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News 06.28.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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News 06.28.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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News 06.28.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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A Family Portrait: Brothers,
Sisters, Strangers

IT WAS NEVER A SECRET in my house that I was conceived with the help of an anonymous sperm donor. For a majority of my childhood, I never really thought about him. But when I was around 11, I went through a period of having questions. My parents — I have two mothers — gave me a photo copy of a questionnaire that was sent to them from the sperm bank they used, California Cryobank. The donor filled it out in 1996, two years before I was born.

I remember carrying the form with me in my backpack, taking it to school and studying it occasionally when I remembered I had it. There was this sense of touch — this person had used his hand to answer these questions; I could see where he had crossed things out. It wasn’t that I was so desperate to imagine who he was; it was enough to have proof that he was real, entangled with who I am and yet, as that document showed, totally separate. The form made him concrete, if inscrutable. It also gave me the sense that there was this larger world, this process and this bureaucracy that my existence was built upon. It was a way to help me understand myself.

Read the rest of this article at: The New York Times

News 06.28.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

The Rise of Junk Science

News 06.28.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

In early 2017, Eduardo Franco, a professor in the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University, sent an email to his colleagues, warning them of a global “epidemic” of scams by academic journals that was corrupting research and, in effect, endangering the public. As head of the oncology department, where he oversees approximately 230 people, Franco promised to comb through every CV and annual evaluation in the department to flag any colleagues’ resumés that listed journals and conferences that weren’t reputable or, in some cases, even real. He didn’t spell out the consequences, but the implication was clear: the faculty members would be held accountable.

A scholar for forty years, Franco has followed the rise of junk publishers for about a decade. He has seen them go from anomalous blights on academics’ credentials to widespread additions on scholarly resumés, nearly indistinguishable from legitimate work. Now, he says, “there’s never been a worse time to be a scientist.” Typically, when a scholar completes work they want to see published, they submit a paper to a reputable journal. If the paper is accepted, it undergoes a rigorous editing process—including peer review, in which experts in the field evaluate the work and provide feedback. Once the paper is published, it can be cited by others and inspire further research or media attention. The process can take years. Traditionally, five publishers have dominated this $25 billion industry: Wiley-Blackwell, Springer, Taylor & Francis, relx Group (formerly Reed Elsevier), and Sage. But, before the turn of the century, a new model of online publishing, “open access,” began opening doors for countless academics—and for thousands of scams in the process.

The new online model created an opportunity for profits: the more papers publishers accepted, the more money they generated from authors who paid to be included—$150 to $2,000 per paper, if not more, and often with the support of government grants. Researchers also saw substantial benefits: the more studies they posted, the more positions, promotions, job security, and grant money they received from universities and agencies. Junk publishers—companies that masquerade as real publishers but accept almost every submission and skip quality editing—elbowed their way in.

Read the rest of this article at: The Walrus

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What Does Putin Really Want?

On a warm late-May afternoon, I took a taxi to the outskirts of the Russian capital to the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, known by its Russian acronym, Mgimo. Flags marked the entrance to the campus, a stately Soviet behemoth with a hammer-and-sickle on a panel above the doors. Students in skinny jeans, button-down shirts and thick black glasses gathered in gaggles by the flagpoles, checking their phones and chatting. I signed in as a visitor at the security desk and wandered past a buzzing cafeteria, into the institute’s gift shop, with its rainbow of sweatshirts, coffee mugs and notebooks emblazoned with the Mgimo logo.

Since 1944, Mgimo has trained legions of diplomats; its 53 language offerings — including Afrikaans, Amharic and Vietnamese — serve as a reminder of the Soviet Union’s global ambitions. As much as ninety-five percent of Russia’s foreign ministry is made up of Mgimo alumni, while those who graduate with honors and pass a language test become attachés, complete with a green diplomatic passport. They are then sent forth, as Vladimir Putin himself put it, “to protect Russian interests” in the rest of the world. Alumni include the president of Azerbaijan, the foreign-affairs ministers of Slovakia and Mongolia and Russia’s own foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, who regularly returns to give the commencement address.

Mgimo is run by the foreign ministry, so Andrey Baykov, its vice rector, is a hybrid — part academic, part representative of Russian diplomacy. I asked him a question that I would spend a long time trying to understand: What does Russia really want?

