Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Is psychology really in crisis?

Keith Laws, Department of Psychology and Sports Sciences

Modern psychology is apparently in crisis. This claim is nothing new. From phrenology to psychoanalysis, psychology has traditionally had an uneasy scientific status. Indeed, the philosopher of science, Karl Popper, viewed Freud’s theories as a typical example of pseudoscience because no test could ever show them to be false. More recently, psychology has feasted on a banquet of extraordinary findings whose scientific credibility has also been questioned.

Some of these extraordinary findings include Daryl Bem’s experiments, published in 2011, that seem to show future events influence the past. Bem, an emeritus professor at Cornell University, revealed that people are more likely to remember a list of words if they practise them after a recall test, compared with practising them before the test. In another study, he showed that people are significantly better than chance at selecting which of two curtains hide a pornographic image.
Then there’s Yale’s John Bargh who in 1996 reported that, when unconsciously primed with an “elderly stereotype” (by unscrambling jumbled sentences containing words such as “Florida” and “bingo”), people subsequently walk more slowly. Add to this Roy Baumeister who in 1998 presented evidence suggesting we have a finite store of will-power which is sapped whenever we resist temptations such as eating chocolates. Or, in the same year, Ap Dijksterhuis and Ad Van Knippenberg showing that performance on Trivial Pursuit is better after people list typical characteristics of a professor rather than those of a football hooligan.

Does thinking about him really make you better at Trivial Pursuit? Dragon Images/Shutterstock.com

These studies are among the most controversial in psychology. Not least because other researchers have had difficulty replicating the experiments. These types of studies raise concerns about the methods psychologists use, but also more broadly about psychology itself.

Do not repeat

A survey of 1,500 scientists published in Nature last month indicated that 24% of them said they had published a successful replication and 13% published an unsuccessful replication. Contrast this with over a century of psychology publications, where just 1% of papers attempted to replicate past findings.

Editors and reviewers have been complicit in a systemic bias that has resulted in high-profile psychology journals becoming storehouses for the strange. Many psychologists are obsessed with the “impact factors” of journals (as are the journals) – and one way to increase impact is to publish curios. Certain high-impact journals have a reputation of publishing curios that never get replicated but which attract lots of attention for the author and journal. By contrast, confirming the findings of others through replication is unattractive, rare and relegated to less prestigious journals.

Despite psychology’s historical abandonment of replication, is the tide turning? This year, a crowd-sourced initiative – the OSC Reproducibility project – attempted to replicate 100 published findings in psychology. The multinational collaborators replicated just over a third (36%) of the studies. Does this mean that psychological findings are unreliable?

Replication projects are selective, targeting studies that are cheaper and less technically complicated to replicate or those that are simply unbelievable. Other projects such as “Many Labs” have reported a replication rate of 77%. All initiatives are non-random and headline replication rates reflect the studies that are sampled. Even if a random sample of studies were examined, we don’t know what would constitute an acceptable replication rate in psychology. This is not an issue specific to psychology. As John Ioannidis noted: “most published research findings are false"”. After all, scientific hypotheses are our current best guesses about phenomena, not a simple accumulation of truths.

Questionable research practices

The frustration of many psychologists is palpable because it seems so easy to publish evidence consistent with almost any hypothesis. A likely cause of both unusual findings and non-replicability is psychologists indulging in questionable research practices (QRPs).

In 2012, a survey of 2,000 American psychologists found that most indulged in QRPs. Some 67% admitted selectively reporting studies that “worked”, while 74% failed to report all measures they had used. The survey also found that 71% continued to collect data until a significant result was obtained and 54% reported unexpected findings as if they were expected. And 58% excluded data after analyses. Astonishingly, more than one-third admitted they had doubts about the integrity of their own research on at least one occasion and 1.7% admitted to having faked their data.

The problems associated with modern psychology are longstanding and cultural, with researchers, reviewers, editors, journals and news-media all prioritising and benefiting from the quest for novelty. This systemic bias, coupled with minimal agreement on fundamental principles in certain areas of psychology, means questionable research practices can flourish – consciously or unconsciously. Large-scale replication projects will not address the cultural problems and may even exacerbate them by presenting replication as something special that we use to target the unbelievable. Replication – whether judged as failed or successful – is a fundamental aspect of normal science and needs to be both more common and more valued by psychologists and psychology journals.

