Archive for category work

Leaving Cambridge

After five years and a bit, we are leaving Cambridge. It is somewhat bitter-sweet parting. I’ve met some good friends here and people that I genuinely like (and some of them seem to like me). I’ve met a bunch of utter assholes too (I was sorely tempted to provide a link here, but let’s not burn any bridges, eh?). I am certainly richer for the experience, although I am not sure I would wish it on anyone. Living in a bubble of your own nation and being preoccupied with petty squabbles of your own locale is in some ways easier than being exposed to the naked ambition of the world. It brings prestige, but also stress and a bunch of moving goalposts.

In my life, I often worry about being a quitter and not being able to stay the set course. Objectively speaking, I don’t think I actually need to worry about that. But I do. It is better for my sanity and my well-being and that of my family, to leave now, I know that. Still. I need to keep saying to myself that it is the right choice.

I arrived in Cambridge for the first time at midnight in April 2013. I was staying in a College, that had a room available. I arrived literally a 100 meters from my destination in a straight line across the park from the bus stop. But I took a cab, because the bus driver said it would be smarter to not wander around with luggage in the middle of the night. This was pure bull. I never felt less than perfectly safe in Cambridge. The cabbie needed to stay on the road, so he long-hauled me a bit and it took me longer to be driven than a walk would take. That was my first experience of Cambridge.

The next day, I went to the lab. It was a Friday and I was not due until Monday. My future boss was not around, but they gave me a card and papers and showed me my office door – it was locked and they did not have the keys for me. I only later realised that all postdocs could unlock all Phd and Postdoc offices, and all academic staff can open all academic offices, and cleaners could open everything, except perhaps the server and power plant rooms. I could have asked someone. But I did not, because I was shy. I went to the cafeteria and realised I was somewhat nervous, when I spilled my tea over the sugar and milk stand. Embarrassing, but no one noticed.

I got us a house and slept on the floor in a sleeping bag for the first few days – rented properties in the UK are usually empty. And I mean empty. There is no washing machine, no tables or chairs, no bed, no cutlery or dishes or pans. I would order a pizza and have it pre-cut, because I did not have a plate, or a fork or a knife. I would eat it on the floor. Luckily, IKEA delivers. And Kim ordered a few cups and bowls on the Internet and got them delivered to me. It was a cool surprise.

I was somewhat lonely. The Internet was not yet connected at home, so I couldn’t skype. I would talk to Kim most days on my mobile, but otherwise I was at work with a bunch of people who are never going to win popularity contests or any extroversion prizes. When not at work, I was alone. Let me tell you, being alone is a lot cooler, when it is a choice.

Three months later Kim and Sofia arrived for good. Sofia had a hard time, because she did not speak English and she started attending a nursery where, unsurprisingly, no one spoke Slovene. There were some occasions where she told us that she would be extremely good, if we would just stop punishing her by sending her to the nursery. She believed she was doing something wrong. It made me wonder whether this project was worth it.

Work was good. I had unlimited freedom, and I did whatever I pleased. The grants paid for conferences and I was noticed. Not in Cambridge, of course. Here, a Nobel prize is something worth noticing, or peerage, or a fellowship of the Royal Society at least. Not praising, to be clear, just noticing. Publishing stuff is what is expected. Getting grants is expected.

There were ego stroking things too. I met prime ministers and CEO’s, we had long winding conversations with rockstar academics. I met ambassadors and consulted governments all over the world. I dined with aristocrats. I am respected in my field, and have lectured in Japan, Europe, Brasil, the U.S. and other Countries. It was easy to get used to the might of Cambridge behind me – a name that opens doors. But that also extracts a price. An employer of the year award is not something this University can expect, if I wanted to put it the way a Brit would.

I don’t know how to feel about leaving, to be honest. New adventures await, many of them carrying a lot less stress and hardship with them than the present one, I am sure. And yet it is the end of an era for me, I suspect.

My friends, acquaintances and colleagues who have little direct experience with living and surviving in OxBridge keep pointing out that they don’t understand why someone would leave these halls. Was I thrown out, they secretly wonder. Not really, no. I was treated no worse or better than most academics in Cambridge. The amount of subtext here boggles the mind :). I could have stayed, continued bringing in the grants, could have found ways to keep going. But at one point in time I realised I was not happy. Not even content, to be honest. I didn’t laugh much anymore. Almost nothing brought me joy. I was enduring and that is no way to live.

My life essentially stopped. I was making a reasonable living, was able to support the family, largely, but that was about it. Nothing was cute or amusing any more. The only thing I could be arsed about was work. I could and did go through the motions of spending time with the family, but I was not really there. And then Brexit referendum happened.

I felt relieved, honestly. All of a sudden no one could blame me for waving goodbye to this sinking ship. And this is still what I tend to say to people that I don’t know well enough to be honest with them. I tell them we left because of Brexit. But we did not, really. We left in a large part because Britain is not a nice place to live in anymore, and because I suspect Cambridge never ever was. There are many people that persevere in it and make it bearable for them and their friends.  Nothing is horribly wrong with Cambridge. I don’t want to discourage people who are hoping to go, it is just what it is. When I asked my former supervisor, before I came, why he left Cambridge after twelve years, he said that it was simply not for him, and I secretly thought to myself that this is where we differ – Cambridge wasn’t for him, that is fine, but it absolutely suits for me. Five years later, I appreciate his dry British delivery. I am not sure that Cambridge is for anyone. People just mould themselves to fit.

Five years. Pointless to recount them in excruciating detail. I feel good about the experience, not sure that I would want to repeat it, however.

Brexit postmortem as it is happening

Brexit-The-Movie-premiere-Leicester-Square-London-536448

 

 

Well. Hard to say anything really. I was ambivalent before and still am. On one hand I am childishly expecting the screws to start tightening, on another I still cannot believe someone could be so insane. The markets are plummeting and will continue to do so.

 

 

To spell it out what Brexit means:

  • Renegotiation of trade deals across the board without protection of a larger entity like EU.
  • Renegotiation of entry requirements. Possible visas.
  • Foreign corporations moving to Scotland or other parts of Europe. JP Morgan already announced they are leaving.
  • Possible break-up of UK – Scotland already said they would remain in the EU. Northern Ireland also voted to stay in.
  • No more EU funding for schools and urban development.
  • No more easy student exchanges. Erasmus will be gone.
  • Tuition fees doubling to “international level”.
  • Added strain on NHS from all elderly ex-pats being evicted from Europe (Spain already said they would do that).
  • Financial currents move to Scotland or Germany and bypass England.
  • Pension schemes are taking a beating and some pension accounts have been closed already.

Now, it seems that the English are googling what the possible effects of the leave might be and [sic] what is the EU.

Apart from the obvious irony, I am also bitterly amused by the fact that people need to google what is going on. This can be compared to sitting at home and instead of looking through the window, surfing the Internet to find out what the weather is like. What do you mean “What is going to happen?” It has already started happenning. 2 trillion dollars have been lost in a day, the pound was in free fall, reaching the 1985 levels. Pension schemes are crashing. Tens of thousands of jobs lost in the City alone. And now you wonder what is going on?

Seriously, you wonder what is going to happen? It is already happening, just look outside. England is pushing the world towards recession and if we are lucky, only England will crash and burn, and if we are not, the world will stagger too.

I am angry. I did not realize it before, but we went to the theatre on Saturday and there were several short pieces presented. One of them was about American yokels coming to England and buying National Trust properties. There were passing references to how stupid Donald Drumpf is and I just got more and more upset.

And I did not understand why at first. Then it occurred to me, that the English have lost the right to pretend how suave and “better” they are compared to backwards tribes coming from the rest of the world. After fucking up the world because most of the country got scammed by a few people who seriously lined their pockets on the backs of others, you do not get to feel superior in any way, shape, or form.

After destroying the future of your younger generation, who will now need passports and will be checked at the customs every time they leave the country; the generation who will not be able to freely flow between European Universities on the back of Erasmus, you do not get to call anybody else backward. Are we clear?

Bah, I am upset yes. The smugness did not bother me before, because I bought into it in a sense, but now it is just jarring. Only now you wonder what is going to happen? Truly, some people just want to watch the world burn.

Many of our family friends are apologetic, they tell us they are ashamed and that they are sorry, etc. I tend to ignore this, because there is nothing I can say, really. We are in the same boat up to a point. Only theirs will be rapidly taking on water, and I will still have a European passport in the end. What can I say? “Sure, thank you for fucking up my job prospects? Thank you for making me uproot my child and her losing all her friends? I completely understand that you have fucked everyone over in the name of the illusions of old grandeur?” Should I say: “I know you voted remain, so no need to apologize, we’ll weather this together?” How will that help? Just bloody stop apologizing, since we are both screwed. We are now both living in a country where foreign people get abused the street (no seriously, it is already happening) and where MP’s get shot in the face (and then Nigel says that the leave campaign has won without a shot being fired). We are living in a country that did not deem fit to educate itself about what a colossal fuck-up they were going to commit. Why are you apologizing to me? It is not your fault, and we are both screwed. Apologize to your children, that would perhaps be more effective. Why don’t you explain to them how it was in the past, when we all still had a dream. A shabby and sub-optimal dream of a united continent with free flow of culture and knowledge, but a dream nonetheless. A dream that your nation has seen fit to take behind the shed and shoot in the head. Why don’t you explain the logic behind that to your children?

