Judge: US can’t deny passport over refusing to pick gender
By KATHLEEN FOODY
Thursday, September 20
DENVER (AP) — U.S. officials cannot deny a passport application from an intersex Colorado resident based solely on a refusal to select male or female for gender, a federal judge said Wednesday.
The U.S. State Department’s varied explanations for rejecting the application weren’t reasonable, U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson said in his ruling, forcing him to set aside the decision as “arbitrary and capricious.”
The ruling is limited, but advocates said they hope it leads to expanded gender choices on federal identification.
Dana Zzyym, who was born with ambiguous physical sexual characteristics and identifies as nonbinary in gender, not as male or female, sued in 2015. Zzyym had requested “X” as a gender marker on a passport application, and it was denied.
The judge in 2016 ordered the State Department to reconsider. Zzyym applied again and refused to select either option provided on the passport application, feeling that it would be untruthful.
The department again denied the application in 2017.
Jackson dismissed the department’s explanations for rejecting the passport, including concerns that it would complicate the process of verifying an applicant’s identity and determining eligibility based on federal, state and local databases.
The agency can legally reject passport applications for a good reason, but “adherence to a series of internal policies that do not contemplate the existence of intersex people is not good reason,” the judge wrote.
The State Department said in a written statement that it was reviewing the decision and coordinating with the Department of Justice on next steps.
The ruling only applies to Zzyym, but Lambda Legal senior attorney Paul Castillo called it a “groundbreaking, first-of-its-kind” challenge to limited gender options on federal identification.
Castillo said advocates hope it will prompt the State Department to edit the passport application and allow people to choose a gender marker other than male or female.
“I’m not going to lie on my passport application, I shouldn’t have to, and the judge here, twice, has agreed with me,” Zzyym said in a statement released by the LGBT civil rights organization.
Jackson did not specifically order the department to issue a passport to Zzyym in his ruling. But the State Department’s attorneys provided no reason for the past denials except Zzyym’s refusal to select a gender marker.
Castillo said Zzyym’s attorneys “call on the department to promptly issue a passport.”
“Dana has been waiting since 2014 to be able to have the ability to travel but wasn’t willing to risk lying about who they are in order to secure a passport,” he said.
The International Civil Aviation organization, the U.N. agency that sets standards for international travel documents, says gender should be marked on passports as male, female or “X for unspecified.” Several countries issue passports with gender designations other than female or male, including “X” or “O.”
A number of U.S. states similarly issue driver’s licenses or ID cards with “X” as a choice for gender markers, including California, Oregon and Washington.
TESTING ON ANIMALS — POINT-COUNTERPOINT
Point: Experiments on Animals Waste Lives, Time and Money
By Emily R. Trunnell
Headlines about research findings imply that cures for many of our most deadly diseases are near at hand. But don’t drink the Kool-Aid. It is seldom reported that these so-called “breakthroughs” are limited to animals used in experimental settings — and will fail to translate to humans 95 percent of the time.
Using animals to attempt to understand human disease has long been the dominant practice. But experiments on animals won’t save desperately ill children or adults, and there is overwhelming evidence that they actually hinder scientific progress and put patients at risk. An immediate paradigm shift is needed.
Systematic reviews in multiple areas, including neurodegenerative disease, neuropsychiatric disorders, cardiovascular disease and stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity, inflammation and immune responses, HIV/AIDS, addiction, trauma, and medical training, have documented the failure of animal experiments to lead to meaningful results for patients. The United States wastes almost half its research funding on archaic animal experiments. Meanwhile, more than 90 percent of highly promising basic science discoveries don’t lead to treatments for humans, and up to 89 percent of research is irreproducible — a fundamental step in science — wasting $28 billion every year.
Many animal experiments aren’t about medical breakthroughs at all. In experiments conducted at Duke University, monkeys were caged alone and kept thirsty in order to coerce them into cooperating in experiments in which they used computer touchscreens to select logos of popular commercial brands, like Pizza Hut and Nike, which had been associated with pictures of other monkeys. The reason? To attempt to show that the animals would develop a preference for brands associated with sex or social status. Taxpayers footed the bill for this nonsense.