The Conversation
Keith Laws, Professor of Cognitive Neuropsychology, University of Hertfordshire
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Unity by design: why the EU needs a stronger visual identity

Grace Lees-Maffei, School of Creative Arts

The UK’s referendum on EU membership is upon us, and British people are weighing up a wide range of social, economic and political arguments as they go to the polls. But facts and figures wont be the only thing on voters’ minds. How voters feel – and specifically, how European they feel – will play a significant role in their decision.

One of the ways citizens understand and express their identity and sense of belonging is through design. Designed goods and spaces – from slogan t-shirts, to government buildings, to the ballot papers on which votes are cast – make statements about who we are and how we see ourselves. Because of this, design is a political tool, which can communicate a great deal about national and regional identities.

Influential scholars tell us that nations are imagined communities, formed by the invention of tradition. Both state-sponsored and everyday design have a powerful role to play in the formation of national identities.

With the possibility of a Brexit looming, it is timely to ask how effectively design has been used to promote the idea of a united Europe, and whether EU citizens are really able to express their European identities in this way.

Bland brand

The EU and its predecessors have been consciously designed. The circle of stars on the EU flag symbolises different states coming together. The European parliament in Brussels forms a familiar backdrop to countless newscasts reporting on the policies that shape our lives. And the euro is replete with symbols of European identity; from the architecture featured on banknotes, to the maps of Europe and the national symbols on coins.


Uninspiring. claireonline/Flickr, CC BY-NC

But while these designs clearly promote the ideals of European collaboration and governance, they are often criticised for being bland, and have failed to achieve anything like the popularity of the member states' unique visual identities.

With a few exceptions, Europe is largely missing a distinctive “design identity” – a coherent visual message, with which people can identify. Just as cars are branded in ways that make them attractive to consumers, so nation branding can persuade people to take pride in their national identity. Europe’s struggle for a design identity may stem from the fact that the continent is home to some of the strongest national design identities in the world.

National pride

Germany is renowned for the calibre of its engineering and its design education system, demonstrated most notably at the Bauhaus (1919-33) and at the Hochschule für Gestaltung, Ulm (1953-68). These initiatives underpin successful design education around the world.


The Bauhaus Building in Dessau, Germany. Christian Stock/Flickr, CC BY

And while Italy industrialised relatively late, it has since entered the premier league of design, attracting the most talented designers from around the world to work in its creative hothouses of fashion, industrial and automotive design, among others.

Today, the UK exists principally as a service economy. But it still enjoys a world leading industrial heritage. The strength of the UK’s design identity is demonstrated in its museums and trade fairs, in the international success of the UK’s design graduates, as well as through the Design Council, which works to persuade businesses of the value of design. The economic strength of the creative industries – which include design – is measured by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport: in 2014, they accounted for 5.2% of the UK economy.


De Stijl: Mondrian meets YSL (1966) Nationaal Archief/Wikimedia commons, CC BY-NC

Other European countries are less certain of the value of their design heritage. The Netherlands has a tradition of excellence from De Stijl to Droog (to name just two highlights). But we need more rigorous analyses of its design history. Similarly, design historians in Switzerland and Portugal are working on new national histories of design.

Design for Europe

This brief snapshot of the national design identities of some European countries highlights how little has been achieved in terms of a cohesive European identity. And although the EU has highlighted design as a critically important research topic, and is developing its own museum, these top down initiatives are no substitute for the widespread adoption by European citizens of designed goods which communicate European identity.

Clearly, national identities do not preclude European ones. Being British can be compatible with feeling European. Indeed, national design identities necessarily co-exist with local, regional and international identities in today’s globalised design industry; for instance, Disney World draws on a wide range of European stories and settings and relocates them in radically different cultures around the globe.


The Little Mermaid: from Denmark to Disney World. Brett Kiger/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

As long as citizens turn to national symbols for expressions of their sense of belonging, European identity will take second place. A stronger sense of design heritage for Europe would help to bring these different identities together, and to picture what a European design identity should look like. This would be useful for the common market, and the common good.

The Conversation
Grace Lees-Maffei, Reader in Design History, University of Hertfordshire
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The way we work is changing, but the welfare state hasn't kept pace with the times

Ursula Huws, Hertfordshire School of Business

Mechanisation. Robots. The digital economy. The gig economy. The sharing economy. The world of work is changing but our creaky welfare system is still based on a 20th-century model of work, designed when soldiers were returning from fighting World War II. Then, memories of the great depression of the 1920s were still fresh – and all political parties agreed that, after four hard years of pulling together in the national interest, a return to the Hungry Thirties wasn’t an option. Returning heroes deserved proper jobs – and proper jobs were conceived as permanent and full-time, with regular hours that paid enough to allow the worker (presumed to be a man) to support a stay-at-home wife who would look after the family.

