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.
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 🙂
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.
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 thepanacea 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.
Having said that, does the crisis impact healthcare? “Life was better before…”, as the adage goes, whispered in a sigh of regret that fleetingly animates an otherwise nostalgic face. In fact, no, it really wasn’t: the Euro Health Consumer Index (EHCI) 2012 has detected only some very moderate traces left by the “financial crisis” on healthcare systems in Europe at large. The “good old days” in fact never were: “healthcare traditionally used to be very poor at monitoring output, which leads healthcare staff, politicians and the public to overestimate the service levels of yesteryear!”
Even so, the situation is not equally bad throughout Europe. Surprisingly, some East-European EU member states are doing well (more specifically, the Czech Republic and Slovakia). This improvement is astonishing considering their much smaller per capita spending on healthcare. No fabulous news for Bulgaria and Romania though: despite entering their 6th year as EU member states, they stay consistently stuck in the doldrums as a closer look at economically-relevant and quality indicators reveals. Lastly, as Macedonia is a candidate and a direct neighbour of Bulgaria, including it also seemed relevant.
In all three countries, government spending on healthcare is between 6.9 and 7.1 per cent, hardly more than those notoriously bad performers Latvia and Serbia. By contrast, Western member states not only have far bigger state budgets but also allocate at least 10 per cent of them to healthcare. Another noticeable tendency is that out-of-pocket spending is massive, but overall spending on health is low; in other words, people do not often go to the doctor, but when they do so, it costs them a packet. (The alternative explanation is that the population in all of these 3 countries is in the very pink of health, and so has no need for doctors and medicines, but I have doubts about how valid this might be.) Regardless of whether they operate in the public or private sectors, the number of available physicians is appallingly low: only Bulgaria comes close to the average number of physicians in the EU (3.8 active doctors for 1,000 people). Not only do Macedonia and Romania severely lack physicians, but there is also a difficult-to-bridge gap with countries such as Greece or Austria (6.2 and 4.7 per 1,000 population, respectively). Last but not least, immunization seems to be on the decline, especially in Romania, which threatens public health as a whole: vaccines are — even today – still the only line of defence against many debilitating and often deadly diseases. A slowdown or full stop to child immunization thus carries the real danger of a resurgence of ugly diseases like measles.
But all these figures do not give the whole picture. The EHCI 2012 offers some insights into the quality of healthcare provided in each country. Needless to say, I was not expecting miracles. I must confess, however, that I struggled as all the relevant indicators I wanted to include were depressingly bad.
The head with the frizzy hair standing on end isn’t there by chance: it mirrors my consternation when reading the report. Patient rights are improving in many European countries, and encouraging legislation changes are also being reported for East-European countries. But the shoddy medical quality seems to be the standard in our three favourite countries. Bulgaria, Macedonia and Romania – along with Albania, Serbia and Latvia – are also the places where people spend the lowest amount of money per year on health (below USD 1,000, whereas in continental Western Europe and Nordic countries, annual spending on healthcare generally comes somewhere between USD 2,700 and 3,700).
What if there was a treatment for lousy healthcare: would our governments be able to afford it?
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)
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.
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.
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.