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Combatting disinformation

The scourge of disinformation has had a massive influence on many recent events. In this article, leading experts explain how it spreads, why it’s dangerous, and how to fight it.

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Combatting disinformation

Leading experts explain how it spreads, why it’s dangerous, and how to fight it

Covid conspiracy graffiti with sea in background

The scourge of disinformation has had a massive influence on many recent events.

These include the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia’s War in Ukraine, and major political events such as Brexit, the 2016 and 2020 US presidential elections, and the 2014 and 2019 Ukrainian elections.

Now, everyone – even if they’re unaware of it – can be part of a disinformation campaign. This could be through engaging with social media bots, sharing manipulated images, or watching “deepfakes” – videos that have been digitally altered through AI (artificial intelligence).

Everyone can also help fight disinformation. The question is, how?

In this article, we’re joined by some of the world’s leading experts on disinformation as we look at the factors behind the rise in disinformation and fake news. We also look at the differences between disinformation and misinformation, and why disinformation is dangerous for society.

Importantly, we look at what the authorities, tech companies, and individuals can do to fight disinformation.

The rise of disinformation

Coloring book with Donald Trump depicted as Superman
Bronze figure of Ivan the Terrible
Soviet Cosmonaut poster
Pile of UK newspapers
Close up of social media apps on a tablet screen
Coloring book depicting Donald Trump as Superman
Coloring book with Donald Trump depicted as Superman
Bronze figure of Ivan the Terrible
Soviet Cosmonaut poster
Pile of UK newspapers
Close up of social media apps on a tablet screen
Coloring book depicting Donald Trump as Superman

It wasn’t until 2017 that disinformation became a popular topic of study.

“Two electoral results seem to have brought the concept of disinformation to the fore in the last few years, namely the election of Donald Trump in the US and the Brexit vote in the UK,” says Dr. Maria Kyriakidou, Social Media Editor of the Information, Communication & Society journal and Co-Investigator on the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) project Countering disinformation: enhancing journalistic legitimacy in public service media.

But it’s not a new phenomenon.

“There has probably been deception of various kinds in political communication for as long as there has been political communication,” says Dr. Regina Lawrence, Editor of the Political Communication journal.

Historical figures such as Louis XIV and Ivan the Terrible used forms of disinformation in military campaigns, while the CIA also used it to influence Congress in the 1980s.

In the 20th century, “its roots go back to the term ‘dezinformatsiya,’ a strategy used by a division of the Soviet Union’s KGB,” says Dr. Nicholas Nicoli, co-author of the book Digital Democracy, Social Media and Disinformation.

Disinformation has also been present for a long time in the media.

“The tabloids in the UK have consistently contributed to the spread of disinformation,” says Dr. Kyriakidou.

“Migrants and refugees have most often been the victims of such campaigns, although this tendency has mostly been framed in public debates in terms of negative stereotypes, xenophobic, or racist news coverage,” she adds.

More recently, “the degree and scope of the coordinated organization behind contemporary disinformation campaigns seems unprecedented, and digital media networks can make it ubiquitous,” says Dr. Lawrence.

This is why “the very concept of ‘disinformation’ is recent” she adds.

“There are more channels, more agents practicing it, more automation in it, and more computational programming from social media worsening it,” says Dr. Nicoli.

Dr. Nicoli’s Digital Democracy, Social Media and Disinformation co-author, Professor Petros Iosifidis, agrees that the political landscape has also influenced the increased spread of disinformation.

“Fake news is associated with the rise of social media as well as the popularity of populist and nationalist – especially right-wing – political parties,” he says.

“In tandem with the rise of digital technologies, there has been an increase in social and political polarization,” adds Dr. Eileen Culloty, co-author of the book Disinformation and Manipulation in Digital Media.

Disinformation vs misinformation

Disinformation, misinformation, and fake news are closely related. But there are some key differences.

“The distinction between misinformation and disinformation is about intention,” says Dr. Culloty.

“Misinformation is false information that is shared without an intention to mislead. For example, there is an error or a misunderstanding.”

“In contrast, disinformation is false information that is shared on purpose with the intention to mislead.”

The distinction between misinformation and disinformation is about intention

Dr. Eileen Culloty

Disinformation vs fake news

What about “fake news”?

“Fake news is a specific type or format of disinformation: false information that is designed to look like legitimate news,” says Dr. Culloty.

“With fake news, the intention to deceive, to lie, is high,” adds journalist-turned-researcher Dr. Pedro Jerónimo. Dr. Jerónimo leads MediaTrust.Lab, a fact-checking research project focused on local media and small communities.

“For example, using real content, such as photographs or posts and comments on social networks. And using the same type of structure as a news item – title, lead, contextualization – there is a clear objective to deceive.”

With fake news, the intention to deceive, to lie, is high

Dr. Pedro Jerónimo

Blurred meanings

“Of course, it is not always easy to draw a line between disinformation and misinformation, ” says Dr. Kyriakidou.

“Once disinformation finds a public forum it can then be shared and spread without the intention to deceive, by people that actually believe in it.”

Dr. Lawrence places less importance on the differences between disinformation, misinformation, and fake news:

“I am less concerned about making these distinctions than with understanding the overall phenomenon of poor quality and deceptive information that now seems to flood the media ecosystem,” she says.

Once disinformation finds a public forum it can then be shared and spread without the intention to deceive, by people that actually believe in it

Dr. Maria Kyriakidou

Disinformation vs propaganda

Disinformation is also closely related to propaganda.

In The Routledge Companion to Media Disinformation and Populism, Professor Howard Tumber and Professor Silvio Waisbord say disinformation and propaganda both “refer to spreading information and ideas linked to the exercise of power.”

The distinction, they say, is that while disinformation is deliberate deception through fabrications, propaganda can also involve spreading information that may not always be false.

Propaganda also involves leaving out inconvenient facts or being selective about what information is shared.

Propaganda can also involve spreading information that may not always be false

Who spreads disinformation?

“The very model of contemporary disinformation depends on three kinds of actors,” says Dr. Lawrence.

One: “Those who deliberately create false/misleading information and images meant to mislead citizens and disrupt democratic society and deliberation.”

Two: “Those who pass that information along to their own social networks – because they believe it, or they just find it ‘interesting.’ Or because others in their networks are also sharing it so they think they ‘should.'”

Three: “Those who amplify disinformation in the very process of reporting on it and trying to reveal its falsehoods (i.e., journalists).”

Sevens types of perpetrator/actor

In their open access book Social Media and Hate, Professor Shakuntala Banaji and Dr. Ram Bhat investigated the intersections between disinformation, misinformation, and social and media hate.

They found that the following actors produce and pass on disinformation:

1. Organized state-linked groups/actors (paid and unpaid)

These usually work for right-wing or far-right governments with socially and economically authoritarian goals. In countries with weak liberal or leftist governments, they may work for the main right-wing opposition party.

2. Organized non-state groups/actors (paid and unpaid)

These usually work on behalf of (or think they work on behalf of) the government or ruling party, or a racial or religious supremacist ideology. In countries with weak liberal or leftist governments, they may work for the main right-wing opposition party.

3. Unorganized non-state actors

These are united by prejudices or by presumed caste/religious/ethical or racial identity. They’re usually digitally literate and act independently.

4. Opportunist grifters

These troll/spread misinformation to increase their fame, following, or finances. They’re usually high-profile people or once held left/liberal values and are now publicly performing their right-wing allegiance for economic or political gain.

5. Disruptive libertarians

These aim to disrupt, destabilize, and unsettle political consensus on specific issues (such as vaccines or medical advice) by methods such as trolling and flaming (posting insults). They may mock particular individuals who support causes that they oppose.

6. Digital stalkers

These target individual social media handles for ideological or personal reasons, or through a sense of spurned affection/loyalty which may spill over into violence.

7. Intermittent trolls

These are malicious users, inexperienced users. They get involved because of peer pressure or out of fear of being targeted themselves.

From Social Media and Hate, pp. 22–23 © Shakuntala Banaji and Ram Bhat – used with permission.

The dangers of disinformation

Disinformation is damaging because it causes people to make uninformed decisions that aren’t in their interests or the interests of society.

“It encourages people to refuse life-saving vaccines, to dismiss scientific warnings about the need to act on climate change, to elect leaders who lie, and to scapegoat certain groups,” says Dr. Culloty.

“We might vote for an outcome under false pretenses; we might decide on a health issue based on wrong information,” adds Dr. Nicoli.

“A good example of this is the pandemic caused by COVID-19 and all the rumors and conspiracy theories, which caused social alarm and helped to spread the virus, increasing the number of cases,” says Dr. Jerónimo.

Disinformation also causes people to lose trust in the democratic process.

“Ultimately, disinformation is seen as a major threat to democratic politics,” says Dr. Kyriakidou.

“Citizens get deliberately deceptive news so rational, political discussion cannot be conducted in the online public sphere,” adds Professor Iosifidis.

“If we know disinformation exists and is not controlled, we will lose trust in those systems which are in place to protect the public interest and the democratic process,” says Dr. Nicoli.

Disinformation is seen as a major threat to democratic politics

Dr. Maria Kyriakidou

How social media companies, regulators, and policymakers can combat disinformation

We’ve seen that social media and technology are mainly responsible for the spread of disinformation. So, what are technology companies doing to combat it?

“Not enough!” according to Dr. Lawrence.

“And frankly they have little incentive to self-regulate effectively.”

Dr. Culloty adds: “There are potentially big gaps between what platforms say they are doing and what they actually are doing.

“For example, it’s easy for platforms to report that they are countering disinformation by labeling content, but if they don’t run experiments to test the effectiveness of those labels or provide basic information about who sees the labels and what do people do afterwards, it’s just a gesture.”

Dr. Nicoli highlights that social media companies are using AI systems to detect disinformation, hiring fact checkers, and creating oversight boards that decide how content is moderated on their platforms.

“It seems though, that these are not enough,” he says.

Professor Iosifidis concurs: “Self-regulation may not be sufficient, so formal state regulation may be needed.”

“Various regulatory, educational, and technological interventions have been proposed to limit the actions of bad actors, to make social media platforms more transparent, and to support and build resilience among audiences. Those actions put emphasis on disinformation content and how it is shared and received,” says Dr. Culloty.

“However, if disinformation is understood as a more systemic issue connected to democratic legitimacy, declining trust, and the deepening of social divisions, that would suggest more radical efforts are needed to rethink democratic participation, education, and technological governance.”

“One of the policy proposals that’s most interesting is to either incentivize or force the platforms to move away from algorithmically driven recommendation systems,” says Dr. Lawrence.

There are potentially big gaps between what platforms say they are doing and what they actually are doing

Dr. Eileen Culloty

A strong and free media sector

“What is necessary in the fight against disinformation is a strong, free, and independent media sector, which requires government funding and investment,” says Dr. Kyriakidou.

“The privatization of Channel 4 and threats to axe the BBC license fee in the UK are steps towards the opposite direction.”

It’s important too that regulation doesn’t suppress fundamental rights.

“This is a discussion as it could easily slide into the realm of freedom of expression,” warns Dr. Jerónimo.

This could easily slide into the realm of freedom of expression

Dr. Pedro Jerónimo

Media literacy and education

Another way governments and policymakers can intervene is through education.

“Media and news literacy programs can help,” says Dr. Nicoli.

Professor Iosifidis agrees: “I think news literacy is key to combat disinformation.”

Fighting disinformation through increased media literacy is already a priority in countries such as Portugal:

“Since the last congress of Portuguese journalists in 2017, the Union of Journalists has been working with the Ministry of Education, with the aim of training primary and secondary school teachers,” says Dr. Jerónimo.

News literacy is key to combat disinformation

Professor Petros Iosifidis

Four strategies for combatting digital disinformation

In their 2020 article, “Strategies for Combating the Scourge of Digital Disinformation,Randolph H. Pherson, Penelope Mort Ranta, and Casey Cannon proposed radical strategies for combatting digital disinformation and highlighted the advantages and disadvantages of each approach.

1. Pinocchio Warnings

Government legislation could require major commercial search engines and social media platforms to display warning notices when a user views a questionable website or post. Service providers would rely on AI algorithms and an army of independent fact-checkers to identify digital disinformation.

2. The Alt-Net

Governments could create an alternative internet that bans users from posting disinformation. Publishers would be certified to gain access and would agree to abide by a set of universal standards for exchanging information and insights.

3. Rigid Gateways

Key providers of online services could band together to establish strict screening protocols to ensure only acceptable content will be posted on their platforms or websites.

4. The Trust-Cloud

Key providers of online services could create a “safe space” or “trust cloud” on the Internet that houses only validated information from trusted sources.

How individuals can combat disinformation

Dealing with disinformation is clearly a challenge for tech companies, regulators, and policymakers. Fortunately, individuals can help in the fight too.

Dr. Lawrence says we need to be open to the idea that we might be receiving and accepting disinformation.

We then need to practice “good information hygiene,” says Dr. Culloty.

“Take a moment to stop, think, and check where the information is coming from,” she says.

“Ask, ‘Is this real?’ or ‘is it credible?’

“Also think about the motives behind the content: is it trying to promote or sell something?

“Check the source by looking it up to see who created it. Cross-check claims with reliable sources to compare what they are saying.

“If in doubt, do not hit like or share.”

“Individuals shouldn’t solely rely on commercial and subscription-based media for reliable and accurate news,” adds Professor Iosifidis.

“Access various sources for news and do not rely on one only,” he says.

Suspect, Search, Share

Dr. Jerónimo recommends following the “triple S” framework:

“Suspect. Search. Share.”

Suspect

“Always question the content you come across, even if it comes from people you trust a lot – including journalists!

“For a recent study, Professor Marta Sánchez Esparza and I interviewed local journalists from Portugal and Spain. We found they are almost ‘blind’ when it comes to official sources and may not fact-check the ones they trust a lot.”

Search

“Then search for more information about what you saw.”

Share

“Finally, if you come to the conclusion that something is true, share it.”

Dr. Jerónimo also recommends sharing disinformation, so long as you add context.