The National Insurance system was designed to provide assistance in the case of temporary calamities – an accident, an illness, or an employer going bust. A welfare claimant was seen simply as somebody who had fallen (temporarily) on hard times – benefits were a right.

As the years have passed it has become clear that the ideal template of the proper job, worker and family that underpins this model didn’t always fit the reality. Some jobs were low-paid and casual, some women refused to stay at home or couldn’t afford to, families broke up or never formed in the first place. Economic restructuring that began in the 1970s led to the disappearance of whole industries, creating ghost towns where once there had been mines, mills or shipyards. Suddenly life on the dole looked worryingly long-term.

Fast forward 70 years and we find a labour market that would be completely unrecognisable to a time traveller from the 1940s. When and how men and women work has been transformed. Even those who still have regular 40-hours-a-week contracts may be expected to carry their work around with them, checking emails on their phone and taking calls wherever they happen to be. Others may be on zero-hours or temporary contracts, employed through agencies or online platforms, summoned unpredictably to work at a moment’s notice via an app on a smartphone, or doing interminable unpaid internships before they can hope to receive a salary.

Moving with the times

For workers hovering precariously on the edge of survival trying to patch together a livelihood from multiple jobs, never sure when the next piece of work or income will show up, a benefits system in which the only categories are “employed” or “seeking work” is of little help. At the same time, daytime television programmes such as Saints and Scroungers, Benefits Britain: Life on the Dole, and Benefits Street drive home the message that there is no middle ground: you are either a hardworking taxpayer, or a lazy scrounger. In times of austerity, when governments aim to save money wherever they can, this is a convenient message. But the reality is not so simple.

Many workers are not taxpayers – they actually receive money from the state to top up wages that are too low to live on. The proportion of spending on benefits for unemployed people is relatively tiny – for every pound paid out in Jobseekers Allowance in 2013, five were paid out in working-age tax credits to top up workers’ earnings. Tax credits are not really so much a subsidy to workers as to their stingy employers who get away with paying below-subsistence wages in the knowledge that the taxpayer will stump up the rest.

The current benefit system seems to have reinvented the 19th-century categories of “deserving” and “undeserving” poor, using the carcass of the 20th-century welfare state as an administrative framework. But neither 19th-century values nor 20th-century structures are fit for purpose in the fluid, just-in-time conditions of 21st-century labour markets and an unpredictable, digital, globalised economy.

We should go back to the drawing board and develop a system that provides basic security and dignity for all while still allowing for work to be organised flexibly. One possible solution is to give everybody a basic income – a guaranteed minimum income for everyone, available as a right. This would raise the standard of living and reduce poverty among the most vulnerable, but would also allow workers to move flexibly in and out of paid work, education and care work without being subjected to the expensive, demeaning and dysfunctional inquisitorial procedures of the current benefits system that sees only the largely exclusionary categories of “work” and “claiming benefits”.
Such a system would certainly be technically feasible as studies have suggested, and do away with much inefficient, stigmatising and expensive bureaucracy. But it is not a panacea. To be truly equitable it would require safeguards in relation to public services, minimum wages and immigrants' rights, which would not be easy.

The Conversation
Ursula Huws, Professor of Labour and Globalisation, University of Hertfordshire
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Monday, 20 June 2016

The Strategic Plan – One year on…

It is just over a year since the Vice Chancellor and I launched the University of Hertfordshire’s five year strategic plan. As Deputy Vice Chancellor, I have led the development and implementation of the strategic plan. But I feel I can honestly say that I did not write one word of it – it was written by our community. The launch in March 2015 came at the end of 18 months of development, consultation and reflection. And from the original proposed vision with two strands, we arrived at the plan as it exists now – seven strategic strands feeding into our vision to be internationally renowned as the UK’s leading business-facing university.

Strategic Plan Image
Since the launch, an operational plan has been developed for each of the strands. The operational plans for Research and Education have been approved by the Board of Governors, and they will be reviewing the other five operational plans for people, business, international, sustainability and community partners in the coming months. Each of these plans has been developed with the involvement of the key people in their areas, and their success will rely on the University community working together towards our common goals.