Why don’t you start the story by saying: “Once upon a time, there was a nation, where people believed in abolishing borders, and equality across gender, race or creed, but we preferred to cling to old glory, and decided to flip them off. We thought the nation would still pine for us and do everything they could for us to remain friends, but for some reason they treated the divorce as a divorce, and not as a master-servant relationship. Now, love, please let me extinguish the candle as energy sources have become expensive since we left the common market.”

How fucking stupid do you have to be to post comments along the lines of:

You LOST. Get it? A majority of the British people disagreed with you and you LOST.

 

The only change – and it will not come in any great rush – is that the UK will extricate itself from the EU’s extraordinary and opaque system of legislation.

Seriously? What kind of delusion you need to be living under to believe this crap? The Remain campaign lost and Leavers won? I’ve got news for you. You both LOST. We all lost. You continue losing about a month and a half of EU subsidies PER DAY. How, in your wildest dreams, do you see this as victory?

The UK will extricate itself from the EU laws? Well fine, (a) one option is to become like Norway, who has to accept all the laws from EU without a seat at the table. Ask the Norwegians how comfortable it is to have to accept Schengen after they said they did not want to. The EU just told them that this was not a request and faxed them the new rules. Want to be part of the common market? These are the conditions.

The other option is (b) to extricate itself completely. Fine, but do not live under the illusion of accessing the common market then. The commentators and Leavers say that UK is exporting 45% of its goods to EU and therefore EU will need to give them a good deal. This is a bit of putting a cart before the horse. I am betting that right now EU officials are meeting with Canada, US and all other friends and telling them that they have an opportunity to get a 0% tariff on importing to EU if they act now. 45% of UK exports are not the same as 45% of EU imports, see? It is not the UK holding the EU by the balls, but rather the opposite.

I am so interested to see how the government proceeds now. If they stop paying EU subsidies, the EU will invoke article 27 which is in place if a member state does not fulfill its obligations and that will screw UK immediately. If they do continue to pay, the only thing they have accomplished is impoverished its economy and lost all benefits from before, while holding the same obligations.

Oh you want to come back? No problem, say hello to the euro, which is a condition for new member states.

You would like to keep EU financial passports? Why would you get them back? Frankfurt is too busy counting all the money they will be making from financial currents transferring to Germany to bother with you.

The University has run out of paper forms for EU passports. Dozens of EU staff have already handed in their notices in some departments. And this is the second richest University in the world.

And then there are people who were saying that this referendum was not legally binding. It does not fucking matter, don’t you see? The damage to the UK economy has already happened and is continuing to happen. Even if they overthrow it right now, the foreign companies will still leave. Who wants to stay in a country this unstable? They do not trust England any more. The concessions that EU has been giving to the UK and the better terms they have been enjoying are gone. The ratings have been downgraded and will be downgraded further.

This is a total clusterfuck.

Addendum: In a part of Cambridge, in the Polish community, people have been receiving leaflets which state that the “Polish vermin” should now leave. Germany could have used you in the second world war, England. Next time, don’t wait 60 years to blame the Poles.

 

About stealing articles and free knowledge

sci-hub.blogThere was recently an article about a Russian researcher running an article hub, here. In a nutshell, they made most of the world’s scanned journal articles available online, free of charge. I say ‘made’, because while the site is still live, most of the content is not accessible, people report.

I’ve first heard of it in 2012 when I got cc-ed into a conversation between a librarian and an academic at a particular University. I created a virtual machine. Why a virtual machine? Because if I was building a zombie PC army, I would absolutely run exploit scripts on a site like that and also add malicious code to any PDF’s I was serving. This would also stenghten my network – a student downloads a PDF of an article not available to them, unbenkonwst to them allows me to install a rootkit, harvest their username and password and use their University electronic resources to augment those on my site. In that way, as long as people use my service, I get an endless stream of usernames and passwords to hundreds of world’s universities online libraries. BTW, the smart thing would be to serve something that is not available to well-endowed research Universities – one username from OxBridge and you are pretty much done as far as subscriptions are concerned. This is also the reason why I never saw the need to go sci-hub for articles – I have most of them here. In any case, out of curiosity, I created a virtual machine and visited the site.

I played around with the site and managed to download several articles that I already possessed off it. I then rolled back the virtual machine and deleted all changes. But the hub seemed to work quite well then. If not necessarily actually free of charge.

Be that as it may, the sci-hub founder (S-HF for short) got sued and this sparkled a debate. Should knowledge be freely available? I don’t think this is the real issue here, although I understand how the S-HF would benefit from pushing this. After all if this turns from a case of theft into a case of morals, they can only win, right? Who would support faceless publishers against impoverished academics? Like I said, I don’t think this is the issue, anyway.

I think this is property theft, pure and simple. I think we, the academics, are enabling the publishers and helping them run their racket. But it is our fault that we let them do it, not the publishers fault for following the law. I know this is hard to hear. Academics and PhD Students know how this works: We sign away most material rights to our article in the contract we make with the publisher. They pay us nothing and we take it, because … because Impact Factor and publication record and future employability. Let’s not kid ourselves. We whore ourselves out so that we keep our jobs. We still choose our clients and acts we would like to perform, we have lots of freedom, it is not like it is all bad. But we sign away our articles to a faceless corporation and it owns them. They own our articles, and we do not. And they are free to sell them or give them away, whatever they see fit. We are talking about their property. And it is our fault, that they got it. We cannot pretend we didn’t know that this is how it works.

Saying “duuh… knowledge should be free, therefore I am empowered to steal some private property” does not really fly. If we wanted knowledge to be free, we as academics, collectively, would (a) stop publishing in journals behind paywall or (b) at the very least not publish in journals that do not allow a personal copy/pre-print of the article to be stored on our websites or repositories. There are very few journals that allow neither (a) nor (b). So, the real statement one could make is: “Knowledge should be free. That is why my articles are also freely available and that is why my datafiles are public.” Of course this leave the S-HF out to dry, but I don’t mind that. There are (1) academics who do not want their knowledge to be free and that is fine. There are those of us (2) who make sure that our work is available for free, but at the same time published in journals which improves our employability. And there are those (3) who do not want to publish behind paywall, ever. The S-HF might be in one of these groups or not, it does not matter. Because in any case they are not speaking for any of the three groups. Who the hell do you think you are that you should decide wether my work has financial value and whether I should be paid for it or not? I’ll decide that, for my work and my work only.

On the other hand, all academics get paid for printouts and photocopies of our work. There are governmental agencies keeping tabs. This is not an enormous amount of money, but it could be a few hundred pounds per year. So, a dissatisfied researcher from Russia, who does not want to invest time into contacting authors and asking them for their articles, rather decides that they will directly defraud the people they admire enough to cite them and in the same breath tell them, that they conning them out of their pennies because this is the moral thing to do? Good luck with that defence. And just to be clear – I have never ever been unsuccessful in getting an article from an author that I contacted personally. And among them were PhD students, professors, lecturers and Nobel Laureates. None of them were ever unfriendly or unhelpful. Likewise, I have never not sent out either articles or download links for my stuff when I was asked. Being too lazy or insecure to ask does not indemnify ones criminal activity. So there are ways of getting stuff for free, while not actually breaking the law.

On yet another hand, most of the Universities in the world have accepted this racket and they pay through the nose for subscriptions. Many millions of pounds per year. By illegally downloading from them, you cannot actually say “knowledge should be free therefore I am taking it,” but rather “Somebody else should pay for my access to knowledge, so that I don’t have to.” Universities essentially pay for subscriptions because this improves them – they conduct better research, have more impact, attract better students and academics, which leads to better research, higher impact, etc. I am certain Universities are not ecstatic for paying millions of pounds per year for subscriptions. But they do it. And stealing from them does not make one Robin Hood, it just makes them lazy.

The take-away messages:
(a) If I was a blackhat hacker, I would exploit portals like science hub in a heartbeat. If I was working for computing service of a university I would do all kinds of inventive shit to illicit downloaders too. My proposals have so far been rejected by the Cambridge University Computing Service, but I am working on that (my time will come mostly because what they are doing now does not work).
(b) Knowledge can in fact be free, but not by stealing it after it was sold into slavery. Before that.
(c) Everything can already be gotten for free, if you apply yourself.

After Paris

I actually wrote this some weeks ago. But it is still topical. D

I keep seeing posts on the Internet about how it isn’t good that the person or person(s) responsible for the Paris attacks had their passport stamped in Greece. This supposedly means that we are letting terrorists through our borders (well, doh) and by extension there is a growing belief that this may lead people to equate refugees and terrorists. To a certain extent, this is already happening with people quoting Dawkins about how life would be so much better without religion.

The issue is not religion. One can always find excuses for doing something. If there wasn’t religion, it would have been something else. Deity knows that we always find rationalisations. If there wasn’t religion, there would be other stuff, like sexual orientation, dress code, colour of skin, geographical location or the football club one supports. The point is that looking for a simple answer to a complex question leads to stupid, not the right, answers.

