Categories
Voices of our Nation

Critics of Peer Review Ask How ‘Race Science’ Still Manages to Slip Through

Two scientific papers in South Africa have raised questions among critics about the quality — and potential biases — of international peer review.

July 22, 2019 by Sarah Wild

As soon as Barbara Boswell began reading the journal article, the associate professor of English at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in South Africa says she was surprised about the language it used. Even the title and the abstract set alarm bells ringing, she recalled. “As I read further, I saw more problems.”

The controversial paper, “Age- and education-related effects on cognitive functioning in Colored South African women,” was published in March in the journal Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition following peer review. The authors, from South Africa’s Stellenbosch University, claimed to show “low cognitive functioning” in this group, which they attributed to low education levels and risky lifestyles. (In South Africa, “colored” is one of the four officially recognized racial categories — a relic of the apartheid system — along with white, Indian/Asian, and black African.)

In April, Boswell spearheaded a petition for the journal to issue a retraction. “The article is published as scientific research but draws on colonial stereotypes of African women, and ‘colored’ South African women specifically, as intellectually deficient,” Boswell and her co-authors wrote. “The article relies on flawed methodology and science, perpetuating harmful, racist stereotypes.”

More than 10,000 people, including scholars and ordinary citizens, signed the petition, which was ultimately successful: The journal retracted the paper on May 2. But this wasn’t the only recent scientific article in South Africa to face fierce criticism on its methodology and treatment of race. A second paper, also published in March in the Journal of Interdisciplinary Economics, claimed to show that inhabitants of countries with lower IQs were more likely to be sold as slaves between the 15th and 20th centuries. Following an outcry, the co-author resigned from his position as an adjunct professor at the UCT.



Together, the papers raise questions regarding how such research made it through peer review, a process in which academics validate studies prior to publication. Peer review is considered by many researchers and academics to be the best quality-check for scholarship, but others point out that it can be flawed, opaque, and susceptible to bias.

Both papers were subjected to reviewers in internationally-published journals despite appearing to dabble in race science, which regards race not as cultural construct, but as a biological variable that can be used to make allegedly scientific conclusions about groups of people. Many experts consider biological notions of race to be largely debunked, making the appearance of such research in the global literature, where it can then be used to undermine the rights and dignity of entire communities, particularly problematic. “Scientific racism was used to justify racist policies like apartheid,” says Boswell. “It was used to make an argument about the inferiority of black people, indigenous people, and why they needed stewardship because they were not fully capable of looking after themselves and the land.”

The two papers show “how shoddy peer review can be at times,” says Agustín Fuentes, an anthropologist at the University of Notre Dame. “The ideal is good — great, in fact — but it does not always work out. I think that there are also a lot of biases about race and gender in the academy in general. And in too many cases those biases go unchallenged and result in things like these getting in to print.”


It has been 25 years since the end of South Africa’s apartheid government, which separated people based on race and often relied on flawed race science as justification, and the country still struggles with racial tension and systemic divisions that drive inequality. The academic system reflects these realties: White researchers still occupy half of all university posts despite accounting for just 8 percent of the population, and they publish about two-thirds of academic research.

Stellenbosch University, for instance, was mainly reserved for white students and staff under the Afrikaans-speaking apartheid government. The school has been attempting to address its racist past and transform its university body by increasing scholarships to previously disadvantaged racial groups, hiring more diverse staff, and switching from Afrikaans to English as the main medium of instruction. Eugene Cloete, the vice-rector for research, innovation, and postgraduate studies at Stellenbosch, says that the paper on colored women has set the university “back years.”

Cloete suspects there might be other published articles from the university with racist assumptions, and he is personally reviewing thousands of ongoing projects for racial insensitivity. Still, he says, some blame should lie with the journals. The paper “was published in an international, peer-reviewed journal,” he says. “We publish 1,800 papers a year here through thousands of different journals. We have to rely on peer review.”

Cloete and Boswell, along with other researchers, argue that peer review should have caught what they say is flawed research in the Stellenbosch study. The study’s authors, a team of sports scientists, assessed self-identified colored women from a township in the Western Cape. The sample size was limited, with just 60 women, but they extrapolated the results to apply to millions of people. The researchers also made assumptions about the group, identifying it as racially homogenous when it was actually diverse. And, based on a measure of cognitive ability that has been shown to be inapplicable to South African populations, the researchers made sweeping claims about the poor cognitive abilities of colored women in general.