To oversee our progress on the strategic plan, the Board of Governors and the University leadership have agreed a number of Key Performance Indicators, setting us challenging targets for this first year, with a member of the senior team taking overall responsibility for each one. In teaching, our KPIs focus on student satisfaction and students getting involved in workplace learning. In research, our KPIs look to exploitable research outputs and international collaboration. And our other KPIs look to measure commercial income, student employability, income from overseas activities, financial sustainability and staff engagement.


In talking about the plan, its progress and the oversight measures in place, it is easy for the whole process to begin to sound very sterile, and one-step removed from the everyday work that we do. It is vitally important to the success of our university that this does not happen. Everyone who knows me, knows that it is the people at the heart of our plan, our staff and our students, that I care about. The University can only succeed with our commitment, energy and passion. I am excited to be a part of this plan for Hertfordshire, I look forward to working on it with you.

Ian Campbell
Deputy Vice-Chancellor









University of Hertfordshire staff can view the strategic plan, the key strategic objectives and the key performance indicators on Staffnet: http://staffnet.herts.ac.uk/our-university/strategic-plan-2015-2020.htm

Friday, 10 June 2016

Changing the portrayal of women in film means getting more women behind the lens

Kim Akass, University of Hertfordshire and Lyndsay Duthie, University of Hertfordshire

Is there a relationship between the number of older working women and mothers working behind the camera in the television and film industries and the way they are represented – or misrepresented – on our screens?

It’s clear that there are still issues of inequality within the workplace that directly impact on women. But the problems facing women in these post-feminist times, as expressed by Joan C Williams, distinguished professor of law at Stanford University, are “less about the obstacles faced by women than about the obstacles faced by mothers”.

Her argument is that the workplace discriminates against women who are often defined by their roles as mothers and caregivers. Miriam Peskowitz, former professor and author of the Daring Book for Girls series, endorses this view. She argued that the 21st-century workplace continues to demand that families accommodate a fairly traditional working pattern where mothers stay at home with the children while fathers provide the role of breadwinner.

Some 50 years since the Equal Pay Act was passed in the UK and women are still routinely paid up to 14% less than men for the same work, with mothers earning up to 21% less. As well as receiving unequal pay, a 2016 report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission estimated that:
Around one in nine mothers (11%) … were either dismissed, made compulsorily redundant … or treated so poorly they felt they had to leave their job [and] … as many as 54,000 new mothers may be forced out of their jobs in Britain each year.
While the situation for some women may have improved from the amount of attention that equality in the workplace has received, for mothers it has actually deteriorated over the past decade. And the film and television industries are no different.

And as a Creative Skillset report from 2010 showed, older women are under-represented in the film and television industry compared to their white male equivalents: 66% men are aged over 35 compared to 49% of women. Women cite the challenges of trying to balance domestic and family responsibilities with the hard work and often erratic hours of a career in the creative industries.


Sofia Coppola has found success as a director, but there are still too few women in senior roles in film and television. Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

So what is going on, and does this lack of representation matter? According to the Geena Davis Institute for Gender in Media, it is of the utmost importance. The more we see women doing brave things on our screens, the bigger the impact. In fact, research commissioned from the Geena Davis Institute with J Walter Thompson revealed that “the more TV a girl watches, the fewer options she thinks she has in life”. This makes for shocking reading, particularly when you consider that there are still so few role models – and the male-to-female ratio onscreen remains as it was in 1946.

We’ve spent more than a decade examining the way mothers and older women are represented on television, and are now embarking on research into the effect of women’s roles working behind the camera. What we’ve found suggests that the lack of mothers working behind the scenes may result in a motherhood penalty, shifting the balance of women in the industry, and inevitably affecting how mothers are portrayed. Until more women and mothers are able to sustain careers in both film and television – particularly in decision-making roles – this negative cycle will continue.
Recent figures from the film industry bear this out: as film data researcher Stephen Follows said earlier this month:
A male dominated industry leads to male focused films, leaving women not only under represented amongst directors but under represented in the art and stories themselves.
If the film industry would benefit hugely from hiring more women in prominent positions, the same is true of television. We need to improve the opportunities for other talented women within the industry and create role models – as characters onscreen and in real life behind the lens – to inspire the next generation. Without changing the make-up of the people creating the fiction we watch, that fiction will continue to misrepresent women and mothers well into this century, as the last.
The Conversation
Kim Akass, Senior Lecturer in Film and Television, University of Hertfordshire and Lyndsay Duthie, Programme Leader for Film & Television, University of Hertfordshire
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Food for thought - The challenges facing governance of the world’s food supply

David Barling
Jessica Duncan

Feeding 9 billion people by 2050 will require much more than just producing extra food.

