Category Archives: Best Practice

451? Its library ethics!

I was invited to join in this movement by Sarah Houghton this week. 451 has a US focus, but librarians of all types in Australia can engage in 451 activities on January 20th 2017 in their own way – be it individually, as a group or as an organisation. These activities are:

  1. libraries should co-operate with people working to resist restriction of freedom of expression and access to ideas
  2. a person’s right to use a library should not be denied due to cultural heritage, views or age
  3. no one should interfere with a persons right to free speech, freedom of assembly or association

There is a worrying trend of ultra-conservatism mixed with the rise of fake news and racism and it is easy to feel disheartened. However, there are positive steps being taken.  IFLA recently announced the creation of a new network for librarians interested in Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression (FAIFE). Article 19 in the Universal Bill of Human Rights is Intellectual Freedom, which all information industry workers should and must work for. In early 2015, ALIA introduced FAIR – Freedom of Access to Information and Resources, but its main focus is on access and not expression or privacy.

Contrary to popular belief, Australia does not have a freedom of speech clause in the Australian Constitution, freedom of political communication is implied only. However, the Constitution does ensure the right of Australians to a trial by jury in criminal cases. This (these?) seems to be the only human rights enshrined by the Constitution. Australia is signatory to International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which gives people the right to assembly and association, but these can be restricted under certain conditions. In some cases, these conditions are being circumvented.

What can you do? There are a number of things I can think of:

  1. Help people to distinguish fake news from fact
  2. Assist people in how to protect themselves online – not only from scammers but also from organisations harvesting their details and from intrusive spying
  3. Have an inclusive public library collection
  4. Make library spaces safe neutral zones
  5. Protest against government mass metadata collection and broadening of spy agencies powers
  6. Support individuals in their Freedom of Information requests
  7. Condemn censorship

Let’s make Jan 20 2017 a day to celebrate and support intellectual freedom. Let’s make this day an everyday.



Occult Medicine

There is occult medicine amongst us. I’m not talking about witchdoctors, faith healers, crystals or miracle cures. I’m talking about Big Pharma.

The definition of occult from the OED is occultare ‘secrete’, frequentative of occulere ‘conceal’, based on celare ‘to hide’; the adjective and noun from occult- ‘covered over’, from the verb occulere. Occult is also used in medicine to describe conditions not readily diagnosed by manifest symptoms meaning that other options will have to be used e.g. blood tests.

Big Pharma regularly occults data, refusing to let the biomedical community access its full store of information. Select information is released, mostly putting AllTrials – What does all trials registered and reported mean? 2015-02-23 17-19-57positive spins on trials. Negative results are occulted. It is hard to determine how much information revealed to Big Pharma is occult. Is it a bigger percentage than the percentage Big Pharma have published? Who can say. What is known though that governments down to individuals have practiced unknown or secret medicine.

The AllTrials campaign is trying to turn the situation around by forcing Big Pharma to register and report the results of all trials, past, present and future. The Declaration of Helsinki recognised the ethical importance of releasing all clinical trial data but Big Pharma (and other research groups) still resist or ignore it. Efforts such as that of Peter Doshi and Tom Jefferson in wresting information about Tamiflu demonstrate the extent to which Big Pharma resist releasing information.

All results from any sort of clinical trial must be released, be it negative, indifferent or positive. Otherwise, clinicians practice occult medicine and lose the scientific and moral upper-hand when it comes to fighting quack medicine.

Evidence Live 2013

Evidence Live  is on again from March 25th to the 26th 2013 @ The University of Oxford in the UK. If you can’t make the conference, there are some great web video talks that you can listen to for free.

If you create a free account for yourself, you can access a whole range of quality talks.