Who cares what the reason was? Will people be less dead if there was a reason? Who will decide what is a rational reason and an acceptable one? What if the reason is a culture that cheerfully sells weapons to anyone that would buy them? What if the reason is us, supporting governments who feel no obligation to abstain from using other countries as giant petri dishes for social experiments? What if people we vote for don’t even think about these things, because they were told how to act and react by those who buy their votes for them?

It is fairly easy to blame religion, because it is very comfortable to do so. It requires no introspection and nothing needs to change for us.

Then, there is the next step – terrorists are religious -> they came with the refugees -> terrorists and refugees are religious -> religion equals terrorism -> refugees are all terrorists.

OK. If refugees were all fanatics then there would be no need for them to leave their homes in the first place. Some rudimentary logic should tell us that. Let’s not insult intelligence by suggesting that it is easy or somehow desirable to leave your home, your friends and social networks in order to live like cattle in tents. Let’s not pretend that telling your kids that they will not be going to the same primary school or nursery as their friends and possibly their parents have, anymore, is something one does light-heartedly. Most people love their children and most will do their outmost to keep them from harm. So, why exactly would these people run with barely more than the shirts on their backs towards an uncertain future from an army that essentially shares their beliefs? Did I hear someone say that there are nuances in any religious practice? Well, hello Sherlock. Why the fuck do you think it is any of your business if someone wants to kneel on a carpet five times a day, while they essentially believe the same things that you do (goodwill and peace to all men, help the needy, support and respect one another, etc), and meaningfully contribute to the society they live in?

Are we clear on why, most of us do not agree to be moulded in a certain image by others who never question that image? Because we have a working neuron or two in our skulls. There is absolutely no doubt that all of us have or will allow someone to imprint how things should be and how we should act. The thing is that experience teaches that blindly following someone else’s ideals may lead to disappointment. Ours, that is. I am not even talking about religion, to be clear. I am not even talking about how wrong someone else is. I am sure people derive utility from their beliefs and this may work for many of them. It just doesn’t for me. So, there is no need to judge, when behaviour of others has no large impact on ours. A little tolerance helps there. I know some people who find Mosques to be a blight on the landscape and they do not want to be hearing Muezzins calling the faithful to a prayer. Well, I personally don’t want to hear the bloody church bells tolling on Sunday morning calling all faithfull to mass. It bugs me and does not let me sleep. But I grit my teeth and let people go about their business, because I live in society and it takes all kinds. I also fervently hope that those who impose on me with church bells will find it in their hearts to forgive those who pray to Mecca in the privacy of their own homes or in the building where this practice is meant to be carried out.

So, we have established that there are different levels of religious fervour. If nothing else, that probably means:
terrorists and refugees =/= religious (in the same way or to the same extent).

From there it shouldn’t be hard to postulate: all (terrorists) =/= all (refugees)

There are some individuals who are willing to abuse the willingness of others to alleviate human suffering? Well, doh. This practice is old as dirt. Same thing happens in fake charity appeals and many other types of fraud. The takeaway message is not to stop being human, because someone is trying to make us pay for it. My personal opinion is that we should continue to help, but be aware of the costs. Contradictory to what seems the majority opinion, I do not believe it is feasible or indeed possible to prevent all of anything (be it ice cream melting, or skipping classes, or terrorist attacks). One can however lower the occurence rates. There are, of course, several ways to do this. One of them, that I like, is to give people plenty of facts and help them decide. But who could do that? Funny you should ask. If only there was some process where all members of a country would get a chance to express whom they trusted and asked them to look after their best interests. This fictional person would then have to think about how to best serve all persons living in a specific geographic location. One of their roles would include *thinking really hard* about hard stuff like could it be that there are some people who want to abuse goodwill of others? And, what happens if these people would attempt to use my people’s willingness to help? Hopefully the conclusion might be that, this person working for all the cities in a given geographical location or “politician” to coin a term, would need to speak to their citizens and explain what the consequences are. Now if this “politician” did not have the mental capacity to foresee that something that has been going on for at least 500 years (we have hard proof of that) might occur again, they are not mentally equipped to wipe their own bottom, much less rule over citizens. If they did not think about it, because they were thinking about how to get to the next pay-check and payoff from a friend from the industry, then they abuse the mandate given by the people and don’t deserve our trust.

One question is when. When does a politician tell the people that there might be hidden costs. Should they wait for costs to be incurred, and then say: “Ah, well… we thought people might die. We just didn’t tell you.” Probably not. Should they do it before? I think so. But then the question is what to say. If one says: “… There is a chance that some extremists might slot in with the refugees and commit atrocities in a large European city”, then they have just insured is that at least some terrorists are going: “AHA! That is actually not a bad idea…”. So, what should be said? A politician would have to go on air and say: “You trust me to decide on this and I will. I want to help these people. Let me tell you why I decided this – Helping those who are in need of help is what makes us human. Being kind is its own lasting reward, so it was a no brainer. However, I am also aware that there are always those attempt to abuse the goodwill of others. So to me, the question is whether the risk outweighs the cost. What do you think we should do?” The alternative is to say exactly the same things but the last sentence which is then replaced by: “You decided to trust me to make those decisions for all of us, so I will. We will help,
because. Just because. If someone takes advantage of that, well, we’ll deal with them, but we won’t stop believing that helping those in need is the right thing to do.”

 

About academic fraud

http://www.keble.ox.ac.uk/students/study-skills-and-assistance/plagiarism.gif

Image downloaded from Keble College Oxford’s web-page

I have done a presentation for a web-security firm in 2011. The presentation is here, and it is live, my voice and picture included. I talked to a crowded room. I was nervous but it went fine.

Recently, I needed to find a reference about Steve McQueen using the word scam for the first time. There was an interview, it was published in Time Magazine in 1963, but I couldn’t recall who the author of the article was. So I googled Steve McQueen and scam and Time Magazine. There was a hit and the wording seemed familiar. So I clicked on this link. If the link is removed, as I suppose it will be, after this becomes public, here is a screenshot of the page and here is the locally stored pdf (fun starts at third slide).

Interesting, right? Amon even took the pictures from my presentation, not only the text. I would be interested to know what the Royal Holloway has to say. I shall contact them later and post their reply here. If we ignore the first two slides, the only thing Amon did, was replace my name with his and changed the background. Not bad, right? Certainly much easier than going to the trouble of researching this.

Let’s look into Amon Sanniez, the plagiarist. Here is his linked-in page. It seems that years of expertise in security and in ownership (heh) have landed him a job a company that does pest control. He used to work for security firms and has lots of qualifications, but not much academic clout (a BSc was the end of the road). He does list my presentation as his publication on linked-in. Here is his blog. The subset of the things he writes about is in my field of expertise and he is not completely on the ball there. The things he writes about there are presented with a simplistic point of view and they are often bounded by a lack of knowledge of the field.

The biggest irony is that Amon replicated my presentation but I now know where I was mistaken and he does not. Several of the things I say are just plainly not true now, and were problematic then, but we (the real scientific community) didn’t know it at the time.

Oh well, best of luck with your future prospects Amon, I am not too bothered about you stealing my work, because I moved forward since, and you, well, not so much.

Note: this is what I sent to the Royal Holloway:

Dear [NAME REDACTED],

Name is dr. David Modic, I am a research associate at the Security Group, Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge. I apologize for simply contacting you out of the blue, but I think you should be aware of the following:

In June 2011 I gave a talk at BAFTA for the company Websense on the topic of Psychology of Internet Fraud. Here is a link to my talk: http://www.websense.com/assets/webinars/speakup/speakup-live/psychology-of-scams/ (with my photo and audio narration).

Two days ago I was looking for a specific reference and I googled it. I found the reference in a presentation by Amon Sanniez, here: http://www.isg.rhul.ac.uk/dl/weekendconference2011/presentations/Amon-Sanniez–The-Psychology-of-Scams-and-Malware.pdf

When I looked a bit closer, I realized that this was my reference and the whole thing to be a direct copy of my presentation with only my name replaced and the template background changed. The first two slides are not mine, but all the others are, word for word, including the clipart. Feel free to check both links above.

 I looked at the event and it turns out it was held by the Royal Holloway Security Group in September 2011, if I understand correctly. The slides are hosted on the Royal Holloway pages. Your group was of course not to know that Amon Sanniez plagiarised my research and in the grand scheme of things it does not matter much anyway, but I thought you should be aware of this. If you paid anything to the presenters you were also scammed, in a sense. I guess there is irony in talking about fraud by committing academic fraud. I also realize that mr. Sanniez has no affiliation with RHUL.

Anyway, I just thought you should know. I don’t have any expectations about what happens next, it is completely up to you if you want to pursue it in any way. Please note that if I found plagiarized work hosted by Royal Holloway in about 30s  through google, others might too, and that may reflect badly on the RHUL, even though I don’t think any of this is in any way the security group’s or the University’s fault.

I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

Kindest regards,

— David

 

Improving the science

Here is a post about how science could be improved. To sum up:

http://www.newyorker.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/gary-marcus-science.jpg

(c) The New Yorker

  • Stop people from hitching themselves up on work of other, junior, researchers (stop ghost or honorific authorship).
  • Rethink REF and implement other measures of academic merit
  • Support replication and move away from positivistic science.

I like this. First of all, I agree that things need to change.