“Deconstruct the original content and enrich it with sources that help others to understand that the original content is not correct.”

Helping friends and family

We can also help halt the spread of disinformation by helping protect friends and family from it, says Dr. Lawrence:

“We need new ways of talking to the people in our lives that we care about in ways that might help them be less susceptible to disinformation.”

Close up of person using a smartphone on a train

Close friends list on Instagram showing on smartphone

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What next in Ukraine?

Five experts outline possible military, political, environmental, and socioeconomic consequences of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

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What next in Ukraine?

Five experts outline possible military, political, environmental, and socioeconomic scenarios

Close up of donetsk on map with red pin

10 June 2022

The rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine that followed the annexation of Crimea came to a head with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Russia’s decision to invade its neighbor was a dramatic – and surprising – watershed in the history between the two former republics of the Soviet Union.

We don’t know how the conflict will end. But we do know it will have a significant and long-lasting impact on Ukraine and Russia.

So what’s next in Russia’s war and what could the future hold for Ukraine?

We asked five experts to outline possible scenarios:

“…when Ukraine and Russia believe the risks and costs of fighting exceed potential gains, there will be a genuine peace process”

Dr. Nigel Gould-Davies:

Ukraine and Russia are currently engaged in a fierce battle of attrition in the Donbas.

If Ukraine gains the upper hand and pushes Russian forces out of areas they have occupied since February, it will need to decide how much further it goes, and what the risks of doing so will be.

Will Ukraine seek to regain control over the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics? This is sovereign Ukrainian territory, but Russia may try to rush through a rigged referendum to annex it, and so claim that a Ukrainian advance constitutes an attack on Russia itself – even though such a claim will enjoy no international support.

Ukraine is also likely to seek to regain control of the areas of the south occupied by entrenched Russian forces and restore full access to its coastline. This will be a major challenge, but if Ukraine does not do so its economy will be permanently weakened. Russia will also use control of Ukrainian grain exports to bargain for the lifting of sanctions.

A peace process?

At some point, when Ukraine and Russia believe the risks and costs of fighting exceed potential gains, there will be a genuine peace process. The question of territorial control is only one of the issues in play. There are at least three others:

  1. The return of over one million Ukrainians forcibly taken into Russia
  2. Ukraine’s right to join international organizations and the provision of security guarantees to it
  3. The financing of Ukraine’s reconstruction – and Russia’s responsibility for this, including the potential use of Russian financial assets seized by Western governments

War changes societies and politics. It shifts values and expectations, weakens old interests and institutions, and creates new ones. In ways no one can yet predict, Ukraine’s post-war future will be shaped by the experience of national mobilization to defeat the invasion.

Like Putin, President Zelensky – whose standing has been transformed by the war – faces an election in March 2024. The election – assuming it can be held in safe, post-war conditions – will reveal much about these changes.

What about Russia?

The war has been a strategic disaster for Russia.

While the military outcome remains open, further Russian setbacks are more likely than recovery, let alone gains, at this point. Unless it makes a major gain, as Western military aid to Ukraine increases, Russia faces a steady adverse shift in the correlation of forces.

Russia must then choose whether and how to escalate. A national mobilization – which would require official acknowledgment that Russia is involved in a war and not a “special military operation” – would likely be unpopular and begin to erode the currently high level of support for Russia’s aggression. Nonetheless, there are signs now that the authorities are preparing the ground for an unannounced, low-level form of mobilization. No version would provide significant new resources in the short term.

The war has been a strategic disaster for Russia.

Dr. Nigel Gould-Davies

Of the other escalation options potentially available to Russia, the least likely but most worrying is the use of nuclear or chemical weapons. Among other consequences, this would deepen Russia’s isolation and extend it indefinitely. Sanctions that the West and major Asian partners have imposed on Russia are already inflicting serious and cumulative costs. Russian use of weapons of mass destruction would lead to even more serious measures, as well as a range of other severe responses.

Even if Russia seeks to end the war to preserve any gains it has made – or curb further losses it faces – the fighting will only stop when Ukraine agrees to this. And there is no guarantee that a ceasefire, or even a peace agreement, will lead to the easing of sanctions on Russia. This is a decision for the West, which it will take in close consultation with Ukraine. Regardless of any peace settlement, war crimes investigations will continue.

The greatest uncertainty in an evolving situation full of uncertainties is the effect of the war on Putin’s regime. When the scale of Russia’s military losses becomes known, and sanctions cause widespread harm, popular support is likely to decline. The regime is now more authoritarian than at any time since the mid-1980s and is honing the instruments of repression to prevent mass opposition taking organized form.

The most interesting question is whether, against the background of failure and crisis, the regime itself will remain cohesive.

Dr. Nigel Gould-Davies is Senior Fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). He conducts independent research and writes extensively on the politics, economics, and security of the former Soviet Union. He’s the Editor of Strategic Survey: The Annual Assessment of Geopolitics and has published articles in the IISS’s Survival journal.

'Welcome to hell' inscription on a wooden shield at the Kyiv checkpoint where the defender of the territorial defense points on a sunny spring day.

“Another protracted, frozen conflict, bigger than Donbas of 2014, is the best result Putin can obtain”

Dr. Frank G. Hoffman:

Despite its lack of success in its planned blitzkrieg into Kyiv, Russian forces are now attempting to build on their more successful campaign along Ukraine’s eastern frontier and its southern coastline. They may maintain a protracted offensive campaign. However, they will certainly demonstrate the same weaknesses and culminate well short of a strategic victory.

They may have improved some elements of their combat readiness, but it’s very unlikely they learned enough from their pitiful performance so far, and many of their deficiencies (logistics and small-unit leadership) cannot be easily corrected in the near term.

More likely, another extended offensive will cost the Russian military dearly, and deplete their manpower and materiel resources. They are already facing significant losses in armored vehicles and manpower, attempting to pull in foreign fighters and mercenaries to augment the army. They also seem to be lacking a sufficient supply of precision munitions, thus the tendency to use massed artillery fire on fixed targets and civilian infrastructure.

Russia’s sense of grievance against the West will grow larger…

Dr. Frank G. Hoffman

If the Russians could mount assaults from their positions near Kharkiv and drive south to occupy the key city of Dnipro, they may isolate the best Ukrainian combat forces in a decisive battle. However, they will have to demonstrate better skills at combined arms maneuver than has been seen to date. Their units will have to employ initiative and manifest a will to fight that has been utterly absent so far.

The rolling and open terrain in the eastern portions of the country do create options for Russian mechanized operations. But there are a number of towns and cities in the Donbas that afford the Ukrainians good defensive redoubts and strong points needed to withstand Russian attacks.

Reinforcements

The Ukrainians, now reinforced with heavier weaponry from NATO countries, could replicate their defensive success from the early phase of the war and punish Putin’s troops again.

Another protracted, frozen conflict, bigger than Donbas of 2014, is the best result that Putin can obtain. Even that will be a Pyrrhic victory that sets his country’s economy and military back for a decade.

Putin will continue to shake his nuclear saber, and Lavrov will continue to mutter about the pernicious failings of the West. Just as predictably, the Russian economy will bottom out, back at its 2010 level. It will stabilize there, beset by capital flight, brain drain, and residual sanctions.

Russia’s sense of grievance against the West will grow larger, as will the gap in prosperity between them as Moscow continues to distance itself from its own best interests and remains subordinated to Putin’s control.

China will be the ultimate beneficiary, at Russia’s expense.

Dr. Frank G. Hoffman serves on the board of advisors at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and is a Distinguished Research Fellow at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. He has published more than 100 articles in academic and military journals, including the RUSI Journal and Journal of Strategic Studies, as well as several books and numerous book chapters.

Russian T-72 tank burned by Ukrainian army forces in Kyiv region in Ukraine. Russian aggression in Ukraine.

“…Zelensky will be the central driver of Ukrainian democratization”

Dr. Lowell Barrington:

It is impossible to say with certainty what a country will look like decades, or even years, in the future.

One can, however, reflect on the factors most likely to affect important long-term outcomes. Ukraine’s post-war unity and democracy are outcomes worthy of such reflection.

How united will Ukraine be?

The 2022 invasion shattered Putin’s myth of Ukrainians and Russians as one people and made clear his underestimation of Ukraine’s growing Ukrainianness.

Prior to the 2022 invasion, Ukraine was a partial, flawed democracy with prevalent corruption…

Dr. Lowell Barrington

Recent scholarly works highlight weakened connections to Russia since its seizure of Crimea in 2014 and support of secessionist activities in eastern Ukraine. This occurred alongside a deepening attachment to a citizenship-based civic national identity. If 2014 was a catalyst for diminishing connections to Russia and a strengthening civic Ukrainian national identity, 2022 has propelled these processes forward with great force.

Both trends will aid Ukrainian unity in the years ahead.

How democratic will Ukraine be?

Prior to the 2022 invasion, Ukraine was a partial, flawed democracy with prevalent corruption. Freedom House called Ukraine a “transitional or hybrid regime” in its 2022 analysis.

Ukraine’s “democracy percentage” stood at 39.29 out of 100 with a “democracy score” of 3.36 out of 7. By comparison, Czech Republic’s percentage was 75.6 and its score 5.54, earning it the “consolidated democracy” label.

The U.S. and Europe can buffer post-war Ukraine against Russian interference and Ukraine’s own internal anti-democratic features with a Marshall plan-like effort to rebuild the country. In return, Ukraine will need to show, through a progressive deepening of its democracy, that as an EU member it will look more like the Czech Republic and less like Hungary.

Western efforts will be vital, but Zelensky will be the central driver of Ukrainian democratization. He has said the war is about democracy but has also restricted political parties and independent media as part of the war effort. His broad domestic support and extensive praise (and awards) from the West may strengthen his backing of genuine democracy in Ukraine. They might also encourage an “only I can fix this” brand of populism.

Ukraine’s successes on the battlefield this spring do not necessarily imply a successful consolidation of democracy in the longer term.

Dr. Lowell Barrington is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at Marquette University. He specializes in post-communist politics, ethnicity and nationalism, democratization, and political science research methods. He regularly contributes to journals such as Europe-Asia Studies, Post-Soviet Affairs, and Eurasian Geography and Economics.

Protestors in Kyiv dispersing.

“Environmental devastation has been one of the methods by which Vladimir Putin sought to destroy Ukrainian sovereignty…”

Dr. Kristina Hook:

Russia’s escalation of war against Ukraine in February 2022 accelerated an ongoing environmental crisis first sparked by their annexation of the Crimean peninsula and invasion into eastern Ukraine in 2014.

My research with Richard Marcantonio has traced multiple environmental risk scenarios linked to Russia’s military activity in Ukraine in 2014 to their broader strategic goals of controlling and degrading Ukrainian sovereignty. With the Ukrainian state and people clear-eyed that their current war with Russia constitutes an existential threat, I expect the Ukrainian military – if appropriately supported by Western military assistance – to successfully liberate territory presently under Russian control in eastern and southern Ukraine.

…large-scale Russian shelling of residential and business districts has released asbestos and particulate matter.

Dr. Kristina Hook

Significant environmental damage

Ukraine is the largest country in Europe, and massive territories across the country are experiencing significant war-related environmental damage.

Short and long-term risks to human health caused by this environmental damage vary according to the dose and length of exposure. Some of these long-term effects will be subtle, for example, as large-scale Russian shelling of residential and business districts has released asbestos and particulate matter. Unaddressed, these cumulative effects will cause healthcare costs to rise and life expectancy to decline, bolstering the case that environmental redress is a first-stage priority for Ukrainian reconstruction aid.

Other environmental risks are more obvious, including the impact of military activity around Ukraine’s 15 nuclear reactors, chemical plants, mines, and other manufacturing facilities.

Effects outside Ukraine

Russia’s indiscriminate bombing, including of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, heightens the potential for direct or indirect damage (such as to dam infrastructure) to sites with potential consequences for the storage of radioactive waste, such as at the Pridniprovsky chemical plant. These consequences could impact not only citizens in Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders but also in the Russian Federation (especially the Rostov province) and in neighboring countries that share waterways.

Other regional threats include long-term effects of pollution, ecosystem imbalance ramifications, and deforestation and agricultural field harm that will impact millions of consumers of Ukrainian harvests in the Middle East, Africa, and beyond for years. Evidence exists that beyond the current blockade of Ukrainian ports, the Russian military is intensively mining agricultural fields, linking de-mining efforts to both food security and environmental redress priorities.

Long-term risks

Several additional environmental risks raise long-term concerns that Russia’s military invasion will continue to claim or shorten lives for decades to come.

One pressing concern includes contamination caused by the flooding of industrial mines in the Donbas region (Luhansk and Donetsk provinces), where some of the worst artillery and conventional battles now rage.

We have traced the dangers of this flooding since Russia began its invasion in 2014, describing how rising waters can solubilize and transport toxic pollutants – especially heavy metals – into water systems through these industrial areas that have coal mining and Soviet nuclear testing heritage.

The long-term, holistic mitigation of these risks is dependent upon Ukrainian control of the Donbas. Our research illustrates a pattern that the Ukrainian government had relatively robust environmental management and monitoring procedures in place prior to 2014, while the Russian government subsequently exhibited patterns of dissembling and neglect.

Current warfighting makes daily monitoring of these and other environmental risks challenging. But contacts at Ukraine’s Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources have stated that these mines are presently “unrecoverable” without assistance and the area “uninhabitable… after extreme water pollution,” affecting citizens in Ukraine as well as potentially in Russia.

Many other environmental effects of large-scale urban warfare exist, including reports of damaged chemical waste storage at the Azovstal steel plant in devastated Mariupol with concern of contamination in the Sea of Azov.

In addition to human health and habitat harm, marine biocultures may be threatened, although confirmation is not possible until environmental scientists can access and test samples from the area.

Fires from artillery strikes and other war activities also disrupt modified landscapes and fields, with fire threatening other unique ecosystems in southern Ukraine, including the Kinburn Spit near Mykolaiv.

Overlapping with the neighboring Kherson region, the Black Sea Biosphere Reserve also experienced fires large enough to be detectable from space. Russia’s occupying presence in the Kherson region prevents a full review of damage to natural and bird habitats.