“The study is based on ideological assumptions that are deeply rooted in a racialized and racist history,” says Garth Stevens, president-elect of the Psychological Society of South Africa. “Those assumptions are overlaid with a set of scientific methods that are themselves fatally flawed.” As a result, the generalizations about a particular population group “become spurious and a real indicator of poor science.”

Corresponding author on the paper, sports scientist Elmarie Terblanche, said she was not allowed to comment as the matter was under investigation.

The academic publisher, Taylor & Francis Group, confirmed that the article was peer-reviewed, but that editors retracted it after Boswell’s petition took off. When Undark asked the organization for comment, press coordinator Saskia Kovandzich said “I’m afraid that nobody is available to discuss this issue with you.”


While the Stellenbosch article was retracted, the one on slavery and IQ was not. That article, “Intelligence and Slave Exports from Africa,” was published by a team of economists in the Journal of Interdisciplinary Economics by Sage Publishing on March 28. The team claims to show that African countries where people have higher IQs experienced lower levels of slave exports than countries which had lower “cognitive ability.”

The lead author, economist Simplice Asongu, listed UCT as his institution on the paper, but he was an adjunct professor rather than a full staff member, says Elijah Moholola, a university spokesperson. And the university doesn’t stand behind the findings, Moholola adds: “UCT rejects the assumptions of the paper and this line of research as bad science.” Asongu has since resigned.

Sage did not respond to an interview request.

Like the Stellenbosch study, the methodology of the UCT paper came under scientific scrutiny. The paper claims to prove that countries with higher average IQs saw fewer inhabitants sold into slavery because they were smarter and thus better able to escape, confront enslavers, and organize resistance.

Asongu and his co-author, Oasis Kodila-Tedika, an economist at the University of Kinshasa, show this through linking, among other variables, countries’ IQ; their capacity for technology adaptation, inferred from previous research; the landscape’s ruggedness; and historical population density.

The authors assume most types of intelligence can be captured through IQ tests. But the idea that it is possible to determine the cognitive ability of entire countries is problematic, says Adam Haupt, a professor in media studies, who specializes in race discourse. He points out that there is plenty of research showing IQ tests can be inaccurate and unfair. “There’s a cultural and ideological bias embedded in those tests,” Haupt says. “Science is seen as non-ideological, but we know that’s not true.”

When Undark contacted Asongu for comment, he said he wouldn’t discuss the matter through non-scientific media, adding: “Anybody questioning the robustness of the findings should have his or her comments peer-reviewed and published in a scientific medium, then I will also respond through the same scientific medium or other scientific media.”

But peer review is part of the problem. “If it was a predatory journal” — a journal which charges researchers to publish, but doesn’t offer rigorous services such as peer review — “then you’d understand it,” says Haupt. But “Sage is a reputable publisher. It has you asking questions about their peer review process. All of the supposed safeguards fell flat. Why did editors not ask how sound was this methodological approach? How much do we know about IQ?”


It remains unclear why, exactly, the papers from Stellenbosch and UCT made it through peer review. “A charitable interpretation would be laziness and genuine oversight on the part of the reviewers,” says Angela Saini, a science journalist and author of “Superior: The Return of Race Science,” a new book on the resurgence of race science since it fell out of favor following World War II.

“A less charitable one is that they let this through because they share with the authors some commitment to the idea of biological race — an idea long ago discredited by mainstream scientists,” she adds. “Either way, the system must be flawed in some way or this wouldn’t have happened.”

Regardless of the reason why, it’s common for faulty papers to slip through peer review, says Ivan Oransky, co-founder of Retraction Watch, a watchdog publication for scientific publishing. “There are 1,400 retractions per year, and there are others that should be retracted but aren’t,” he says. “Peer review is a porous system.”