I am worried that it will never happen, though. Or, if it does it may be at the expense of junior research staff – Let’s say that someone is on a grant. The Principal Investigator (PI) for the grant got the money in and is employing them. If the researcher publishes their research and cites the PI as a co-author, what does that mean? Is it an honorific authorship or a ghost one? Even if the PI did nothing much to contribute to the article, should they be removed from the paper? If they did not secure the grant, there would be no salary for the researcher and the research would not happen. So, the PI is instrumental to the research in a very concrete way, even if the data collection, experimental design and write-up was not primarily (or not at all in some cases) done by the PI. I am not talking about myself, to be clear. I have absolutely nothing to complain about in this respect. 

Furthermore, if PI’s are removed from the publications that they enabled but did not invest much work in, that would mean that they would have to do much more research by themselves and not have much time to spend on preparing grants and thus there would be less opportunities for junior researchers to be employed. In the climate where it is hard to get a postdoc as it is, this is nothing to wish for. 

We know how these things work. As a junior researcher the options of securing grants on your own are fairly slim to non-existent as it is now. So, taking away the incentive to be employed by more senior researchers is not a brilliant move. Ah, I hear you say, you only need to be excellent and it all works out. Right? Well (a) at my place of work, everybody is excellent, otherwise we would not be here. So beating the internal selection process is a bitch and your work that receives worldwide recognition would not necessarily secure your future here. And (b) What good is your excellence if the only job you can hold is to be a nightwatchman at Tesco, because there are no grants available? That job does not offer many opportunities for you to showcase your research skills. Or leave you much time to practice them.

In my opinion, the notion that doing research for research sake and not in order to keep holding a job or increasing your viability for grant success is very nice and something to strive for. In the current climate, I think that it is somewhat romantic, though. How do you get the grant giving bodies to stop assessing the grant proposals on the strength of publication counts and Impact Factor (IF)? What would a replacement metric be? How often you appear in the newspapers? We already know from some Dutch research that personal fame is a stronger indicator of getting funds than publication count. That is even worse than trying to estimate merit, even if the current measure is flawed. It just makes you more likely to media whore and also introduces large inequality across applicants. I have been solicited by the BBC a number of times to do stuff with them. And we do collaborate every once in a while. How likely do you think it is that I would have been contacted by the Beeb if I wasn’t working for Cambridge? So, those of us who are in some ways in a privileged position, would really have a leg up on those who do not get those opportunities based on location or (lack of) prestige of the institution.

So, what should we do? Things are broken now, but they function to a certain extent. From a purely economic perspective, we should think about incentives offered to Universities and their senior research staff. Only people who do not work in academia in 1st world countries make the mistake of thinking that University Teaching Officers (UTO) are doing their jobs out of love. Most of us like and enjoy our jobs, make no mistake, but the discrepancies between the industry and academia are already huge. My starting salary in the industry would be about 2-3 times higher than it is in academia. The job security is about the same in both places at least until you are an UTO. After, it is slightly harder to get fired from a University, but you can still manage it if you mess things up sufficiently. So telling senior researchers that their jobs will be less secure (as a consequence of lower performance ratings, which is a consequence of lesser ability to secure grants, which is a consequence of their names being dropped from the grant publications), but that is OK, because they should simply love science, would not be unopposed, in my opinion. Saying that something should be done and proposing these measures without wrapping them in a bullshit sandwich is not a good way to go. If something makes logical sense, it does not mean that it will be accepted. Perhaps this is what scientists should actually learn.

About fleecing them for all they’re worth

by DavidM 2014-06-09 at 12.21.08

prevoz.org

There is an initiative by the Slovene Tax Authorities to tax … carpooling, essentially. Here is the link to the article (in Slovene language): dnevnik.si

There is a platform similar to uber operating in Slovenia. People advertise where they will be going and how much they would charge and others accept those offers. And so people cover a percentage of the petrol cost for the original driver, lower the overall emissions and engage in a service which helps those who are socially less fortunate.

It turns out that the Slovene Tax authorities want in on that action. The official explanation is that the passengers need to pay tax, since they are essentially paying for petrol and and there is a petrol tax that needs to be accounted for.

Predictably this elicited an angry response by pundits on the street. There were criticisms along the lines of: “Those greedy swines, once they smell money, they quickly suck it out of regular people” and “First they bleed us dry and leave us no alternative but to engage in secondary adjustment, because we can’t afford to go on a bus or train, and instead of making public transport more accessible, they tax our adjustment strategy”.

But it makes me wonder. It seems to me that they are after people’s money, but how far have they thought this through?

OK. So petrol dues need to be paid according to the tax authority rationale. The dues were paid by the driver already at the gas station. It seems that the tax authorities are proposing to either (a) have people pay the same tax twice, or (b) pay it once, but at the time of hitching the ride.

Because (a) is clearly illegal, I’ll chose to believe that they meant (b). How are they hoping to enforce this? It seems to be highly elaborate scheme that is completely un-implementable. Let’s play around with this scenario – I arrive at the petrol station, fill up and then claim that I will be driving people around so I don’t want to pay petrol dues? Will the person at the till be accommodating or not? Let’s assume they are familiar with the scheme, and let’s say they do accept my claim. Is it not likely that they would ask me what proportion of the tank I will be using for driving people around and what proportion will I be using for myself in order to calculate the proper amount of tax? How would I know? Why wouldn’t I say that I would be driving people around all the time and thus no need to pay the tax now?

So, I don’t pay any dues, but when people accept my offer on prevozi.org, I then submit the required amount to the tax authorities? Wouldn’t it be the best incentive for me to not offer any rides and thus pay no petrol dues but have full mobility? Will they be keeping track of people like me and follow-up if I do this? Let’s calculate the costs and round them up.

(a) The Tax Authority will need, at the very least, to change the tax software in order to add a table which will keep track of when any Slovene national bought petrol, how much, and whether they paid dues. In addition they will need a table populated by a script which would scrape prevozi.org + gather personal data, where it would be clear when any person offered a raid, how much they wanted, what car they drive (to calculate average mpg for that particular model, vintage and mileage) and the destination.   From that they could calculate the amount of petrol that was used and the amount of dues needed to be paid.

That may cost 10,000 EUR + 500 EUR per month for technical support and maintenance in the first year. that comes to 16,000 EUR per year

Then they would need let’s say 5 full time employees who would  keep track of two million people and their transactions on prevozi.org. Let’s say their average salary is 1000 EUR per month + contributions which would come to about 2200 EUR per month. This comes to 5 * 12 * 2,200 = 132,000 EUR per year

Then there is the cost of office space and the additional retraining cost for gas station attendants. Let’s say that petrol companies will shoulder the cost of training,  but they would still need to cover the cost of office space and infrastructure for their workers. Let’s say that there are two offices + machines + phone cost + bandwith. Let’s assume that comes to 300 EUR per month, so 3.600 EUR

So first year cost of the project comes down to: 151,600 EUR

So, what happens here is that the Slovene government would be spending 150k Euro to get people to pay taxes they would already be paying if things stay the way they are right now.

Ah, I hear you say, but what if taxes are paid in addition to already existing taxes. Well, the cost of the project stays roughly similar, but let’s say we need a few less people and a simplified software package. Let’s say, back of the napkin calculation, that it would cost half of the initial budget, so roughly 75,000 EUR.

Let’s assume that the drivers would be paying 30% of their earnings. And let’s go ahead and assume that people will not cheat and that they will not raise their prices and that, as a result, those looking for service will not make other arrangements. This is a tall order, but let’s pretend that supply-demand curve is not actually a curve (as probably the Tax Authority assumes).

Today, in June 2014, there seems to be 810 offers for today to various destinations. Mostly going to Ljubljana. The average price is 4.6 EUR per ride, depending on the distance, prices go from 2 to 10 EUR. Let’s assume that half of the rides are taken and let’s assume that the price does not influence the preferences. So, the takings per day are approximately 1,800 EUR. Let’s assume that there is a certain amount of fluctuation per day but that this averages out. 30% of 1,800 EUR comes to 540 EUR per day, which comes to 197,000 EUR per year. That means, after taking away the project costs, 122.000 EUR profit per year.

This is peanuts. Slovenia’s GDP is (according to Wikipedia) roughly 41 billion EUR. The profit would amount to about 0.0003% of the GDP. There are two things to think about here, considering how this money is in the realm of a rounding error in the overall GDP: (1) Why do the tax authorities bother with this money, and why do they consider it worthwhile to upset a large amount of people and (2) why do people allow themselves to be upset over such miniscule amounts.

I think the answers are: (1) The Tax Authorities do not do any kind of research, they just see a niche and think of exploiting it, without any in-depth analysis of what they would gain in financial terms, and what they would lose in terms of trust and reputation.

(2) People get upset not because of money, but because they feel screwed. They feel screwed because they came up with this cool thing that helps them and makes their lives more bearable and now somebody wants to take it away or wants to profit from it without any kind of previous participation. This has mostly to do with the psychological contract (i.e. the informal, non-written expectations we have when we sign a formal contract. For example when we enrol into a University, the contract we sign with them specifies that said University will give you an opportunity to learn and earn a degree. However, our expectations may be to learn from great scholars, gain some personal reputation from the reputation of the University, and be better positioned in the job market because we went to a high prestige University). Our expectations are not necessarily written down. This is the psychological contract bit. For our money, we get the service but also want our expectations to fulfilled.