Financial cost

The cost of environmental redress of this war rises daily, although the costs of long-term neglect are higher.

One team of seventy scientists has documented 300 ecological crimes with cost estimates from only several of these incidents at $6.77 billion in damage. Multiple international environmental working groups also exist, and databases with relevant data are housed by Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, Security Services, State Emergency Systems, and some local think tanks.

In the past, my research with Richard Marcantonio has noted Ukrainian bureaucracy coordination challenges and political will obstacles by international partners. For long-term progress, action plans must be created now that incorporate international and Ukrainian anti-corruption ideas for reconstruction aid, as well as Russian Federation reparations and the usage of confiscated assets.

Willful environmental devastation has been one of the methods by which Vladimir Putin sought to destroy Ukrainian sovereignty and undermine a rules-based global order, without regard for the disproportionate harm to the Global South.

A Marshall Plan 2.0, including sustainable and accessible rebuilding that revitalizes Ukraine as a green energy powerhouse, is an important component of future deterrence.

Dr. Kristina Hook is an Assistant Professor of Conflict Management at Kennesaw State University’s School of Conflict Management, Peacebuilding, and Development. A specialist in Ukraine and Ukraine-Russia relations, she has research, teaching, and professional experience on topics including genocides and mass atrocities, civilian protection, post-conflict reconstruction, and security challenges such as hybrid warfare and environmental degradation.

Unexploded russian missile sticking out at the roadway in Hostomel during Russian war in Ukraine in 2022

“The humanitarian crisis in Ukraine will soon become an unprecedented demographic crisis…”

Dr. Hiroaki Matsuura:

Europe’s largest humanitarian crisis in Ukraine will soon become an unprecedented demographic crisis in recent history.

The number of refugees fleeing Ukraine and the death toll are still growing, but these numbers are already large enough to affect the population size and structure of the country.

It is time to establish a system to track the Ukrainian population abroad and support their future return to the country. 

Dr. Hiroaki Matsuura

In particular, the refugee population is highly concentrated among women and children. They are less likely to return home if they establish their new lives in their destination countries. If most of them do not return like other refugee populations, this will create a significant population loss as well as gender and age imbalance in the population.

Recently, we saw news that a significant number of people have re-entered Ukraine. However, we do not know how many of such returns are temporary stays or permanent returns.

It is essential that the Ukrainian authorities and the international community establish a more systematic collection of data to monitor vital migration flows and stocks in the country and abroad. This is an old problem with new urgency for Ukraine. Ukrainian statistical systems had long failed to capture the temporary and circular nature of its migrant population abroad. It is time to establish such a system to track the Ukrainian population abroad and support their future return to the country. 

Dr. Hiroaki Matsuura is Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs and Professor of Health Economics and Demography at Shoin University in Japan. He’s an economist and demographer interested in the intersection between human rights and population health. He’s Editor-in-Chief of the Biodemography and Social Biology journal, as well as an editorial board member of journals including the Child Abuse Review, International Journal of Social Welfare, and Sociology of Illness and Health.

Woman refugee holding a young child

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Russia’s war in Ukraine

Free resources, commentary, and analysis on the war in Ukraine. Read journal open access articles and book chapters.

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Russia’s war in Ukraine

Free resources, commentary, and analysis

View of Kyiv including Ukrainian flag and Motherland statue

Like most people around the world, we are shocked and saddened by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

These pages bring together journal articles, book chapters, and expert analysis from Taylor & Francis and Routledge authors and editors that can help us make sense of the situation. 

They look at the background to the crisis and the role of media and disinformation in the conflict. They examine what research could tell us about what might happen next – during the conflict and beyond.

We’re also offering free access to the Handbook of Refugee Health and highlighting how institutions in Ukraine can get free access to academic and professional peer-reviewed content.

Related: Our statement on the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

A mother holding her young child in a bomb shelter in Ukraine

Recent insights

24 June 2022

War in Ukraine: Putin and the multi-order world

by Trine Flockhart and Elena A. Korosteleva in Contemporary Security Policy

Norway, Poland, Russia, and Finland flags, above a restaurant in Estonia

10 June 2022

What next in Ukraine?

Five experts outline possible military, political, environmental, and socioeconomic scenarios resulting from Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Pin in map of Ukraine and surrounding countries

Background and geopolitics

Media and disinformation

Article

Making Sense of the News in an Authoritarian Regime: Russian Television Viewers’ Reception of the Russia–Ukraine Conflict

by Maxim Alyukov in Europe-Asia Studies

Do citizens in autocracies trust state media? This study uses Russian television viewers’ reception of the Russia–Ukraine conflict to investigate media perception in an autocracy. It argues that citizens in non-democracies lack the opportunities, motivation, and tools to substantively process news.

Russia Today building in Moscow on a sunny day

Article

Presidential Elections 2018: The Struggle of Putin and Navalny for a Media Agenda

by Anastasia Kazun and Kseniia Semykina in Problems of Post-Communism

In Russia, the mainstream media is largely influenced by the authorities, while the Internet has more freedom.

This study compared the issue agendas of Vladimir Putin and opposition leader Alexey Navalny across traditional and digital media in the run-up to the 2018 presidential election.

TV camera in TV studio with colours of Russian flag on walls in background

Book chapter

Russia’s hybrid aggression against Ukraine

by Yury E. Fedorov in Routledge Handbook of Russian Security

Disinformation and propaganda campaigns are a common method in ‘hybrid warfare’ – a term that describes a mix of conventional military operations with non-military methods. This chapter exposes the Russian concept of hybrid warfare. It highlights its strategic goals toward Ukraine and outlines the evolution of its war plans from ‘traditional’ to hybrid operations.

Routledge Handbook of Russian Security cover

Book

Russia Today and Conspiracy Theories: People, Power, and Politics on RT

by Ilya Yablokov and Precious N Chatterje-Doody

The Russian international media outlet Russia Today (RT) has been widely accused in the Western world of producing government propaganda and conspiracy theories. This book explores for the first time the role that conspiracy theories actually play in the network’s broadcasts.

RT and Conspiracy Theories book cover

Free access to the Handbook of Refugee Health

The UN reports that almost 6 million people – including many children – have left Ukraine seeking safety, protection, and assistance since the invasion. The war has forced many more to move inside the country.

Worldwide, there are at least 82.4 million people who have been forced to flee their homes.

The conditions refugees experience during their journeys and how they’re received at their destinations will determine their health outcomes as well as the health of those living in host communities.

To support health professionals and humanitarians, we’re offering free online access to the Handbook of Refugee Health.

This book provides a framework to identify and approach health needs, from basic elements like service mapping and initial interventions to more complex elements of ongoing healthcare. It also discusses associated areas, including human rights and law, public health, medical anthropology, and cultural awareness.

Handbook of refugee health cover

How to support Ukrainian research

Free access to academic and professional peer-reviewed content to institutions in Ukraine

Taylor & Francis is one of almost 200 publishers providing free access to academic and professional peer-reviewed content to institutions in Ukraine (and many other countries) through the Research4Life program.

#ScienceforUkraine

This community group highlights support opportunities for graduate students and researchers directly affiliated with an academic institution in Ukraine. You can support by offering help such as temporary accommodation, access to facilities, scholarships and stipends, employment opportunities, and research visits.

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Making digital journals and books more accessible with EPUB

Find out what EPUB is and why it’s more accessible than HTML web pages and PDFs for journal and book content.

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Making digital journals and books more accessible with EPUB 

by Stacy Scott and Brianna Walker

Woman with sight impairment using ereader

The digital revolution was supposed to make it easier for the one billion people with disabilities and impairments to access information. 

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. 

In a 2021 article for the Assistive Technology journal, author Fernando Botelho, an assistive technology specialist at UNICEF, highlights how people with disabilities still encounter many obstacles using online services.  

These include academic services. This 2022 study published in the Journal of Electronic Resources Librarianship found that most academic library websites have issues with accessibility. 

We’re committed to providing an inclusive experience for all our readers, regardless of ability. One of the steps we’ve taken to make our books and journals more accessible is to publish them in the EPUB file format. 

To mark this year’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) on 19 May, we’re highlighting the benefits of EPUB file formats for accessible publishing across our digital book and journal products.  

We look at what an EPUB file is and why they’re so important for accessibility. We also highlight other actions we’re taking to make our content more accessible. 

What is EPUB?

EPUB is a digital publishing file format, which you can use to read content on a device such as a computer or a smartphone. It uses the file extension .epub. 

It’s the industry-standard ebook file format and was originally created by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF). 

Opening EPUB files

Some devices include pre-installed apps that will open EPUB files automatically, and many eBook sellers enable EPUB access on their reading platforms.

In some cases, you’ll need to download an app or install a browser extension such as EPUB Reader (for the Chrome browser) or Calibre (for Windows). Taylor & Francis uses Thorium Reader to review our ePub content.

 Many EPUB readers are free.

EPUB logo

Advantages of EPUB for accessibility 

EPUB is the most accessible format for digital content – for everyone, not just those who cannot easily read text on screens or printed media.

Because it’s a digital-native format, it’s specifically designed to be read on-screen, unlike PDF (portable document format) which was originally intended for print. 

Advantages over HTML 

The main advantage of EPUB over HTML is that files can be downloaded, shared, and accessed offline on all devices, including smartphones, tablets, e-readers, and desktop PCs.  

EPUB files also retain book or journal elements, such as page numbers, headings, and columns. These aren’t included on most HTML pages.

Advantages over PDF 

The main advantage of EPUB over PDF is that it uses structured markup of titles, headings, links, notes, tables, and more, which allows digital text to speech and screen reading software to function effectively. 

EPUB files also provide an optimal experience for users across all devices, as text size and page layouts are adjustable. This allows users to personalize their reading experience to suit their preferences. EPUB files allow linked navigation, multimedia content, and videos too. 

EPUB files are up to 90% smaller than PDF files meaning faster download times and more efficient data usage for mobile users. 

Man with cerebral palsy using smartphone

A brief history of EPUB

Technology is rapidly changing, and the file formats we use today to publish content digitally are completely different from those we published 20+ years ago. 

Taylor & Francis began investigating digital publishing in the early 1990s. Our first digital publications revolved around journal products, which we offered online as HTML web pages for the first time in 1996, and eBooks in PDF form, which we began producing in the early 2000s.  

The forerunner to EPUB was Open eBook Publication Structure (OEBPS). This was developed as an open-source project in the late 1990s and early 2000s. 

The EPUB 2 file format was released in 2007. We began producing EPUB 2 files for the first time across our eBook catalog shortly after this.  

We switched to the more accessible EPUB 3 format for all new eBook conversions in 2017 and started offering more recent journal articles in the EPUB 3 format in 2021. 

All of our new eBooks are now available as EPUB 3 and PDF files. More than 360,000 journal articles published since 2019 are available as HTML web pages, PDFs, and EPUB 3 files on our journal platform

We’ve published more than 160,000 eBooks in varying formats, including PDF, EPUB 2, and EPUB 3. A two-year project is underway to upgrade more than 67,000 EPUB 2 eBooks into EPUB 3, to improve the structural integrity and navigation of these files, with accessibility in mind.

Women in library using ereader

Improving accessibility with alternative text for images

In addition to our work with EPUB, we’re also making our digital content more accessible by writing and adding alternative text (also known as alt text) to images. This is a written description of an image, which users can access to make sense of the image if they can’t view it. 

We introduced alternative text into our eBook workflows in 2020 and more than 800 titles have been published with alternative text so far. Long descriptions are supplied where necessary, for more complex images. Several key journal products have started integrating alternative text as well. 

As part of this project, we launched a website for authors. This contains a guide to writing alternative text, as well as several example images, grouped by subject category. This site supports authors and contributors with the submission of alternative text for images with their final manuscripts and is meant to be used alongside the existing Books Publishing Guidelines

Man reaching for ereader from bookshelf

About the authors

Brianna Walker is the Head of Content Management for Books at Taylor & Francis, overseeing print and eBook conversions and metadata standards.

Portrait image of Brianna Walker

She was instrumental in launching the Taylor & Francis Accessibility Working Group in 2019 and under her leadership, Taylor & Francis won the 2021 International Excellence Award for Accessible Publishing, which is sponsored by WIPO’s Accessible Books Consortium.

Brianna is driven to provide the most inclusive reading experience and access to knowledge for all readers and aims to inspire others to do the same. She is a member of the UK Publishers Association Accessibility Action Group and has more than a decade of experience working in print and digital publishing. 

Stacy Scott is the Accessibility Manager at Taylor & Francis. She’s responsible for building and maintaining accessibility across all Taylor & Francis platforms and content, and ensuring the organization’s accessibility knowledge remains current and compliant.

Stacy Scott portrait image

Her role includes working with other publishers, vendors, platform providers, staff, and customers to ensure an inclusive experience for all. 

A thought leader in accessibility and publishing, Stacy frequently presents at conferences, panels, and events. She is the Chair of the Accessibility Action Group for the UK Publishers Association and has recently become a member of the Learned Publishing board for the Association of Learned, Professional and Society Publishers (ALPSP).  

Until recently, Stacy led the RNIB Bookshare UK Education Collection service, which provides nearly 800,000 accessible digital educational materials to learners with print disabilities. In professional and voluntary roles, Stacy undertakes substantial work advocating for access to inclusion and equality in education for those with sight loss and other print disabilities.  

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The digital threat to press freedom

What research tells us about how tech and the Internet influence journalists’ freedoms.

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The digital threat to press freedom

What research tells us about how tech and the Internet influence journalists’ freedoms

Close up on journalist's laptop and phone

A free press is essential in a healthy and functioning democracy. 

But press freedom is still being eroded. 

The Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Index measures the degree of freedom available to journalists in 180 countries. Until 2021, the Index assigned each country a score from 0 (the best score) to 100 (the worse score). 

From 2013 to 2021, the mean average score for all countries got worse, rising from 36.3 to 38

The latest RSF index for 2022 (which uses a different methodology and scoring system than the 2021 Index) shows that only 8 out of 180 countries (4%) are a “good” environment for journalism.

