Monday, September 28, 2015

The Potential Criminal Consequences for Volkswagen; New York Times, 9/24/15

Peter J. Henning, New York Times; The Potential Criminal Consequences for Volkswagen:
"It appears automakers have become the latest source of corporate misconduct after Volkswagen admitted installing software to fool emissions tests.
It comes after the General Motors settlement of a criminal investigation into how it handled defective ignition switches that caused at least 124 deaths. And when there is a video in which the head of Volkswagen’s American operations tells an audience in Brooklyn that the company was “dishonest” and “totally screwed up,” then it is only a matter of time before the company has to deal with multiple civil and criminal penalties.
The question is what types of proceedings Volkswagen is likely to face and how far up the corporate ladder prosecutors can go in seeking to hold individuals accountable."

Meet John German: the man who helped expose Volkswagen's emissions scandal; Guardian, 9/26/15

Rupert Neate, Guardian; Meet John German: the man who helped expose Volkswagen's emissions scandal:
"John German has barely had time to catch his breath all week between appearances on TV news channel and radio phone-in shows. He’s an unlikely media star, not a pop singer or reality TV contestant, but a grey-haired automotive engineer thrust into the global spotlight after he and his colleagues were credited with helping uncover one of the biggest ever corporate scandals.
“We really didn’t expect to find anything,” German said of his research that found Volkswagen had installed sophisticated software designed to cheat strict emission tests across the world. His simple test – checking the car’s emissions on real roads rather than in lab test conditions – led to the resignation of VW’s chief executive after the German company was forced to admit it installed “defeat devices” in 11m cars. The scandal has wiped more than €24bn ($26.8bn) off VW’s market value.
Many questions remain but one thing is clear to German: “It was not an accident,” he said. “A lot of work has gone into this.”"

How A Little Lab In West Virginia Caught Volkswagen's Big Cheat; NPR, 9/24/15

Sonari Glinton, NPR; How A Little Lab In West Virginia Caught Volkswagen's Big Cheat:
"Volkswagen was recently brought to its knees when scientists discovered the company had installed a device in its diesel-powered cars to fool emissions tests. Its stock price tanked, its reputation has been damaged and its CEO resigned on Wednesday.
So who made the discovery that sent the German car giant into a tailspin? A group of scientists at West Virginia University.
WVU research assistant professor Arvind Thiruvengadam and his colleagues test and experiment on cars and engines. He admits his is not the sexiest lab on campus, but he says he got superexcited when they won a grant in 2012 to test a few diesel cars...
The question now for investigators and prosecutors from Korea to Germany to the U.S. is how many people at Volkswagen knew and how far up that knowledge went."

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Engineers, Ethics, and the VW Scandal; IEEE Spectrum, 9/25/15

Prachi Patel, IEEE Spectrum; Engineers, Ethics, and the VW Scandal:
"Volkswagen’s installation of a software “defeat device” in 11 million Volkswagen and Audi diesel vehicles sold worldwide has led to a massive vehicle recall in the United States and an official apology from the company’s now-ex CEO.
The clever and sneaky algorithm, installed in the emissions-control module, detects when the cars were undergoing emissions testing. It ran the engine cleanly during tests and switched off emissions control during normal driving conditions, allowing the car to spew up to 40 times the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum allowed level of nitrogen oxides, air pollutants that cause respiratory problems and smog.
“This is shocking,” says Yotam Lurie, a senior lecturer of business ethics at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. “It’s shocking that the software engineers of Volkswagen overlooked and neglected their fiduciary responsibility as professionals. Professionals who have a semi-regulatory responsibility within the organization to ensure safety, in this case environmental safety, even when this is less efficient or economical.”
Lurie’s recently published paper on Professional Ethics for Software Engineers touches on the heart of this matter."

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Big new copyright fair use decision involving part owner of Miami Heat; Washington Post, 9/17/15

Eugene Volokh, Washington Post; Big new copyright fair use decision involving part owner of Miami Heat:
"I blogged about this case back when the magistrate judge issued his report, but today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit affirmed (Katz v. Chevaldina), and concluded that defendant Irina Chevaldina’s use of the photo shown above is a fair use. The twist: The subject of the photo, Raanan Katz, bought the photo after it was published and used by Chevaldina, and then sued her in his capacity as now-owner of the photograph. No dice, said the court, concluding — in my view correctly — that Chevaldina’s use was a “fair use” and thus not an infringement..."