Food governance needs to go beyond the debate about increasing production, and make decisions that will ensure a healthy and sustainable supply in the future. The challenges of feeding an estimated world population of more than 9 billion by 2050 have been identified by scientific and policy platforms. There are specific, key dynamics in the governance of the world’s food supply, and ways that policy formulation must evolve to address these challenges.

The term food supply covers not just policies concerning food security, but also trade and international environmental regimes governing the sustainability of the natural resource base, and ecosystems upon which that food supply depends.  

There are three primary and interconnected policy and governance features for food supply: policy-making in nation states, in international agreements and regimes, and private governance activities, including their interactions with state and international forms of governance.

The state remains the key level for decision-making in the global food supply. While governments operate within and across multiple levels of governance that constrain state autonomy (meaning that when states participate in multinational organisations they agree to a set of rules that can limit traditional state sovereignty), different states pursue particular self interests to ensure their own supply of food. As such, the governance of the food supply is a contested space.

Indeed, far from consensus, the food policies of individual states reflect differing institutional pathways and political-cultural developments. Furthermore, state-level policy-making is not a linear process as governments respond to both domestic and international lobbying and changing terms of public discourse.

We are now in a period of increasing multi-polarity in the global economy, with the rise of countries such as Brazil and India, and others from the global south, as increasingly powerful actors in international food and feed commodity trade, and in international trade diplomacy.

These countries are engaging in new activities such as South-South models of co-operation around food trade and development, as well as changing the terms of debate and influence within international regimes, such as the World Trade Organization.

International regimes addressing food and agriculture serve important functions, notably through legally binding, multilateral protocols for signature states. Less formally, they provide space for the articulation of relevant guidelines, goals and targets (e.g. Sustainable Development Goals). As such, international regimes represent spaces where actors can engage and shape the international discourse, raising grievances and coming to better understandings of others’ needs and views. The reformed Committee on World Food Security with its enhanced role for civil society representation is an example of such progress.

The governance of the world’s food supply does face important challenges. One is a lack of policy integration across international regimes for food supply, for example around climate change and food security. There are also policy sector silos (i.e., institutions and actors are working separately, are following different policy objectives or working along different time scales) within international organisations, as well as varying capacities. The capacity and reach of food-related international organisations needs to be extended and levelled out to comprehensively address the emerging challenges.

Governance of the food supply also is marked by increasing degrees of corporate concentration and their global reach, notably through corporate foreign direct investment and access to consumers in developing countries’ markets. Private governance creates new power relationships along supply chains, particularly through the ability to control prices, which impacts on the livelihoods of the producers and the labour force both in and outside these chains. However, major food manufacturers and retailers are adopting environmental and social sustainability measures and standards, in some cases in alliance with development agencies and civil society actors.

The past decade or more of sustainable consumption and production policies have sought to incorporate industry into the processes of policy change. This era of industry-mediated sustainability has promoted the rise of environmental standards-setting based on life-cycle assessment informed metrics, where the environmental impacts of a final food product are measured through its life cycle from production through to consumption, and the labelling of certified food products to inform consumer choice.

While sustainability and safety improvements are being achieved, such instruments put a lot of emphasis upon the consumer making the correct decisions. It remains a stepping stone rather than a direct transfer to a sustainable food supply. The state remains a key policymaker on food standards.

Collaborative and more inclusive modes of governance offer an alternative to the potential for inter-state conflict over the food supply in an increasingly resource constrained and multi-polar world.

The emerging models of more collaborative, inclusive and integrated global food supply governance need to be developed further and require the firm support of national governments. Policy dialogues and decisions need to integrate contextualised approaches to sustainability throughout the food supply chain.

Food governance more broadly needs to push beyond the debate about increasing production, towards decisions about how to tailor the food supply to ensure better and more appropriate distribution, access to, and consumption of healthy and sustainable food.

