Nowadays, Mary Shelley would be happy and terrified at the same time. Happy about how up to date her novel still is, terrified about how little we have learned from it. On the contrary: experiments similar to that of Frankenstein are numerous, and their results are sometimes bitter-sweet. Like in the case of the toddlers‘ Lulu and Nana, subject to genetic manipulations of the Chinese scientist He Jiankui. We have already reported on this topic (for further, see the blog post Gattaca in China: The Birth of the first genetically engineered Humans). Even though the genetic manipulation was probably not successful in this particular case, the children are now in our world, and one day they may change the gene pool of humanity. How should we deal with matters like these? Should and can we protect the gene pool of humankind? What if Nana and Lulu give birth to children one day? These are just some troublesome issues that arise in this new human genetic era of genetic engineering. Although Nana and Lulu are just the tips of the iceberg, behind this one case appears to be a rapidly growing gene modification system, as reported by numerous scandals in recent years.
A lot is uncertain in Corona times. Many of us hope nolens volens that new medicines and vaccines will be developed. Thus, the door is wide open for speculation, charlatanism, influence peddling and big money. Reason for that is that the search for new active ingredients doesn’t always rely on scientific independence and the scientific integrity of decision-makers, researchers, and authors. Rather, it also hides manifested economic interests of the pharmaceutical industry and a covert “ghostly” system of influencing scientific research results and their dissemination. For example, Mucchielli recently tried to show that in the two most important bodies that decide on medication and clinical test procedures for Covid19 in France (the ‚Scientific Council‘ (CS-COVID) and the ‚Committee for Analysis, Research and Expertise ‚(CARE)) there are a number of experts who have had close relationships with the pharmaceutical company Gilead in the past. The American pharmaceutical company has developed a license for Remdesivir, an antiviral drug used against Ebola (nonetheless never approved) that was promoted by these experts despite initially controversial and poor scientific results. Just recently a new study showed that it can significantly shorten the clinical treatment time by four days in more severe cases, but without influencing the mortality. The EU Commission then approved Remdesivir at the beginning of July 2020 as a medication for the pulmonary disease Covid-19.
External crises, such as the Corona crisis, are often an opportunity in politics for political actors to reshuffle the cards. While in Germany this goes hand in hand with harmless profiling attempts, in Brazil the political intrigue is in full swing. The popular health minister, Luis Henrique Mandetta, has been dismissed and his successor has also promptly resigned. Even the notorious Minister of Justice, Sergio Moro, has jumped ship, although for other reasons. He left behind a dossier as well as a court statement on the conduct of Jair Bolsonaro, perhaps in order to prepare the impeachment proceedings against another incumbent president in Brazil. Meanwhile, the president himself is surfing on the waves of public agitation in the media, and the governors and courts are doing their utmost to minimize the consequences of the president’s media somersaults. In the background, the generals now seem to be turning impatient again. Politics gone wild in Brazil.
It currently has us all firmly in its grip, the „severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2” (SARS-CoV2). Serious infection control measures are being taken almost everywhere in the world. On 16.4.2020, 2.076.015 cases of infection were confirmed worldwide, 138.008 deaths and 522.881 considered to be recovered. But this is only the beginning. The peak of the pandemic is far from being reached. We are all waiting for the restrictions on physical proximity between people that have been put in place in many countries to take effect, together with other infection control measures, and for a drug and vaccine to be developed as soon as possible.
43 students disappeared without trace in Mexico in 2014. The case made headlines internationally and nationally. The students had demonstrated against the discriminatory hiring practices of the government and administration, and in the process hijacked buses, all unarmed. The police opened fire and six students were shot, 25 of them seriously injured. One student is still in a coma today. After this incident, students, among them Jorge Antonio Legideño, were arrested, 43 disappeared without a trace. What happened is still unknown today. The official version: 43 of the arrested students were handed over by the police to the criminal drug syndicate „Guerreros Unidos“ and murdered by their hitman, their bodies burned and disposed of at a garbage dump. The newspaper Milenio reported on 24 January 2015, citing interrogation transcripts, that the contract killer known as „El Cepillo“ from the criminal cartel „Guerreros Unidos“ had confessed to the murder of at least 15 students. Whether this is true or not, the 43 who have disappeared have become a symbol for about 40,000 missing people in the Mexican drug war, whose fate remains unknown to this day.
