Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The Anti-Roma Racist Apartheid Stink of the Sheraton Stockholm Hotel Can't Be Washed Off as "Mistake"

So, this is what happened in my country today:

As the Swedish Government was to launch a long awaited and important white book, documenting and finally publicly acknowledging decade after decade of endemic discrimination and persecution or Roma people in Sweden, one of the main speakers, Diana Nyman, chairman of the Roma council in Gothenburg, and specially invited prominent guest to speak at the ceremony – where also the Queen and the Crown Princess took part, besides the minister of social affairs, Erik Ullenhag – was heading down to the restaurant of the luxury Sheraton Hotel in the very centre of Stockholm, where the government had booked her to stay, to have breakfast.

 This, however, proved to be a challenge, as she...

'...was almost knocked over by a staff member who rushed to bar the Roma expert and speaker from entering the breakfast room. 
"Even after I had showed that I'd paid for breakfast the staff insisted that I stay in the lobby," Nyman told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper (DN) on Tuesday. "They got me coffee so I could drink it there instead." '

In Dagens Nyheter, representatives of the Government comments dryly that it will now "revise its business relations" with the hotel, while Diana Nyman declares that she will (of course!) report the hotel for unlawful discrimination.

Quote above is from The Local. And some Swedish renderings are here, here, here, here, here.

Just now, the hotel CEO, Thomas Johansson, finally commented, labeling the incident as an "unfortunate mistake" and then immediately contradicting himself by referring to an ongoing internal investigation, obviously implying that the hotel actually believes that something more than an accident had occurred.

Of course, it's no accident and, of course, it's no mistake!

The hotel staff knew exactly what they were doing and why they were doing it. They were barring a proven guest of the hotel from having breakfast and entering the restaurant only because of her "Roma looks". Based, I suppose, on some hazy notion that "We can't have those people around our fine restaurant guests, now, can we! What will our guests think!?" Keep her happy with a cuppa in the lobby, just to prevent any fuss, before she's on her way and all can return to normal". 

This is without any doubt a crystal clear case of conscious apartheid and blatant racial/ethnic discrimination. Moreover, I hold more than likely that the staff actions are perfectly in line with longstanding practice at the hotel with regard to Roma people, it's just that they never had anyone of them so visibly as a guest before. The equally likely fact that the Sheraton chain somewhere, I'm sure, has some sort of human rights and equal treatment policy doesn't mean zilch in this context. One might add, moreover, that the behaviour of the hotel staff is perfectly in tune with the deeply embedded culture towards Roma people in my country, documented by the White book launched today. So, I would guess, that – in fact – Sheraton is only unlucky here, to have their first visibly Roma guest, the incident would have been extremely likely to occur at any "better" accommodation establishment in town.

So, please, Mr. Sheraton CEO, Thomas Johansson, please stop pretending what only makes you look ridiculous. Admit that your hotel – as probably most others in this country – has a cultural and institutional ethnic/racial discrimination problem, giving rise to apartheid behaviour towards guest or possible guests based on "racial profiling" from your staff. Admit it and deal with it!

In the meantime, I find the reaction of the Government most apt, and if the Royal court does any business with Sheraton, it would be very logical for them to turn their affairs elsewhere as well. Not to speak of the Nobel Foundation, which often uses Sheraton to put up laureates and their families. Just as a bit of a motivator for real change, I mean – you do believe in financial incentives, don't you?

And all of you others, if you happen to visit Stockholm in the future, here's how the Sheraton Stockholm hotel looks like again. Just in case you want to follow these fine examples when making your free choice on the market of where not to hole up, I mean:

Saturday, 22 March 2014

How to Access Twitter in Turkey Despite the Ban, Block and Censorship

As I'm sure all of you know that, the other day, Turkey's PM Erdogan went public with the not only ill-considered and unjustified, but plain stupid, call to "block" access to twitter from Turkey as a first step in a campaign to "wipe out" social media from  the country - and immediately a tame court stepped up and did its duty in this country of (obviously not) rule of law. Stupid, that is, unless his objective is to hurry the country back to the dark ages, shut down international trade, tourism and so on. But perhaps this really is Mr. Erdogan finally showing off the Taliban willy of his inner self in public. Or is it maybe, which seems more likely guven his actions, that there's enough substance in the corruption charges he in this way allegedly is trying to silence for him to be scared out of his wits? Who knows? In any case, it seems that Erdogan is not very strongly supported even by his own political allies on this. Reports about this are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here to name just a few.