Tim Cook Tells Stephen Colbert The Real Reason He Came Out As Gay; HuffingtonPost.com, 9/16/15

Ron Dicker, HuffingtonPost.com; Tim Cook Tells Stephen Colbert The Real Reason He Came Out As Gay:
"Apple CEO Tim Cook, who came out as gay last year, told "The Late Show" host Stephen Colbert Tuesday he made the move out of social responsibility...
Cook gave a thoughtful answer.
Citing a quote about the importance of doing for others by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Cook then told Colbert: "It became so clear to me that kids were getting bullied in school, kids were getting basically discriminated against, kids were even being disclaimed by their own parents, and that I needed to do something.And that where I valued my privacy significantly, I felt that I was valuing it too far above what I could do for other people. And so I wanted to tell everyone my truth.""

Volkswagen apologizes, stops diesel sales in wake of US emissions scandal; CNet.com, 9/21/15

Antuan Goodwin, CNet.com; Volkswagen apologizes, stops diesel sales in wake of US emissions scandal:
"Volkswagen Group is apologizing after the US Environmental Protection Agency accused the automaker of using illegal software in its TDI diesel cars to skirt US emissions standards.
In a statement over the weekend, Volkswagen Group CEO Dr. Martin Winterkorn said he's "deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers and the public." The German automaker ordered its US Volkswagen and Audi dealerships to halt sales of affected vehicles until a fix can be issued. In a further statement, issued Tuesday morning, VW indicates that 11 million Volkswagen Group autos (which includes Audi, Porsche and other brands) contain the software, and that the company has set aside EUR 6.5b to address costs.
The EPA claims certain VW and Audi vehicles use software that meets clean diesel emissions standards when hooked up to testing equipment but then switches to a dirtier mode when disconnected."

Thursday, September 17, 2015

G.O.P. Anti-Gay Bigotry Threatens First Amendment; New York Times, 9/12/15

Editorial Board, New York Times; G.O.P. Anti-Gay Bigotry Threatens First Amendment:
"This past June, in the heat of their outrage over gay rights, congressional Republicans revived a nasty bit of business they call the First Amendment Defense Act. It would do many things, but one thing it would not do is defend the First Amendment. To the contrary, it would deliberately warp the bedrock principle of religious freedom under the Constitution.
The bill, versions of which have been circulating since 2013, gained a sudden wave of support after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. It is being hawked with the specter of clergy members being forced to officiate such marriages. This is a ploy, as the bill’s backers surely know: There has never been any doubt that the First Amendment protects members of the clergy from performing weddings against their will.
In reality, the act would bar the federal government from taking “any discriminatory action” — including the denial of tax benefits, grants, contracts or licenses — against those who oppose same-sex marriage for religious or moral reasons. In other words, it would use taxpayers’ money to negate federal anti-discrimination measures protecting gays and lesbians, using the idea of religious freedom as cover."

Obama Thinks Students Should Stop Stifling Debate On Campus; HuffingtonPost.com, 9/15/15

Tyler Kingkade, HuffingtonPost.com; Obama Thinks Students Should Stop Stifling Debate On Campus:
"President Barack Obama wants college students to hear the arguments of people they disagree with, not try to block them from speaking...
"I've heard some college campuses where they don't want to have a guest speaker who is too conservative or they don't want to read a book if it has language that is offensive to African-Americans or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women," Obama said. "I gotta tell you I don't agree with that either. I don't agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view."
The president said that when he was in school, listening to people he disagreed with helped to test his own assumptions and sometimes led him to change his mind.
"Sometimes I realized maybe I've been too narrow-minded, maybe I didn't take this into account, maybe I should see this person's perspective," Obama said. "That's what college, in part, is all about...""
"Part of what a college education is for is to be real people, to be citizens -- not to protect them from discomforts of life," Stone told The Huffington Post...
The professor theorized that students have been "indoctrinated" by their parents that they are "entitled to be safe and comfortable."
"The consequence, I guess, of parents that are hovering all the time and telling everyone they're the best," Stone said."

