Are online freelancing platforms creating ‘digital sweatshops’?

12 04 2016
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Image: marisaorton, via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In an effort to tear myself away from my time-sucking, one-woman mission to save humanity from the perils and pitfalls of online freelancing platforms, I haven’t blogged here for a long time, so hello!

However, today, while flicking through Asia Research 2016 magazine for an entirely different reason, I came across an article that I found very interesting, so I wanted to share it with my followers (crikey, there are 622 of you now!).

The article, “Exploring the global flow of digital labour,” (see page 10 of digi-mag) describes a project by Professor Mark Graham (Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford) and collaborators to investigate the structure of virtual production networks in Africa and Southeast Asia.

In the article, Professor Graham questions whether virtual workplaces, such as Upwork and Freelancer.com, really are addressing unemployment gaps through globalisation of the labour market, or whether they are exploiting people in low-income countries in what he terms “digital sweatshops”. Indeed, data from oDesk highlighted in the article suggests that the demand for virtual employees comes from wealthy western countries, while the labour itself comes from low-income countries, with “labour sellers” acting as middle-men in emerging economies.

Here on my own blog I have expressed my concerns about the exploitation of cheap foreign labour through online platforms, particularly when it involves unethical practices such as plagiarism, copyright theft and black hat marketing. It seems I’m not the only one who is worried about these things, and whether governments and freelancing platform companies are doing enough to safeguard workers who receive minimal pay and next to no social protection.

Partnering with the University of Pretoria, South Africa, and funded by the International Development Research Centre of Canada, a goal of Professor Graham’s research is to identify areas where policies might be implemented or improved to help young and other vulnerable people benefit from the online workplace, and to protect them from digital exploitation.

I look forward to reading more about this work!

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Scientific copyeditor at your service

9 10 2014

Wow, I haven’t posted on this site for a LONG time. Sorry about that, I’ve been very busy as usual! But I have something for you today that I wanted to share…

In the course of my day job at the University of Warwick, I compile a weekly ‘Arabidopsis Research Round-up‘ of recently published, UK-based scientific articles in the area of Arabidopsis research. (FYI: Arabidopsis thaliana is a small weed used as a model organism for plant research – you can find out more about it here: http://youtu.be/hWAb30Ggl5o.) This involves reading lots of abstracts of new papers and condensing them into easy-to-read summaries, which we then publish on the GARNet website, blog, and on the Arabidopsis Information Portal.

Today’s Round-up will include this article, led by a Chinese team but also involving a British scientist from Rothamsted Research: Yang L, Zhao X, Paul M, Zhu H, Zu Y and Tang Z (2014). Exogenous Trehalose Largely Alleviates Ionic Unbalance, ROS Burst and PCD Occurrence Induced by High Salinity in Arabidopsis SeedlingsFrontiers in Plant Science, DOI: 10.3389/fpls.2014.00570.

As someone without extensive lab experience, it’s not unusual for me to sometimes get a little stuck when reading complex scientific papers. But, with a a little effort, and the help of Google, I’m pretty good at unpicking the terminology to work out what the paper is really about so I can translate it into plain English. This paper, however, took a little more unpicking than most; in fact, the abstract didn’t even make sense in places!

Here is my copyedited version of the manuscript’s abstract:

Although Ttrehalose (Tre) has been reported to play a critical role in plant response to salinity, and the involved mechanisms remain involved have yet to be investigated in detail. Here, the putative roles of Tre in the regulation of ionic balance, cellular redox state, and cell death were studied in Arabidopsis under high salt conditions. Our results found that the salt-induced restrictions on both vegetative and reproductive growth in salt-stressed plants were largely alleviated by an exogenous supply with of Tre. The mMicroprobe analysis of ionic dynamics in the leaf and stem of inflorescence stem highlighted the Tre‘s ability to retain the K and K/Na ratio in plant tissues to improve salt tolerance. The In flow cytometric (FCM) assays of cellular levels of ROS (reactive oxygen species (ROS) and PCD (programmed cell death (PCD), displayed that Tre was able to antagonized salt-induced damages in both the redox state and in cell death. and sSucrose did not play the same role with Trewas not shown to have the same effect. By cComparing ionic distribution in between the leaf and IS (inflorescence stem (IS), we found that Tre largely improved was able to restrict Na transportation to IS from leaves since that the ratio of Na accumulation in leaves relative to IS. was largely improved due to This shows that Tre was able to restrict Na transportation to IS from leaves. The marked decrease of Na ions, and the improved sucrose levels in IS, might account for the promoted floral growth observed when Tre was added to the saline solution. At the same time, endogenous soluble sugars and the activity of antioxidant enzymes activities in the salt-stressed plants were also elevated by Tre to counteract high salt stress. We concluded that Tre could improve Arabidopsis salt resistance with respect to biomass accumulation and floral transition in the by means of regulating plant redox state, cell death, and ionic distribution.