This is based on the article Barling, D. and Duncan, J. 2015. “The dynamics of the contemporary governance of the world’s food supply and the challenges of policy redirection.” Food Security, 7,2: 415-424. 10.1007/s12571-015-0429-x

Read the orignal article

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Britain has kept the 'Elgin Marbles' for 200 years – now it's time to pass them on

Constantine Sandis, School of Humanities

It is lunacy to believe you own the moon, and no amount of tomato juice you spill into the sea will make its water yours. Yet we ask the question “who owns antiquity?” as if it were a sane one.
There is a reason for this. It’s the reason why Dennis Hope, founder of the Lunar Embassy and self-dubbed President of the Galactic Government, is no lunatic but an entrepreneur who has sold over 600m acres of “extraterrestrial real estate” to over 6m people. It’s the reason why Nestlé has rebranded itself as a corporate water steward, while bottling ground water at the expense of local communities.

It’s also the reason why today, on the 200th anniversary of the British parliamentary vote to purchase the sculptures that Lord Elgin sawed off the Parthenon, the British Museum continues to insist that its trustees are legally entitled to the sculptures. And it’s the reason why human rights lawyers, marshalled by Amal Clooney, have once again advised a Greek government unwilling to put forward a legal claim that it should take this museum to court.

‘Stones of no value’


Lord Elgin, c. 1788. Wikimedia Commons

In 1801, Elgin was the British Ambassador to the Ottoman court from which he obtained a limited license to collect “some stones of no value” from the Acropolis, with which to adorn his estate back in Scotland. The excised sculpted blocks were shipped back to the UK and in 1811, on the verge of bankruptcy, Elgin offered to sell them to the nation. Five years later, the state bought 15 metopes, 17 pedimental sculptures, and 80 metres of frieze for £35,000 (equivalent to at least £2.4m today, placed in the trust of the British Museum.

According the Guardian correspondent Helena Smith wrote: “Activists have been counting down to what they call the ‘black anniversary’“ (June 7 2016). Nothing could be further from the truth. Most activists agree that had the parliamentary vote to purchase not been won, the sculptures may well have ended up in the illegal art market and vanished without a trace. The real controversy surrounding the debate concerned the fact that the British government was willing to spend such a huge amount at a time of national famine.

But all that was then and this is now. Among other things, Greece is no longer a subject province of the Ottoman Empire. In 2009 the country opened the New Acropolis Museum, which has been specifically designed to display all of the sculptures, and currently displays plaster casts of the London marbles next to the original Athenian ones.

A recent British Museum press statement claimed that the Parthenon sculptures are “a part of the world’s shared heritage and transcend political boundaries”. Greece’s minster of culture, Aristides Baltas, similarly said that “we do not regard the Parthenon as exclusively Greek but rather as a heritage of humanity”. Yet the British Museum also asserts that the sculptures are “a vital element in this interconnected world collection” and the usually diplomatic Baltas was also quoted as saying:
We are trying to develop alliances which we hope would eventually lead to an international body like the United Nations to come with us against the British Museum.
These curious juxtapositions all echo those of Nestlé’s chairman (and former CEO) Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, who claimed that when he said “access to water is not a public right” what he really meant was that “water is a human right” (albeit only the 1.5% of it that Nestlé is content not to buy and re-sell). The New Acropolis Museum currently charges a €5 general admission fee for the “heritage of humanity”. The entrance to the British Museum is of course, free; but it leads to suggested donation boxes, gift shops where one can purchase “Elgin Marbles” memorabilia, overpriced cafeterias, and ticketed special exhibitions.

The New Acropolis Museum. SIAATH / Shutterstock.com


Parthenon regained

The Parthenon marbles form an integral part of a larger whole, a temple dedicated to Athena whose frieze, metopes, and pediments variously depict her birth, the Panathenaic procession, the sack of Troy, and an array of mythological fights and contests.

There is no other example of a piece of art as crudely dismembered as the Parthenon, with even the heads and bodies of individual sculptures located in different countries (a few rogue pieces somehow ended up in the Louvre and other European museums which have yet to make any gestures of return). If the missing sculptures and fragments of this aesthetic travesty were to be reunited with those in the New Acropolis Museum, visitors could study them as one entire whole, with a direct view of the monument to which they belong.

The time is right for all surviving sculptures to be reunited under this single roof. They should be displayed, for free, in a joint Greek and British international museum. This bicentenary provides the perfect opportunity for the two nations to collaborate instead of bicker over ownership. The British Museum would be praised worldwide for all its actions, culminating in a collaborative partnership that genuinely benefits humanity. It is high time that ownership of the past became a thing of the past and we began to think in terms of joint custody instead.