A Constitution Day Panel: Marriage Equality and Beyond; University of Pittsburgh School of Law, 9/17/15

University of Pittsburgh School of Law; A Constitution Day Panel: Marriage Equality and Beyond:
"Marriage Equality and Beyond: An Armchair Discussion of Obergefell v. Hodges, the Fight for Marriage Equality, and the Future of the LGBT Civil Rights Movement
Moderator: William M. Carter Jr. Professor and Dean, University of Pittsburgh School of Law
Please join us for a special Constitution Day program, featuring attorney Evan Wolfson, who often is credited with being the founder and leader of the same-sex marriage movement. Wolfson, along with Pitt Law Professor Anthony Infanti, will discuss the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges; the history of the effort to attain marriage equality for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community; and what legal and social challenges lie ahead for the community. Rounding out the discussion will be PA Representative Dan B. Frankel who represents the 23rd District.
Evan Wolfson is founder and president of Freedom to Marry, the campaign to win marriage equality nationwide. He wrote his Harvard Law School thesis in 1983 on gay people and the freedom to marry, served as cocounsel in the historic Hawaii marriage case that launched the ongoing global movement for the freedom to marry, and has participated in numerous gay rights and HIV/AIDS cases. Citing his national leadership on marriage and his appearance before the U.S. Supreme Court in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, The National Law Journal in 2000 named Wolfson one of the 100 Most Influential Lawyers in America. Newsweek and the Daily Beast dubbed him “the godfather of gay marriage,” and TIME magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2004. In 2012, he received the Barnard Medal of Distinction alongside President Barack Obama.
This program is free and open to the public."

Pitt Constitution Day event explores gay rights movement; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/17/15

Kim Lyons, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; Pitt Constitution Day event explores gay rights movement:
"With the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges ruling in June, same-sex marriage advocates celebrated a victory that was a long time coming. But there are still smaller obstacles to be met in the quest for marriage equality, said Anthony Infanti, a professor at University of Pittsburgh’s School of Law.
“It’s the lesser-known things, issues of discrimination, that will take longer,” Mr. Infanti said.
There already has been pushback, most recently from a clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on religious grounds, he said.
“There will always be the Kim Davises and other resistance and other kinds of backlash. But there are also a lot of heteronormative issues to think about, especially looking through a legal lens.” One example he gave from his own experience: Having to cross out “mother” and “father” and write in “parent and parent” on his daughter’s school forms.
To commemorate Constitution Day, which marks the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, the Pitt law school is presenting a discussion on same-sex marriage issues tonight, featuring Mr. Infanti and Evan Wolfson, founder and president of the Freedom to Marry campaign. The talk will look at the history of the marriage equality movement and the challenges that lie ahead for the LGBT community...
Tonight’s event is free and open to the public. For more information, call 412- 648-1418."

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Federal patent office rules against two Pitt doctors on vaccine application; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/11/15

Mark Roth, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; Federal patent office rules against two Pitt doctors on vaccine application:
"When Dr. Kolls failed to add her name, Dr. Norris sought a university investigation. That was carried out by a faculty committee, which ruled in 2013 that even though the Norris lab had made the original discovery of the protein fragment cited in the patent application, it could not determine whether Dr. Kolls and Dr. Zheng had engaged in outright misconduct. Instead, the panel said, the two physicians were guilty of “research impropriety.”
Ironically, the patent office cited the Pitt faculty committee’s own report as the primary basis for ruling against Dr. Kolls and Dr. Zheng on the patent application. “The threshold question in determining inventorship is who conceived the invention,” the office said. “Unless a person contributes to the conception of the invention, he is not an inventor.” The “evidence appears to indicate that Kolls and Zheng do not meet the requirements of inventorship.”
The patent office gave Pitt, which is the lead party in the application, until Dec. 10 to respond to the decision. Pitt released a statement Friday saying it “appreciates the detail and attention the [patent office] is devoting to the careful evaluation of this patent application,” but “would continue its vigorous pursuit of the patentability of the remaining claims, in support of the science and each of the four named inventors.”
Pitt spokesman Ken Service said that meant the university would submit evidence advocating for inventor rights for all four scientists, and then let the patent office make the final decision."