Now, there's nothing new here. Just one more pathetic little man in the upper management going crazy for power and privilege, no more being able to stand being criticised – we've seen it so many times before and very recently in Ukraine and Russia. Turkey and Erdogan is just more of the same, only this time within the NATO costume, so going for reprisals as in  the Ukraine case will not be as handy for the US and EU as in the ongoing Ukraine and Crimea crisis. Lucky then that there are effective ways of making this lunacy of policy making completely impotent.

For there are many, many ways in which Twitter can still be accessed from Turkey and to get at those, it would seem, Turkey would have to shut down all telecommunication. As I said, the dark ages. Suck on that, Mr. Prime Minister and see if you dare that one to cover your obviously exposed behind.

Once again, Wikileaks has stepped forward and is providing ample instruction and help on this supporter forum page. Hopefully, people in Turkey are reached by this information, are able to access the page and/or spread its content in other ways. Let's make this a Streisand effect par excellence, shall we!

Now Online: Special Symposium of Public Health Ethics: New Media, Risky Behaviour and Children

All good to those who wait, it's said, and in this case this certainly holds up to scrutiny...

Yesterday afternoon, a special symposium in this year's first issue of the journal Public Health Ethics, guest-edited by myself and my colleague Karl Persson de Fine Licht, on the topic of New Media, Risky Behaviour and Children, went online after about 2 years of work, starting with this call for papers. In addition, the call came out of a preceding European project, running 2011-12, taking off as an original idea at a workshop we held in Gothenburg in October 2011. We are, of course, mighty grateful to the PHE editors-in-chief duo of Angus Dawson and Marcel Verweij, who accepted our proposal, remained committed to it and has offered all support needed under way.

The full table of content looks like this:

Christian Munthe and Karl Persson de Fine Licht
Editorial: New Media and Risky Behavior of Children and Young People: Ethics and Policy Implications. Introducing the Themes and Pushing for More 

Original articles
Julika Loss, Verena Lindacher, and Janina Curbach
Do Social Networking Sites Enhance the Attractiveness of Risky Health Behavior? Impression Management in Adolescents’ Communication on Facebook and its Ethical Implications

Joakim Forsemalm
Consolidated Youth Jury: Alcohol Prevention for Young People from Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern. A Swedish Case Report
K. P. Mehta, J. Coveney, P. Ward, and E. Handsley
Parents’ and Children’s Perceptions of the Ethics of Marketing Energy-Dense Nutrient-Poor Foods on the Internet: Implications for Policy to Restrict Children’s Exposure 

Boudewijn de Bruin
Alcohol in the Media and Young People: What Do We Need for Liberal Policy-making?

Case Discussion  
Kate L. Mandeville, Matthew Harris, H. Lucy Thomas, Yimmy Chow, and Claude Seng 
Using Social Networking Sites for Communicable Disease Control: Innovative Contact Tracing or Breach of Confidentiality?

Jasper Littmann and Anthony Kessel 
Accounting for the Costs of Contact Tracing through Social Networks  

André Krom 
From Facebook to Tracebook: A Justified Means to Prevent Infection Risks? 

Mart L. Stein, Babette O. Rump, Mirjam E. E. Kretzschmar, and Jim E. van Steenbergen 
Social Networking Sites as a Tool for Contact Tracing: Urge for Ethical Framework for Normative Guidance

David M. Shaw 
Communicating About Communicable Diseases on Facebook: Whisper, Don’t Shout  

Thomas Ploug and Søren Holm 
Take Not a Musket to Kill a Butterfly—Ensuring the Proportionality of Measures Used in Disease Control on the Internet

Now, I would myself very much have preferred to have the entire issue open access, for anyone to probe, but since that would cost about €1500 / article, and there are 11 articles in the symposium, there was no financially feasible way of managing this. One of the contributions is open access, due to it having been written in a context where funding for that objective has been available, but this is normally not the case for ethicists, social scientists and practitioners – unlike our more wealthy cousins within clinical and laboratory health science, I might add.