This is down from 26 “good” countries in 2013.

Norway is the most favorable country in the world for press freedom.

The UK and France are only deemed “satisfactory” for press freedom.

The US and Canada are also only deemed “satisfactory.”

Russia’s situation is classed as “very serious.”

North Korea is the lowest-ranked country on the Index.

Digital growth

Meanwhile, the amount of people who use the Internet has more than doubled since 2008. We’ve also seen incredible growth in the use of digital media, including the arrival of tools and services such as Instagram, WhatsApp, Telegram, and TikTok.  

Could a rise in the popularity of digital services, coupled with the technological advances that come with this, be a threat to the freedom of the press?  

To mark UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day 2022, which focuses on the theme “Journalism Under Digital Siege”, we’re highlighting three ways the Internet and advances in technology are threatening press freedoms. 

Only 8 out of 180 countries (4%) can claim to be a good environment for journalism, according to RSF’s 2022 Press Freedom Index. (tweet this)

1. Online harassment of journalists 

The harassment of journalists isn’t new. But the rise of digital tech and social media makes it easy for members of the public to track down journalists and harass them through email, instant messaging, social media, and doxing – sharing private or identifiable information about them online. 

In a 2020 article titled “Mob Censorship: Online Harassment of US Journalists in Times of Digital Hate and Populism“, Silvio Waisbord examines how online harassment – what he calls “mob censorship” – threatens press freedom in western countries. 

The article highlights how the politics of right-wing populism drives online harassment and how “press haters” can easily network with each other online. 

It also shows how journalists are more likely to be a target for harassment when they’re defined by visible markers of social identity, such as gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and religion. 

This can lead them to self-censor their work or avoid covering certain topics – or even leave the profession altogether. 

African American female reporters who covered the Trump White House have been regularly harassed with racist language. (tweet this)

Silvio Waisbord in “Mob Censorship: Online Harassment of US Journalists in Times of Digital Hate and Populism”

2. Surveillance of journalists and sources 

Before the digital revolution, monitoring people’s activities and communications might have involved intercepting letters, tapping telephones, or physical observation.

Information technology now means this type of surveillance can be done on a mass scale and from any location using methods such as hacking, data interception, and installing spyware.  

Philip Di Salvo highlights the impact of digital surveillance on journalists in a 2021 article, “Investigative Journalists and Internet Surveillance“. It examines the threat surveillance has on journalists’ safety as well as the restrictions it puts on their work. 

Surveillance also has a significant impact on the anonymous sources and whistle-blowers that journalists rely on to investigate governments and large institutions.  

In 2021’s “The End of the Affair“, Anthony L. Fargo examines how mass surveillance threatens the relationships between journalists and their sources. The article also highlights how journalists can combat this threat. 

Mass surveillance is likely to be an ongoing threat to the freedom of the press, even in democracies. In France, the prime minister has the power to monitor the French population without judicial control, while Poland’s 2016 surveillance law allows enforcement agencies to access citizens’ Internet and telecommunication usage data. Similar laws apply in Switzerland. 

Person carrying out surveillance using online tools

3. Censorship of digital journalism 

We’ve already seen how “mob censorship” can erode press freedoms. There’s evidence that governments are also taking steps to censor digital journalism. 

Lambrini Papadopoulou and Theodora A. Maniou investigated threats to press freedom against the background of the COVID-19 pandemic in their study, “‘Lockdown’ on Digital Journalism?” 

Their findings included: 

  • Hungary adopting a “Coronavirus law” that allows the Government to decide whether a media report is true or false and impose prison sentences for spreading “fake news”
  • Governments imprisoning critical journalists and confiscating their equipment 
  • Governments ordering all media not to print or broadcast any “personal opinions” about COVID-19 
  • Politicians or figures in positions of high authority initiating smear campaigns against critical reporters or media outlets 
  • Countries such as India, Ethiopia, Iran, and Egypt forcing Internet service providers to slow their services to impact digital journalists’ ability to send messages, share images, and watch live streams 
  • Exclusion of controversial media from state funding schemes 
  • Governments prohibiting journalists from accessing reliable sources of data and information 

The article concludes by asking, “Are we seeing a temporary ‘lockdown’ on digital journalism or a new normality in which press freedom will be acutely affected?” 

Most… threats [to press freedom] are aimed specifically at digital journalism… (tweet this)

Lambrini Papadopoulou and Theodora A. Maniou in “‘Lockdown’ on Digital Journalism? Mapping Threats to Press Freedom during the COVID-19 Pandemic Crisis”

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Recognizing the importance of women healers

The theme for Women’s history month this March from the National Women’s History Alliance (US) is: “Providing Healing, Promoting Hope”. To honor women in their many functions as alleviators of pain, curers of the sick, menders of minds, and rejuvenators of souls, this month, we dove into this fascinating topic, “Women as Healers”, with a survey of the latest research published by Taylor & Francis.

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Recognizing the importance of women healers:

from ancient shamans to 21st century doulas

Two women on a sofa, one is pregnant, one is a widwife.

Image of Susie King Taylor, the first African American Aarmy nurse.

Susie King Taylor was the first African American Army nurse. Library of Congress via Unsplash.com.

Susie King Taylor was the first African American Army nurse. Library of Congress via Unsplash.com.

Mother and child in a field Sierra Leone.

Mother and child in Sierra Leone. Photo by Annie Spratt via Unsplash.com.

Mother and child in Sierra Leone. Photo by Annie Spratt via Unsplash.com.

Woman assisting elderly man.

Photo Kampus Production via Pexels.com.

Photo Kampus Production via Pexels.com.

Female doctor treating patient.

Photo from NCI via Unsplash.com.

Photo from NCI via Unsplash.com.

The theme for Women’s history month this March from the National Women’s History Alliance (US) is: “Providing Healing, Promoting Hope”. They explain on their site that: “Women as healers harken back to ancient times…women… have historically brought these priceless gifts (of healing and hope) to their families, workplaces, and neighborhoods, sometimes at great sacrifice. These are the women who, as counselors and clerics, artists and teachers, doctors, nurses, mothers, and grandmothers listen, ease suffering, restore dignity, and make decisions for our general as well as our personal welfare.”

To honor women in their many functions as alleviators of pain, curers of the sick, menders of minds, and rejuvenators of souls, this month, we dove into this fascinating topic, “Women as Healers”, with a survey of the latest research published by Taylor & Francis.

All the work, little of the credit

Ofonmbuk Esther Ekong tells us that “three quarters of the world’s population depend upon traditional remedies for their health (according to the World Health Organization (WHO).” I will add to that findings from the United Nations report “The World’s Women 2020: Trends and Statistics”: “On an average day, women globally spend about three times as many hours on unpaid domestic and care work as men (4.2 hours compared to 1.7). In Northern Africa and Western Asia that gender gap is even higher, with women spending more than seven times as much as men on these activities”. This tells a story, that globally, it is women that are doing the healing, with, in most cases, traditional remedies. And when it comes to what we commonly refer to as “healthcare” – or non-traditional, non-indigenous, medicine –  women make up over 70% of the workers, too. What is key here is the fact that while women are doing most of the health related work, they are not getting the status, although that is slowly changing. This OECD report tells the story of women doctors: worldwide the share of female doctors was 29% in 1990, growing to 38% in 2000 and 46% by 2015. However, data suggests that, “even when female workers pursue higher skilled professions in the medical profession, they tend to be underrepresented in the jobs with the highest earnings”. 

During the second wave of feminism in the 1970s, Women’s Studies was born, to study topics such as race, class, gender and sexuality, in departments as varied as history, sociology, literature, politics, and psychology, with the goal of changing the position of women in the world. Taylor & Francis imprints Routledge and (prior to 2005) Carfax were some of the founding forces in gender studies and helped to bring together communities through their books and journals program. It is in this multidisciplinary field that we find scholars surfacing the stories behind the numbers, the herstory of women as healers, as well as women’s role as healer today.

The Age of Reason wasn’t a very reasonable time for women

In Witches, Charlatans, and Old Wives: Critical Perspectives on History of Women’s Indigenous Knowledge from the journal Women & Therapy, Oksana Yakushko asserts: “over vast spans of Western history, women-healers were branded as witches and punished for practicing witchcraft as well as denied influential healing roles because of the political and economic monopolization of knowledge in academic, religious, and cultural institutions and practices through enforcement of regulations and access to care. Moreover, centuries of European colonization of other cultures around the globe resulted in re-shaping these cultures away from traditions of women-healers, women-shamans, and women-leaders toward male dominance of these fields.”

Yakushko provides a brief chronicle of events, citing several instances in her timeline where history has been erased, those in power have committed “intentional denial of women’s access to healing knowledge or positions”, or women were outright murdered for crossing the patriarchal lines. Some instances in particular stand out, such as “the earliest known evidence of shamanic practice found by archeologists, dating from more than 30,000 years ago, indicated that the shaman was a woman” and the dictum “who knows how to heal knows how to destroy”, from The Malleus Maleficarum, used as a macabre manual, during the infamous witch hunts.

The irony is palpable as Yakushko continues her history lesson: “The witch-hunts of Europe were so severe that historians estimate that hundreds of thousands of women were tortured, drowned, hung, or burned at the stake in a span of three centuries (XV to XVII centuries)… In contrast, history books written by males claimed this period to be the end of the Dark Ages, described as the Renaissance, and claimed to mark the rise of the Age of Reason.”

The demonization of women healers certainly didn’t stop when the witch trials did. In her look at 19th century American popular fiction, inCutting Up Dead Babies”: The Literary Legacy of the Woman Physician as Abortionist from the journal Women’s Studies, Margaret Jay Jesse finds a great deal of it. Jesse writes: “’Murderess,’ ‘hag,’ ‘she-devil,’ ‘the instrument of the very vilest crime known in the annals of hell’ – these are just a few descriptions of women abortionists in popular nineteenth-century American fiction… nineteenth-century sensational dime novels are flush with the character of the evil woman doctor: the greedy, swarthy, foreign-born doctress, performing abortions under the cover of night, harming and killing desperate Anglo-American women and their unborn babies all in the name of profit”.

Through a Western lens

Yakushko explains why there is so little historical information about women healers outside of Europe: “Documented historical accounts of non-Western pre-colonization cultures show that women-healers were present and honored, but that European invasions over the past seven centuries were especially marked by transmission of patriarchal religious and social norms. Moreover, available recorded precolonization history with regard to other cultures is presented through a Western lens, especially a Western male lens. However, contemporary critical historians have developed alternative accounts of this history and show that European colonizers not only shaped social gender relations in every culture they invaded, but distorted accounts of cultures prior to their arrival. Specifically, upon their arrival, European imperial explorers not only refused to speak to any women who held power in indigenous native communities, literally granting power exclusively to males, but they also interpreted cultural practices, symbols, and stories through their patriarchal Western perspectives. For example, religious importance of female deities, women-focused rituals, and women’s roles as healers were often interpreted as demonic… indigenous forms of healing, specifically by women, were perceived as a threat to new colonial powers and were especially targeted.”

“Despite the historical persecution and extermination of indigenous healers, indigenous healing practices have persisted around the globe and appear to have survived the onslaught of Western ‘scientific’ knowledge and practice”, writes Yakusho. Indeed, they are thriving.

 

“Women’s physical, mental, and emotional natures made them unfit for work as doctors”

Laura Kelly recounts that the King and Queen’s College of Physicians in Ireland “was the first institution in the United Kingdom to take advantage of the Enabling Act of 1876 and admit women to take its medical licences.” Prior to that, Kelly tells us that “women had practised informally as doctors in the early modern period”, but the powers that be had successfully used bureaucratic loopholes to make practicing medicine inaccessible for them. Kelly writes in The turning point in the whole struggle’: the admission of women to the King and Queen’s College of Physicians in Ireland in the journal Women’s History Review:  “the increasing formalisation of medical education led to their increasing exclusion and the Medical Act of 1858 gave the force of statutory law to the increasing exclusion of those who had not undergone approved courses of training and obtained qualifications entitling them to practise. This act essentially resulted in the re-organisation of the medical profession and enforced the exclusion of outsiders. The act did not specifically exclude women but with the emphasis now placed on standardisation of medical qualifications from universities, to which women had no access, it effectively prevented women from making it onto the Medical Register.”

The medicalization of birth

While I have shown you instances where women have been denied their rights to be healers, in the 20th and 21st century women have also been legally hindered in their right to give birth on their own terms, and in their own homes, or receive the help of other women to do so. Jessica C.A. Shaw writes, in her paper The Medicalization of Birth and Midwifery as Resistance in the journal Health Care for Women International: “The medicalization of birth in Canada is a process that took place over much of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and it continues today. Characterized by a physician-lead, highly interventionist model of care, medicalization has taken the natural ability to labor and give birth away from women. This is problematic because unnecessary medical interventions during labor and birth can compromise the safety and emotional well-being of both the mother and baby. Furthermore, by normalizing technological births, the concept of childbirth has changed to reflect a paternalistic, physician-led event where women are expected to be submissive.”

“Women of color… must be diligent so as not to become dehumanized”

In “I Am My Hermana’s Keeper: Reclaiming Afro-Indigenous Ancestral Wisdom as a Doula” from Birthing Justice: Black Women, Pregnancy and Childbirth, Griselda Rodriguez explains why, as an Afro-Latina, being a doula is a political act: “Doulas of color… help women navigate a health-care system that can disempower them if they are not prepared to stand up for their rights. It is a system that… was founded on patriarchal and racist doctrines that deemed non-European, nonmale, nonelite bodies impure and pathological. Women of color are therefore readily marginalized within this paradigm and must be diligent so as not to become dehumanized.”

