Rape in Asia

IRIN describes a UN report today with the results of a survey in Asia on rape and GBV.* The study was also published in The Lancet. The survey interviewed 10,168 men in 6 countries from Jan. 2011-Dec. 2012: Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Papua New Guinea. The study found the country with the highest prevalence of men who have raped women was Papua New Guinea:

“with 62 percent of the men interviewed there indicating they had raped a woman.” (IRIN)

The study probably found higher rates of rape than previous surveys in part because it never used the word “rape” in the questionnaire, asking instead (about non-partner rape) about having “forced a woman who was not your wife or girlfriend at the time to have sex” or having “had sex with a woman who was too drunk or drugged to indicate whether she wanted it”. Novel concept, that (that rapists might not think of the rapes they committed as rapes or that they’d show social desirability bias if the word “rape” were used).

It also found that:

“The most common motivation perpetrators gave for rape was a sense of sexual entitlement – the belief that men have a right to sex with women regardless of consent (73 percent of respondents). More than half said it was for entertainment (53 percent), while alcohol, often assumed to be a common trigger for violence, was the least common response.” (IRIN)

It’s interesting, though not surprising, that entitlement is the top motivation. Entitlement and entertainment. I just watched the first half of “Half the Sky” today and the focus seemed more on shaming rape victims and extending that shame to family members, who then turn on the victim. It’s just depressing how far there is to go, how difficult it is, and how easy it is to regress in encouraging cultural change that empowers women and teaches men to treat women as equals and not as objects they are entitled to use for their sexual gratification.

I wonder what the reasons could be for alcohol being the least common response. Would that be evidence in favor of or against the oft-cited adage that “alcohol doesn’t make you do anything you wouldn’t want to do when you were sober–it just gives you the ‘courage’ to actually do it (i.e. it disinhibits you)”? While I was in India this summer, I got into a bit of an argument with some friends about the statewide ban on alcohol instituted under Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi. They seemed convinced that such a policy had all-but-eliminated domestic violence in the state. Needless to say, I am not convinced. I’m not even convinced that, individual liberties aside, the policy is actually a net benefit for the people of Gujarat. Alcohol deserves its bad reputation as possibly the first or second most harmful drug on earth, but I wonder if anti-alcohol-abuse campaigns that focus on DV aren’t obstacles to DV prevention in the long term.

*The IRIN site crashed and was giving 503 errors at the time of writing this article. The website for Partners For Prevention (who conducted the study) was down, too, according to NPR. Paranoid me wonders if it wasn’t sexist hackers angry about the study. Let’s hope I’m wrong.

Cochrane Collaboration joins AllTrials

That’s right, earlier today, the Cochrane Collaboration announced that it has “formalized its commitment to the AllTrials: All Trials Registered | All Results Reported initiative.”

This is great news, but I’m honestly a bit surprised that it took them so long. The Cochrane Collaboration is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary as a leader in the movement for evidence-based medicine. It was started as an answer to Archie Cochrane’s (a British epidemiologist) calls to maintain up-to-date, systematic reviews of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of medical interventions. Cochrane Reviews, as they are called, are the gold standard in systematic reviews in the medical literature. This is because they use rigorous, standardized methods, published in the Cochrane Handbook, to ensure that the reviews are consistent, transparent, comprehensive, and as objective as possible. They are also accessible for free in over 100 low and middle-income countries (LMICs) (too bad they’re not open access).

When I first heard of Cochrane a few years ago, I couldn’t believe that something like them wasn’t already standard practice across the board. Come to think of it, I felt the same way when I first heard of “evidence-based medicine” for the first time. Wait, you mean huge portions of medical practice (even if you don’t count so-called “alternative” “medical” woo like homeopathy) are not based on evidence? Yes, it’s unfortunately true, or at least it was true before evidence-based medicine began to gather steam in the last two decades. Take, for example, the Cochrane logo:

cclogo300x350

The logo is what is called a forest plot[1] and this one is a tragic reminder of the danger of not using systematic reviews. Each horizontal line shows the results of one study. The vertical line is the point where the treatment does not help people, but it doesn’t hurt them either. The left side of the vertical line means that the treatment is good and the right side means that it’s bad. The length of the line shows how precise the results are (the shorter the line, the more precise it is). If a line touches the vertical line, that means the treatment didn’t make a clear difference. The diamond at the bottom is what you get when you combine all the studies. In this case, it’s for giving hormones called corticosteroids to pregnant women who are going to give birth too early in order to prevent their babies from dying. The study at the top was done in 1972.[2] Ten years later, it should have been clear that the corticosteroids worked (we now know they reduce the odds of babies dying by 30% to 50%). But, a systematic review was not published until 1989, so many doctors did not know how good corticosteroids were. Because of that, tens of thousands of babies probably died.