The psychological expectation in the contract we have with the State is that it will help us out when times are tough and we will help it when we are doing OK. When the government does not help but actively deters people who think of ways to help themselves, this constitutes a clear breach of the psychological contract. And that is what angers us. And the government is angry when the people are doing OK, but fail to help out the country. It is like two kids standing on their own hillocks and screaming about the other not wanting to play ball.

The classical economists would think about incentivising people to pay taxes, but they would not think about why they are failing to pay taxes (if they are) in the first instance. This is an old dilemma of inventing ways to force people to do something they don’t want to do vs. changing their frame of mind and making them want to pay taxes. The assumptions are problematic here.

An economist is likely to tell you that people are egotistical and that there is no incentive for them to be “good” and “moral”. This statement is based on the idea that there are no morals, there is no consideration of future consequences of ones actions, etc. It is embodied by the homo homini lupus concept. There are many of us, who disagree with that life philosophy.

At the same time, we know that lack of premeditation leads us to do foolish things. In a recent study we did here at Cambridge, on susceptibility to persuasion, the ability to consider future consequences (i.e. premeditation) accounts for 25% of the variance in scam compliance. Simply put – the ability to consider what will likely happen if you engage with a scammer plays a decisive role in one quarter of the observed cases. (see: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2446971) if you want to know more about this.

 

 

 

 

 

O plagiatih in odgovornosti

Univerza v Ljubljani

Univerza v Ljubljani (Photo credit: aikijuanma)

V Dnevniku je 25.02.2013 objavljen tale članek: Plagiat je najprej huda sramota za mentorja

Mislim, kako je to najprej huda sramota za mentorja? Malo treznega razmišljanja, prosim.

Kot sem že večkrat rekel: npr. na področju psihologije na leto izide 60.000 člankov v angleščini (ki je privzeti znanstveni jezik. Na univerzitetnem nivoju pač moraš biti opravilno sposoben v angleščini). Revija Science denimo izhaja od leta 1880, pa bodimo dobrohotni in štejmo, da se psihološki članki v znanstvenih publikacijah objavljajo od leta 1950 (čez palec recimo še, da se sicer objavljajo dalj, ampak ne v takem obsegu. Tako s trajanjem kompenziramo obseg).

Hiter izračun: 63 let * 60.000 = 3.780.000 člankov samo s področja psihologije. Recimo, da nas ne zanima celotna psihologija, ampak nekaj bolj specifičnega, nekaj kar obsega 10% objavljenega. Ostane nam torej bazen 380.000 člankov (knjig in zbornikov sploh nisem štel), ki jih ima kandidat na voljo, da napiše dizertacijo (torej diplomo/magisterij/doktorat). Laična javnost in novinarji menijo, da bi a) morala mentor in študent bodisi prebrati vse iste članke (torej njun presek bi moral biti popoln) ali b) da bi mentor moral znati na pamet vseh 380.000 člankov in takoj prepoznati, če je bilo kaj prepisano. Niti A, niti B nista realna.

Zagovor diplome / magisterija / doktorata je namenjen točno temu, da kandidat dokaže, da je do rezultatov in analize prišel sam. Seveda to posredno pomeni tudi dokazovanje, da dela ni prepisal od koga drugega, ni pa to tisto glavno. To, da nisi prepisal svojega dela je samo po sebi umevno, je stvar pogodbe, ki jo skleneš z univerzo, ko se vpišeš nanjo. Popreproščeno povedano – univerza se zaveže, da ti nudi znanje, okolje in vire iz katerih lahko črpaš, ti opraviš analizo nekega pojava in (v skoraj vseh znanstvenih panogah lahko) opraviš raziskavo, ki potrdi hipoteze, ki si jih zastavil na podlagi analize stanja. V zameno za to delo ti univerza podeli naziv. Če se izkaže, da si pogodbo kršil, jo univerza razveljavi in ti odvzame pridobljen naziv. Dolžnost univerze ni nič več kot to. Seveda, če si akademsko pot nadaljeval in delal še magisterij ali doktorat, pa se izkaže, da je diploma neveljavna, potem pač ne izpolnjuješ pogojev za pridobivanje magisterija / doktorata in je tudi ta naslednja pogodba nična. O tem se sicer odloča tvoja naslednja institucija (če nisi vsega delal na isti). Če si na delovnem mestu, ki zahteva določeno stopnjo izobrazbe in je ti naenkrat nimaš več, je to kršenje delovne pogodbe in delodajalec to sankcionira. To ni stvar univerze. Za univerzo je stvar zaključena, ko re-evaluira svojo pogodbo s tabo in izvede sankcije (če so potrebne).

Zagovor dizertacije mora vsebovati načine na katere preiskovalci preverijo ali veš o čem pišeš. Ne preverjajo ali je nek stavek nekje že bil napisan, ampak ali ti je jasno kaj ta stavek pomeni. Raziskave je težko prepisovat. Dovolj je, da komisja vpraša nekaj o tvoji metodologiji ali kakem konkretnem rezultatu pa je hitro jasno ali poseduješ podatke ali ne. Če nekdo v celoti prepiše uvod, raziskavo pa naredi sam, bi to moralo biti problematično zato, ker uvod ni povsem po meri raziskave in je to očitno. Če je prepisan zaključek je to še bolj očitno, če ne govori o tvoji raziskavi. Povsem teoretične diplome so v tem smislu bolj problematične, zato se jim večina fakultet tudi izogiba.

Da ne bo pomote, ne zagovarjam plagiarizma. Nikakor ne. Mislim, da je to predvsem bedno in kaže na intelektualni potencial kandidata. Zbanalizirano rečeno – nije žvaka za seljaka. Sej ni treba, da ima vsak človek univerzitetno izobrazbo ali še kaj več.

Spotikam se torej ob besedo najprej. Najprej je plagiat sramota za kandidata, ne za mentorja. Tisto kar mora narediti univerza je tole:

1.) Mentor mora slediti razvoju dizertacije, vendar je ne razvijati sam. Tisto kar lahko in mora narediti je, da kandidatu pove ko in če ta odkriva toplo vodo. Svetovati mu mora pri izdelavi raziskave (vendar je ne oblikovati sam). Prebrati mora izdelek in komentirati s stališča strokovnosti ali je izdelek ustrezen ali ne. Njegova dolžnost preprosto ni, poznati vse vire, ki jih kandidat uporablja, ampak oceniti ali je kandidat razvil misel v pravo smer. Mentor mora dobiti podatke na vpogled in, če je pameten, narediti vzporedno analizo, seveda lahko ob prisotnosti kandidata.

2.) Komisija mora prebrati izdelek in ob zagovoru postaviti vprašanja, ki nedvoumno kažejo na to, da kandidat ve o čem govori. Tudi oni ne preverjajo naravnost ali izključno tega, ali je bilo delo prepisano. To se vidi posredno iz odgovorov kandidata. Tako mentor, kot komisija, privzamejo, da je kandidat pošten.

3.) Kandidat mora skozi šolanje doumeti, da je naziv spremljajoči pojav procesa učenja. Ni bistvo naziv, bistvo je kako si ponotranjil znanje, kaj si se naučil o nečem in kako znaš to uporabiti v praksi. Naziv pride sproti. Na voljo imaš kar nekaj let, da se priučiš nekih specifičnih znanj. Temu je namenjena univerza, da na koncu procesa veš nekaj več. Pirova zmaga je če imas naziv, pa še vedno pojma nimaš.

Govorim torej o odgovornosti do vede in do sebe. Univerza ti mora ponuditi možnost, da jo razviješ, ni pa zanjo odgovorna. Za to, da je nekdo nemoralen, ne odgovarja nihče drug kot on sam. Niso krivi mentorji, ni kriva komisija in ni kriva Univerza, dokler korektno opravljajo svoj posel. In posel univerze ni, da te tretira kot kriminalca ampak, da ti omogoči, da si lahko pošten. Če te priložnosti ne izkoristiš, je to tvoja krivda. In ne najprej, oziroma sploh ne, mentorja.

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David Modic, PhD

photo

Štiri leta. Štiri leta! Če vštejemo prijave, čakanje, organizacijo financiranja, intervjuje.., potem šest!

Od trenutka, ko sem prvič vstopil v svojo pisarno in se instantno spričkal s sistemcem, ker mi ni hotel dat mrežnega kabla za moj leptop (“Univerza ne nudi podpore za računalnike, ki niso last Univerze” “Ampak sej jaz nočem podpore za svojo mašino, sam kabl mi dej, da se povežem v mrežo.” “Kup si ga” “OK.”).

Do trenutka ko so mi po dveh mesecih bivanja v Exetru povedali, da je podjetje, ki delno financira moj doktorat, bankrotiralo in da sva s Kim kar naenkrat brez sredstev in da kmalu ne samo da ne bova mogla plačevat najemnine, ampak tudi ne bova mela za avionsko karto domov.

Do trenutka, ko mi je moj supervizor uredil financiranje (saj smo te mi povabili, seveda te ne bomo zdej pustili na cedilu).