Friday, September 11, 2015

Not all comments are created equal: the case for ending online comments; Guardian, 9/10/15

Jessica Valenti, Guardian; Not all comments are created equal: the case for ending online comments:
"Comments sections also give the impression that all thoughts are created equal when, well, they’re not. When Popular Science stopped publishing comments, for example, it was because “everything, from evolution to the origins of climate change, is mistakenly up for grabs again...scientific certainty is just another thing for two people to ‘debate’”. When will we see the humanity and dignity of women as a fact, rather than an opinion?
It’s true, I could just stop reading comments. But I shouldn’t have to. Ignoring hateful things doesn’t make them go away, and telling women to simply avoid comments is just another way of saying we’re too lazy or overwhelmed to fix the real problem.
Websites and news sources are increasingly moving forward without comments because they find them unnecessary and counterproductive. In my perfect world, more places would follow their lead – at least until publishers find lasting solutions to making comments worth it. Worth it for readers and for writers. Because the nastiness on our doorstep has piled too high for too long, and I just want to get out of the house."

The Need To Be Anonymous: Empowering and liberating free expression; Library Journal, 9/8/15

John N. Berry III, Library Journal; The Need To Be Anonymous: Empowering and liberating free expression:
"I’m always surprised when librarians who read LJ complain because we allow anonymous comments to be published or posted. In a message on our Feedback page, Andrea Segall, a retired librarian who worked at the Berkeley Public Library, CA, and is involved in a protest against that library’s current weeding practices and program, takes LJ to task for allowing anonymous comment.
“I’m disappointed that LJ permits this cowardly method of communication. People should be required to identify themselves when submitting opinions and information,” writes Segall...
Anonymity is as American as the Fourth of July. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, which incited our revolution, was first published anonymously.
Yes, anonymity can frequently hide the biases and prejudices of those who comment. It can allow parties who have a major stake in the outcome of debates to hide that fact. The anonymous can, and often do, use language and make charges that are stronger and more snarky. But there can be as much misinformation in signed comments as there is in unsigned ones. We are smart enough to figure out the misinformation and hyperbole in either. The added accountability of messages from identified speakers is hardly as valuable as the open expression empowered by allowing commenters to remain anonymous. It can even improve the debate, by forcing commenters to focus on the merits—or lack thereof—of the argument itself rather than on who said what."

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Older People Are Invisible in Key Data, Study Warns; New York Times, 9/9/15

Rick Gladstone, New York Times; Older People Are Invisible in Key Data, Study Warns:
"Vast gaps in data on older people threaten to undercut new goals established by the United Nations for raising living standards over the next 15 years, advocates for the aging said in a report being released on Wednesday.
Poverty rates among older people, a rapidly growing segment of the global population, are missing from data in at least 93 countries, many of them among the least equipped to compile this information, according to the report, the 2015 Global AgeWatch Index. It is created by HelpAge International, a nonprofit organization that calculates an index of the best and worst countries in which to grow old. But the index is based on data from only 96 countries, including all of the most developed and affluent.
“The big story this year in the index is that millions of older people are invisible, living their lives in countries where information on the quality of older age is missing from international data sets,” Toby Porter, chief executive of the organization, said in releasing the 2015 ranking. Of 54 countries in Africa, he said, there was enough data available to include only 11 in the index."

Premature Babies Study Raises Debate Over Risks and Ethical Consent; New York Times, 9/7/15

Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times; Premature Babies Study Raises Debate Over Risks and Ethical Consent:
"Professor Annas said the ruling simply meant that the families could not prove the study had caused the injuries, but that did not mean that it had not or that the consent forms, which he argues played a small role in the case, were obtained properly.
A good analogy, he said, was the decision by a federal judge last week to throw out a four-game suspension of the New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady over his role in the deflation of footballs.
“That decision does not mean Brady is innocent any more than the Bowdre decision means that informed consent was properly obtained,” he said.
But others said the lawsuit’s failure was important, because it tipped the scales in favor of the researchers.
“This decision will mean, from a policy and practical point of view, that this kind of research is going to move on,” said Arthur Caplan, head of the division of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center. He said if the judge had agreed to hear the case, “we’d have research slowing down, everyone waiting to see the outcome of a trial before starting projects.”
As for the New England Journal of Medicine authors, “they are a little enthusiastic,” he said, “but they are mainly right because they are breathing a giant sigh of relief that the legal system didn’t find enough to call the Support study researchers to task.”
Even so, the issue remains unresolved. The federal government is trying to come up with more explicit guidance about the consent process. A final version is expected next year. And the office that first found the trial’s consent practices lacking stands by its conclusion."