Rodriguez continues: “As a doula of color, my role goes beyond serving as an emotional companion. I am often a cultural broker, a translator, and a buffer against the forms of neglect that often lead to unnecessary medical interventions and traumatic birth experiences for women. C-section rates skyrocketed from 4.5 percent of US births in 1965 to 32.8 percent in 2012. Between 1996 and 2009, the US C-section rate rose 60 percent from the most recent low of 20.7 percent, reaching a high of 32.9 percent of all births. As a result of a broken maternal-health-care system, the United States ranks fiftieth among fifty-nine developed countries for maternal mortality, and maternal mortality rates have actually increased since the mid-1980s. Sadly, but not surprisingly, things are worse for working-class women of color, (according to the study “Unequal Motherhood: Racial-Ethnic and Socioeconomic Disparities in Cesarean Sections in the United States” from Louise Marie Roth and Megan M. Henley): ‘African American women die from pregnancy-related causes more often than other racial-ethnic groups, and have a fourfold greater risk of maternal death than non-Hispanic white women. . . . Latinas and non-Hispanic white and Asian women all share similar rates of maternal mortality, although rates appear to be rising among U.S.- born Hispanics’.”

In 2020, Andrea Nove PhD et al. estimated that “even a modest increase in coverage of midwife-delivered interventions could avert 22% of maternal deaths, 23% of neonatal deaths, and 14% of stillbirths, equating to 1·3 million deaths averted per year by 2035.” The movement of Black women working to help their communities by being midwives and doulas has begun to make a marked difference, The Guardian reported on Roots Community birth center in Minneapolis, that “the birth center had no preterm births among its African American clients in 2017, and a primary caesarean rate of 3%”. Midwife Rebecca Polston explained to The Guardian: “Culturally, white providers are trained to pathologize people of color and to not believe them… So when people are able to be culturally intact – I don’t mean just a placeholder person of color, but someone who’s able to practice with cultural authority – they’re able to cut through that and actually care for the person.”

Redefining ‘invention’ for the community of women healers in Africa

A traditional healer is: “a person who is recognized by the community in which she lives as competent to provide health care by using vegetable, animal and mineral substances as well as spiritual therapies, manual techniques and exercise; who relies exclusively on past experience and observation handed down from generation to generation, verbally or in writing.” In the African Journal of Science, Technology, Innovation and Development, Ofonmbuk Esther Ekong has conducted extensive research with women healers in Nigeria, and is concerned that although these women make a massive impact on innovation and healthcare in that country, they are being left behind when it comes to economic growth.

“Analysis from institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) demonstrate the economic growth potential that follows from increasing women’s labour force. This has led to the adoption of reforms by governments all over Africa to increase women’s ability to contribute to their economies. One type of business that women are actively engaged in is the art of traditional healing.”

She continues: “Women play key roles in delivery of informal healthcare alternatives based on medicinal plants. The prevalence of women in this knowledge-based enterprise further underscores the role of women in sustainable development.”

Ekong advises that an international sui generis system should be created in order to protect these women’s livelihoods: “The patent law which has been crafted to fit this ‘scientific inventor’-newness, inventive and industrial application, sharply shuts out inventors like African traditional healers… There is therefore the need to re-define ‘invention’ for the purpose of patentability… It is important to include and carry out initiatives directed at women and girls in development if gender equality is to be achieved. One such initiative would be amending existing IP laws to include the unique innovations of women.” Ekong goes on to explain that there is a precedent in China of intellectual protection for traditional medicine, which Africa can adopt: “(Traditional Chinese Medicine)TCM has gained acceptance all over the world, including the United States where the National Institutes of Health recognizes it as an effective alternative medicine. Part of the reason for such widespread success may be attributable to the intellectual protection strategy put in place by the Chinese government which may have incentivized traditional medicine practitioners to innovate more.”

Re-envisioning Western scientific paradigms

Professor Nuria Ciofalo practices her research with an acknowledgement and understanding that “psychology, as a legitimized discipline within Western scientific paradigms, has attempted to de-contextualize psychological phenomena and has produced universal theories based on White men’s regimes of truth”, instead she incorporates “indigenous psychologies (which) question the universality of existing Western scientific paradigms and incorporate context, meanings, values, beliefs, and vivencias (i.e., localized experiences in which knowledge is validated and legitimized by the same people who produce it) into research designs and knowledge generation.” Ciafalo’s advice to traditional psychology researchers is to question everything they know about their subject, and to elevate indigenous “ways of knowing and healing” to an equal footing with Western counterparts.

In Indigenous Women’s Ways of Knowing and Healing in Mexico from the journal Women and Therapy, Ciofalo explains: “Academia must not only integrate Indigenous women’s ways of knowing and healing as central part of its curricula, but also hire Indigenous women healers, respected as organic intellectuals and mentors for a new, emancipatory student generation. In this way, we may evidence the thriving of a promising generation that masters the application of inclusive approaches to improve and sustain individual, community, and cultural health and well-being. By invoking Ixchel and walking this road together as reciprocal mentors and apprentices, we will heal the wounds of our current system and replace it with buen vivir (well-being).”

Cover of Book: Birthing Justice: Black Women, Pregnancy, and Childbirth

Birthing Justice, Black Women, Pregnancy, and Childbirth. Edited By Julia Oparah, Alicia Bonaparte. Published by Routledge.

Birthing Justice, Black Women, Pregnancy, and Childbirth. Edited By Julia Oparah, Alicia Bonaparte. Published by Routledge.

Photo of a pregnant woman, wearing a flowery dress, standing in the woods..

Photo by Hussein Altameemi at Pexels.com.

Photo by Hussein Altameemi at Pexels.com.

Image of The African Journal of Science, Technology, Innovation and Development, Volume 13, Issue 7 (2021)

The African Journal of Science, Technology, Innovation and Development, Volume 13, Issue 7 (2021)

The African Journal of Science, Technology, Innovation and Development, Volume 13, Issue 7 (2021)

Image of a nurse, in a confident post with arms folded.

Photo by Laura James at Pexels.com.

Photo by Laura James at Pexels.com.


Racism and healthcare: an urgent call to care, confront, and correct 

Utilizing the latest research published by Taylor & Francis, we did a survey of articles on the topic of racism and healthcare, utilizing sources from journals related to sociology and social work, to medical education and policy. Read: “Racism and healthcare: an urgent call to care, confront, and correct”

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Racism and healthcare: an urgent call to care, confront, and correct 

Tima Miroshnichenko via Pexels.com

Tima Miroshnichenko via Pexels.com

The theme for this year’s Black History Month (US) is Black health and wellness.

The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH®) tells us: “In the still overhanging shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, Black people should and do use data and other information-sharing modalities to document, decry, and agitate against the interconnected, intersecting inequalities intentionally baked into systems and structures in the U.S. for no other reason than to curtail, circumscribe, and destroy Black well-being in all forms and Black lives.”

“What is apparent from every single one of these studies is that institutionalized racism in healthcare is by no means a thing of the past, but unfortunately is alive and well.”

Utilizing the latest research published by Taylor & Francis, I did a survey of articles on the topic of racism and healthcare, utilizing sources from journals related to sociology and social work, to medical education and policy. What is apparent from every single one of these studies is that institutionalized racism in healthcare is by no means a thing of the past, but unfortunately is alive and well. Healthcare professionals and policy makers need to learn from the stories of Black men and women on both the giving and receiving end of healthcare.

Attention also must be paid to the fact that the concept of “healthcare” should not be a narrow focus that begins and ends on the clinic visit, but should incorporate a wholistic approach – from ensuring healthy living conditions for all – to raising the awareness of the existence of inequities – so racism can be addressed and brought to an end.

Roadway in Philadelphia with writing "End Racism Now"

Photo of Philadelphia street by Kelly L via Pexels.com

Photo of Philadelphia street by Kelly L via Pexels.com

Medicine’s social contract: only for white people?

As Nicole Rockich-Winston et al. point out in “All Patients Are Not Treated as Equal”: Extending Medicine’s Social Contract to Black/African American Communities (Teaching and Learning in Medicine): “historical examples of medical experimentation and mistreatment suggest that medicine’s social contract has not been extended to Black patients”, explaining “because underlying medicine’s contract with society is another contract; the racial contract, which favors white individuals and legitimizes the mistreatment of those who are nonwhite.”

The iconic (and stereotypical) image of a white man in a white coat wearing a stethoscope instills more fear than trust for many, depending on your race and socio-economic status. This wariness and suspicion has been front and center during the COVID-19 crisis, when Black and Latin communities in the United States were widely reported to have lower vaccination rates. In  ‘It’s not the science we distrust; it’s the scientists’: Reframing the anti-vaccination movement within Black communities (Global Public Health) Krystal Baatelan explains: “The anti-vaxx movement is often associated with conspiracy theories and dismissed as being ‘anti-science’. However, scepticism from Black communities must not be read as being ‘anti-science’, but rather ‘anti-scientist’ due to endemic racism in medical communities and structural inequalities in healthcare.”

Old fashioned typewriter with "stories matter" typed onto white paper.

Photo Suzy Hazelwood via Pexels.com.

Photo Suzy Hazelwood via Pexels.com.

Old fashioned typewriter with the word "Crisis" typed onto white paper.

Photo by Markus Winkler via Pexels.com.

Photo by Markus Winkler via Pexels.com.

Segregated entrance for a movie theatre, 1939, Mississippi

Segregated movie theater entrance. Original black and white negative by Marion Post Wolcott. Taken October, 1939, Belzoni, MS, United States. Photo from Library of Congress via Unsplash.com.

Segregated entrance for a movie theatre, 1939, Mississippi

Segregated movie theater entrance. Original black and white negative by Marion Post Wolcott. Taken October, 1939, Belzoni, MS, United States. Photo from Library of Congress via Unsplash.com.

Bad medicine: A sordid history of sterilization, experimentation, and supression

Baatelan provides a gripping and succinct history lesson for those who might not immediately understand this ‘anti-scientist’ sentiment:  “Some of the scepticism toward the development of a COVID-19 vaccine is rooted in the anti-Black violence and exploitation that occurred in western biomedicine historically. Enslaved Africans were frequently used for medical experimentation due to their ‘availability’ and lack of rights, a practice that continued long after slavery legally ended.” Baatelan continues: “Black people were experimented on, forcibly sterilized, denied health insurance” and, due to often living in poor communities where they were victimized by a healthcare system, they “were unable to question white doctors because they could be turned away from hospitals due to the nature of the Jim Crow era.” It is in this setting, for example, that the HeLa cells of Henrietta Lacks could be taken without informed consent; Black men could be callously observed, go untreated, and left to die of syphilis, in the Tuskegee Study; and 60,000 people could be sterilized based on ‘eugenics’ theories. Additionally, there is disturbing data showing that inequities in sterilization are not a thing of the past, as documented in Loretta Bass’ Living in the American South and the Likelihood of Having a Tubal Sterilization (Sociological Focus).  

A tale of two celebrities: Eazy E and Magic Johnson

“The production of social space” and “racialized poverty” are factors which Krystal Baatelan says create a fertile environment for the spread of infectious disease, whether that be the flu, COVID-19 or HIV. Baatelan argues in her 2020 paper for Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture, ‘When whites catch a cold, black folks get pneumonia’: a look at racialized poverty, space and HIV/AIDS: “Black people have been disproportionately confined (in dense urban areas); approximately 23% of African Americans in the US live in poverty, compared to 13% of all Americans. Additionally, 33% of Black children live in poverty compared to 18% of all Americans. Although African Americans represent 13% of the US population, they account for 43% of HIV diagnoses. Therefore, rates of infection for African Americans are disproportionately high because they are more likely to live in poverty.” Baatelan’s paper analyzes the lives of two wealthy and famous Black men, Magic Johnson and Eazy E; Baatelan gives details as to why Magic Johnson, who grew up in a safe, stable home with access to necessary resources, was able to live a healthy life after contracting HIV thirty years ago, while Eazy E who  “grew up in a violent, racist neighbourhood, where access to resources such as healthcare and an adequate education were difficult to obtain”, succumbed to the disease in 1995 at the age of 31.

Baatelan cites a dire shopping list of hazards that she contends contributed to Eazy E’s death, from lack of healthcare for his asthma, to beatings from police in several encounters, to substandard housing in an area where he was potentially exposed to high levels of toxins, high stress, and poor nutrition. A 2019 Economic Policy Institute study provides a similar analysis, explaining that “beginning in infancy, lower social class children are more likely to have strong, frequent, or prolonged exposure to major traumatic events, the frightening or threatening conditions that induce a stress response” and “independent of other characteristics, children exposed to more frightening and threatening events are more likely to suffer from academic problems, behavioral problems, and health problems.”

A dilapidated apartment building in New York City.

Substandard housing conditions can expose children to high levels of stress and toxins; additionally poor neighborhoods are typically “food deserts”. Photo courtesy Tim Huffner via Unsplash.com.

Substandard housing conditions can expose children to high levels of stress and toxins; additionally poor neighborhoods are typically “food deserts”. Photo courtesy Tim Huffner via Unsplash.com.

Why ER (everyday racism) leads to the ER: crucial preventive health screenings delayed

Lastly, Baatelan maintains that Eazy E’s delay in seeking treatment factored into his death from HIV and was “reflective of his lack of trust in institutions, and unfair treatment of Black people in healthcare due to the highly racialized nature of Compton where he grew up”. This tendency to delay seeking care is also documented in the Wizdom, Powell et al. Medical Mistrust, Racism, and Delays in Preventive Health Screening Among African-American Men article from the journal Behavioral Medicine.

In this study, “analyses were conducted using cross-sectional data from 610 African-American men aged 20 years and older recruited primarily from barbershops in four US regions”; the authors explain that there is a great deal of speculation about medical mistrust, and explain why there is medical mistrust (it’s often attributed to the Tuskegee Study and the deep legacies of racism), but stress that a study of this kind has never been done to their knowledge. Also scarce are “quantitative studies of preventive health screening use in nonclinical populations of African-American men”.

Their study discovered that: “African-American men with more frequent ‘everyday racism’ (ER) exposure had higher odds of delaying blood pressure screening and routine healthcare visits. This finding… suggests frequent ER experiences may lead African-American men to avoid healthcare institutions partly because of stigma-induced identity threat… our findings further infer that accumulated negative lived experiences also become prisms for viewing and making preventive health choices. In other words, it is probable that frequent ‘everyday racism’ (ER) experiences accumulate, induce expectations of unfair treatment, and exact ‘wear-and tear’ on African-American men’s trust in medical organizations.”