Recent reports reveal that system is under pressure. A 2016 study in PlosOne, looking at biomedical research, found that the responsibility for peer review is concentrated in the hands of a few reviewers. At the same time, the volume of scholarship requiring peer review continues to increase at about 3 to 3.5 percent each year. And there is also bias when it comes to who gets to be a peer reviewer. In its Global State of Peer Review 2018 report, for instance, the peer-review tracking website Publons found that established regions review more than emerging regions; in fact, there was not an African country in the top 20 nations that supplied reviews. And an investigation into gender and international diversity at the biosciences journal eLife found that an all-male review team was more likely to accept papers with male authors, and gatekeepers were also more likely to accept papers whose authors were from the same country as them.

“Humans are fallible and peer review has subjective aspects to it,” explains Cassidy Sugimoto, a professor of informatics at Indiana University, Bloomington and a co-author on the paper.

Part of that subjectivity comes from personal worldviews, but it also encompasses the scholarship reviewers and researchers are exposed to. Editors tend to choose reviewers who have read the same body of literature, Sugimoto adds, and may be oblivious to valid work disproving their viewpoint. In the case of race, there is plenty of well-established scholarship, she says, but mostly in fields that are unfamiliar to researchers and reviewers.

“A number of disciplines outside of the humanities need to engage across those boundaries to think critically about what they do as researchers,” says Haupt. “What does it mean to be a scientist in a world that is trying to undo colonialism, systemic racism, sexism? How do you undo the systemic racism, sexism?”

“You need to interrogate your position and the history of your scholarship,” he adds.

Still, there are moves to change the system. One way is to have a more diverse pool of reviewers, Sugimoto says. Another is to have partially open peer review, where reviewers and authors know one another’s identity and their comments are public.

“If peer review is the mechanism to determine validity of work, open peer review would be accountability and transparency,” Sugimoto says, although she adds that this could spark other problems, such as junior reviewers damaging their careers by openly challenging a senior academic. One way to avoid this would be to make only the reviews, rather than the reviewers’ identities, public.

These fixes, perhaps, could have halted the publication of the papers about colored women or countries that experienced slavery. “I’m sure there are lots of pieces of research like this,” says Boswell.

Such work “doesn’t come out of nowhere,” she adds. “This comes out of a context.”


Sarah Wild is a freelance science journalist based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

This article was originally published on Undark. Read the original article.


This article is under Undark’s copyright and does not qualify for the Creative Commons license J2DW normally uses.

Categories
Letters

Letter to the President & CEO of Walmart Canada

12 June 2019

Lee Tappenden, President & CEO

Wal-Mart Canada Corp.

1940 Argentia Road

Mississauga, ON L5N 1P9

Dear Mr. Tappenden,

Recently, it came to our attention Walmart Canada made policy changes greatly affecting your employees, disabled customers, and First Nations customers.

I was visiting your South Barrie store the other day when I discovered it no longer had express checkouts. Instead, I had the option to use the job-stealing self-checkouts or wait in line at one of the beer-toting checkouts. Either had me behind other customers with carts full of stuff vs my three items I was purchasing.

The problem, Mr. Tappenden, is that I have a hidden disability. Waiting in line can actually be unsafe for me, especially as of late due to tiring quickly, there is no where I can wait while the three to ten people in front of me take more than ten minutes each to pay for their purchases.

I further worry for your First Nations and People of Colour customers who may not feel safe in your stores. Who may only come in for two or three things and then quickly leave, now, your new policy forces them to stay longer with no visible security present. Your staff is inadequately trained for this. A First Nations youth shoved into the shelf of an over-crowded aisle might be seen as an “accident” instead of the assault that was intended by the perpetrator.

Your South Barrie store was difficult to navigate as your normally wide primary aisles were crowded in the middle with stock or other items making it difficult to get around.

As a result of this situation, we would like:

  1. The restoration of (at a minimum 3) express checkouts at all Walmart stores in Canada.
  2. Your aisles clear so as to minimize safety issues for your customers.
  3. All staff trained in First Aid, CPR, and AED.
  4. All Walmart stores in Canada equipped with an AED.
    1. All staff informed of its location.
  5. Assistance for customers with disabilities, visible or hidden.