Henrietta Lacks biographer Rebecca Skloot responds to US parent over 'porn' allegation; Guardian, 9/9/15

Alison Flood, Guardian; Henrietta Lacks biographer Rebecca Skloot responds to US parent over 'porn' allegation:
"Skloot, writing on Facebook, said that “Just in time for Banned Books Week,” a US-wide celebration of the right to read which takes place at the end of the month, “a parent in Tennessee has confused gynaecology with pornography and is trying to get my book banned from the Knoxville high school system”.
Skloot pointed to the “many other local parents” who disagree with Sims, and to the “other schools throughout the US” who support her biography, saying: “I choose to focus on those stories, and I hope the students of Knoxville will be able to continue to learn about Henrietta and the important lessons her story can teach them. Because my book is many things: It’s a story of race and medicine, bioethics, science illiteracy, the importance of education and equality and science and so much more. But it is not anything resembling pornography.”...
Skloot was later contacted on Facebook by Jimm Allen, assistant principal of the school attended by Sim’s son, who told her: “Know that the book and teachers have the complete support from the administration of the school. It’s an amazing book that fits with our Stem curriculum better than almost any book could. The next book that the sophomores are reading? Fahrenheit 451... Oh, sweet, sweet, irony.”
Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel about a world in which books are burned has been the subject of repeated attempts to ban it since it was published in 1953."

New Zealand protests planned in solidarity with banned book; Guardian, 9/9/15

Alison Flood, Guardian; New Zealand protests planned in solidarity with banned book:
"Silent readings of Ted Dawe’s Into the River are being planned across New Zealand tomorrow in protest at the much-praised young adult novel’s nationwide ban.
Following a complaint from Christian group Family First about the award-winning title’s “detailed descriptions of sex acts, coarse language and scenes of drug-taking”, New Zealand’s Board of Film and Literature Review has placed an interim restriction order on Into the River, meaning that “no one in New Zealand can distribute, or exhibit, the book”. Individuals who breach the order face a fine of $3,000 and companies who breach it will be fined $10,000. The board will revise the order and consider a permanent age restriction for the novel in October.
Into the River, the coming-of-age story of a Maori boy whose intelligence wins him a place at a prestigious boarding school, where he faces racism and bullying, won Dawe the 2013 New Zealand Post Margaret Mahy Book of the Year award. Its ban has prompted a wave of outrage from New Zealanders, authors and the international book community, with silent readings planned tomorrow in Auckland, Dunedin and Wellington as the literary world throws its weight behind Dawe.
Auckland’s Time Out bookstore, meanwhile, has pulled together a window display of previously banned books from Animal Farm to The Catcher in the Rye, including Into the River inside a paper bag, in protest at the ban."

Tennessee Mom Calls Book On Cervical Cancer Cells 'Pornographic'; HuffingtonPost.com, 9/8/15

Dhyana Taylor, HuffingtonPost.com; Tennessee Mom Calls Book On Cervical Cancer Cells 'Pornographic' :
"A mother from Knoxville, Tennessee, believes the New York Times bestseller The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks has too much graphic information for her 15-year-old son and should not have been assigned as summer reading.
"I consider the book pornographic," Jackie Sims told WBIR-Knoxville. "There's so many ways to say things without being graphic in nature, and that's the problem I have with the book."
The book, by science writer Rebecca Skloot, details the true story of a poor black tobacco farmer whose cervical cancer cells were taken without her knowledge in 1951. The cells, which scientists referred to as HeLa, went on to become a vital tool in medicine, helping to develop the polio vaccine, in vitro fertilization and other major scientific breakthroughs. The book was published in 2011 and has won numerous awards from medical and scientific organizations...
The anti-censorship group Kids' Right to Read Project said that book banning has been on the rise since 2012, and cited 49 book-banning incidents in 2013 -- a 53 percent rise over 2012. The American Library Association says that 311 challenges were filed in 2014 against a variety of books."