“A little patient-centeredness could go a long way”

They see a light at the end of the tunnel: “Even in the face of a ‘wicked problem’ like ER, medical mistrust may be modifiable. In fact, research affirms that African-American men report lower medical mistrust when they also report having a more recent, patient-centered physician interaction. Patient-centered interactions are characterized by mutuality as well as supportive and responsive communication and are associated with higher patient trust in other populations. Yet, fewer African-American patients report having these kinds of physician interactions compared to White patients.

Wisdom, Powell et al. advise: “For African-American men, who are disproportionately exposed to daily, racialized slights against their humanity, a little patient-centeredness could go a long way in restoring their medical organization trust, as well as improving timely detection and screening.” They wrap up their article with this lesson for caregivers: “Dismantling racism inside and outside of the healthcare system is a vital part of reducing preventive health screening delays and ultimately eliminating health disparities in African-American men.”

A photo of Civil Rights March on Washington, 1963.

Marchers with signs at the March on Washington, 1963. Negative by Marion S. Trikosko, 1963. Photo from Library of Congress via Unsplash.com.

Marchers with signs at the March on Washington, 1963. Negative by Marion S. Trikosko, 1963. Photo from Library of Congress via Unsplash.com.

Photo of a basketball coming through a hoop.

Photo by Markus Spiske at Unsplash.com.

Photo by Markus Spiske at Unsplash.com.

Mural of musicians Eazy E and Dr. Dre in Compton, California. lbum Cover

Mural of musicians Eazy E and Dr. Dre in Compton, California. Photo by Jonathan Kaufman via Unsplash.com.

Mural of musicians Eazy E and Dr. Dre in Compton, California. Photo by Jonathan Kaufman via Unsplash.com.

Man looking sad.

Studies of preventative health screening in nonclinical populations of African-American men are scarce. Photo whoislimos via Unsplash.com.

Studies of preventative health screening in nonclinical populations of African-American men are scarce. Photo whoislimos via Unsplash.com.

Doctor with an iPhone.

Study: “African-American men report lower medical mistrust when they also report having a more recent, patient-centered physician interaction.” Photo NCI via Unsplash.com.

Study: “African-American men report lower medical mistrust when they also report having a more recent, patient-centered physician interaction.” Photo NCI via Unsplash.com.

COVID-19 disproportionately affecting black communities

According to the latest data from the CDC and the Kaiser Family Foundation, the vaccination gap this article mentioned earlier between White and Black communities has narrowed. Nambi Ndugga et al. write: “Over the course of the vaccination rollout, Black and Hispanic people were less likely than their White counterparts to have received a vaccine, but these disparities have narrowed over time, particularly for Hispanic people.” They continue: “The increasing equity in vaccination rates likely reflects a combination of efforts focused on increasing vaccination rates among people of color through outreach and education and reducing access and logistical barriers to vaccination, increased interest in getting the vaccine due to spread of the Delta variant, and increases in vaccinations among younger adults and adolescents who include higher shares of people of color compared to other adults.”

While this is promising news, there is still the appalling reality that COVID-19 has been particularly lethal in Black communities. Baatelan cites data from Toronto and Chicago to prove her point: “According to the latest data from the city of Toronto, racialized people make up 83% of reported Covid-19 cases while only making up half of Toronto’s population. Black people make up 21% of reported cases in the city while making up only 9% of the population” and “in Chicago, African Americans make up around 30% of the population, but have made up approximately 72% of Covid-19 related deaths.”

Race trumps class when it comes to death from COVID-19

Darius Reed’s study on COVID-19 in the Maryland community of Prince George’s County differs from these other studies a bit in his analysis, as race trumps class in his Social Work in Public Health article: Racial Disparities in Healthcare: How COVID-19 Ravaged One of the Wealthiest African American Counties in the United States. Reed follows the money, and finds disparities where “public funding is not equally distributed regardless of wealth and status for minoritized communities”. Reed describes Prince George’s County: “Long regarded as a symbol of Black wealth and excellence with a high population of highly educated Black professionals, entrepreneurs and government officials, where African Americans make up 65% of households and the median household income is 81,969 USD.” In this wealthy county however, COVID-19 and death from COVID-19 was disproportionately high in 2020, because “many residents are front-line workers exposed daily to the virus, and Prince Georgians disproportionately suffer from underlying health conditions that make the virus deadlier.” This is significant, because while 40% of U.S. healthcare workers are people of color, in July 2020 they made up more than half of confirmed COVID-19 cases. The Kaiser Family Foundation writes:“people of color accounted for a majority of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths known among health care workers for which race/ethnicity data is available.”

Digging a bit deeper, Reed finds that “despite high per capita incomes, Prince George’s County spends less on health and human services than its neighbors. With 38.94 USD per capita in general fund investment, it falls behind others like Baltimore County, which spends 45.13 USD; Anne Arundel, at 90.54 USD; Howard County with 109.37 USD; and Montgomery County with 224.25 USD.” Additionally, African American communities lack supermarkets that sell fresh healthy food: “Black neighborhoods have significantly fewer supermarkets than white ones and Prince Georges County is no different despite its wealth status.”

Reed’s plea is for policy makers to “understand the depth of healthcare disparities for people of color”. He concludes: “The lack of PPE, inconsistent access to healthcare due to lack of insurance or underinsurance, chronic health conditions in communities of color, and crowded living conditions is not only troubling, but indictive of the lack of governmental investment and oversight for communities of color.”

A photo of two healthcare professionals; both are people of color.

Photo by RODNAE Productions at Pexels.com.

Photo by RODNAE Productions at Pexels.com.

An older black man being given a COVID 19 vaccine.

Photo from CDC via Unsplash.com.

Photo from CDC via Unsplash.com.

A pathway to the future

In their article, Structural Racism in the COVID-19 Pandemic: Moving Forward in The American Journal of Bioethics, Maya Sabatello et al. offer what they call a “pathway to the future” with “community engagement to develop culturally-sensitive responses to the myriad genomic/bioethical dilemmas that arise, and the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to transition the country from its contemporary state of segregation in healthcare and health outcomes into an equitable and prosperous society for all.” They also offer more data on racial disparities: “Although the infection rate in the nation’s poorest neighborhoods is twice as it is in the wealthiest neighborhoods, it is the racial and ethnic disparities that are paramount. Emerging data show that Blacks/African Americans (AAs), Latinxs and American Indians/Alaska Natives (AI/ANs) are far more likely than non-Latinx Whites to be sickened and to die from COVID-19, and the rates are staggering.”

The anti-science skepticism Baatelan discussed comes to the forefront again here, as a vulnerable communities, already understandably mistrusting the powers that be, get their fill of more mistreatment and neglect. Sabatello writes: “With the disproportionate effects of the pandemic on racial and ethnic minorities, it is conceivable that members of such communities will choose to further disengage from biomedical research and the healthcare system that has failed them.” Sabatello et al. advise the healthcare researchers use utmost ”caution in enrollment of racial and ethnic minorities” and to use COVID-19 as a way to challenge long established, but unethical, research practices. On a positive note, Sabatello et al. do see COVID-19 as giving a “face to decades of segregation, racism and structural discrimination. It forces us to look to the generations of especially Blacks/AAs, Latinxs and AI/ANs that have often endured mistreatment in all aspects of life—from limited educational and employment opportunities to high levels of poverty and environmental neglect, insufficient, often absent, access to basic healthcare services, police brutality, and overrepresentation in the criminal justice system.”

Paying the “minority tax”

In their paper All Patients Are Not Treated as Equal”: Extending Medicine’s Social Contract to Black/African American Communities Nicole Rockich-Winston et al. touch upon the double burden that clinicians of color have: “much of the work around diversity currently falls on the shoulders of minoritized faculty who are often unacknowledged for their extra efforts to address the country’s racial contract. Their sense of responsibility in addressing the racial contract is one of the many ways Black/African American physicians are unfairly burdened with a minority tax.” The researchers advise: “Leaders must understand that the burden of extending the social contract to all patients is not solely the work of Black physicians; it is the responsibility of the profession itself, as it is medicine and its practices have supported the racial contract within the profession. Presently, this work is challenging because so many white physicians are unaware of the medical experimentation and mistreatment of Blacks/African Americans, and the need to incorporate these perspectives in the training of physicians.” 

In their article “What Does it Cost to be a Black Bioethicist?” for The American Journal of Bioethics blog, Keisha Ray PhD and Faith E. Fletcher PhD explain how the “minority tax” has implications for specifically Black bioethicists: “Because diverse voices and perspectives are critical to advancing institutional agendas, Black bioethicists are frequently asked and often expected to engage in DEI work—labor that is generally not compensated or credited in tenure and promotion decisions. Disproportionately heavy workloads germane to  Black faculty can lead to unfair perceptions, biases, stereotyping and ultimately labeling Black scholars as overextended, overwhelmed, not focused, spread too thin, unreliable with deadlines and incompetent. Without adequate institutional support structures, DEI work can cause mental and emotional trauma, fatigue and burn-out.”  

They offer advice to institutions and organizations: ”To mitigate these costs, institutions and organizations should compensate Black bioethicists for DEI-related work and strategically work to change institutional policies and practices by prioritizing DEI work in promotion and tenure decisions.” 

A photo of an African American woman researcher.

Photo by CDC via Unsplash.com.

Photo by CDC via Unsplash.com.

Another viewpoint on race 

While so many studies I have cited assume that looking at Black vs. White vs. other groups is an important factor in making change, Ruqaiijah Yearby offers another view, and wants us to challenge our very idea of “race”. In her paper Race Based Medicine, Colorblind Disease: How Racism in Medicine Harms Us All published in The American Journal of Bioethics, Yearby challenges the status quo: “The genome between socially constructed racial groups is 99.5%–99.9% identical; the 0.1%–0.5% variation between any two unrelated individuals is greatest between individuals in the same racial group; and there are no identifiable racial genomic clusters. Nevertheless, race continues to be used as a biological reality in health disparities research, medical guidelines, and standards of care reinforcing the notion that racial and ethnic minorities are inferior, while ignoring the health problems of Whites,” adding that “race should only be used as a factor in medicine when explicitly connected to racism or to fulfill diversity and inclusion efforts.” 

Yearby by no means suggests “the adoption of a colorblind approach in medicine” but asserts that data collections must be far more rigorous, in order to discontinue a classification system she considers inherently racist. She recommends: “Instead of using race (biological and social) as a measure for health disparities research, medical guidelines, and standards of care, I suggest using the social determinants of health and other factors, including but not limited to: neighborhood (based on zip code); education; occupation; job; health insurance coverage; income; wealth; health behaviors; experiencing racism; gender identification; disability status; and age.” 

Homemade sign "Racism is a Pandemic"

Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona via Unsplash.com.

Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona via Unsplash.com.

Photo of a black woman physician.

Photo Tima Miroshnichenko via Pexels.com.

Photo Tima Miroshnichenko via Pexels.com.

“you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”

Harriet Tubman, American abolitionist and political activist

I titled this piece “Racism and healthcare: an urgent call to care, confront, and correct” after I did the research, and I hope within these paragraphs I have shown care, and confronted the issues by providing several important studies. Next steps are that I hope people reading this with the power and influence to “correct” take heed of the advice given by these researchers. Firstly, patient centricity is key as a way of ensuring all individuals get necessary preventative care. Secondly, disparities in per capita investment in healthcare need to be addressed and ceased. Thirdly, the burden of dealing with racism needs to be shouldered by a broader community than just people of color. We invite you to learn more with these resources on racism and its intersections with healthcare at the link below.

Image of a woman healthcare worker taking another woman's blood pressure.


Women in Publishing Employee Resource Group at Taylor & Francis

At Taylor & Francis, we’re celebrating the five year anniversary of a colleague resource group set up to support women in the workplace – the Women in Publishing group.

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Women in Publishing Employee Resource Group at Taylor & Francis

Photo of a woman sitting at a table with a Taylor & Francis banner on it.

Photo of Gillian Howcroft courtesy Gillian Howcroft

Photo of Gillian Howcroft courtesy Gillian Howcroft

"I am a woman on a mission to..." typed with stickies saying various things like "live my best life, live my truth"

Photo Valentina Conde via Unsplash.com.

Photo Valentina Conde via Unsplash.com.

Erica Barbero, Marketing Manager at Taylor & Francis

Erica Barbero, Marketing Manager at Taylor & Francis

Erica Barbero, Marketing Manager at Taylor & Francis

Eleanor Adams, Marketing Manager, Taylor & Francis

Eleanor Adams, Marketing Manager, Taylor & Francis

Eleanor Adams, Marketing Manager, Taylor & Francis

Photo of Sreya Rao, Operational Excellence Team Leader, Taylor & Francis

Sreya Rao, Operational Excellence Team Leader, Taylor & Francis

Sreya Rao, Operational Excellence Team Leader, Taylor & Francis

Colleague Resource Groups (CRGs), also called Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), are employee-led organizations at companies where individuals who share a commonality can meet up, whether that commonality be gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or anything in which they have a shared identity or interest. Their aim is to create a safe space to support people and their career development, as well as, in some cases, provide a unified front where they can lobby for change at their organizations. Women as a group have traditionally faced barriers to career advancement, as this 2015 study from LeanIn and McKinsey points out: “From entry level to the C-suite, women are underrepresented at US corporations, less likely to advance than men, and face more barriers to senior leadership. In fact, at the rate of progress of the past three years, it will take more than 100 years for the upper reaches of US corporations to achieve gender parity.”

In their latest study from 2021, McKinsey and LeanIn find that, unfortunately, things are getting worse for women in the workforce: “ The pandemic continues to take a toll on employees, and especially women. Women are even more burned out now than they were a year ago, and burnout is escalating much faster among women than among men. One in three women say that they have considered downshifting their career or leaving the workforce this year, compared with one in four who said this a few months into the pandemic”. It’s more important than ever to have as much support as possible for women in the workplace.

