Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Independent Science Journalist Who Exposes Research Fraud, Ethics Breaches & Corruption Threatened by Lawsuits: Here's How You Can support Him!

As I have been reporting before, no holds barred independent German science journalist Leonid Schneider, who runs the blog For Better Science to expose and call out science fraud, ethics breaches and general scientific hype and institutional corruption, particularly in the life and medical sciences, has recently been hit by civil lawsuits to silence his reporting. Besides the couple of Thorsten and Heike Walles, another exposed former Paolo Macchiarini associate and likely co-fraudster and ethics villain, Philipp Jungebluth, is now also suing Schneider for libel. In both cases, court injunction have already been made threatening Schneider with massive monetary fines or prison time, and he is now facing the substantive economic cost of defending himself in two separate proceedings and, if the court so decides, pay the fines and the legal costs of the plaintiffs. Note that what Schneider has been reporting is only already publicly available and proven facts, so he is not in any way slandering these people, but rather providing an important information service to universities, hospitals, research funders, and potential patients (and possible guinea pigs) of the dear doctors. Of course, the whole thing is a so-called SLAPP operation, to shut Schneider up by scaring him with the financial consequences of continuing his reporting.

To help Schneider manage through this challenge, you may first of all sign this letter of support of his reporting. If you're in such a position, you may also engage Schneider professionally. But he has also set up this crowd funding page, to help everyone who dislike science fraudsters and unethical researchers, as well as the practice of silencing important public reporting by abusing civil law, to pitch in financially. I've become a monthly "patron", but there are many options and you may chose your contribution freely, with more generous amounts providing you with a steady stream of Schneider's homemade satirical science cartoons, such as this one:

Saturday, 18 February 2017

The Leadership Moral Qualities of President Donald "So-called POTUS" Trump

Holders of political positions of high office, such as presidents or prime ministers, always attract controversies due to the content of rivaling political aims, agendas and visions. But one thing you would expect of any holder of such a position is that this person possess the ability to lead. For this is what such offices are ultimately about. The new US president, Donald Trump, has now been in office for some – very brief – time. Mostly these beginning days of a new US presidency – or a new cabinet in a parliamentary democracy – are ones of relative calm and ease; of settling in and attending to the formalities necessary to, thereafter, be able to rule for real and do one's best to realise whatever political program one has been elected on. Not so this time. Donald Trump has in a very short time managed to (I'm not giving any specific links here – all you need to do is to do a bit of Googling):

a) ... issue an unlawful (according to some court decisions even unconstitutional) executive order on one of his central deliveries to those who elected him: the so-called travel ban, aka Muslim ban, in spite of the fact that his closest legal adviser, the acting attorney general, had advised him against the design of the order;

b) ... fire said acting Attorney General for having done her job and extended said advise, before being forced by the legal system to back down;

c) ... attacking the federal courts that decided said order is unlawful for doing their constitutional job and applying and interpreting the law – openly mocking them as "so-called" judiciary, earning himself the epiteth of the "so-called POTUS" – rather than realising that said order needs to be redesigned to achieve legal compliance;

d) ... appointing a personal security adviser, Michael Flynn, who already from the start was heavily in question from a national security standpoint due to dodgy Russian contacts, and who then lied about that to his own administration, making himself into an even worse threat to national security, before being exposed as a liar and finally fired just a few days after his appointment, but apparently as long as two weeks after the President had been briefed about the question marks hanging over him;

e) ... apparently openly lying about this documented foreknowledge when asked by a reporter;

f) ... fire the acting Attorney General (same as b above), who – again! – had done her job, and advised the President about the national security threat posed by Flynn;

g) ... trying to surpress the unsurpressable and increasingly credible information about his campaign staff having had potentially illegal contacts with Russian intelligence agents and officer prior to his inauguration;

h) ... failing to have one of his central ministerial appointments confirmed by Congress, in spite of having a secure GOP majority in both houses;

i) ... making a number of apparently unplanned and ill thought-through international political attempts (Mexico, Russia, China, Europe, Israel, Nato, Yemen ...), which so far have only weakened the international standing of the USA due to their apparent lack of systematic strategy, and their confusing lack of grounding in the US diplomatic and international affairs ministry;

j) ... appoint a press secretary, Sean Spicer, of such questionable competence and skill that he has already managed to antagonise more or less the entire news media corps and made himself the laughing stock of the world;

k) ... apparently for this reason elevated his former campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, to some form of unspecified advisory capacity, whose role now seems to be to second guess Spicer when he seems to be botching up 8which happens frequently), but who has already herself been caught with open lying and fabrication of facts, all of which just serves to deepen the confusion and lack of credibility of the new administration; 

l) ... himself, personally!, as well antagonising and attacking the same media for criticising his actions, via Twitter or actual press conference, rather than learn from his obvious mistakes and take action to bring them onto his side. His first solo press conference is, in this respect, a stuff of legends in its exhibit of confusion, lies and complete lack of judgement – even the formerly good media dog of the GOP and alt-right, Fox News is decrying the spectacle, and counting the lies;

m) ... apparently also antagonising, rather than allying, large parts of the very federal administration that is meant to help him execute his policies, e.g., by derailing or ignoring its expert opinion and intelligence, among other things regarding all of the items above;

n) ... continued to openly and blatantly lie, and antagonise all that point this out for doing so.