 Do trenutka, ko sem oddal prvo seminarsko. Ko sem naredil prvi podiplomski izpit tukaj. Ko sem napisal prvo poglavje in so ga raztrgal. Ko sem prvič zagovarjal ekspozicijo. Takrat, ko so rekli, da niso razumeli zakaj me je Stephen sploh vzel, dokler nisem svojega dela predstavil v živo. Takrat so Stephenu rekli, samo do zagovora ga moramo spravit, pa bo zdelal z lahkoto.

 

Do trenutka ko sem prvič učil in popravljal izpite.

 

Do trenutka, ko so me prvič povabili da predavam na MBA študiju tukaj.

 

Do trenutka, ko so me prvič povabili na mednarodno konferenco.

 

Do trenutka, ko smo mednarodno konferenco organizirali mi (pet ljudi iz Exetra. cca. 300 udeležencev iz celega sveta. http;//2011.iarep.org).

 

Do trenutka, ko se je rodila Sofia.

 

Do trenutka, ko sva s Kim dojela, da nam v Angliji več ne znese živet.

 

Do trenutka, ko smo se vrnili v Slovenijo in sem jaz začel iskat kako spodobno službo in naletel zvečine (ampak ne povsod) na akademsko apatijo in hohštapleraj, ki mu ne sede, da je nekdo mogoče v resnici sposoben.

 

Do trenutka, ko mi je profesor s Cambridgea rekel, da bi oni mene radi zaposlili in da se bo že kaj našlo, seveda če bom takrat še zainteresiran.

 

Do trenutka, ko sem doktorat oddal.

 

Do trenutka, ko sem sedel pred kabinetom in čakal. Ko je prišel ven dekan in rekel, pridi, pripravljeni smo nate.

 

Do trenutka, ko so mi rekli, OK, nimamo več vprašanj. Počakaj zunaj na našo odločitev.

 

Do trenutka, ko so mi povedali, da mi bodo podelili naziv. In sem šel, po tradiciji, z zamaškom od šampanjca naredit vdrtino na strop in se šel zraven podpisat, tako kot mnogi pred mano in mnogi še za mano.

 

Do zdejle, dan po tem, ko sedim v svoji pisarni in diham.

 

Vmes je neskončno trenutkov, lepih in manj lepih, žalostnih in veselih. Veliko druženja, brezveznih pogovorov, sprehodov po podeželju, gledanja vider in divjih ponijev. Veliko nežnih in nepozabnih trenutkov. Fino je bit v Exetru in fino je imet prijatelje in ljudi, ki te z razlogom cenijo.

 

Divja vožnja je tole.

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O statistiki nezaposlenosti

The lunatics have taken over the Asylum

(Photo credit: phill.d)

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“LJUBLJANA – Zavod za zaposlovanje se je pohvalil z nižjo junijsko brezposelnostjo že peti mesec zapored, brezposelnih pa je po uradnih evidencah 105.630, kar je dobrih deset tisoč manj, kot jih je bilo januarja.”
…”Za osebe, ki niso aktivni iskalci zaposlitve, menimo, da s svojimi dejanji izražajo, da ne potrebujejo storitev Zavoda in bodo svojo brezposelnost rešili na drugačen način,” so še napisali v zavodu.Narobe: nižja nezaposlenost v Sloveniji
Prav: manj uporabnikov storitev zavoda za zaposlovanje v Sloveniji.

Ko zbrišeš človeka iz evidence to ne pomeni nujno, da je dobil zaposlitev (niti, da je ni). Glede na razmerje med razpisanimi delovnimi mesti in številom črtanih posameznikov z Zavoda v juniju 2012 (776: 10.000), bi lahko predvidevali, da je večina tistih, ki jih je zavod izpisal, ostala nezaposlena. Vem, da narahlo primerjamo jabolka in hruške (10.000 izpisanih na mesec proti 776 zatečenim prostim delovnim mestom), vendar vseeno lahko sklepamo, da se v Sloveniji ne odpre 10.000 delovnih mest na mesec, vsak mesec. Torej, gre še vedno za diskrepanco, ki je vsaj reda velikosti prevelika, da bi lahko sklepali, da so črtani posamezniki vsi našli službe. Funkcija Zavoda sicer ni to, da prikaže koliko ljudi so se znebili vsak mesec ampak, da posreduje med delodajalci in delojemalci. Ker gre v marsikaterem pogledu za totalno institucijo (Goffman, 1961)  jim (tako kot zaporom) ni v interesu, da bi našli vsem prosilcem službe, ker bi potem ostali brez dela in navidez nepotrebni. Najbolj verjetno zavod, tako kot zapori, vzgojni zavodi in bolnišnice (Foucault, 1977) išče tisto točko ravnovesja, kjer imajo toliko uporabnikov storitev, da je očitno, da so nujno potrebni in obenem ne toliko uporabnikov, da bi imeli preveč dela. To homeostazo pa najlaže dosežejo tako, da periodično iz evidence zbrišejo višek. To je precej bolj nenaporno, kot iskati nove zaposlitvene modele in kontaktirati podjetja in jih spraševati če potrebujejo kadre. Ne gre torej za to, da bi delali tako kvalitetno, da bi lahko obvladovali naval brezposelnih, ampak za to, da dajo videz da nekaj delajo, in obenem vržejo kako kost novinarjem. Škoda, da novinarji tako nekritično objavljajo vse, kar se jim servira.

Sicer od Piana naprej ne berem več prav veliko plačljivih vsebin v slovenskem časopisju (sem pa se naročil na Mladino, ki jo z veseljem plačam, če že moram za novice plačevati), sklepam pa iz naslovov in prvih par vrstic plačljivih člankov (ki so tisti, ki vsaj približno spominjajo na raziskovalno novinarstvo – jasno, novic povzetih po STA ravno ne moreš zaračunati), da smo bolj na ravni teorij zarot, kot dejanske analize stanja, podprte s podatki. V bistvu kaže, da gre za še enega izmed vrste pokazateljev, da v Sloveniji znanje ni nič vredno. Ne vem, se urednikom res zdi, da ni dovolj bralcev, ki bi si želeli kvalitetnega raziskovalnega novinarstva; da so pri nas samo taki, ki bi se z gnusom obrnili stran od članka in rekli soprogi: “Fej, pravkar sem bral članek o atomski energiji in niti z besedo niso omenili atomik harmonik!”

Če se vrnem k temi, sicer to, da Zavod ne opravlja svoje funkcije ne prinaša toliko političnih točk, kot če razglasiš nižjo nezaposlenost, je pa bliže resnici.

Bibliografija
Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and punish : the birth of the prison (1st American ed.). New York: Pantheon Books.
Goffman, E. (1961). Asylums; essays on the social situation of mental patients and other inmates (1st ed.). Garden City, N.Y.,: Anchor Books.

Karlova igra

“Po mednarodnem pravu uživajo predsedniki vlad, držav in zunanji ministri popolno imuniteto, ki jih odvezuje tudi pričanja v sodnih procesih,”  Dagmar Albegger, tiskovna predstavnica avstrijskega ministrstva za pravosodje. 

Sedaj je torej igra malo bolj jasna. O Plagiatorju ne bi izgubljal besed, razen mogoče pohvale, da pridno napreduje v akademskem smislu (najprej plagiira, kasneje prepisuje z wikipedie (brez navedbe vira), sedaj pa le še napačno navaja vire. Še malo pa bo skoraj na nivoju študentov prvega letnika fakultete).

Ampak, Karl, človek za vse čase in vsa ministrstva…. Desusov zunanje-politični program praktično ne obstaja, Erjavec je popolnoma nesposoben voditi zunanjo politiko, ampak Janša ga vseeno nastavi na to mesto, kljub splošnemu posmehu javnosti. Sedaj je jasno tudi, kaj je Erjavec pridobil s prehodom na desnico. Mesta zunanjega ministra mu verjetno Janković ni ponujal, pa tudi če bi mu – Plagiator mora biti premier, drugače je Erjavec še vedno v riti. Osebnostne strukture kot je, po mojem mnenju, Janševa, ne skrbijo za druge kar na lepe oči, zagotovo pa ne na lastno škodo. Erjavcu ne bi nič pomagalo, če bi imel imuniteto, Janša pa ne, ker bi ga Janša mirne duše vrgel volkovom. Tako pa se lepo vse pokrije – Erjavcu ni treba hoditi na sodišča v tujino in izblebetati kaj neprijetnega za Plagiatorja ali sebe.