 It’s not an exact science, and it takes a lot of hard work to develop systematic reviews, but they really do save lives and prevent needless suffering. However, even though Cochrane has the world’s largest database of clinical trials, it is still vulnerable to the effects of not reporting the results of trials, or of not even registering them in the first place. I’m glad to see them join the campaign to get all trials registered and all results reported.

1. Though the plots themselves were being used by at least the 1970s, the term “forest plot” itself was not used in print until 1996 in Pittsburgh in a poster presented at a meeting of the Society for Clinical Trials in May 1996.

2. The 1972 study looks like it should have been clear that corticosteroids are awesome after just one study, but it’s risky to trust just one study. Science works because we’re always testing each other’s theories and questioning our results. If no one else can get the same results, then we throw them out and try something else.

Take that, Sebelius!

A judge ruled today that Plan B can once again be purchased OTC for women of all ages (well, in 30 days it will be)! For now, they’re still behind the counter and only women 17 and over can buy them without a prescription.

My new favorite judge, U.S. District Judge Edward Korman, had a great quote in his ruling:

The invocation of the adverse effect of Plan B on 11- year-olds is an excuse to deprive the overwhelming majority of women of their right to obtain contraceptives without unjustified and burdensome restrictions.

And to think, Judge Korman was appointed by Reagan!

In response to the ruling, Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said,

“Today science has finally prevailed over politics.”

Planned Parenthood said the ruling was,

“good policy, good science and good sense”

It warms my heart to see social justice advocates invoke science in their victory speeches.

It was only a little over a year ago, Dec. 2011, that Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health & Human Services, made the unprecedented decision to nix the strong FDA recommendation to make Plan B available to all, because of “cognitive and behavioral” differences in girls of the youngest reproductive age.

The case: Tummino v. von Eschenbach, 05-cv-366, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn)

AllTrials Update

Since I first posted about the AllTrials campaign to have All Trials Registered and All Results Reported, it has gathered considerable support. More than 40,000 people have signed it and hundreds of organizations have joined as well, including GSK (one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world), AMSA (American Medical Student Association), the British Medical Association, many disease-specific research and advocacy organizations.

Their new goals are:

  • One million signatures on the petition
    • Every 10,000 new signatures, they’ll send the petition to health ministers in every country and to regulators.
    • Share this link to spread the word.
  • More international organisations signed up. (unfortunately very few U.S.-based orgs)
  • £40,000 so they can keep going. Donate here.

Here’s a video (~90 min) of Ben Goldacre, one of the leaders behind AllTrials, explaining the problems with clinical trial reporting that make AllTrials is necessary. He was promoting his new book, Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients, but it’s still a good talk. The book’s been sitting on my bedside stand for 2 months now. Hopefully I’ll get around to reading it soon.

Petri dish art

Zachary Copfer has started a Kickstarter campaign to fund his bacteriography, a fusion of microbiology and art. I’m not quite sure of his technique but I’m guessing he rasterizes black-and-white photographs and then uses a special printer to lay down bacteria for the shadows and antibiotics for the lights. I wonder, though, about the medium and diffusion rates, which could require extra adjustment of the image sent to the printer. He’s even used GFP E. coli for glow-in-the-dark images of things like the Milky Way and a “velocirabbit,” a velociraptor-rabbit hybrid, but I’ve gotta say, the Charles Darwin image is my favorite.

Bacteriograph of Charles Darwin.

Trans teacher in UK kills herself after being attacked in the press

A trans teacher killed herself this week after being bullied by a major paper, as reported by Zinnia Jones at FreethoughtBlogs.

The run-down:
Late last year, a UK primary school teacher, Lucy Meadows, decided to begin presenting herself as a woman for the spring term. She had the support of the school, which sent a letter to parents in December. It read simply,

“Mr Upton has made a significant change in his life and will be transitioning to live as a woman after the Christmas  break. She will return to work as Miss Meadows.”