Regards,

 

Peter V. Tretter

President & CEO

Journey to Diversity Workplaces

Categories
Letters

Letter to the Mayor of the City of Barrie

Backgrounder information

Councillors vote to reprimand Keenan Aylwin, following Integrity Commissioner report
Aylwin faces reprimand for breaching Barrie council’s code of conduct

Letter to the Mayor of the City of Barrie

1 June 2019

Jeff Lehman, Mayor
City of Barrie
70 Collier St. P.O. Box 400
Barrie, ON L4M 4T5

Your Worship,

We are writing to you today concerning Suzanne Craig, the City of Barrie’s “Integrity Commissioner” and her report to City Council regarding Councillor Keenan Aylwin.

We are greatly concerned that the report could potentially be influenced by her own biases and this could potentially be in violation of the Ontario Human Rights Act.

We come to this conclusion as she seems to ignore the fact that the complainant is an elected Member of Parliament for the Conservative Party of Canada. A party that has publicly supported positions in violation of the Ontario Human Rights Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms of which the City of Barrie and its elected Council are required by law to uphold. This is a biased individual whom should be treated with “kid gloves” and any complaint treated as suspect. Mr. Brassard is taking the most extreme and unreasonable interpretation of Mr. Aylwin’s post.

As a result we request that Ms. Craig be placed on unpaid administrative leave while her intentions and biases are investigated by her immediate superior.

Sincerely yours,

Peter V. Tretter
President & CEO
Journey to Diversity Workplaces

Categories
Voices of our Nation

Is addressing Addiction in the Workplace Worthless?

An addiction is a condition where a person engages in the use of a substance or indulges in a type of repeated behaviour. An addiction’s rewarding effects provides an incentive to continuously repeat the behaviour despite serious consequences. Addictions do not only include what people consume, such as drugs or alcohol. Addictions come in many different forms from gambling to seemingly harmless products, such as chocolate. Addictions can include virtually anything. When a person is addicted to something they can become dependent on the addiction to cope with their life.

Workplace morale consists of the emotions, attitudes, satisfaction, and overall outlook of employees during their time in a workplace environment. A portion of effective workplace productivity is thought to be directly related to the morale of the employees. Employees that are happy and positive at work are said to have positive or high employee morale. When someone is consuming drugs or alcohol, it can dramatically change a person’s behaviour, and these negative changes in personality will lower the workplace morale. Workplaces that maintain employees who are negative about their work environment usually have low employee morale.

The effects of workplace addictions can be frustrating, upsetting, and devastating. Substance abusers are more likely to cause injuries, accidents, and even fatalities in the workplace. Health and safety regulations are expected in any workplace and the risks posed by addiction simply cannot be allowed. When employees do not feel safe in their workplace the morale will decrease. Addictions can increase the likelihood of harassment, bullying and other unprofessional behaviours. These inappropriate behaviours will likely cause other employees to feel unsafe in their workplace environment. A drug-free workplace is more likely to be successful at maintaining an accident-free environment and prosper.

Addictions are costly for workplaces and individuals when addictions are left unaddressed. Supporting an employee who is struggling with an addiction can be a huge challenge for many employers. Addictions can make employees less productive. Absenteeism is one of the significant killers of corporate profitability. Many addicted employees lose their jobs and remain unemployed as a result of their addiction. Other employees may end up in jails, prisons, or long-term rehabilitation facilities, which can result in years of lost productivity. Employees find it to be difficult to get themselves back into the workplace after years of unemployment due to substance abuse or various other addictions. Absenteeism costs Canadian workplaces over $16 billion per year. In Canada, drug use and drug abuse is a problem that not only ruins the lives of the users and their families, but also costs workplaces a total of $23 billion dollars or $1,100 per person.

Policies should be developed to address any workplace issues that are associated with addictions. Workplace policies should be clearly defined. Employers must make reasonable accommodation efforts for employees who seek help with addiction, allowing time off for detox or counselling. This approach is recommended for encouraging workplaces to invest in their employees and reduce the total long-term costs related to substance abuse. Voluntary disclosure allows for treatment without risk of being fired and eases the stigma related to addiction. Workplace culture and employee commitment to recovery are critical to reducing substance use affecting the workplace. Policies will be most effective in an environment that discourages substance use but also discourages discrimination, stigma and potential prejudices. When addiction issues are effectively addressed, workplaces will have a better opportunity to be successful.