At Taylor & Francis, we’re celebrating the five year anniversary of a colleague resource group set up to do just that – the Women in Publishing group. Women in Publishing (WiP) began in early 2017 when Ewa Klorek (now UK & EMEA Academic Sales Director) had an idea for a lunchtime book club. The book club was going to discuss writing related to women in business, such as Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. One meeting and a couple of conversations later, the group had become “Women in Publishing”, a network dedicated to celebrating the success of women at Taylor & Francis and promoting the professional development of women in the company.  The objectives of the group are “to showcase women leaders at all levels of the company at Taylor & Francis and inspire future women leaders, provide online and in-person discussion spaces for issues that affect women in publishing, promote and support the career development and well-being of colleagues at Taylor & Francis, and lastly, to facilitate professional and personal networking at Taylor & Francis”.

Worldwide, there are almost 600 Taylor & Francis colleagues following WiP’s activities. The group is open to everyone at Taylor & Francis, and regularly hosts virtual events and workshops on topics ranging from gender bias to career pathways, with both internal and external speakers. The group also pays it forward, volunteering at various organizations, and has been called upon to share insights about the positives of ERGs/CRGs. (Milton Park Committee member Vikki Davies, for example, presented at the UKSG Annual Conference in 2021 to discuss the impact of ERGs in the scholarly communication industry, “Driving Positive Cultural Change: The Power of an Active ERG”.)

Women in Publishing is an employee-led group; the regional WiP committees are comprised of volunteers driven by the desire to make a difference in the lives of their T&F colleagues, who conceive, develop, organize, and run events in their spare time. The committees are non-hierarchical; they meet up to plan out events or articles, agree ideas that they want to take forward individually or as a group, and divide up tasks that need covering in order to make that plan a reality. We sat down with several women who have been a part of WiP, or participated in their activities, to ask them how employees are benefitting from them now, and why they think the group’s existence is important.

“I decided to get involved to… surround myself with positive, strong female leaders and colleagues.”

Erica Barbero, Marketing Manager, Taylor & Francis

“Opening the door to possible future collaboration”

Erica Barbero, Marketing Manager, Taylor & Francis: “I decided to get involved with Women in Publishing as a way to learn more about the business, expand my network, and of course surround myself with positive, strong female leaders and colleagues. This gave me the opportunity to learn from their professional experience, grow within the business, and, in turn, pass this new found knowledge and confidence to my peers and direct reports.”

Barbero is part of the Boca Chapter Committee of WiP. She explains how this has been an enriching experience: “Some of the benefits I’ve experienced from being part of the group are getting to know many different women from across the business, hearing their voice of experience, and building my career network within T&F.”

“From a networking standpoint, it’s a great opportunity. Sometimes in our positions, we may feel like we are in silos, always working within the same groups and with the same team members. WiP gives you the opportunity to meet new people within the business, therefore opening the door to possible future collaboration and just learning more about the overall business. I also encourage the younger staff members to join because there is a wealth of knowledge and experience displayed by members who have been in the business for a number of years. It’s a great way to find a possible mentor and just learn from others.”

“I have enjoyed meeting colleagues from all over the world and connecting over a shared purpose.”

Eleanor Adams, Marketing Manager, Taylor & Francis

“A great forum to share ideas and develop in your career”

Eleanor Adams, Marketing Manager, Taylor & Francis: “I decided to get involved with the Women in Publishing group at T&F as a way of connecting with colleagues and supporting women in this industry to develop in their careers and feel empowered and supported in what they do.”

“There have been many benefits in participating in this group, but primarily I have enjoyed meeting colleagues from all over the world and connecting over a shared purpose. I’ve also gained insights into the issues women face in this industry and discovered what is important to them.”

“I would encourage everyone to participate in the Women in Publishing group who wants to connect with colleagues, receive support, and learn about issues for women in the workplace. It’s a great forum to share ideas and develop in your career.”

  
“I’d recommend everyone should come along to these (events)… because we all can improve our understanding and empathy.”

Sreya Rao, Operational Excellence Team Leader, Taylor & Francis

Sreya Rao is a Women in Publishing Committee Member for Milton Park (UK). She explained how and why she got involved in the group: “I joined Taylor & Francis two years ago from the rail industry where I’d been part of colleague-run networks and cultural change programmes to improve diversity and inclusion, particularly the gender balance. I enjoy spending time on such projects outside my day job as I find it rewarding to contribute to the overall culture of the organization and be part of the change. I also wanted to build my network at T&F and find like-minded individuals with whom I could collaborate.”

“I find it rewarding to contribute to the overall culture of the organization and be part of the change.”

“I’ve learned a lot and had some great discussions around gender, equality, and other crucial issues. Moreover, I’ve met some fantastic people and have a group of colleagues around me who are all very supportive and encouraging. In the meantime, I’ve also joined other networks such as the T&F DEI group for Socioeconomic Diversity and AllIinforma Nations and it’s been brilliant to see so much growth in this area and the commitment for change.”

 “I’d encourage people to come to WiP events because it’s amazing what you can learn! I particularly recommend our series called Breaking the Taboo where we candidly discuss topics which affect a huge number of people but where there is still some social stigma. There are still so many myths and misconceptions and I’d recommend everyone should come along to these, whether you identify as a woman or not, because we all can improve our understanding and empathy.”

 

“I will never forget the amazing energy we had at the first WiP event! It was an unforgettable experience.”

Ewa Klorek founded the group in 2017. She had this to say about her experience: “I got very inspired by my T&F colleagues, their stories, experiences, and ideas, which I thought could be shared in a wide forum. A forum to exchange these ideas, mentor & support each other as well as an opportunity to network and celebrate successes. I benefited from getting to know colleagues across T&F, learning different points of view, and expanding my network.”

“I will never forget the amazing energy we had at the first WiP event! It was an unforgettable experience. The opportunity to network with colleagues in the leadership position inspired me to enter the journey myself, challenge myself to think outside of the box, and embrace my vulnerabilities. There is no better place to meet passionate and inspirational individuals than at WiP events! The current committee has taken the group to a new, global level! Watch the space for some amazing events in 2022.”

“As an attendee… learning more about the group, what it stood for, and its objectives inspired me”

Renata Schiavinato: “When I first got involved with Women in Publishing, it was as an attendee in one of the events hosted by the Milton Park committee (Schiavinato is now a Boca Committee member). Learning more about the group, what it stood for, and its objectives inspired me. I thought it was an interesting and fun way of how, by sharing ideas, experiences, and concerns, we could support and encourage each other.”

“I personally think there are many benefits for being part of this group. I really enjoy being able to ‘network’ with colleagues that I would normally not engage with either because of their physical location or simply because our work is not at all related. These are colleagues I wouldn’t know anything about but being in a group together gave me the opportunity to hear stories and learn about career paths that are fascinating and have inspired me. I have had the chance to participate in discussions on issues that affect us, and it made me feel good to know that I am not alone out there with the same insecurities, fears, or questions.”

“it made me feel good to know that I am not alone out there with the same insecurities, fears, or questions”

Renata Schiavinato, Marketing Manager, Higher Education

“Although the name of the group is Women in Publishing, this is not just for women. All colleagues are encouraged to join. For me, it is very gratifying to be able to collaborate and support others. It’s a fabulous opportunity to meet new colleagues, share passions, discuss common concerns, inspire, and be inspired. It is, in my opinion, a means to establish shared identity with colleagues, thus being able to recognize, respect, and value different views.”

“I like to be part of a community”.

Gillian Howcroft, Regional Sales Manager (US Western Region) Taylor & Francis

“Each generation owes it to the next to keep moving important issues forward”

Gillian Howcroft, Regional Sales Manager (US Western Region), Taylor & Francis, explains that she got involved with Women in Publishing for multiple reasons. Howcroft says: “As an early entrant into remote working on the West Coast when I moved to California in 2014, I felt the need to stay connected to colleagues; and getting involved in any community helps foster that feeling of belonging. I like to be part of a community and WiP was an ideal match with my interests.”

“Secondly,” Howcroft continues, “I feel each generation owes it to the next to keep moving important issues forward. Equality for women has rounded out into a wider question of equality for all, along with diversity and inclusivity. Those issues are all important to me. Years ago, I was leading the Borders Women’s Book Group in Oxford, UK and one of the older ladies in a conversation suggested that my generation was not doing much to further equality and build on the work they had done. I was slightly shocked at the time, and then when reflecting, realized that perhaps she had a point. We had a much easier time of going to university, college, and into the workplace, in part because of some of the work they had done. As a mother to a daughter, I’m trying to ensure she has an even easier time and pays it forward when it is her turn.”

Ewa Klorek, UK & EMEA Academic Sales Director.

Ewa Klorek, UK & EMEA Academic Sales Director.

Ewa Klorek, UK & EMEA Academic Sales Director.

Photo of Renata Schiavinato, Higher Ed. Market Development Researcher, Taylor & Francis

Renata Schiavinato, Higher Ed. Market Development Researcher, Taylor & Francis

Renata Schiavinato, Higher Ed. Market Development Researcher, Taylor & Francis

Gillian Howcroft, Regional Sales Manager (US Western Region) at Taylor & Francis standing in Bear Mountain, California

Gillian Howcroft, Regional Sales Manager (US Western Region) at Taylor & Francis

Gillian Howcroft, Regional Sales Manager (US Western Region) at Taylor & Francis

T&F Employees Emily Newsome and Vikki Davies at the Informa Awards.

Women in Publishing were Runners Up at the Informa Awards 2018 for the “Leading the Way” category. Pictured here are Milton Park (UK) Committee Members Emily Newsome and Vikki Davies.

Women in Publishing were Runners Up at the Informa Awards 2018 for the “Leading the Way” category. Pictured here are Committee Members Emily Newsome and Vikki Davies.

“Being part of the WiP committee has given me the opportunity to work with similar groups at Wiley and Elsevier.”

Vikki Davies, Production Team Leader, and Learning And Development Specialist at Taylor & Francis Group, is one of five members of the Milton Park committee (UK). Being a committee member has given her both some new leadership skills, and a unique opportunity to work with similar groups at other publishers. Davies explains: “Women in Publishing offered a fantastic opportunity to get involved in a group aimed at addressing issues very close to my heart. I joined the Milton Park committee in 2017, having recently returned from maternity leave. I was looking for an opportunity to expand my network within the company and the wider industry, whilst also contributing to diversity and inclusion efforts. I was keen to get involved in new projects, and planning events was not something which I had previously been involved in.”

She continues: “Being part of the Women in Publishing committee has greatly broadened my network within the company and has also given me the opportunity to work with similar groups at Wiley and Elsevier. (You can read The Scholarly Kitchen article that Davies co-authored with ERG members from Wiley and Elsevier here.) It has helped my career development, as well as my personal development, as my understanding of diversity and inclusion issues has been greatly enhanced. Through organising events, my confidence to present in front of an audience and to take the lead in projects has grown enormously.”

“Women in Publishing aim to offer a wide range of events to colleagues throughout the business. Our events are open to all colleagues in the hope that they will aid personal development, discovery, and networking opportunities, and broaden the scope of diversity and inclusion within our community. We always welcome feedback from our attendees, and are always asking, if they feel there is something that Women in Publishing could offer, to please let us know.”

 “I’ve had the opportunity to create connections with colleagues across the world”

Emily Newsome is also a committee member for Milton Park (UK). She had this to say about her experiences as a committee member: “I first got involved with WiP because I am passionate about what WiP represents and wanted to be an active part of it in any way I could. I really enjoyed attending their first ever event in the Milton Park office and wanted to join the committee to help make those sorts of events happen. Plus, I was interested in meeting more people across the business, making friends, and talking about things that we all had a shared passion for.“

Newsome continues: “I have experienced so many personal and professional benefits as being part of the WiP committee. From representing the committee at the Informa awards in London in 2019 to hosting an in-person/virtual event, which helped me build my public speaking skills, I have met some wonderful people and had the opportunity to create connections with colleagues across the world. I would encourage people to join WiP (via the Yammer group) to meet others across the business, to hear about events that they may be interested in, to celebrate the success of women in and outside the company, and promote the professional development of women at Taylor & Francis.” 

“The ‘Breaking the Taboo’ series of talks where difficult topics like menopause and miscarriage have been discussed have been an eye-opener. I would highly recommend these, especially for managers to support staff through these life events.”

Siobhán Greaney was invited to join the Milton Park (UK) committee after coming up with some innovative ideas around using existing online resources in the group. Greaney explains: “I was interested in hearing from the speakers for the first WiP event back in 2017 so I went along. They were really great talks, so I attended the next couple of events, and when Informa were trying to promote an online resource to help with gender balance in the workplace I approached the WiP team about ways I thought this resource could be used in T&F and found myself (after a couple of catch ups over a cup of tea about the ideas) invited to join the local committee.” 

Greaney continues: “I’ve learned a lot from the events hosted, there have been great sessions about Imposter Syndrome and Communicating Effectively that I’ve taken tips away from that help me in my day to day work. The chance to meet people from other areas of the business and learn what they do has been great. The Yammer community is welcoming for all sorts of discussions and people sharing interesting research or news or just chatting. And the ‘Breaking the Taboo’ series of talks where difficult topics like menopause and miscarriage have been discussed have been an eye-opener, would highly recommend these, especially for managers to support staff through these life events.” 

“Anyone in the company is welcome to attend a WiP session or join the internal Yammer group so it’s not so much encouraging people to join as it is encouraging people to participate. I tell people to come along to a future event or look up the previously recorded ones online because you’ll learn something new. And if you do join the Yammer group, there’s a community of people there to share with. Being a part of WiP has helped me network, build connections, and expand my skills.” 

“To be able to contribute to even one woman accomplishing her goals is good for all humanity.”

Cynthia Klivecka, Production Editorial Manager, Taylor & Francis

Cynthia Klivecka, Production Editorial Manager, Taylor & Francis, is a member of the US Boca Chapter Committee. She explains how the US group was inspired by the UK group’s momentum: “I have long been interested in contributing to women’s issues of all kinds, especially when it comes to being supportive of other women. When the UK WiP main chapter posted an article about starting US chapters, I responded fast, as did Renata Schiavinato, at the same time! We were excited to be starting the group at the Boca Raton office. We sent out a ‘Would you be interested’ questionnaire to women and men in the office and the responses were overwhelming; we knew then that the Boca chapter was ready, willing, and able to begin sharing and supporting Women in Publishing.”