Whether chocolate, candy or drinks and sweeteners – products with Stevia are part of our everyday life. Coca-Cola Life and Lipton Ice Tea Green also use molecularly replicated stevia additives. The Belgian chocolate manufacturer Cavalier and the Swiss candy manufacturer Ricola have also launched products sweetened with Stevia. Sugar-free or calorie-free are the additives on the labels, which many of us are fascinated by. It is the promise of a brave new world – eating sweet food without calories, without getting dental caries or having a heart attack. Scientific progress and the big agribusiness and food companies make it possible. The medical studies are almost all positive: the plant-based stevia prevents diabetes and can be taken by diabetic patients. It’s also good in cases of tooth decay or cardiovascular disease. And the list of positive effects is much longer. So is it possible to snack without a bad conscience?
Scientists might know it from their everyday lives: The number of e-mails in which they are invited to submit an article to journals, to act as an editor or to give a keynote in Barbados has increased significantly. Most of them come from predatory publishers, journals and conferences that have systematically infiltrated the field of science in recent years. Those who fall for it can lose of a lot of money with dubious benefits. It’s a kind of con game targeting scientists. Now, the first court rulings are available: In 2019, a court in the US state of Nevada sentenced one of the industry giants, the Indian OMICS group, to a fine of a good 50 million US dollars and largely prohibited it from operating in the USA. The number of „scientific“ predatory journals has risen sharply in recent years, a parasitic side effect of Open Access Publishing. According to research by an investigative network of German and European Media, more than 5,000 German scientists have published in such pseudo-scientific predatory journals in recent years. In addition, in the USA, Eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Africa constantly rising publication numbers in predatory journals are proven. In Brazil, Perlin et al. (2018) viewed over 2 million publications by experienced authors (more than 5 publications), with the result that the number of articles in pseudoscientific journals tripled between 2010 and 2015. The penetration rate in this large Brazilian publication market is still low at two to three percent, but authors are registering exponential growth.
Cliché or system? Whoever wants to do business in the Russian Federation has to expect to be asked eventually to provide irregular payments. Corruption remains endemic in Russia and large parts of the post-Soviet region. For decades, Transparency International has shown Russia in deep red in the lowest quarter of the world ranking of the Corruption Perception Index, currently ranked 138th out of 180. Despite extensive anti-corruption efforts, there is no improvement in sight. And yet: foreign corporations are not afraid to further do business in the Russian market.
Learning from socialism means learning to win. Learning Xi Jingping means winning as well. That is why many people in China now have to serve hours of detention. At first only the party members, the civil servants and the press. However, in the near future this will probably affect almost everyone. They do not have to go to school or to party offices to do this, but, as long as they are connected to the internet, anywhere and anytime. Those who regard the smartphone as both a blessing and a curse because they simply cannot put it down, now have a legitimate ground: they are no longer allowed by the state to keep their hands off it. At least not for a long time. Chinese socialism in particular does not leave its citizens alone. Ongoing re-education and total social control of the citizens also characterize other socialist dictatorships, but Chinese socialism takes it to the extreme. The „playful“ app is indeed a modern form of putting someone to “The Question”, a means of everyday torture.
Only recently, the German party AfD has been asked to pay a fine totaling 402,900 euros for accepting illegal party donations, which is three times the amount inadmissibly received. This was decided by the Bundestag administration, as announced in April 2019. The party announced that it would bring an action before the Administrative Court against the decisions but had already decided to save one million euros for imminent fines. Nicolas Sarkozy is also likely to have to go to court for illegal election campaign donations in 2012. It is about 20 million euros more than the upper limit allowed, disguised with the help of a communications agency. The French Constitutional Council decided in May 2019 that the trial against the 64-year-old is justified because he may have violated the integrity expected of a candidate or an elected official. However, the sums in many European countries are peanuts measured by the dimensions of illegal campaign funding in various non-European states.