Sources:
Addiction: A Workplace Depressant?
Canada Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction
Psychology Today

This article was written by volunteer blogger Shan Simpson and edited by volunteer editor Erin Murphy.

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Sponsored articles

Lack of Diversity in the Workplace Can Cause Stress Among Employees

This is a sponsored article.

The success of an organization in today’s competitive world depends upon how well it embraces the challenges of diversity and realizes its benefits. Employees from different backgrounds, ages and ethnicities bring their own set of experiences and world views, and are better able to provide a wider range of solutions to developing problems. Most of all, a lack of diversity has been linked to increased discrimination which in turn leads to elevated stress levels among employees. The National Center for Biotechnology Information note that discrimination due to immigrant status, legal status, skin tone or language can contribute to increased stress in individuals.

So how do companies deal with the diversity in the workplace? U.S. companies spend millions of dollars every year on diversity programs and policies, ranging from equal employment opportunity compliance to cultural sensitivity training programs. This leads most people to assume that it makes companies fairer to both women and minorities; the reality is much different, however. Implementing diversity program has little actual positive effect and may even decrease representation according to the Harvard Business Review. Even when there is clear evidence of discrimination, the mere presence of a diversity policy automatically leads people to discount any claims of wrongdoing.

This leads to increased stress levels and with long-term discrimination can lead to acute and chronic stress. The body enters a defensive posture which closes our ability to learn and impairs judgement. Statistics Canada states that over one in four workers report being highly stressed and over 62% of workers reported that work is the main source of stress in their lives.
Lottoland describes this kind of stress as ‘distress’, which could be permanent, prevents the body from coping, is demotivating and decreases productivity. As opposed to ‘eustress’ which is a euphoric stress that can actually motivate, increase productivity and make us feel excited. Strong leaders create a stress-free environment where people do not need to get into that kind of defensive posture.

Diversity should be a critical component of the innovation that leaders strive to achieve in their organization, and research shows that diverse groups outperform homogenous ones. Research conducted by Credit Suisse focusing on 2,400 companies, found that organizations with at least one female board member yielded higher returns on equity and net income growth than those who did not employ women on their board. Working with people from different backgrounds than you will challenge your brain to think more diversely and expand your horizons. The effect of this relationship is that the brain is happier which in turn lowers stress levels and makes a person generally happier as well.

Workplace diversity can, however, have some unwanted effects which leaders must manage effectively by promoting diversity of thought and innovation. Here at Journey to Diversity Workplaces we say that diversity brings about a variety of ethical issues like sexual harassment due to sexual orientation, racism and gender bias. These are critical situations that interfere with work, personal lives and cause high levels of stress both in the workplace and at home. Particularly in a company that is lacking gender and racial diversity these unwanted effects can be more pronounced. A good leader, therefore, must be fair to manage diversity effectively and when employees enter that stressful phase, the leader must be able to pull them out if it. When people experience fair treatment and a positive and genuine diversity, it will in turn reduce their stress levels and improve their health.

This sponsored article was edited by volunteer editor Erin Murphy.

Categories
Library

Workplace Discrimination

In an ideal world, people would be equal in rights, opportunities, and responsibilities, despite their race or gender. In the world we live in, however, we constantly face all kinds of neglect based on different attributes. All over the world, certain people treat others with prejudice because of particular features they possess. Unfortunately, this happens even in places which, by definition, should be free of all personal prejudices – specifically, in offices and other business surroundings. This phenomenon is called workplace discrimination; not every unfair behavior at work, however, can be assessed as discrimination. Workplace Discrimination

What exactly is workplace discrimination? It can be defined as a less favorable treatment towards an individual or a group of individuals at work, usually based on their nationality, skin color, sex, marital status, age, trade union activity, or other defining attributes (Australian Human Rights Commission). It can appear as a denial of certain rights, negligent treatment, intentional underestimating of a worker’s personality or work results and achievements, and so on. A person can be discriminated by their employers, or by their coworkers as well. Discrimination can result into severe psychological consequences for the victim, such as emotional stress and anxiety. Discrimination often causes an employee to leave the workplace, resign from a position, or in severe cases, to commit suicide or act violently against the discriminators.