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Gay Veterans Push for Honorable Discharges They Were Denied; New York Times, 9/6/15

Dave Philipps, New York Times; Gay Veterans Push for Honorable Discharges They Were Denied:
"When the Army discharged Pvt. Donald Hallman in 1955 for being what it called a “Class II homosexual,” the 21-year-old was so scared of being an outcast that he burned all his military records, save for a single dog tag he hid away.
Mr. Hallman, a coal miner’s son who sang in a church choir in rural Alabama, says he never mentioned his military service again. He married a woman he had met at work, had children and wore a suit and tie to work each day...
“I’ve gotten to a point in my life where no one can hurt me now,” he said. “I don’t care who knows, and I want to show I was an honorable person.”
He is one of a steady march of older veterans who were kicked out of the military decades ago for being gay, and who are now asking that their less-then-honorable discharges be upgraded.By some estimates, as many as 100,000 service members were discharged for being gay between World War II and the 2011 repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Many were given less-than-honorable discharges that became official scarlet letters — barring them from veterans’ benefits, costing them government jobs and other employment, and leaving many grappling with shame for decades."
Now, emboldened by the gay soldiers serving openly in the military and the same-sex couples finding broad acceptance in civilian life, they are increasingly seeking amends.
“After all these years, I want to tie up loose ends,” said Jim Estep, 80, a retired professor in Buffalo, who was given a less-than-honorable discharge in 1964. “It’s a way of getting the government — that faceless entity — in some way to acknowledge the authenticity of my life and my contribution to the country.”"

Justice Dept. to Require Warrants for Some Cellphone Tracking; New York Times, 9/3/15

Nicholas Fandos, New York Times; Justice Dept. to Require Warrants for Some Cellphone Tracking:
"The Justice Department will regularly require federal agents to seek warrants before using secretive equipment that can locate and track cellphones, the agency announced Thursday, the first regulations on an increasingly controversial technology.
The new policy, which also limits what information may be collected and how long it can be stored, puts a measure of judicial oversight on a technology that was designed to hunt terrorists overseas but has become a popular tool among federal agents and local police officers for fighting crime.
Civil libertarians have expressed grave privacy concerns about the technology’s proliferation, but the new Justice Department policies do not apply to local police forces.
The device, commonly called a cell-site simulator or StingRay, tricks cellphones into connecting with it by acting like a cell tower, allowing the authorities to determine the location of a tracked phone. In doing so, however, the equipment also connects with all other phones in the area, allowing investigators to collect information on people not suspected of any crime...
“The policy is really designed to try to promote transparency, consistency, and accountability, all while being mindful of the public’s privacy,” Ms. Yates told reporters."

Food Industry Enlisted Academics in G.M.O. Lobbying War, Emails Show; New York Times, 9/5/15

Eric Lipton, New York Times; Food Industry Enlisted Academics in G.M.O. Lobbying War, Emails Show:
"At Monsanto, sales of genetically modified seeds were steadily rising. But executives at the company’s St. Louis headquarters were privately worried about attacks on the safety of their products.
So Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, and its industry partners retooled their lobbying and public relations strategy to spotlight a rarefied group of advocates: academics, brought in for the gloss of impartiality and weight of authority that come with a professor’s pedigree.
“Professors/researchers/scientists have a big white hat in this debate and support in their states, from politicians to producers,” Bill Mashek, a vice president at Ketchum, a public relations firm hired by the biotechnology industry, said in an email to a University of Florida professor. “Keep it up!”
And the industry has.
Corporations have poured money into universities to fund research for decades, but now, the debate over bioengineered foods has escalated into a billion-dollar food industry war. Companies like Monsanto are squaring off against major organic firms like Stonyfield Farm, the yogurt company, and both sides have aggressively recruited academic researchers, emails obtained through open records laws show.
The emails provide a rare view into the strategy and tactics of a lobbying campaign that has transformed ivory tower elites into powerful players. The use by both sides of third-party scientists, and their supposedly unbiased research, helps explain why the American public is often confused as it processes the conflicting information."

Saturday, September 5, 2015

In a dark corner of the Trans-Pacific Partnership lurks some pretty nasty copyright law; Washington Post, 9/3/15