Some experiments are so sick that they should never have been conducted at all. Eric Nestler and his team measured the time that it took for rats to have sex, cut into the males’ brains, pumped in a chemical to block their ability to process sexual pleasure and then observed whether sexual experience influenced their desire for amphetamines. He also induces depression in young mice by pitting them against aggressive older mice and watching as the young ones are physically attacked. And he torments mice for days by repeatedly shocking their feet, hanging them by their tails, and squeezing them into small tubes. Nestler has received $130 million in federal funding for these and other experiments.
Mice and rats make up 95 percent of the hundreds of millions of animals used in experimentation annually but are excluded from the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and denied the most basic protections. They are confined, genetically altered and housed in stressful isolation, and they may be burned, cut open, shocked, poisoned, starved, dehydrated, forcibly restrained, addicted to drugs, and given brain damage. But like other mammals, rats and mice experience feelings of pleasure, fear, pain and suffering.
Even for animals who are covered by the AWA, no experiment is illegal, and there is no limit to what can be done to them, no matter how painful or senseless. Institutional rubber-stamp committees approve heinous experiments based on the flimsiest justifications and often fail to enforce minimum standards.
Often, animal experimenters’ own work demonstrates that animals experience a wide range of emotions, as we do, but they fail to act ethically in the face of this information. There are significant challenges to accepting the notion of animal sentience within the scientific community. Young experimenters are indoctrinated into a professional culture that suffocates empathy and ignores animal suffering — to the detriment of both animals and humans.
A 2018 Pew Research poll found that a majority of Americans oppose the use of animals in experimentation. Those who do support it believe that the harm experienced by animals is outweighed by the benefits to humans. But the facts don’t support this belief. Analyses of experiments on animals revealed that 93 percent of the studies examined should never have been approved, because of the high levels of harm to the animals and outcomes that generated little to no benefit to humans.
Advances in human-relevant research technology hold tremendous promise for revolutionizing biomedical discovery and ushering in an age of personalized medicine. Funding agencies must redirect public funds to relevant research that has real potential to help humans. An economy of human-relevant research methods has developed, and it is rapidly outperforming animal experiments. With greater investment in exciting and innovative non-animal methods and bold policy initiatives, far more promising cures and treatments for humans can be developed. This will also alleviate the unimaginable suffering of millions of animals.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Emily R. Trunnell is a neuroscientist and research associate for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Counterpoint: Animal Studies are Both Necessary and Humane
By Cindy Buckmaster
Americans love animals.
Approximately 68 percent of us have pets and we collectively spend about $70 billion on them annually.
Know what else Americans love? Science.
Polling from the advocacy group Research America shows that 81 percent of the public says it’s important for our leaders to make science — along with technology and engineering — a priority.
Our passions for science and animals demonstrate that we are a caring and thoughtful nation. They also highlight why many of us are conflicted when these two issues intersect. I’m referring to health research involving animals. Animal studies explain how our bodies work. They help us identify disease origins and they provide clues to help us combat sickness.
Thanks to animals, we can bridge the gap from cell-level discoveries to treatments offered in clinics and hospitals worldwide. Animal studies are also required by law. They ensure that new medications are as safe as possible before we give them to our children, parents and loved ones. They are a key part of the health research continuum that also includes cell, genetic and tissue studies; computer models, organs on a chip and of course, human volunteers. ALL of these techniques are important and NONE are no longer necessary.
So what has this scientific process delivered so far?
Recently, University of Cambridge scientists studied mice to develop a tiny electronic device that can be implanted in the brain to detect impending epileptic seizures and then deliver drugs to stop them. University of Pennsylvania researchers worked with dogs to create a promising form of gene therapy to halt a blinding disease called retinitis pigmentosa, affecting humans and canines alike. Monkeys at the University of Wisconsin pointed us to brain circuits responsible for anxiety disorders, which could have huge implications when it comes to diagnosing and treating mental illness. All of these findings came within the past few weeks and they are a small percentage of the daily health advancements that animals help us reveal.
