as people in any industry. We just have cooler coats.

Bookmark: Science writing howto

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I could not resist: this posting is just great, so a bookmark here to keep it close 😉 To not let you in a total terra incognita, here is what it is about:

In the standfirst I will make a fairly obvious pun about the subject matter before posing an inane question I have no intention of really answering: is this an important scientific finding?

Bookmark: 42, or why statistics are magic

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Pie chartMatt Parker discusses the power of statistics to say what one would like to hear:

By their very nature, statistics can only be misused when the audience doesn’t bother checking them. Statistics are just a numerical summary of evidence that has been collected. They give people the starting point to delve directly into that evidence and see if the arguments hold together.

A nice summary of why none should believe numbers without checking them.

Image (CC-by)

Cell culture: Oktoberfest

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Wies'nOn September 18, the 200th edition of Oktoberfest was kicked off in Munich, Germany. Roasted chicken, weisswurst and tasty bretzels are all around, and of course, the beer! In this edition of Cell Culture, the whole beer journey is presented: from the foamy Mass to tourist’s liver. Michaeleen Doucleff writes a must-read report about it. Nice trip!

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