David Post, Washington Post; In a dark corner of the Trans-Pacific Partnership lurks some pretty nasty copyright law:
"The copyright issue relates to so-called “orphan works.” As a consequence of many factors — the absurdly long term of copyright protection [life of the author plus 70 years — see my comments here on the liberation of Sherlock Holmes, after a lo-o-ong time, from his copyright shackles], along with the elimination of copyright notice, or copyright registration, requirements as preconditions for copyright protection — there are literally millions upon millions of works — books, letters, songs, articles, poems . . . — created in the ’30s, ’40s, or ’50s that are (a) still protected by copyright, and for which (b) it is virtually impossible to ascertain who owns the copyright, or even whether the copyright is still in force...
The solution is pretty obvious — a true legislative no-brainer: Amend the Copyright Act to eliminate statutory damages for these orphan works. Surely even Congress can see how idiotic it is that this class of invisible rights holders can keep this treasure trove of information out of the public’s hands, and there has indeed been significant movement recently (including a Copyright Office proposal to this effect) toward just such a change.
So what does all this have to do with the TPP? I’m glad you asked. It appears that the latest version of the treaty contains, buried within its many hundreds of pages, language that could require the U.S. to scuttle its plans for a sensible revision of this kind.[I say that this “appears” to be the case, because, of course, the text of the TPP has not been revealed to the public, so all we have are leaked versions appearing from time to time on WikiLeaks.]...
These (and other — poke around at the KEI site for more evidence) copyright provisions in the TPP are pretty dreadful and continue the disturbing trend of making copyright bigger, longer and stronger just when public policy demands the opposite...
[And as an ironic footnote to all this, part of the reason we’re in all this mess, as I mentioned at the start, is that we no longer have a sensible regime for copyright notice and copyright registration. Why don’t we? Because of another international agreement, the Berne Convention on Literary Property, that we acceded to in 1989 (and which prohibits all “copyright formalities).”] We would have been much, much better off on our own on that one."

London clinic leaks HIV status of patients; BBC News, 9/2/15

BBC News; London clinic leaks HIV status of patients:
"The 56 Dean Street clinic in Soho sent out the names and email addresses of 780 people when a newsletter was issued to clinic patients.
Patients were supposed to be blind-copied into the email but instead details were sent as a group email.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the breach was "completely unacceptable".
Speaking at a conference in Manchester, Mr Hunt said patients needed to feel confident the NHS would look after their personal data.
He said: "The truth is that we will throw this all away if we lose the public's trust in our ability to look after their personal data securely.
"If we are going to win that trust we need to strengthen the independent oversight of data security within the NHS to a level that we don't have at the moment.""

Why Is Science So Straight?; New York Times, 9/4/15

Manil Suri, New York Times; Why Is Science So Straight? :
"Underrepresentation is just one factor that reduces visibility. Unlike women and minorities, whose status is usually obvious, sexual orientation is a hidden characteristic. The fact that a sizable proportion of the L.G.B.T. STEM work force is closeted (43 percent, according to a 2015 estimate) further deepens this effect.
There is a another, more insidious factor at work. STEM culture is very problem-focused. Conversations, even over lunch, typically remain restricted to work matters (which is very different from what I’ve noticed in arts and humanities settings)...
In another interview, a chemical engineer working for a multinational oil company describes the atmosphere as “almost militaristic in terms of how they manage people” and said that they don’t even think diversity is an issue. To cope, many gays and lesbians must learn to suppress crucial aspects of their personalities and compartmentalize their lives...
Although there has been a concerted effort to make STEM fields more diverse in terms of gender and race, L.G.B.T. participation has received comparatively scant attention or resources. An exception is a recent grant by the National Science Foundation to address prejudice against sexual minorities in academic engineering departments. Grass-roots organizations like Out in STEM and the National Organization for Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals are taking the lead to provide mentoring and networking — activities that have proved indispensable in the retention of women and minorities.
An essential step is to break self-perpetuating patterns of concealment. Teachers must come out not just to colleagues, but to students — some of whom will need role models, and all of whom must get used to visible L.G.B.T. professionals to prepare for future workplace settings.
More critically, STEM culture must rein in the pressure to separate professional and personal identities. It should view its workers more holistically, welcoming their interests and differences as sources of enhanced resourcefulness."

At West Point, Annual Pillow Fight Becomes Weaponized; New York Times, 9/4/15

Dave Philipps, New York Times; At West Point, Annual Pillow Fight Becomes Weaponized:
"The Air Force did not punish any cadets at the time, choosing to treat the episode as what a spokesman called “a teachable moment.”
West Point cadets had mixed reactions to the injuries this year. Some saw them as a rite of passage in a school known for being tough; others saw a lack of judgment and restraint.
“At first the body count, people were joking about it,” a female first-year cadet said. “My friends were really excited. And right after, when we learned how many people had gotten hurt, everyone felt totally hard-core. I know it looks weird from the outside, but it really bonds us.”
But when she saw a male cadet being loaded into an ambulance outside her dorm room, she began to have second thoughts.
“If you are an officer, you are supposed to make good decisions and follow the rules. You are supposed to mediate when everyone wants to go out and kill everyone,” she said. “The goal was to have fun, and it ended up some guys just chose to hurt people.”"