St. Mary Magdalen’s Church of England Primary School’s Letter to Parents

The Daily Mail (think of it as a cross between HuffPost and the National Enquirer, but for the UK) ran an article by Richard Littlejohn that attacked Miss Meadows (note: original article removed, see below), referring to her as “he” or “he/she” and using her former name. The alleged problem, of course, is that we need to “protect” children:

“But has anyone stopped for a moment to think of the devastating effect all this is having on those who really matter? Children as young as seven aren’t equipped to compute this kind of information.”

It’s condescending to assert that children are too stupid to ‘make sense of’ a transgender person. I’m sick of people projecting their own ignorance, insecurities, and intolerance onto the minds of children, who are probably much better equipped to understand these things than their parents whose views on gender and sexuality were formed in a different era. Why do we tolerate arguments like this, which boil down to “X is bad, because children”? Why do we tolerate their use to silence debate and oppose progress? The ignorance behind their intolerance is exemplified by another quote from the article, this time from a parent with a child in Miss Meadows’ class:

“My middle boy thinks that he might wake up with a girl’s brain because he was told that Mr Upton, as he got older, got a girl’s brains.”

The article treats this as though it’s a legitimate reason to keep her out of the classroom, to take away the career she no doubt worked hard to build.

Littlejohn concludes by calling Miss Meadows “selfish” and suggests that the best solution would have been to “disappear” Miss Meadows by sending her to a different school where the students would be none the wiser (kind of reminds you of the strategy-of-choice of another organization that promotes intolerance of people like Miss Meadows, for dealing with its employees who actually are a danger to children, doesn’t it?). The coup de grâce of Littlejohn’s character assassination is his assertion that

“if he [sic] cares so little for the sensibilities of the children he [sic] is paid to teach, he’s [sic] not only trapped in the wrong body, he’s [sic] in the wrong job.”

This week, Miss Meadows committed suicide. In response, The Daily Mail has removed the hatchet job about Miss Meadows without declaring the change. Fortunately, I found a site with Littlejohn’s original article. If this weren’t a CYA move and the Daily Mail’s editors were actually sorry, wouldn’t they have said so?

I wonder if the UK’s notorious libel laws are loose enough to charge Mr. Littlejohn for his role in this tragedy. It might be the best way to discourage Mr. Littlejohn and others like him from bullying LGBTQ people in the papers.

United States Sentencing Commission’s website, USSC.gov hacked

Anonymous has apparently taken over ussc.gov

They’ve got a 9 min video explaining their actions as part of Operation Last Resort. A couple of lines in the video make the skeptic in me think that it’s a (really, really well done) DOJ hoax meant to portray Anonymous in a negative light, but in the end I’m guessing it is legit. They claim that the judicial system and many other systems in the US have become fundamentally unjust, serving the needs of the powerful. The disproportionate sentencing they mentioned seems to be why this site was targeted first. This places citizens, like Aaron Swartz, in a game where, quoting the ’80s film War Games, “the only winning move is not to play.”

See the text of their message below.

Citizens of the world,

Anonymous has observed for some time now the trajectory of justice in the United States with growing concern. We have marked the departure of this system from the noble ideals in which it was born and enshrined. We have seen the erosion of due process, the dilution of constitutional rights, the usurpation of the rightful authority of courts by the “discretion” of prosecutors. We have seen how the law is wielded less and less to uphold justice, and more and more to exercise control, authority and power in the interests of oppression or personal gain.

We have been watching, and waiting.

Two weeks ago today, a line was crossed. Two weeks ago today, Aaron Swartz was killed. Killed because he faced an impossible choice. Killed because he was forced into playing a game he could not win — a twisted and distorted perversion of justice — a game where the only winning move was not to play.

Anonymous immediately convened an emergency council to discuss our response to this tragedy. After much heavy-hearted discussion, the decision was upheld to engage the United States Department of Justice and its associated executive branches in a game of a similar nature, a game in which the only winning move is not to play.

Last year the Federal Bureau of Investigation revelled in porcine glee at its successful infiltration of certain elements of Anonymous. This infiltration was achieved through the use of the *same tactics which lead to Aaron Swartz’ death. It would not have been possible were it not for the power of federal prosecutors to thoroughly destroy the lives of any hacktivists they apprehend through the very real threat of highly disproportionate sentencing.

As a result of the FBI’s infiltration and entrapment tactics, several more of our brethren now face similar disproportionate persecution, the balance of their lives hanging on the severely skewed scales of a broken justice system.

