Thursday, 17 April 2014

Old AJOB Rut re. Prenatal Dex Picks up New Steam as Undisclosed Double Loyalties and Dependencies of Now Editor Skip Nelson are Suggested

Amended 2014-04-18: see bottom of this post!

I'm sure several readers remember a long series of posts across 2011-12, connected to a series of internal troubles in the management of the American Journal of Bioethics. One of the roots of all that mess was a controversy that eventually led to the resignation of Hilde Lindemann from the AJOB editorial board in protests of its managerial operations, followed by other weighty ones later by, e.g. Udo Schuklenk and John Lantos. Eventually, after much external pressure, following a less than elegantly handled stepping over to private business by then editor-in-chief, Glenn McGee (later to become CEO of the now defunct stem cell banking, cosmetics and therapeutic business RNL Europe), the drop-out of the AJOB operation of both him and his wife Summer Johnson McGee, who had initially been appointed to advance to co-editor with the new EiC appointed to succeed McGee.

The last post with any substance out of this mess was this one, and the entire series is found here.

The affair leading to the resignation of Lindemann connected to a critical scrutiny, and eventual letter to the FDA, signed by a large number of bioethicists, regarding some unresearched, non-evidence based, experimental off-label prenatal drug treatment at the Mount Sinai hospital with regard to congenital adrenal hyperplasia. This led to a long series of complicated controversies involving AJOB, later leading up to the developments summarised above, and one of those concerned the possible conflict of interests of several centrally placed AJOB managerial figures. Among those involved was Robert “Skip” Nelson, now editor-in-chief of the AJOB Empirical Bioethics journal, at the time ethicist linked to the FDA (he still is, as a matter of fact), who sent a letter to the Office for Human Research Protections on the Prenatal Dex case, as it came to be known, clearing the accused doctor of having broken any FDA regulations. Now it is reported that, apparently, Nelson at the same time had close and live ties, to AJOB and the people in the management who were deeply involved in one side of the controversy. That is, it is argued in a recent post by Alice Dreger and Ellen K Feder (who belong clearly to the other side, it must be added), one of the prime expert sources had hidden loyalties and dependencies that remained undisclosed and is now holding a gallant EiC title in the AJOB family of journals.

The whole story and argument is told much better than I ever could by Alice Dreger and Ellen K. Feder themselves at the superb Canadian Impact Ethics blog.

Skip Nelson contacted me personally after posting the first version of this report, and made clear that he finds nothing new in what is described by Dreger and Feder, that no payments to him from AJOB have ever been involved in his service as EiC, that he performs this job as part of his FDA assignment, and that what he claimed in his letter to the OHRP regarding Prenatal Dex remains true (Dreger's and Feder's view on that is set out here). Nelson also told me that he has no plan to respond publicly to Dreger and Feder. This post has been amended in the light of that in a few places above.

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!