Can I Lie to My Father About Being Gay So He Will Pay for My College Education?; New York Times, 9/2/15

Kwame Anthony Appiah, Amy Bloom, Kenji Yoshino, The Ethicists, New York Times; Can I Lie to My Father About Being Gay So He Will Pay for My College Education? :
"I am a young gay man in college. My father generously pays for my tuition and rent. The problem is that he does not know I am gay. He has made it very clear that if I were, he would not only withdraw all financial support but also cast himself entirely out of my life. His suspicion arose in high school when he found love letters between me and another male student. I swore they were meaningless and have since been defending my heterosexuality. Questions about my sexuality are inevitable whenever I come home. My father has demanded I produce archives of all emails and text messages for him to review, although I have successfully refused these requests on the grounds that he has no claim to my adult communications. Is it ethical for me to continue accepting financial support for my education and my career that will come from it? Could I continue to lie to accept the support and one day disclose my sexuality and pay him back to absolve myself of any ethical wrongdoing? NAME WITHHELD...
Kenji Yoshino: Yes, I agree with both of you. The father is behaving unethically, given that his support is accompanied by the demand that the letter writer change something that is not susceptible to change. So the question is how to conduct yourself ethically when a person with power over you is not doing so.
I do have a concrete answer here. I would encourage the letter writer to contact the Point Foundation. The foundation was created in 2001 to offer educational scholarships to L.G.B.T.Q. students, who are doing well in school, precisely to deal with this kind of situation. In a sense, the organization has ethically anticipated the letter writer’s dilemma."

Friday, September 4, 2015

2020 Olympics Logo Is Discarded After Plagiarism Accusations; New York Times, 9/1/15

Hisako Ueno and Makiki Inoue, New York Times; 2020 Olympics Logo Is Discarded After Plagiarism Accusations:
"Organizers of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo said on Tuesday that they were abandoning a logo recently chosen for the Games, bowing to a public outcry following accusations that it had been plagiarized...
Last month, a Belgian graphic designer, Olivier Debie, sued the International Olympic Committee to prevent the logo’s use, saying that it closely resembled one he had created for a theater in Li├Ęge, Belgium, in 2011."

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Hacking Victims Deserve Empathy, Not Ridicule; New York Times, 9/2/15

Farhad Manjoo, New York Times; Hacking Victims Deserve Empathy, Not Ridicule:
"There has been a tendency in the tech commentariat to minimize the Ashley Madison breach. The site has always seemed like a joke and possibly a scheme, and those who fell for it a testament to the Internet’s endless capacity to separate fools from their money.
But the victims of the Ashley Madison hacking deserve our sympathy and aid because, with slightly different luck, you or I could just as easily find ourselves in a similarly sorry situation. This breach stands as a monument to the blind trust many of us have placed in our computers — and how powerless we all are to evade the disasters that may befall us when the trust turns out to be misplaced...
“It’s easy to be snarky about Ashley Madison, but just because it’s unpopular or even immoral, it doesn’t mean this sort of activity shouldn’t be protected,” said Scott L. Vernick, a lawyer who specializes in digital privacy issues at the firm Fox Rothschild. “This gets at fundamental issues like freedom of speech and freedom of association — today it’s Ashley Madison, tomorrow it could be some other group that deserves protection.”"

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Al Jazeera Journalists Sentenced to 3 Years in Prison in Egypt; New York Times, 8/29/15

Kareem Fahim, New York Times; Al Jazeera Journalists Sentenced to 3 Years in Prison in Egypt:
"An Egyptian judge on Saturday handed down an unexpectedly harsh verdict in the trial of three journalists from the Al Jazeera English news channel, sentencing them to three years in prison on charges that legal experts said were unfounded and politically motivated.
The verdict was especially stunning because Egyptian officials had repeatedly signaled that they viewed the trial as a nuisance that had brought unwanted scrutiny of the government. The families of the journalists, Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste, said they had expected that the men would either be exonerated or sentenced to time already served.
But instead, the judge, Hassan Farid, upheld what human rights advocates said was among many baseless accusations leveled during the journalists’ long legal odyssey: that they had “broadcast false news” about Egypt on Al Jazeera."