Junk citations

Good or junk citationsCitation counts are a quick, if simplistic, indicator of academic impact.

But how many citations are good quality, and how many are low quality, or ‘junk’ citations? I decided to find out.

Using Google Scholar, I reviewed the citations for two of my academic peer-reviewed journal articles. The articles had a combined count of 110 citations. Continue reading

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Clarifying human capital

Robot human and dogThe popular use of the term ‘human capital’ is too narrow and will soon become redundant. It needs an overhaul. Here’s how to fix it.

If you’ve ever heard an economist talking about ‘human capital’, it’s more than likely they defined the term as the ‘skills and knowledge’ embodied in people, the result of ‘education and training.’

Continue reading

The merciless rise of cruelty in Australian research

The number of animals killed or physically ‘challenged’ in Australian research has continued its merciless rise.

Animal use in research and teaching, Australia, 2005 to 2009

Click to view data

In 2009, 1.46 million animals were subjected to either death or physical challenge through research procedures in Australia – this equates to nearly a third of all animals used in Australian research.

When 2009 figures are compared to 2005, the number of animals made ‘unconscious without recovery’ has doubled; the number experiencing ‘major physiological challenge’ has more than quadrupled.

Australian research seems to be on an unrelenting, merciless march toward greater animal cruelty.

The table below shows the number of animals used in Australian research and teaching by severity of procedure, and the percent increase from 2005.

The data come from Humane Research Australia (HRA), gathered from a variety of sources. HRA points out that there are serious gaps in the data, not least because data are not available for Queensland, Western Australia or the Northern Territory, and data from the ACT do not provide a breakdown by type of procedure.

Another interesting trend is a rise in the production of genetically modified animals. From 2005 to 2007, the number of genetically modified animals produced under Australian research ranged between 4 and 5 thousand animals. In 2008 this number rose dramatically to over 40,000 animals. And in 2009 it rose even more dramatically – more than doubling to over 100,000 animals. It is difficult to determine the level degree of cruelty or suffering experienced by these animals, but the sharp rise will add to the fears for those concerned for the welfare of animals.

View the full data here>

Animal use in research and teaching, Australia, 2009
Severity of procedure Number Percent change from 2005
Observational studies involving minor interference 2,047,891 -5
Minor conscious intervention 1,303,266 9
Minor operative procedures with recovery 214,964 -18
Surgery with recovery 46,644 -3
Minor physiological challenge * 254,361 55
Major physiological challenge * 590,533 389
Animal unconscious without recovery * 583,253 108
Death as an end point * 31,789 -17
Production of genetically modified animals 104,339 1,957
Unspecified 134,281 -78
TOTAL 5,311,321 9
* Combined:Killed or physically ‘challenged’ 1,459,936 142

Data source: Humane Research Australia, humaneresearch.org.au/statistics/

Peter Singer on animal ethics, cannibalism and other tasty morsels

There is a great interview on YouTube in which Richard Dawkins interviews Peter Singer on the ethics of how humans perceive and act toward other species.

An excellent way to spend 45 minutes if you have time, the interview is part of a Channel 4 (UK) TV program The Genius of Darwin, which won Best Documentary Series in the 2008 British Broadcasting Awards.

Many of the issues discussed will be familiar to anyone who has read Singer. But it’s always good to hear him talk, as he has a talent for explaining highly abstract ideas in clear and simple language.

The interview covers a lot of ground and requires the brain to do a bit of exercise. But it’s worth it. A brief description of the things they talk about is below.

Dawkins and Singer start out discussing Darwin’s revolutionary view that human beings are animals and not as ‘special’ as pre-Darwinian thinking held. Interestingly, as Dawkins explains, Darwin consciously tried to break the received idea that humans are special, arguing that animals displayed emotions and even spirituality.

The two go on to range across all sorts of issues. They have an interesting discussion about animals suffering for human benefit – where should we draw the line and how should we decide when animal suffering is justifiable? Singer wheels out some frightening statistics: in the USA alone, over 10 billion animals are raised and killed for food each year, while 40 million animals are used for research.

The discussion dwells for a time on Dawkins’ carnivorism, and his self-confessed lack of awareness about the treatment of the animals he eats. Singer argues that meat eaters have a responsibility to know about how animals are reared and slaughtered, because their consumption is likely to be supporting a system that causes pain and suffering. He draws a parallel between meat eaters who turn a blind eye to the suffering of the animals they eat and those who turn a blind eye to human suffering.

Singer’s case is built on two main pillars. First, that animals feel pain. Second, that we should care for others, what he calls his ‘golden rule’ of moral and ethical action: put yourself in the position of others and consider what it is like for them. To not care about how others feel, he says, is ‘cutting yourself off from a part of reality’.

Dawkins considers his continued meat eating to be the result of conformity and lack of social stigma. He draws interesting parallels between animal welfare and slavery.

Singer expresses optimism that the animal movement is making a difference. He suggests we are moving toward a ‘tipping point’ that will see the pressure to eat meat diminish and meat alternatives become more socially acceptable.

They have some pretty way-out discussions about cannibalism, and about whether or not they would eat steak grown in a laboratory. This moral dilemma may be closer than many think, with reports that scientists are trying to develop edible laboratory-grown tissue (see some news items on this rather bizarre development).

Singer and Dawkins also toss around an interesting hypothetical about creating an animal that is a hybrid of human and other species – an animal that would make people think about where and how they draw the line between humans and other animals. It’s good to see these two great minds playing, and even struggling, with the implications of such a concept, rather than going over familiar ground.

Animal Rights Hub Australasia, 12 December 2009