Ok, so all of this in just a few weeks, and long before any real policy making has begun. Everybody know that several of Trump's central promises that got him elected will run into severe trouble in the process of making actual law, confirm the federal budget, et cetera. For a large portion of his GOP majority of course sees that several of his ideas will not be of benefit to either the American people or the Republican party – such as starting trade wars, or radically increase the federal financial deficit and lending to be able to realise the combination of the promised infrastructure and industry projects, the increased military spending in combination with decreased federal taxes. One would have supposed that the Trump inner circle knew about this, and therefore would take some care to prepare to ground well for the very real political battles that lie ahead, especially as this would mean using a period of relative calm, when new administrations are usually left comparably alone in terms of critical scrutiny. If they don't €#%+ up, that is. Which is what Donald Trump has apparently been doing from day one. But this is already clearly set out in any number of reports and commentaries available all over, and not any kind of original point of mine.

What I would like to comment on is what moral qualities of President Donald "So-called POTUS" Trump are revealed by how he has chosen to handle these early challenges, troubles and setbacks. For such qualities are, of course, central to any leader's prospect of success, both regarding central projects one is set to realise (whatever these are), and regarding one's ability of holding together whatever organisation one is set to lead in order to effect that realisation. I am thus not reviewing the moral quality of his political aims, vision or agenda, but rather how well is is equipped to lead an attempt to realise those aims, that vision and agenda.

1. Carefulness
This quality is about a leader's ability of preparing actions well – its antonym is carelessness. As related above Donald "So-called POTUS" Trump scores very low in this dimension of leadership. many of the chaotic blunders during these first few weeks could have been easily avoided by better preparation. The ability of exhibiting carefulness depends on several of the qualities listed below.

2. Wisdom
This quality is about several things, bounded together by the importance for a leader to be able to learn from mistakes, revise opinion in view of misjudgement, and design his or her administrative support to secure this ability. Well-known obstacles to the achievement of wise leadership is for a leader to surround him-/herself with advisers that are "yesmen" and/or loyal rather than competent, to be prone to assume people who object to one's propsals are conspiring, rather than carefully considering the content of criticism. So far, Donald "So-called POTUS" Trump has demonstrated very little on this front. Possibly the only sign so far is the final, at great pains, forcing out of Flynn, and the final, again at great pains, grumbling contention that, possibly, the travelban order will have to be entirely redrafted and rule of law respected after all. A wise leader would, of course, never have hired Flynn in the first place, or acted immediately on the incriminating information, and would immediately have accepted the court decision regarding the travelban, and gone back to work to do better, rather than firing the foremost adviser who had told him how the land lay and mock the same constitution that gives him the power he is so amateurishly attempting to execute.

3. Responsibility
This is about two things. First, to accept the link between power and accountability for the consequences of its wielding. Second to communicate this sense of responsibility to the surrounding world. This means not, e.g., blaming underlings for one's own mistakes (e.g., of appointing them) or ignoring their advise, or others for their predictable reactions to what one does. Again, Donald "So-called POTUS" Trump has a long way to go to even approach the minimal standard of a half-decent leader.

4. Perspective
This is the ability to assume and see the reason of the points of views of others, as well as be able to think strategically and long-term, acknowledging the complexities of an heterogeneous world. This could, for instance, imply accepting some adaption to opponents' and critics' points of view in order to realise larger objectives further on, or to think once or twice about how other around you might respond when you threaten them. As a case in point on both fronts, while Trump may very well chose to tax Mexican imports to pay for the so-called border wall that Trump has promised to build (as he has hinted that he plans), this will, of course, have an effect on the consumption of said goods, undermining the revenue in question, while at the same time it is predictable that Mexico can easily offset the damage by taxing US imports to a similar degree to offset the damage. As there's a more or less 50/50 import/export trade relationship between the two countries, the netto effect would mainly be a shrunken economy on both sides, and it would seem that the Trump threat has pretty much nothing going for it, unless one fails to think two or three steps ahead. Donald "So-called POTUS" Trump once again fails to exhibit such qualities,

5. Restraint
This is basically about keeping one's cool in the face of opposition and complications. To keep a clear mind in order to be able to realise one's plans, to forestall opposition to read one's hand, to avoid unnecessarily antagonising those with which one may in the future be forced to attempt negotiation and compromise, and to secure a basic understanding and respect also of those who have a critical stance to one's attempts (such as the press). Above,  I didn't even mentioned specifically the Twitter activity that Donald "So-called POTUS" Trump, I may add that now, to underscore how magnificently he is failing also on this point.

6. Effectiveness
Now, a leader who is lacking in any of the qualities 1-5, may be excused if he/she, as the saying goes, gets the job done. The problem is that Donald "So-called POTUS" Trump is not, and to a great extent due to his very lack of the moral qualities needed for great leadership. As mentioned, so far, all of the circus created has been far from any real policy making challenge – it's been about the elementary preparations for those. And Donald "So-called POTUS" Trump isn't even able to pull that off. Partly because of this failure, partly because of the lack of qualities 1-5 so far demonstrated, it is highly unlikely that he will be able to realise any of his rather ambitious campaign promises, although there will, of course, be an expected policy swing to the right – with known negative consequences for the core supporter groups of Trump. Where that will leave US politics four years from now is not an entirely comfortable thought.