For access, your best bet is through a university library, a student or staff at a university with access, or you can try contacting individual authors and/or look around for so-called postprints posted in public archives.

Monday, 10 March 2014

200 000 reads

I'm proud to announce that, today, Philosophical Comment (using the statistics of Blogger) reached the handsome number of 200 000 reads.

Thank you!

Sunday, 9 March 2014

In these New Times of International Tension out of Ukraine: Remember the Military Industrial Complex!

I suppose no one has missed the turbulent events in Ukraine the last couple of weeks and there are, of course, many things one might say about those. At the moment, there appears to be a stalemate, where sympathies are allocated according to (i) what leadership orientation is preferred, and (ii) how one assesses the legality of the initial shift of power in Kiev, when the 2010 democratically elected president Yanukovych was replaced by the current provisional rule. If (ii) is assessed as illegal, it follows that Yanukovych is still legitimate president and then the presence of, if nothing else, Russian supported (but this charade is believed by no one, so let's say Russian, shall we?) troops on Crimea is perfectly in accord with international law, as a legitimate country leader may of course request foreign military assistance in times of national crisis. If (ii) is assessed as legal, the opposite conclusion follows and, in fact, we have a case of an aggressive invasion. Similarly, if (i) is assessed so that the new Kiev regime is judged as more desirable than the old, the shift of power is seen as desirable (for instance by pointing to the knee-deep corruption), and the Russian military activities as undesirable. If (i) is assessed differently (for instance by pointing to the strong presence of the neo-nazi party Svoboda in the provisional Kiev government, the national prosecution office, as well as the militia currently upholding order in absence of a defunct police organisation). However, I want to highlight another aspect of the Ukrainian crisis, linked more the way it's been spun in the surrounding world – especially that of Europe and, not least, Scandinavia.

In Sweden, there's been an immediate collective official political panic (see, for instance, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here) connected to the fact that it might look like a real "Russian threat" akin to the cold war era is back on the European menu. And, for instance, Poland and some Baltic countries have made some pretty strong calls for NATO to beef up its eastern Europe readiness and presence. On the Russian side of the fence, the rhetoric is no less tough, as you all know, and may be said to mirror perfectly that of the Western European stance.

Now, I'm no expert on foreign policy or international security analysis (although I'm on record as being quite skeptical to all claims to such expertise), but it would seem to me that there's a general tendency of all of these developments taken together that needs to be taken into the equation. This is no innovation of mine, but was in fact eloquently formulated by the at the time exiting U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1961. What he pointed to was the close institutionalised alliance between political forces of whatever colour or brand desiring armed conflict for whatever reason and the vested interests of the wide variety of business and industry making money on such ventures and thriving in the atmosphere of increased international political tension. In these times of general hollering for more of military action, presence, visibility and readiness, this is a crucial factor to consider and what better way to remind about it than simple listening to Eisenhower's words once more, after which you may ask yourself who – unwittingly or not – those on all sides making the pitch of violence are servants of.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Reproductive Public Health Ethics at MANCEPT 2014

Happy to be able to tell the world that a proposal headed by myself for a series of sessions at the increasingly popular and important MANCEPT Workshops in Political Theory conference has been accepted for this year's edition, September 8-10, 2014.

The proposal is on the theme of Reproductive Public Health Ethics, where a selected lineup of speakers from the Netherlands, Romania, Sweden and the UK will address different dimensions (biopolitics, bioethics, public health ethics, population ethics, environmental ethics) of ethics and value issues attached to reproductive policy. The presenters include, besides my humble self:

Gustaf Arrhenius
Richard Ashcroft
Becky Brown
Krister Bykvist
Daniela Cutas
Angus Dawson
Anca Gheaus
Kalle Grill
Marcel Verweij
Stephen Wilkinson

With a few possible additions to come. More on this as the exact program etc. is set and made public.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Why Aren't Acknowledgements Acknowledged in Academic Citation Indeces and Metrics?

Note: a crucial amendment to the original post has been made in the last paragraph. The tip from Daniela Cutas making this possible is hereby acknowledged!