Workplace discrimination can take more open and threatening forms, which are known as workplace harassment. It occurs when an employee is made to feel intimidated, insulted or humiliated, based on such features as race, ethnic origin, gender, physical or mental disability, or on any other characteristic specified under legislation (AHRC). The two most radical forms of workplace harassment are the application of physical violence, or sexual harassment; women are especially exposed to this kind of discrimination. Workplace violence can take several forms: the direct exercise of physical force against a worker which causes or could cause injuries to the worker; an attempt to exercise such physical force; or a statement or behavior which a worker can reasonably interpret as a threat to exercise physical force (Ontario Ministry of Labor). Sexual harassment can take the form of obscene jokes and allusions; intrusive body contacts; inappropriate gestures, or even direct actions aimed at sexual contact.

There are several ways to deal with workplace discrimination; such measures can be held both on the individual and on the collective level. Individuals who have experienced discrimination or harassment at work, are recommended to stand firm under verbal attacks, remain confident about their own abilities and judgments, and try not to stay alone with the abusive person (UnionSafe). At the same time, collective measures can be taken as well. They usually include calling for a meeting in a quiet confidential place in order to admit and discuss the problem; complaining to competent authorities; developing respective policies together with sanctions applied in case there is an infringement enacted by workers.

Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world, and not all people can enjoy equal opportunities and rights. This refers not only to our personal lives, but to our working environment as well; employees can be discriminated and abused because of certain features they possess, such as the color of skin, their ethnicity or gender, age, marital status, disabilities, and so on. To eliminate workplace discrimination, both individual and collective preventive measures should be made.

References

What Is Workplace Discrimination and Harassment? (2013) Australian Human Rights Commission. Retrieved from http://www.humanrights.gov.au/what-workplace-discrimination-and-harassment

Preventing Workplace Violence And Workplace Harassment. (2011) Ontario Ministry of Labor.(sic) Retrieved from http://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/hs/sawo/pubs/fs_workplaceviolence.php

Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace. (2013) UnionSafe. Retrieved from http://unionsafe.labor.net.au/hazards/10717236108849.html

We got this essay from:

Workplace Discrimination (2013) Academic Help Retrieved from https://academichelp.net/samples/academics/essays/definition/workplace-discrimination.html#sthash.byNueAtv.dpuf

Categories
Founder's Blog

The role of the healthcare provider.

We often hear about the role employers, schools and teachers, landlord’s, and so forth have in ensuring that a disabled patient can get their treatment. Things such as time off work/school, and accessible apartment, and so forth.

Which is fine, but what if your healthcare provider is exploiting that?

From the Ontario Human Rights Commission:

Ontario’s Human Rights Code, the first in Canada, was enacted in 1962. 

The Code prohibits actions that discriminate against people based on a protected ground  in a protected social area.

Protected grounds are:

  • Age
  • Ancestry, colour, race
  • Citizenship
  • Ethnic origin
  • Place of origin
  • Creed
  • Disability
  • Family status
  • Marital status (including single status)
  • Gender identity, gender expression
  • Receipt of public assistance (in housing only)
  • Record of offences (in employment only)
  • Sex (including pregnancy and breastfeeding)
  • Sexual orientation.

Protected social areas are:

  • Accommodation (housing)
  • Contracts
  • Employment
  • Services
  • Vocational associations (unions).

So the code says that someone with a disability, for example, can’t have their rights infringed. But it DOES NOT SAY that only employers, for example, infringe.

What if it is your healthcare provider infringing?

I don’t think doctors, nurses, managers, and administrators think of it as infringing on your rights. They book your appointment for 3 pm Thursday, but I might only be part time, that might be my only work shift that week. What about MY RIGHT to earn an income?

Now I’ll freely admit that most health providers can easily re-schedule most tests and procedures. But what if they insist, and you have to fill out one of those against medical advice forms to do so? In my view, that’s infringing on my rights as a disabled person.

I think we need to have a conversation on how our healthcare providers work with our professors/school, employers, landlords, etc. Everyone probably tells you that “your health comes first.” That’s total BS. Without money to pay the rent, and purchase groceries, the treatment means nothing.

It’s time to reconsider our priorities.