Want more proof? Consider the 2018 Lasker Awards, often called “America’s Nobel prizes.” The awards went to researchers studying genetic communications, including disease-related interactions, on a sub-cellular level; and the development of an anesthetic widely used in surgery with people and animals. These breakthroughs would not have been possible without animals. Furthermore, veterinary advancements also require animal research. The treatments we offer our family pets do not simply materialize out of thin air. They require the same steps — basic science, cellular work and animal studies — just like humans.
Given the often-irreplaceable role of animals in health research, we can clearly identify one of the biggest threats to continued progress: A lack of public understanding. Gallup poll results released this past summer suggest that 54 percent of Americans view medical testing on animals as “morally acceptable.” A recent Pew Research Center survey claims that only 47 percent of us favor the practice.
While both polls raise serious concerns, there is a silver lining. The Pew results reveal much higher support among more educated respondents and those with greater science knowledge. This highlights an urgent need for the scientific community to more openly discuss their work and how research animals are cared for.
However, the public’s lack of understanding is also viewed as an opportunity by those with covert agendas. Opponents seek to capitalize off our shared scientific disconnect by muddying the issue. They offer misleading statistics about the success of animal studies that, upon thorough examination, are either highly questionable or entirely bogus. They confuse supporters by blurring the line between cosmetic safety testing, which can frequently be conducted with non-animal alternatives, and cutting-edge biomedical research, which cannot.
They do this in order to overstate the promise and capacity of alternatives, even those that are not yet approved for use by U.S. regulatory agencies. It’s a cynical attempt to get the public to reject a critical step required for biomedical progress. Worse yet, it’s a ploy that will hurt all of us, especially our most vulnerable citizens, the sick and the dying.
We all love animals. This includes tens of thousands of research veterinarians, animal care employees and scientists. We all share the goal of reducing the need for animal studies and perhaps one day, if possible, replacing them entirely. However, that day has not arrived.
Throughout history, America has thrived when we made fact-based decisions supported by good science. When it comes to health research, the public deserves to know the truth about the irreplaceable role of animal studies. Therefore, let’s dispense with the propaganda, hysteria and hype and instead focus on the facts.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Cindy Buckmaster is chair of the Board of Directors for Americans for Medical Progress, a nonprofit organization that advocates for biomedical research and supports responsible animal studies. She is also director of the Center for Comparative Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. She is also a past president of the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Why do so many people fall for fake profiles online?
September 20, 2018
University at Buffalo, The State University of New York
Disclosure statement: Arun Vishwanath receives funding from NSF.
Partners: University at Buffalo, The State University of New York provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
The first step in conducting online propaganda efforts and misinformation campaigns is almost always a fake social media profile. Phony profiles for nonexistent people worm their way into the social networks of real people, where they can spread their falsehoods. But neither social media companies nor technological innovations offer reliable ways to identify and remove social media profiles that don’t represent actual authentic people.
It might sound positive that over six months in late 2017 and early 2018, Facebook detected and suspended some 1.3 billion fake accounts. But an estimated 3 to 4 percent of accounts that remain, or approximately 66 million to 88 million profiles, are also fake but haven’t yet been detected. Likewise, estimates are that 9 to 15 percent of Twitter’s 336 million accounts are fake.
Fake profiles aren’t just on Facebook and Twitter, and they’re not only targeting people in the U.S. In December 2017, German intelligence officials warned that Chinese agents using fake LinkedIn profiles were targeting more than 10,000 German government employees. And in mid-August, the Israeli military reported that Hamas was using fake profiles on Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp to entrap Israeli soldiers into downloading malicious software.
Although social media companies have begun hiring more people and using artificial intelligence to detect fake profiles, that won’t be enough to review every profile in time to stop their misuse. As my research explores, the problem isn’t actually that people – and algorithms – create fake profiles online. What’s really wrong is that other people fall for them.