I contacted Frontiers in Plant Science about this via Twitter, and they assured me that this is a provisionally accepted manuscript that has not yet gone through the copyediting and typesetting process. Still, if I’d been reviewing this manuscript, I think I’d have pushed for a pre-acceptance copyedit – especially as one one of the authors on this paper is English himself!

I would always recommend authors to have a native English speaker read through and comment on a manuscript before submission – even if the author him or herself is also a native English speaker. Of course, I would love that editor to be me (contact me for copyediting and proofreading at a very competitive price!) but it could just be a friend or colleague who has not worked on the document.

Minor mistakes such as inconsistent formatting or mixed use of British and American English can be ironed out by the publisher’s in house team (if they offer this service – not all do!), but, in my opinion, it just doesn’t make sense to submit something that doesn’t make complete sense or which is full of errors. As an author seeking to have your work published, you’ll want to make the review process as easy as possible for the editors and reviewers. Not only will this speed up the process, but it could make the difference between getting published in a low impact journal when you were aiming for a higher impact one, or even getting published at all.

Perhaps I am being pedantic and impatient with the publication process – what do you think?

 

 





Warwickshire Life 5: Breeding a British Baked Bean

8 02 2014

This week’s Warwickshire Life post was a difficult one for me to write! The subject was baked beans – which have to be my all-time most hated food! I hate them so much I’m even avoiding putting a baked bean photo on this blog post because even the sight of them makes me feel queasy!

Nevertheless, the science is interesting, and that’s the main thing!

Read: Breeding a British Baked Bean.

You can also view this Youtube video from the University of Warwick that explains more about the research project:





UKPSF Launches New Report on Status of Plant Science

28 01 2014

Screen shot 2014-01-28 at 13.05.07Today sees the launch of a new report by the UK Plant Sciences Federation (UKPSF)– one that I helped to research, structure, copyedit and proofread!

The report, entitled, “UK Plant Science: Current Status and Future Challenges” outlines the results of a survey of more than 300 members of the UK plant science community. In this survey, respondents identified what they perceive to be the greatest challenges for UK plant science research, namely:

  • Food security
  • Production of healthier foods
  • Environmental stability
  • Development of biofuels and bioproducts

Currently, the UK is 2nd in the world in terms of plant science publication impact, and is renowned for its plant science excellence, so we are very well placed to help make valuable contributions towards solving some of the world’s most pre

ssing problems. However, the community fears that this world-class position could be threatened unless urgent action is taken.

Read the report to find out what recommendations the UKPSF makes…(opens PDF)…UK Plant Science: Current Status and Future Challenges.

Screen shot 2014-01-28 at 13.04.24

There’s me! In the acknowledgements!





Warwickshire Life 3: Combating Plant Viruses

10 01 2014

Tobacco leaf infected with tobacco mosaic virus. © US Government, Public Domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

After a little break for Christmas and the New Year, I’ve resumed my fortnightly blogging spot at Warwickshire Life.

This week, I discuss viruses that infect plants, why they are a problem to the horticulture industry, and how scientists at the University of Warwick’s Crop Centre are helping to breed virus-resistant plants.

Read the full article here: Combating Plant Viruses.

 





Arabidopsis Research Round-Ups

29 10 2013

Here’s a catch-up on the Arabidopsis Research Round-ups I’ve written since my last update.





Arabidopsis Research Round-ups

24 09 2013

Since starting my role as Research & Engagement Officer at GARNet, one of the things I have been doing to serve the UK plant science community is providing a ’round-up’ of all the UK-based research papers published in the preceding week. This, we hope, will allow interested parties to find out about what’s current in UK Arabidopsis research in an easy-to-digest format.

Here are the links to the round-ups so far…there is some really interesting work coming out of the UK right now!








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