Today, as many times before I received a so-called "alarm" from Google Scholar in my email inbox. This notified me of a new research publication in the GS index related to myself, but this time it was none of my own work that had appeared online and neither one in which some of my work was cited, which are otherwise the typical contents of these "alarms". It was, instead, a new article by Neil Levy in Biology & Philosophy, called "Addiction as a disorder of belief", where I'm mentioned in the acknowledgements section, due to Neil having presented a draft of this paper at our research seminar last term and, apparently, some comment of mine had been of help.

This made me think of how important an institution acknowledgements are in the academic world, especially in those parts where extensive multi-authorship is not the norm, as in philosophy, ethics and, in fact, most of the humanities and social sciences. It is in the acknowledgements that you recognize contributions of others to your work other than having actually written it together and these can be everything from subtle to such broad or basic contributions that they cannot be captured by any specific article or book citation. Often this happens with people you interact with in the course of doing your research as they are also in a work in progress stage, which in the mentioned field is often equivalent to working on the manuscript. Or it is the contributions of people who have not published anything on the topic, but nevertheless provide useful suggestions. Thus, mentioning in acknowledgements is quite a non-trivial thing; it is, in fact, an integral part of exhibiting the collective nature of research also in these parts of academia. No wonder, then, that philosophers (and I'm sure others, but philosophers are whom I know best) pay a rather great deal of attention to who is being mentioned in acknowledgements and how, as this reveals a great deal about what interactions lie behind a piece of work and also the nature of the research environment of the author. In books, the foreword/preface (where acknowledgements usually surface) is thus a central section for geting a grip on what is many times a highly complex body of information, argument and advancement of intellectual thought (regardless if you end up agreeing or not). In the natural and technological sciences, as well as biomedicine, achnowledgement do not, as far as I have come to understand through my rather abundant interactions with people from such fields over the years, occupy this type of important position. Rather, they are an aside reserved for funding agencies, and people who do not (or have not been deemed to) deserve to be included as co-authors, part of the consortium, or whatever immense collective body is the author in the particular case. Basically, if one researcher has interacted with some other researcher in the production of a piece of research, this will show in the form of co-authorship, not acknowledgement. In the humanities and social sciences, the rule is rather the opposite, which makes acknowledgements immensely valuable, as (due to a much smaller degree of fragmentation of publication) it often may take quite a while for a working in progress to end up in the form of an actually published work – in the case of books (still the finest of merit in these fields), not seldom several years. True, some mentions in acknowledgements reflect very minor contributions, sometimes just material ones, like having invited someone to present at a seminar or provided a visiting fellowship for a brief while, but that goes for co-authorship in those other academic fields as well - where a place in the list of author has, as we all know, become a currency to trade for all sort of things material related to conducting research. You want a peak at my data?/collaborate with my post doc/profit from my comments/use my tool, I get authorship – that sort of thing.

That could have been the end of it, if it wasn't for the increasing importance for funding and career of how you score on various citation metrics. This tool for measuring how influential your work comes from the natural, technological and biomedical sciences and thus concentrate on authorship and citation of published articles. Due to its increased use also for ranking humanities and social science academics, it is now increasingly including also books on academic publishers and conference proceedings (which in some fields are just as long and peer reviewed as journal articles). However, it is still citation of a published work that counts, which means that mention in acknowledgement will not improve your citation ranking. This means, that a substantial part of how influence on each other's work and collective interaction in research is conveyed for humanities and social science researchers, is simply ignored by these systems – now used for allocating our money and assessing our merit. Simply put: the tool is currently significantly biased and rigged to the disbenefit of humanities and social science researchers for no good reason.

At the same time, it seems to me, that with today's technology in publication and research accomplishment indexing, it should actually be no problem at all to have mention in acknowledgement be reflected in citation indeces and metrics. [Added in retrospect] And indeed it isn't, as was demonstrated already in 2004, in this articel. This goes for all of the larger indexes, including Google Scholar Citations, Thompson Reuter's Web of Knowledge and Ellsevier's Scopus. Alternatively, universities, governments and funding bodies paying attention to existing metrics, should add in their assessment of humanities and social sciences a further citation dimension of this type. Otherwise, the resulting allocation and assessments will be substantially misguided and missing a crucial part of what drives research and innovation outside of the already highly privileged fields of natural, technological and biomedical science.