My research into why so many users have trouble spotting fake profiles has identified some ways people could get better at identifying phony accounts – and highlights some places technology companies could help.
People fall for fake profiles
To understand social media users’ thought processes, I created fake profiles on Facebook and sent out friend requests to 141 students in a large university. Each of the fake profiles varied in some way – such as having many or few fake friends, or whether there was a profile photo. The idea was to figure out whether one or another type of profile was most successful in getting accepted as a connection by real users – and then surveying the hoodwinked people to find out how it happened.
I found that only 30 percent of the targeted people rejected the request from a fake person. When surveyed two weeks later, 52 percent of users were still considering approving the request. Nearly one in five – 18 percent – had accepted the request right away. Of those who accepted it, 15 percent had responded to inquiries from the fake profile with personal information such as their home address, their student identification number, and their availability for a part-time internship. Another 40 percent of them were considering revealing private data.
When I interviewed the real people my fake profiles had targeted, the most important thing I found was that users fundamentally believe there is a person behind each profile. People told me they had thought the profile belonged to someone they knew, or possibly someone a friend knew. Not one person ever suspected the profile was a complete fabrication, expressly created to deceive them. Mistakenly thinking each friend request has come from a real person may cause people to accept friend requests simply to be polite and not hurt someone else’s feelings – even if they’re not sure they know the person.
In addition, almost all social media users decide whether to accept a connection based on a few key elements in the requester’s profile – chiefly how many friends the person has and how many mutual connections there are. I found that people who already have many connections are even less discerning, approving almost every request that comes in. So even a brand-new profile nets some victims. And with every new connection, the fake profile appears more realistic, and has more mutual friends with others. This cascade of victims is how fake profiles acquire legitimacy and become widespread.
The spread can be fast because most social media sites are designed to keep users coming back, habitually checking notifications and responding immediately to connection requests. That tendency is even more pronounced on smartphones – which may explain why users accessing social media on smartphones are significantly more likely to accept fake profile requests than desktop or laptop computer users.
Illusions of safety
And users may think they’re safer than they actually are, wrongly assuming that a platform’s privacy settings will protect them from fake profiles. For instance, many users told me they believe that Facebook’s controls for granting differing access to friends versus others also protect them from fakers. Likewise, many LinkedIn users also told me they believe that because they post only professional information, the potential consequences for accepting rogue connections on it are limited.
But that’s a flawed assumption: Hackers can use any information gleaned from any platform. For instance, simply knowing on LinkedIn that someone is working at some business helps them craft emails to the person or others at the company. Furthermore, users who carelessly accept requests assuming their privacy controls protect them imperil other connections who haven’t set their controls as high.
Using social media safely means learning how to spot fake profiles and use privacy settings properly. There are numerous online sources for advice – including platforms’ own help pages. But too often it’s left to users to inform themselves, usually after they’ve already become victims of a social media scam – which always begins with accepting a fake request.
Adults should learn – and teach children – how to examine connection requests carefully in order to protect their devices, profiles and posts from prying eyes, and themselves from being maliciously manipulated. That includes reviewing connection requests during distraction-free periods of the day and using a computer rather than a smartphone to check out potential connections. It also involves identifying which of their actual friends tend to accept almost every friend request from anyone, making them weak links in the social network.
These are places social media platform companies can help. They’re already creating mechanisms to track app usage and to pause notifications, helping people avoid being inundated or needing to constantly react. That’s a good start – but they could do more.
For instance, social media sites could show users indicators of how many of their connections are inactive for long periods, helping people purge their friend networks from time to time. They could also show which connections have suddenly acquired large numbers of friends, and which ones accept unusually high percentages of friend requests.
Social media companies need to do more to help users identify and report potentially fake profiles, augmenting their own staff and automated efforts. Social media sites also need to communicate with each other. Many fake profiles are reused across different social networks. But if Facebook blocks a faker, Twitter may not. When one site blocks a profile, it should send key information – such as the profile’s name and email address – to other platforms so they can investigate and potentially block the fraud there too.