The Conversation
Constantine Sandis, Professor of Philosophy, School of Humanities 
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Banning psychoactive substances is not enough, we need education too

Lisa Lione, School of Life and Medical Sciences

More than 40 years ago, the synthetic chemist Alexander Shulgin said that, in the future, underground researchers would synthesise novel psychoactive stimulants. Shulgin’s prophecy came true. Over the past ten years, we have witnessed the rapid emergence of novel psychoactive substances (NPSs), sold over the internet and in “head shops”. The content, interactions, side effects and abuse potential of these NPSs are often unknown, not only to users but also to doctors.

Last week, the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 came into force in the UK. The law says that if a person produces, distributes, supplies, imports or exports a substance capable of having a psychoactive effect – nicotine, alcohol, caffeine and medicinal products are excluded – they could receive a prison sentence of up to seven years. Possession is not an offence.

Worryingly, the government delayed this legislation because it had not established exactly how substances will be tested for psychoactivity. This will be difficult given the wide range of the psychoactive substances that fall under this bill. However, enforcement of this bill will be vital to eradicate the open sale of NPSs on high streets, on UK websites and in our prisons. But the fact that Ireland has struggled to enforce their NPS law – in fact, use among young people has gone up since their bill was introduced in 2010 – is cause for concern.

If the law is consistently enforced, the fear of imprisonment will no doubt deter open high street and internet sales of NPSs in the UK. But prohibition will not address supply of NPSs via the largely untraceable area of the internet, the dark web nor will it address drug demand – the basic human desire for seeking pleasure and altered states of consciousness.

Alexander Shulgin predicted the rise of novel psychoactive substances. Jon R Hanna/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Demands for well-known NPSs made illegal under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, such as mephedrone, have not significantly changed in the last three years, indicating that simply making something illegal seems to have little impact on demand. There is also an early indication that future demand is unlikely to shift. A survey of 1,000 16-24-year-olds found that nearly two thirds of respondents said that they are likely to continue to use NPSs, despite the ban.

Surely then the odds are stacked against this bill influencing NPS demand unless there is also a clear communication of the consequences of consuming NPSs. Also, we must not lose sight of the fact that far more prevalent “lawful” psychoactive substances taken in the UK, alcohol and tobacco (exempt of this ban) are more harmful than many illegal drugs.

This new bill makes no distinction between very harmful psychoactive substances, such as synthetic opiates, and relatively safe ones, such as laughing gas (nitrous oxide). Ironically, while alcohol is legal, “alcosynth”, being developed as a safer alternative to alcohol, is now banned.

Surely the message the government needs to convey, alongside any drugs prohibition bill, is that all substances (legal or illegal), including foods, drinks and medical products are harmful if consumed in the wrong amounts. Even water. There have been a number of cases where people have died as result of drinking too much water (hyponaetremia) while on ecstasy.

Drug education is the key to prevention

The misleading term, “legal highs”, has not helped the perception that there has been some process of assessment deeming them safe for human consumption. Alongside the bill, education is needed to emphasise that “if something is legal it does not mean it is safe”. Anything you consume is potentially unsafe, it is simply a matter of how much of it you consume.

Public opinion in Europe ranks information and prevention campaigns as the second most important way for the policymakers to tackle society’s drug problems. Second, that is, to punishing the drug dealers and traffickers, which this new bill will do.

The UK government has pledged to work with experts to develop a new drugs strategy but, as yet, there is no commitment to fund their information services (such as Talk to Frank and Alcohol and Drug Education and Prevention Information Service) or drugs education programmes at schools and universities.

Fortunately, this new bill will not criminalise people for possession of psychoactive substances (unless they’re already locked up). But surely educating people (particularly those in the most vulnerable, risk-taking 16-24 age group) about the various risks of psychoactive substances is key to preventing harm.

Prohibition coupled with easier global sales channels has fuelled the recent demand for legal alternatives. Surely further prohibition will only help reduce demand and, ultimately, harm if everyone is aware of the risks of using psychoactive substances. Only then can we make informed and educated choices about whether or not to use these substances, legal or not.