Tako zanimivo je to, gledano od daleč – ta igra, ki jo Plagiator igra, se ne more končati srečno. Vedno več ljudi mora obvladovati, da lahko naprej ribari v kalnem. O vsakomur mora izvedeti kaj, kar jih kompromitira. Seveda z ozvočenjem parlamenta in dostopom do posnetkov tajnih vladnih sej to postane lažje, ko gre za politike. Z nastavitvijo svojih ljudi na čelo obveščevalne službe tudi. Pa vendar. Enkrat domine padejo. Bolj, ko je obširna mreža, več je možnosti, da se kdo zlomi. Pa sploh ne nujno zlomi – dovolj je, da se nekdo odloči, da bo reagiral tako kot bi Plagiator sam v taki situaciji in s sabo pokoplje tudi njega. Z mojega, rahlo psihopatskega stališča, je to tako ali tako najboljši odgovor na izsiljevanje – takojšnje javno sprejetje odgovornosti in posledic svojih akcij. Saj je to svoboda, ne? Odgovornost za svoje akcije. Da ne bo videti kot da nekaj moraliziram in se delam visoko moralnega – gre za preprosto oceno tveganja. Če sem (hipotetično) počel stvari, ki niso bile OK, sem, upajmo, razmišljal tudi o tem, kakšne bodo posledice. Običajno so neprijetne, ampak, hej, kaže, da se mi je vseeno izplačalo (ali pa sem preprosto preneumen, da bi razumel kaj počnem). Sedaj imam izbiro – pogoltnem juho, ki sem si jo sam skuhal in s tem preprečim, da bi me psihopat lahko manipuliral ali pa mu pustim, da zasadi kremplje vame in naredim zanj še kaj, kar ni OK. Psihopat ima sedaj na zalogi dve stvari, ki me lahko pokopljeta. Vedno bolj me drži, in če je dovolj inteligenten potem gre impliciranost samo v eni smeri, torej proti meni. To se nikoli ne neha. Kako Plagiatorjevi lakaji tega ne dojamejo? Seveda boš nagrajen, dokler boš koristen ali dokler ne boš nevaren ali pa nič več uporaben, ampak za Plagiatorjevo vladavino bo ostalo pogorišče. Če bo padel ali pa ne. Če ne bo padel, bo to v končni fazi na račun njegovih oprod, ker, grešni kozel bo vedno nujen. Če bo padel, bo vzel kopico ljudi s sabo. Zato, da mu ne bo dolgčas in zato, ker lahko. Kako lakaji tega ne dojamejo? Nihče od vas ni poseben, ko gre za odločitev “Jaz ali drugi”. Nihče od vas na koncu nima nobenega pogoja, da bi skupaj z generalom stali po bitki. Na koncu ne. Zakaj ne razmišljate o svojih strategijah umika? Tudi plagiator se bo utrudil in spodrsnil. Samo takrat bo z družino živel v Avstraliji, vi pa boste ostali tukaj, s prazno vrečo v rokah, besom ljudi na plečih in razkrinkanimi mahinacijami za leta nazaj.

About amateur psychotherapy and support groups

 

 

I am participating in a longish discussion in a forum, where one of the things said made me write about something I’ve been upset about for a while now [things in brackets changed by me].

 

 

… I am not talking about this [support group], cause it is different, but most seem to be stuck in their own feeling of being right and know how support has to be given. Isn’t it true that amateur psychologists cause more harm then good?

As far as amateur psychologists/therapists go, that is my pet peeve anyway and in general.

I have no issue with either support or self-help groups, but when the line between support and therapy blurs, then I do have an issue, yes. I have an even bigger issue with friendly advice, mainly because I did work both in a psychiatric institution and in a private setting, and my experience is that the client/patient usually gets screwed by inexpert help.

Once the situation is really dire, they come to people like me, who face a lot more work in helping to fix the things that were relatively easily fixable before the person followed well-meaning, but nevertheless wrong, advice.

Sometimes, things are not satisfactorily fixable after the fact at all (for example somebody who is slowly drifting into psychosis and is told that they should really stand up for themselves and understand that as a permission to beat her children to the point where it leaves lasting marks, because they didn’t want to go to sleep at bedtime. If you don’t understand how the mind works, don’t mess with it, is what I am saying. Funnily enough, at that point, people who were full of advice before suddenly go quiet and stop answering calls. And then to my everlasting joy, I get to speak to the mother in a psychiatric clinic and explain to them why they’ll be staying with us, and why that nice person from social services is taking the kids away for good).

Now, don’t start with victim blaming (i.e. the mother is crazy, she should be locked up. Poor kids.).  This is all solvable in a way where the kids don’t get hurt and don’t lose their mother in the process (which in turn doesn’t leave them an impression that it’s their fault that they can’t stay with their mother anymore).

You see, there are two points where friendly advice can fail – 1) when the person giving the advice has no experience whatsoever with what they are dealing with, and just play it by heart, which may work for them personally, but certainly doesn’t work for everybody. They might also mistake their personal experience with a certain issue to be grounds for a good general advice (e.g. if you are quite timid and have once in your life stood up for yourself to a great outcome, you still shouldn’t encourage a serial rapist to not listen to anyone else and just follow their heart).

And 2) (connected to the first one), when the advice giver fails to see the warning signs or misinterprets them because they judge everybody to be just like them.

Both of those sometimes work OK and leave no outward damage which in turn empowers the person to fancy themselves the go-to mental guru, so to speak (i.e. if you have a problem, just talk to me, everybody else does it). This might work for a while, but there will certainly come a point when people are out of their depth (which also happens to ‘real’ therapists, don’t get me wrong, but at least we have any numbers of external mechanisms to help us cope. And, quite importantly, we are equipped to recognize this, when it happens).

Once out of their depth, people either shy away from the problem, leaving the client/patient to pick up the pieces (bad), or steam-roller on, into the unknown, after all how bad could it be, right? (worse).

Well, it can be as bad as you can imagine and then some more. Mainly because if a lay person can actually imagine it and still goes ahead with it, they are probably a psychopath (i.e. don’t care if somebody else suffers. Might also enjoy it. Same applies for being overconfident – it is easy to be overconfident about somebody else’s future. If it works, then fine, if it doesn’t, well, they’ll face the consequences, is also an anti-social trait).

Let me point out that, like I said before, I think that there is a real need for support and self-help groups out there, but there is also a responsibility attached to offering that kind of service, one that shouldn’t be brushed away.

I would say that the main function of such groups is to listen. Offering an opinion is also fine, sharing of experiences too. Lay therapy, absolutely not. I am saying that it is OK to say: “That sucks. I experienced a similar thing – here is what happened to me.” In my opinion is also still OK to say: “Now here is how I dealt with it, but please bear in mind that this might not work for you and that I am not saying you should do any of this. I am merely telling you what worked for me. If you want to follow any of this, please talk it over with somebody who is a) uninvolved, and b) knows how to deal with those kinds of issues. It certainly helped me to do it. A phone number of somebody, whom I had previous good experiences with, is in your mailbox”.

It is definitely NOT OK to say: “Wow, that sucks, and here is what you should do…” or “Mhm, sure, sure, let me tell you what your problem is…” or “Stop talking, nobody cares. Let me tell you a real story of hardship now” or “You fool, it is all your fault, stop whining and get a life” or”You handled it all wrong, here is what you should have done…”

A peer-review phishing scam

I thought you would be interested to know about a very interesting scam that has been going around lately (well, interesting from my perspective, I research scams for a living 🙂 ).

It is in a form of a very well executed spearphishing attack. It targets academics, and would be particularly effective against postgraduate students (I know it took me a while to realize it is a scam and at least one of my colleagues didn’t, but got stopped by me in time).

The way this works

You get an email, from a journal editor (in my case from Science Journal of Economics. The web-page URL is sciencejournals.cc) asking for a peer review of an article. Now, for those of you who are not familiar with academic publishing – all articles are reviewed, for free, by researchers in the chosen field. They then post a review to the editor and the editor makes a decision about publishing said article. A legit peer review request would look almost identical to the one received.

I went and checked – the Journal web page seems OK. On the face of it, the fledgling journal is sparsely populated with articles, but hey, you’ve got to start somewhere, right? For me an additional issue was, that about a fortnight ago, I actually did speak in person to an editor of a small family run journal, whose name I have instantly forgotten. He asked me to write for him. So I was not completely sure whether this was the same guy, who first wanted to test my reviewing skills, before asking for an article.

I asked a senior academic about this journal (My full email to them consisted of: ‘Is this for real?’), and he replied saying that it is a very new journal, but could be above board, so if I had the time, I should review the article. Now, this is the first brilliant move by the scammer: if they get a hold of a PhD student, they can count on them being relatively inexperienced in the process of peer reviewing, while at the same time they know that peer reviewing is a required part of the academic life; plus it might stroke their ego that a journal wants their opinion about a piece of research.

I replied, saying that they should sent the article over, with reviewers guidelines. This is what I got from them, things in [italic square brackets are changed by me]:

From: Editor [editor@sciencejournals.cc]
Sent: 28 June 2011 12:10
To: [Me]
Subject: Re: Manuscript For Review [article title]

Dear [Me],

Thank you for accepting our invitation to review with the Science Journal of Economics. Please find attached files, the full Manuscript , Instruction for Authors as well as the Reviewer’s Guide. You may present your evaluations the way you deem fit. If you wish to correct parts of the manuscript itself, please indicate your corrections with a different color (for example, red for addition and blue for deletion).

I am looking forward to your response.

Best regards,
Dr. John Morrison
Editorial Assistant

Enclosure: Manuscript,Reviewer’s Guide and Instruction for Authors

I downloaded the files and looked at them. The reviewers guide is competently written, very boiler-plate, but that is the way all of them are.

The reviewers form is quite elaborate, but not out of the ordinary.

I decided to just briefly look at the article, before actually reviewing it the next day. The article was horrible. Really, you can’t get much worse than that in a piece of academic writing. I wrote at least ten remarks for first paragraph alone, before I decided that this was not publishable and that it is just a waste of time.

