Tag Archives: society

Fake diploma scandal: Why we need to seriously address it?

By Syed Faisal ur Rahman


 

Recent scandal related to a Pakistani software company Axact’s alleged involvement in selling fake degrees has shocked the whole country especially IT industry, media related circles and academia. The story published on 17th May 25, 2015; in The New York Times written by Declan Walsh was not just another exposé about a criminal activity happening somewhere.

The story basically jolted the foundations of our developing IT industry which relies heavily on outsourcing. It also raised questions about the standards of academic integrity and how as a society we give importance to it. I am not interested in passing judgments over Axact’s credibility or their involvement in the alleged scam but my focus is on highlighting the importance of solving it with utmost seriousness and transparency.

We are a small economy of the size of roughly 232 billion dollars which is lesser than many countries with less than half of our population. We are stuck in over a decade long warfare and our industry has faced the worst of it. In the past few years our Software and other IT related industries have provided some hope for our aspiring entrepreneurs to achieve their dreams and show the world that they are more than suspected terrorists.

Scandals like the diploma scandal, if not handled seriously will cast doubts over the credibility and ethics culture in our IT industry which will eventually result in the loss of international clientage confidence. Our aspiring young engineers and technologists are now making some serious contributions in mobile applications, game development, e-commerce, cloud computing and many other related areas. It will be unfair for them if our government simply tries to put the issue under the carpet using delaying tactics and leave the question mark on our industry’s credibility unaddressed.

The bigger issue in my view however is related to academic integrity and how we see it as a society. Few years ago, the issue of fake MNA/MPA degrees has damaged the reputation of our education sector all over the world. As a result, students and professionals who want to go abroad, now go through some serious scrutiny process which is really embarrassing and time consuming. It becomes more painful when we see that people from various other countries do not need to go through such painstaking process. If, in any way, comes out that our government officials are involved in any capacity in covering up the issue then whatever credibility is left of our academic sector will suffer too.

Also, we should keep our eyes open to see if the issue is being used for some other motives. The recent statement by one of our federal ministers linking Axact issue with absence of cyber crime law should also be seen with a great concern. Mixing two different issues like the proposed controversial cyber crime bill and this diploma scam will worsen the situation and can create more panic in our local IT industry.

The need is to investigate and prosecute the issue with highest professional standards and transparency so that we can prove to our-selves (not just the world) that we believe in fair play especially when it comes to the most respected field of education.

At the same time, I will urge Axact and its affiliate institution BOL that if they feel that they have been falsely targeted as a result of some conspiracy then they should file a lawsuit against The New York Times instead of using social media to clear their image.

 


The article is also available on Daily Times website with slight editing.

 

Electrical and computer engineering Professor Barry Van Veen wears an electrode net used to monitor brain activity via EEG signals. His research could help untangle what happens in the brain during sleep and dreaming.

Photo Credit: Nick Berard/UW-Madison

Stanford scientists seek to map origins of mental illness and develop noninvasive treatment

An interdisciplinary team of scientists has convened to map the origins of mental illnesses in the brain and develop noninvasive technologies to treat the conditions. The collaboration could lead to improved treatments for depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

BY AMY ADAMS


Over the years imaging technologies have revealed a lot about what’s happening in our brains, including which parts are active in people with conditions like depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. But here’s the secret Amit Etkin wants the world to know about those tantalizing images: they show the result of a brain state, not what caused it.

This is important because until we know how groups of neurons, called circuits, are causing these conditions – not just which are active later – scientists will never be able to treat them in a targeted way.

“You see things activated in brain images but you can’t tell just by watching what is cause and what is effect,” said Amit Etkin, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. Etkin is co-leader of a new interdisciplinary initiative to understand what brain circuits underlie mental health conditions and then direct noninvasive treatments to those locations.

“Right now, if a patient with a mental illness goes to see their doctor they would likely be given a medication that goes all over the brain and body,” Etkin said. “While medications can work well, they do so for only a portion of people and often only partially.” Medications don’t specifically act on the brain circuits critically affected in that illness or individual.

The Big Idea: treat roots of mental illness

The new initiative, called NeuroCircuit, has the goal of finding the brain circuits that are responsible for mental health conditions and then developing ways of remotely stimulating those circuits and, the team hopes, potentially treating those conditions.

The initiative is part of the Stanford Neurosciences Institute‘s Big Ideas, which bring together teams of researchers from across disciplines to solve major problems in neuroscience and society. Stephen Baccus, an associate professor of neurobiology who co-leads the initiative with Etkin, said that what makes NeuroCircuit a big idea is the merging of teams trying to map circuits responsible for mental health conditions and teams developing new technologies to remotely access those circuits.

“Many psychiatric disorders, especially disorders of mood, probably involve malfunction within specific brain circuits that regulate emotion and motivation, yet our current pharmaceutical treatments affect circuits all over the brain,” said William Newsome, director of the Stanford Neurosciences Institute. “The ultimate goal of NeuroCircuit is more precise treatments, with minimal side effects, for specific psychiatric disorders.”

“The connection between the people who develop the technology and carry out research with the clinical goal, that’s what’s really come out of the Big Ideas,” Baccus said.

Brain control

Etkin has been working with a technology called transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, to map and remotely stimulate parts of the brain. The device, which looks like a pair of doughnuts on a stick, generates a strong magnetic current that stimulates circuits near the surface of the brain.

TMS is currently used as a way of treating depression and anxiety, but Etkin said the brain regions being targeted are the ones available to TMS, not necessarily the ones most likely to treat a person’s condition. They are also not personalized for the individual.

Pairing TMS with another technology that shows which brain regions are active, Etkin and his team can stimulate one part of the brain with TMS and look for a reaction elsewhere. These studies can eventually help map the relationships between brain circuits and identify the circuits that underlie mental health conditions.

In parallel, the team is working to improve TMS to make it more useful as a therapy. TMS currently only reaches the surface of the brain and is not very focused. The goal is to improve the technology so that it can reach structures deeper in the brain in a more targeted way. “Right now they are hitting the only accessible target,” he said. “The parts we really want to hit for depression, anxiety or PTSD are likely deeper in the brain.”

Technology of the future

In parallel with the TMS work, Baccus and a team of engineers, radiologists and physiologists have been developing a way of using ultrasound to stimulate the brain. Ultrasound is widely used to image the body, most famously for producing images of developing babies in the womb. But in recent years scientists have learned that at the right frequency and focus, ultrasound can also stimulate nerves to fire.

In his lab, Baccus has been using ultrasound to stimulate nerve cells of the retina – the light-sensing structure at the back of the eye – as part of an effort to develop a prosthetic retina. He is also teaming up with colleagues to understand how ultrasound might be triggering that stimulation. It appears to compress the nerve cells in a way that could lead to activation, but the connection is far from clear.

Other members of the team are modifying existing ultrasound technology to direct it deep within the brain at a frequency that can stimulate nerves without harming them. If the team is successful, ultrasound could be a more targeted and focused tool than TMS for remotely stimulating circuits that underlie mental health conditions.

The group has been working together for about five years, and in 2012 got funding from Bio-X NeuroVentures, which eventually gave rise to the Stanford Neurosciences Institute, to pursue this technology. Baccus said that before merging with Etkin’s team they had been focusing on the technology without specific brain diseases in mind. “This merger really gives a target and a focus to the technology,” he said.

Etkin and Baccus said that if they are successful, they hope to have both a better understanding of how the brain functions and new tools for treating disabling mental health conditions.

Source: Stanford News