The Conversation
Lisa Lione, Senior lecturer in Neuropharmacology, University of Hertfordshire
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Prison is a stressful place for pregnant women, but with help the service can improve

Laura Abbott, School of Health and Social Work
Imagine anticipating the birth of your child. You have two weeks until the due date, yet the excitement you should feel is overshadowed by anxiety and stress. You are in prison, coping with a restricted diet, limited information and the knowledge that your baby may be taken away from you immediately after birth. This is the reality for some women who find themselves pregnant and in prison, caught in a system that struggles to meet their basic needs.

It’s a situation that the charity Birth Companions, which has supported pregnant women and new mothers in prison for 20 years, aims to address with the launch of its Birth Charter. A comprehensive set of research-based recommendations, it would improve the lot of mothers and babies in prison in England and Wales if it is taken seriously by the Ministry of Justice.

There are around 4,000 women in English prisons, of which between 6–7% are pregnant at any one time. Between 100 to 150 babies are born each year to incarcerated women. However, there are currently only six mother and baby units offering a total of 64 spaces, which means half these mothers will be separated from their child soon after birth because they haven’t applied for, or haven’t qualified for a place.

Childbirth in prison

Around half of women in prison have been victims of some form of domestic abuse, and around a third have been sexually abused as children. Around 80% of women in prison suffer from mental health problems, and the drug or alcohol addictions that can be the cause of their prison sentences are often a consequence of traumatic life experiences. Together these factors represent a significant risk to their children through the increased possibility that they develop social, physical and mental health issues later in life. Research from NSPCC and Barnardo’s has shown that the children of prisoners are three times more likely to develop antisocial behaviour than their peers.

Women giving birth in a prison setting have described problems that range from a lack of basic information to hunger, safety and the humiliation of visits to hospital in handcuffs. For example, Joelle said:
When I was eight months pregnant and had to go for a late scan, I was handcuffed on my way to the appointment. It was so degrading, people looking at you and judging. It was the worst feeling in the world.
Perhaps the most stressful issue for women is whether they will be able to keep their baby with them while they serve their sentence. Malia found her wait hard to endure:
The not knowing was making me ill, was making me anxious, and just making me so frustrated … I came to prison in May and I was told it’s a two to three month process.

Some women are lucky enough to keep their babies with them. Rousseau/PA

In my current research, I’ve found stress and anxiety to be a recurrent theme among pregnant mothers in prison. Stress is known to increase levels of the hormone cortisol in the mother’s body which crosses the placenta and can affect the baby’s health, brain development, and emotional attachment. Separating mothers from very young babies can have critical effects on the chance for both to form loving and close relationships, and this is well documented.

But for some women, especially those who have led chaotic lives, a spell in prison can be a place of safety – and with the right support, they are able to transform their lives on becoming mothers and then exiting prison. But the NHS has no statutory requirement to offer prisoners antenatal classes and access to healthcare and emotional support for women varies widely from prison to prison. This is a missed opportunity: research shows that women prisoners are receptive to health messages during pregnancy that could help them make positive choices.

The Birth Charter

All these problems are exacerbated by the lack of any specific regulations and guidance for how prisons should deal with pregnant women. However, a window of opportunity opened when in February 2016 the prime minister, David Cameron, spoke on prison reform, urging a re-think of how pregnant women and babies in the prison system were treated.

It’s hoped that the Birth Charter, based on Birth Companion’s expertise through its work with women in prison, and produced with support from the Royal College of Midwives and UNICEF UK’s Baby Friendly Initiative, will form the basis of new legislation that can help the prison service provide humane care for women and babies.

The charter sets out practical recommendations for every stage of pregnancy and birth. For example, prisons housing pregnant women should provide antenatal groups to provide information and emotional support about what to expect in labour and guidance on breastfeeding, with antenatal clinics run by specialist midwives. Pregnant women should be told whether they have a place on a mother and baby unit as soon as possible after arriving in prison, and should be able to choose a supporter of their choice for the birth.

New mothers who keep their babies should have the equivalent of maternity leave from prison duties to allow them to bond with and breastfeed their baby. Women who are separated from their babies should have access to counselling.

The prime minister’s speech seemed to indicate a radical re-think of whether women near to giving or having recently given birth should be in prison at all. But providing the right support for pregnant women and new mums is difficult anyway, and especially so within a secure prison environment. By drawing attention to this issue, the charter will hopefully make it easier for the prison service to do more for these vulnerable inmates – and help reduce the ill-health and social problems passed on to the next generation.

The Conversation
Laura Abbott, Senior Lecturer in Midwifery, University of Hertfordshire
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.