Read the rest of this article at: The New York Times Magazine

News 06.28.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Hooked

News 06.28.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

When Anthony Hathaway spotted the black SUV with the tinted windows, he was pretty certain the end was near. The guys blowing leaves across from the KeyBank he’d been casing all afternoon seemed a little fishy, too—because it was February in Seattle and spitting rain. But that could have been the heroin talking, so Hathaway wasn’t certain he was under surveillance until he saw the same black SUV pull into a parking lot, turn around, and pass by him again. “I just had a feeling,” he said later. “But for some reason I didn’t care.”

Hathaway drove to a nearby Burgermaster, parked the minivan he’d borrowed from his sister, and injected the last of his heroin. He stayed there for an hour, slumped over the wheel asleep, then woke up and remembered the day’s agenda. To make sure he wasn’t being tailed, he drove 5 miles north, and when he saw no more blacked-out SUVs or helicopters or suspicious groundskeeping crews, he headed back to the KeyBank, found a parking spot, and walked casually toward the entrance, like a guy who needed to speak with a loan officer. He wore khaki pants and a brown jacket with tan stripes and carried an open umbrella, though the rain had mostly stopped. He was unarmed, like always.

Hathaway slipped on latex gloves, pulled a mask over his face, and entered the bank at 5:25 p.m. with his umbrella still open. He yelled for everyone to get down, approached the only teller on duty, and asked for “large bills, fifties and hundreds.” Bank clerks are taught to comply with robbers, and this one did as Hathaway requested, handing over $2,310 in mostly loose bills. Hathaway stuffed the cash into his pockets and walked calmly out of the bank, less than a minute after he’d entered.

The law was waiting. Officers from multiple jurisdictions, including the FBI, intercepted him in the parking lot with guns drawn and put an end, after 30 robberies, to one of the most prolific bank-heist streaks in history. Hathaway, 44 years old at the time, didn’t hesitate or run. He put his hands in the air, lay down on the ground, and felt the world collapse upon him. He was scared of what was coming and also relieved that a long nightmare was finally nearing an end.

Read the rest of this article at: Bloomberg

The Culture War Has Finally Come For Wikipedia

News 06.28.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

If the internet has largely been lost to the culture war engulfing much of the Western world, Wikipedia has proven to be an unlikely Switzerland. The open-source encyclopedia, once maligned as the harbinger of a future in which no one had authority over the facts, now looks, ironically, like the last, best hope for a global digital portal to the truth. But behind the unadorned pages that have earned the trust of millions of readers, an argument rages that threatens to drag the project into the muck with the other major social platforms. And it began, as these fights so often do, with something as seemingly simple as a user ban.

On June 10, the Wikimedia Foundation did something unprecedented in its decade and a half history: It banned a user from the English-language Wikipedia for a year. The San Francisco–based nonprofit that hosts the world’s greatest information resource has historically kept its hands off the individuals who use and edit it. Penalties for bad behavior on the English Wikipedia are typically determined and meted out by the community itself, often represented by the Arbitration Committee, the 15-person all-volunteer body elected by fellow Wikipedians. ArbCom is commonly referred to as “Wikipedia Supreme Court.”

But the foundation is a higher power. The 300-person organization, which in fiscal year 2017–2018 received more than $100 million in donations, can make unilateral decisions about users. These cases are rare, referred to in the community as a “nuclear option.” Though the foundation does not disclose the nature of the offenses it investigates, it is widely held among Wikipedians that “office actions” apply only to extreme cases: child pornography, pedophilia advocacy, terrorism, realistic threats. And they sometimes come only after a referral from ArbCom. The community that labors every day to polish the crown jewel of the collaborative internet fiercely guards its ability to police itself. As befits the most committed members of a project dedicated to decentralization and transparency, Wikipedians don’t take well to top-down decisions.

Indeed, the foundation has only given out 36 global bans since 2012, and never, until now, a temporary one. A permanent ban is a lifetime prohibition from participation in any Wikimedia Foundation website, a death penalty. This was something else: A jail sentence with a release date, imposed from above, without a trial.

Read the rest of this article at: BuzzFeed

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