So, I sent an email to my academic colleague:

From: [Me]
Sent: 27 June 2011 00:07
To: [Colleague]
Subject: FWD: Manuscript For Review [article title]

Hi [Colleague],

OK, I’ve gotten the manuscript from the Journal we wrote about the other day and it is horrible. It is. I stopped correcting after the first paragraph of the introduction. There is, literally, several things wrong with each sentence in the first two paragraphs.I have appended my version with comments, so you can judge for yourself.

What I am wondering right now is – at what point is it ok to write back and say, this should not be accepted on the grounds of:

  • It is written in something only approximating English language and grammar.
  • Claims are unsupported
  • Logic is shaky or non-existent
  • In order for this to pass, I would have to rewrite sentence by sentence and I have neither an interest or the inclination to do that.

This essay actually about on a level of a 3rd for a first year [our University] undergrad.

I am now scrolling through it. It cites the source of their figures as “their own drawing”. The figures are not formatted in any consistent manner. They include helpful diagrams!! Words in the diagrams are clipped.

The References section is not consistently formatted. I am not prepared to read this crap. I looks like a high school essay.

Science Journal of Economics…. wait a second, I can’t find this journal wheen I google it. Hang on… sciencejournals.cc lists their head office as:

Science Journal Publication Head Office:
Federal Capital Territory (Abuja), Nigeria.
Branch Office: Accra, Ghana.

It looks to me as if a high school student wants to get a good grade by having somebody review their essay for them.

This actually looks like a scam to me.

[Me]

At the same time, I sent an email to John Morrison the associate editor of the journal

From: [Me]
Sent: 27 June 2011 00:06
To: Editor [editor@sciencejournals.cc]
Subject: Re: Manuscript For Review [article title]

Hi John, Please let me know which referencing style you expect the Authors to follow, so I can judge whether they are following it. I am also quite unclear about which category the submission you sent over, falls under (according to your Instruction for Authors guidelines). It is clearly not an article (method, results and discussion are missing). It is too long to be a review (17 pages of 1.15 spacing at best, but probably single spacing. Your guidelines specify 4-6 pages), and includes far too few references. It is also far too long to be a short communication.

So, which is it? Please let me know as soon as possible.
Sincerely,
[Me], Msc(dist), AHEA
[My University]

Next day, I had a meeting at the University and asked several colleagues if they ever received a request to peer review an article (I wanted to know how to go about rejecting this job, as it made no sense to continue).

It turns out, all of them got the same request! To review the same article! Now, peer review usually does not include six or more of our friends. Strange … Most of them agreed that it was a scam, but had no inkling what the end-game was (i.e. how the scammer could get the money out of us).

I then went home and, working under the assumption that these were high school kids, looking to get peer reviewed and get good grades at school for their essays, I started thinking of how to write a letter to ‘the editor’ that would prime the kids to wish they never sent a request for peer review.

It wouldn’t work if I just said I am onto you, as that would not leave enough of a sting. What I needed to do is to write how crappy the paper was in no uncertain terms, while giving away as little as possible on how to correct it. Hopefully, they would be conditioned to not send their requests ever again.

So, I wrote this:

From: [Me]
Sent: 27 June 2011 21:25
To: Editor [editor@sciencejournals.cc]
Subject: Re: Manuscript For Review [article title]

Hi John,

I have stopped reviewing the article you sent over. It is not publishable, at least not in the present form. It would literally require rewriting almost every sentence in it. I assume it was translated (badly) into English, and it shows. It is hard to follow the logic of the argument, which admittedly might have something to do with very bad grammar, which makes the logic itself seem flawed.

The referencing is insufficient, and at times, claims are completely unsupported. Furthermore, the referencing is also inconsistent, and regardless of the referencing style required, sometimes just plain wrong (the Author does not avoid figures that are superfluous in any case, they give an impression of patronising the reader, which makes me want to say: I can read, I don’t need a picture drawn for me. Furthermore, if you draw a picture, support it with extensive referencing, not by saying it is good, because I thought of it). This is not befitting a scientific text, it explains nothing and is far too garish to even consider in an academic context.

The formatting is wrong (paragraph spacing, placement of figures and tables, etc). It does not follow your guidelines in any way, shape or form.

I leave it up to you as an associate editor to judge how much of this communication to share with the Author(s), but it is clear they need to invest substantially into writting articles if they want to be published in a respectable journal. Frankly, between you and me, if one of the first year undergraduate students from my University wrote this essay, I would have to search thoroughly for reasons not to fail them.

[… continued after the break]

I am covering my bases here – In case this is legit in the end, I don’t want to incur the wrath of the real Author. Also if the editor is not actually the editor, then they still get my opinion, but the Authors are not exposed to my dressing down. In other words, no legitimate journal would forward my writing to the Author.

Wasting your time and mine on this is a huge disservice to your journal – it raises doubts about your publication. I believe you should reject it immediately as considering it at all would give the wrong impression about your publication to the academic community. I realize you are not well established yet, but giving a longer consideration to this submission will sink you very quickly.

The biggest issue, though, is, that it has already been published, here: [the URL] I don’t know what your policy is, concerning republication of already published material, but this has a strange feel to it.

If the submission you’ve got is not under the names of [Author names], then it has also been plagiarised, down to the last word. If that is the case, I think you should act quickly and notify the submitting authors’ Institution. [… continued after the break]

Ok, at this stage I realized that this is a real article, just one that should not have been published. I found it on the net, on a semi-academic site. So, if these were kids, then not only were they looking for peer review, but they were blatantly plagiarizing too. So, I said I see what you did there, without directly claiming scientific misconduct.

The real authors were probably not to blame here (except the article really is quite bad and there is simply no way in hell that they would be published in a respectable journal). Still, that is why I am excluding them from the post by saying [Author Names], [Article Title], etc.

Once I found the article, I did a WhoIS on the site and concluded that this is certainly a scam. See my next email, to my colleague. This one still goes on, for one more sentence:

On a personal note, do you like spearfishing, John? I am a huge fan, perhaps we could compare notes at some later time? Sometime before April 2012 would be perfect for me.

[Me], MSc (dist), AHEA
[My University]

I then wrote my last email to my Colleague:

From: [Me]
Sent: 27 June 2011 22:06
To: [Colleagues]
Subject: Re: Manuscript For Review [article title]

Hi [Colleague],

(I am copying others into this, as we talked about it in the morning and we couldn’t figure out what the endgame was. And now, I think I know).

Oh, this is sooo a scam. The domain sciencejournals.cc is registered in Africa. It has been registered on the 1st of April of 2011 for only a year (see http://www.whois.net/whois/sciencejournals.cc).

The site is almost empty of content (there are only a few articles scattered here and there on the site).

The article they sent for review is taken from another site: [URL to the original Article] (this domain is marginally better – it includes a real contact address in Bucharest).

John Morrison (“the Associate Editor”) does not exist on the Internet (unless he is either an Orthopedic Surgeon from Great Neck, NY or a senior lecturer at Aberdeen University whose research interests are concerned with Scottish Paintings from 17th century).

I didn’t know what exactly is their endgame – at first I assumed high school kids are looking for someone to peer review their essays to get better grades, but when it turned out that this article actually exists and that the authors are actually from two Universities in [a third world Country], that theory got tossed in a bin.

I am not holding my breath about these people contacting me again, as I not too subtly hinted that they were spearphishing and that I am onto them. Perhaps they are only looking to fill out their sucker lists. I would love to know what they hope to accomplish. It would almost be worth reviewing the article to find out, but it is such crap, that I don’t want to suffer through it and also I don’t want to do a good job, and make it publishable under somebody else’s name, but doing a bad job potentially opens me to extortion (i.e.You call yourself an academic? What will happen once the scientific community finds out how clueless you are? Now, if you transferred a measly $1000 to this bank account, we could forget about telling everyone how badly you did at this review…).

We’ll see. It is a very good premise, though, and PhD students are a perfect population to fall for this (relatively inexperienced, perhaps reviewing strokes their ego a bit…). The only thing the scammers don’t realize is, that PhD students are actually paid a little less than a person on unemployment benefits, so them trying to get money out of us tickles my funny bone.

Hmm, another endgame might be them requiring us to submit the review on their site and for that we would have to register there. They have a registration system there… This is generally perfectly reasonable. We require it for [Our Conference] site. Reviewers might also get a “free journal subscription” out of it. But, here it is – we know that a vast majority of people uses the same password for all logins, which is terribly bad practice, but they don’t want to forget it. That means that a couple of people in Nigeria now have a username and password to, for example, somebody’s eBay, PayPal, Gmail, HotMail and amazon.com account and that unlucky person suddenly finds themselves ordering 20 copies of Black Nigerian Booty Hoes DVD from Amazon and sending it to Abuja, Nigeria. He received the notification, but the mails got deleted somehow, before he saw them.

Ah, cunning. Perhaps I am giving them too much credit, but this is how I would do it, if I was them. I like this scam now. They almost fooled me.

[Me]
[My University]

So, there you go, a very interesting phishing scheme. I think the public should be aware of it, especially the academic one.

I have not received any response from the ‘editor’ in three days. I think, they have dropped me now.

I am still running an experiment about falling for scams, so if you ever responded to an illegitimate offer, or lost any kind of money, sleep, etc. to scams, please answer my questionnairehttp://survey.scamresearch.info//43356/lang-en