We have felt within our hearts a burning rage in reaction to these events, but we have not allowed ourselves to be drawn into a foolish and premature response. We have bidden our time, operating in the shadows, adapting our tactics and honing our abilities. We have allowed the FBI and its masters in government — both the puppet and the shadow government that controls it — to believe they had struck a crippling blow to our infrastructure, that they had demoralized us, paralyzed us with paranoia and fear. We have held our tongue and waited.

With Aaron’s death we can wait no longer. The time has come to show the United States Department of Justice and its affiliates the true meaning of infiltration. The time has come to give this system a taste of its own medicine. The time has come for them to feel the helplessness and fear that comes with being forced into a game where the odds are stacked against them.

This website was chosen due to the symbolic nature of its purpose — the federal sentencing guidelines which enable prosecutors to cheat citizens of their constitutionally-guaranteed right to a fair trial, by a jury of their peers — the federal sentencing guidelines which are in clear violation of the 8th amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishments. This website was also chosen due to the nature of its visitors. It is far from the only government asset we control, and we have exercised such control for quite some time…

There has been a lot of fuss recently in the technological media regarding such operations as Red October, the widespread use of vulnerable browsers and the availability of zero-day exploits for these browsers and their plugins. None of this comes of course as any surprise to us, but it is perhaps good that those within the information security industry are making the extent of these threats more widely understood.

Still there is nothing quite as educational as a well-conducted demonstration…

Through this websites and various others that will remain unnamed, we have been conducting our own infiltration. We did not restrict ourselves like the FBI to one high-profile compromise. We are far more ambitious, and far more capable. Over the last two weeks we have wound down this operation, removed all traces of leakware from the compromised systems, and taken down the injection apparatus used to detect and exploit vulnerable machines.

We have enough fissile material for multiple warheads. Today we are launching the first of these. Operation Last Resort has begun…

Warhead – U S – D O J – L E A – 2013 . A E E 256 is primed and armed. It has been quietly distributed to numerous mirrors over the last few days and is available for download from this website now. We encourage all Anonymous to syndicate this file as widely as possible.

The contents are various and we won’t ruin the speculation by revealing them. Suffice it to say, everyone has secrets, and some things are not meant to be public. At a regular interval commencing today, we will choose one media outlet and supply them with heavily redacted partial contents of the file. Any media outlets wishing to be eligible for this program must include within their reporting a means of secure communications.

We have not taken this action lightly, nor without consideration of the possible consequences. Should we be forced to reveal the trigger-key to this warhead, we understand that there will be collateral damage. We appreciate that many who work within the justice system believe in those principles that it has lost, corrupted, or abandoned, that they do not bear the full responsibility for the damages caused by their occupation.

It is our hope that this warhead need never be detonated.

However, in order for there to be a peaceful resolution to this crisis, certain things need to happen. There must be reform of outdated and poorly-envisioned legislation, written to be so broadly applied as to make a felony crime out of violation of terms of service, creating in effect vast swathes of crimes, and allowing for selective punishment. There must be reform of mandatory minimum sentencing. There must be a return to proportionality of punishment with respect to actual harm caused, and consideration of motive and mens rea. The inalienable right to a presumption of innocence and the recourse to trial and possibility of exoneration must be returned to its sacred status, and not gambled away by pre-trial bargaining in the face of overwhelming sentences, unaffordable justice and disfavourable odds. Laws must be upheld unselectively, and not used as a weapon of government to make examples of those it deems threatening to its power.

For good reason the statue of lady justice is blindfolded. No more should her innocence be besmirked, her scales tipped, nor her swordhand guided. Furthermore there must be a solemn commitment to freedom of the internet, this last great common space of humanity, and to the common ownership of information to further the common good.

We make this statement do not expect to be negotiated with; we do not desire to be negotiated with. We understand that due to the actions we take we exclude ourselves from the system within which solutions are found. There are others who serve that purpose, people far more respectable than us, people whose voices emerge from the light, and not the shadows. These voices are already making clear the reforms that have been necessary for some time, and are outright required now.

It is these people that the justice system, the government, and law enforcement must engage with. Their voices are already ringing strong with a chorus of determined resolution. We demand only that this chorus is not ignored. We demand the government does not make the mistake of hoping that time will dampen its ringing, that they can ride out this wave of determination, that business as usual can continue after a sufficient period of lip-service and back-patting.

Not this time. This time there will be change, or there will be chaos…

-Anonymous