“Compassion and caring is absolutely fulfilling”

“Our first meeting was opened by Annie Callanan (Taylor & Francis CEO) and Emmett Dages (Taylor & Francis COO), and getting their support was crucial. Annie spoke and inspired us, I believe, to be strong for one another, and that feeling continues. Hearing of other women’s struggles inspired me to be more than a listener, but to be available no matter what the struggle may be. I am much more in tune to all people now, not gender-related or orientation or skin color. Once your mind is open, it is wide open! Compassion and caring is absolutely fulfilling. Indeed, one good turn becomes 100 if you are willing. Women in Publishing is a stepping stone to helping more and more women attain their objectives in life, to understanding struggle of any kind, and to be able to contribute to even one woman accomplishing her goals is good for all humanity!”

Production Team Leader and Learning And Development Specialist

Vikki Davies, Production Team Leader and Learning And Development Specialist

Vikki Davies, Production Team Leader and Learning And Development Specialist

Emily Newsome, Marketing Manager

Emily Newsome, Marketing Manager

Emily Newsome, Marketing Manager

Siobhán Greaney, Deputy Production Manager at Taylor & Francis

Siobhán Greaney, Deputy Production Manager at Taylor & Francis

Siobhán Greaney, Deputy Production Manager at Taylor & Francis

Picture of Cynthia Klivecka, Production Editorial Manager, Taylor & Francis, outside at a restaurant on the water.

Cynthia Klivecka, Production Editorial Manager, Taylor & Francis

Cynthia Klivecka, Production Editorial Manager, Taylor & Francis

Finding Solutions

Dianna Chane provides some great insight in her Forbes’ article, “The Power of Female Mentors: Why We Need More Women Leading Today’s Workforce”: “Workplace gender discrepancies are a problem women did not create, but I believe we can actively contribute to finding solutions.” Supporting employees’ efforts to fight barriers that keep them from progressing in their careers, with tools such as employee-led initiatives, is a step in the right direction.

Brick wall with large letters painted in white saying "For Women"


Black leaders in academic publishing: 7 Stories

We reached out to several Black researchers and professionals in academic publishing to ask them what they’re working on right now, and what they’re most passionate about. What follows is their stories.

View the story



Black Leaders in Academic Publishing: 7 Stories

Three Researchers, three Editors, and a Managing Director discuss what they’re most passionate about.

Photo of Dr. Nishaun Battle

Photo of Dr. Nishaun Battle by Saraellen Bagby

Photo of Dr. Nishaun Battle by Saraellen Bagby

Image of Dr. Rihana Mason

Photo of Dr. Rihana Mason by Carolyn Richardson

Photo of Dr. Rihana Mason by Carolyn Richardson

Image of Dr. Rihana Mason

Photo of Dr. Rihana Mason by Claire J. Miller.

Photo of Dr. Rihana Mason by Claire J. Miller.

Photo of Dr. Moradewun Adejunmobi.

Photo of Dr. Moradewun Adejunmobi.

Photo of Dr. Moradewun Adejunmobi.

Image of the Journal of the African Literature Association, Volume 15, Issue 3 (2021)

Journal of the African Literature Association, Volume 15, Issue 3 (2021)

Journal of the African Literature Association, Volume 15, Issue 3 (2021)

Image of Dr. Tracie Q. Gilbert

Photo of Dr. Tracie Q. Gilbert by Marvin Elam of 4EverElam Photography

Photo of Dr. Tracie Q. Gilbert by Marvin Elam of 4EverElam Photography

Photo of book: Black and Sexy A Framework of Racialized Sexuality By Tracie Q. Gilbert

Photo: Black and Sexy: A Framework of Racialized Sexuality,

Photo: Black and Sexy: A Framework of Racialized Sexuality,

A few months ago, I came across a great article in the New York Times about Black authors, editors, and booksellers who discussed their particular experiences in the publishing industry. I searched far and wide and saw that there was very little out there written about Black researchers, editors, and professionals in academic publishing and their work. I think it is important to highlight the work that Black researchers are doing, all over the world. So I took it upon myself to reach out to several Black researchers and professionals in academic publishing, and ask them what they’re working on right now.

I had the privilege of speaking with seven professionals, including researcher and author Rihana S. Mason, Ph.D.; editor in chief and author Moradewun Adejunmobi Ph.D.; researcher and author Tracie Q. Gilbert, Ph.D.; researcher and author Nishaun T. Battle, Ph.D.; editor in chief and author Louis Chude-Sokei, Ph.D.; publishing industry professional Leon Heward-Mills; and journal founder and co-editor Godwin Siundu, Ph.D.. What follows are their stories.

Rihana S. Mason, Ph.D., Research Scientist, Urban Child Study Center, Georgia State University, College of Education and Human Development; SEPA President; Co-founder Academic Pipeline Project, LLC. Author, Academic Pipeline Programs: Diversifying the Bachelor’s to the Professoriate

“I have always been fascinated by the ways in which cultural diversity shapes word learning and our ability to communicate our knowledge of the world to others. My desire to become a psychologist was inspired by witnessing two things: the issues a young woman faced with reconciling how to simultaneously learn two languages and the consequences of designing an intervention without considering the variability among the human experience. I was intrigued by a young girl’s success in learning a foreign language but struggles to learn the vocabulary and grammatical structure of her native language. Her challenges provided the basis for me to later become trained as a cognitive psychologist.”

“My dissertation research explored how learner characteristics influenced one’s ability to acquire the meanings of novel words during reading. My dissertation and later research examine differences in the processes that learners devote to acquiring depth of knowledge for new words. Participation in several subsequent multidisciplinary research and evaluation teams has strengthened my evolving interests in studying diverse learning contexts and methods for ensuring that diverse voices are included in the design of new assessments of learning and teaching tools.”

“As a mid-career professional, I am devoting more attention to ensuring the successful training of the next generation of scientists by illuminating the historical contributions of persons of color to science and education.”

Rihana S. Mason, Ph.D., Research Scientist, Urban Child Study Center, Georgia State University, College of Education and Human Development; Author, Academic Pipeline Programs: Diversifying the Bachelor’s to the Professoriate

“As a mid-career professional, I am devoting more attention to ensuring the successful training of the next generation of scientists by illuminating the historical contributions of persons of color to science and education. This emphasis is related to my co-authorship of book publications, including Early Psychological Research Contributions from Women of Color (Grahe, et al., in progress) and Academic Pipeline Programs: Diversifying the Bachelor’s to the Professoriate ( Byrd & Mason, 2021). I am passionate about connecting others with new knowledge and resources, enriching others’ lived experiences, and sharing my 20 years of experience as a researcher, professor, visionary leader, and mentor.”

Moradewun Adejunmobi, Ph.D., Professor, African American and African Studies, University of California, Davis; Editor in Chief, Journal of the African Literature Association 

My own research is in the area of African literary and cultural studies. While academic work has been devoted to this field at least since the early 20th century, the need for sustained attention to this area of work has continued to grow. Like many other scholars, and in the early years after completing my PhD, I thought of the effort to shape the field in which I worked mainly in terms of my own research and my own publications. Over time, I came to realize that the question of pushing the field in new directions was not just a matter of carrying on with my own publications. It would require giving attention to the institutions that structure the production of knowledge: obviously universities, research foundations, publishers, and also journals among many others.”

“Over time, I came to realize that the question of pushing the field in new directions was not just a matter of carrying on with my own publications. It would require giving attention to the institutions that structure the production of knowledge: obviously universities, research foundations, publishers, and also journals among many others.”

Moradewun Adejunmobi, Professor, African American and African Studies, University of California, Davis; Editor in Chief, Journal of the African Literature Association 

“Becoming the Editor in Chief of the Journal of the African Literature Association in 2020 presented me with an opportunity: that of working with a team on our Board of Editors to open up our field to new questions and subjects. For one thing, we could publish articles on a wider range of expressive works connected to Africa and the African Diaspora. We could publish articles exploring a wider range of approaches to these expressive works, unlike journals that are not focused on African literary and cultural studies, and which tended to limit their interests in Africa and the African diaspora to a select grouping of expressive works and critical approaches.”

“Among scholars working on subjects pertaining to Africa, there have been many debates about the politics and ethics of knowledge production about Africa. With my colleagues at the Journal of the African Literature Association, we have an opportunity to contribute to these debates through what we publish and, in so doing, to also grow our field.”                                                                                                                                                                                                               

Tracie Q. Gilbert, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Widener University Center for Human Sexuality Studies/Author, Black and Sexy: A Framework of Racialized Sexuality

“I am a researcher and educator who uses her work to pursue sexual wellness for African American people and racial justice in sex education spaces. I’ve been at this work for just over a decade now, and what I’ve found in that time is that, while the sexuality profession has an increased awareness that race impacts the ways people grow up to understand their sexuality and sexual selves, we have not yet articulated in full how that impact shows up, and what it looks like in real time. My first book, Black & Sexy: A Framework of Racialized Sexuality, is an attempt to help answer that question; it is based on grounded theory research conducted in 2016 and 2017 on structures and schemas of racialized sexuality among African Americans.”

“while the sexuality profession has an increased awareness that race impacts the ways people grow up to understand their sexuality and sexual selves, we have not yet articulated in full how that impact shows up, and what it looks like in real time.”

Tracie Q. Gilbert, Ph.D.—Assistant Professor, Widener University Center for Human Sexuality Studies/Author, Black and Sexy: A Framework of Racialized Sexuality

“Race emerged as an impacting factor in two explicit ways through the research: as a life-affirming expression of sexiness (“the stuff of sex”) via performative Blackness (coined by E. Patrick Johnson) and as an adverse external influence on one’s sexiness expression via forms of anti-Blackness and racial maligning like colorism, fetishization, and politics of respectability (coined by Evelyn Higginbotham). While the emergent theory I discuss, Black Sexual Epistemology, explores the elements and process of sexual development more broadly, I am most passionate about how the specific aspects of racialization impact not just Black lives, but those of society’s citizens as a whole. For example, how do non-Black people reconcile anti-Blackness in their conceptualizations of sex and relationships, particularly given the simultaneous influence of Black sexiness on mainstream pop culture? As well, I’m interested in how other groups of color understand the impact of racialization on their own sex lives—how it converges with and diverges from Black experiences, as well as producing its own unique dimensions.”

“As I continue my own research agenda, I will be paying attention to other deeper questions—particularly the parts of racialization that have caused African Americans sexual shame and trauma. Hopefully, what is unpacked in future research will prove informative for creating more culturally competent and impactful practitioner modalities among this population.”

Nishaun T. Battle, Ph.D., Associate Professor,
Undergraduate Coordinator of Criminal Justice,
Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, Virginia State University. Author, Black Girlhood, Punishment, and Resistance: Reimagining Justice for Black Girls in Virginia

“My work centers on raising awareness and creating solutions with and for Black girls who continue to go unheard, unseen, and devalued in society. I am interested in social justice spaces intentionally designed and created by Black women, to help foster spaces of joy, affirmation, and opportunities for learning and development for Black girls. My book, Black Girlhood, Punishment, and Resistance: Reimagining Justice for Black Girls in Virginia, offers insight into social justice themes that are of interest to me, including leadership development, wellness, and sisterhood, just to name a few. Additionally, my interest in the role Black women have played and continue to play, for the advancement of Black girls, highlights the work of Janie Porter Barrett, the founder of the Virginia Industrial School for Colored Girls. Both my research and personal interests include exploring spaces created by Black women, and engaged by Black girls, in which they have the opportunity to navigate demeaning social narratives, and resist against anti-Black narratives that are stereotypical, oppressive, and limiting.”

“I am passionate about Black girls having the opportunity to live their lives as girls, and not being subjected to adultification by both societies at large”

Nishaun T. Battle, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Undergraduate Coordinator of Criminal Justice, Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, Virginia State University. Author, Black Girlhood, Punishment, and Resistance: Reimagining Justice for Black Girls in Virginia

“I am passionate about Black girls having the opportunity to live their lives as girls, and not being subjected to adultification by both societies at large, and within interpersonal settings they socialize in. I want the harsh, and beautiful realities experienced by Black girls to become a part of the larger societal narrative, in helping to shape and develop programs designed for them to flourish in life. I am a strong advocate for mentorship, and as such, in addition to being a Professor, I serve as a technical assistant consultant for a nationwide mentorship program that helps individuals who want to start youth-based non-profit organizations. I also serve as a board member for a local non-profit, youth-based organization, for young Black girls and girls of color.” You can learn more about Dr. Battle’s research and interests at www.drnishaunbattle.com.

Louis Chude-Sokei, Ph.D., Professor Of English, George And Joyce Wein Chair In African American Studies, Director Of The African American Studies Program, Boston University. Editor in Chief, The Black Scholar. Author, Floating in A Most Peculiar Way.

“The more work I do, the harder it is to describe the work that I do. Ostensibly I’m a scholar who trained in Literary studies. Within that discipline I was able to pursue interdisciplinary commitments in performance, migration, sound, and technology. I’ve written on everything from Blackface minstrelsy in America, Africa, and the Caribbean, to the Harlem Renaissance; from the literatures of new African migration to reggae music and post-turntable sound cultures; from Anglo-American modernism, Caribbean theory, and African internet crime, to robotics, science fiction, and now Artificial Intelligence. These interests have led to extracurricular work as a sound artist and curator, working with international museums and now Carnegie Hall with whom I’m co-curating the 2022 Festival of Afrofuturism.”

“‘Blackness’ has had… a problematic US-centrism”

Dr. Louis Chude-Sokei, Professor Of English, George And Joyce Wein Chair In African American Studies, Director Of The African American Studies Program, Boston University. Editor in Chief, The Black Scholar. Author, Floating in A Most Peculiar Way.

“Because I came into the scholarly world as a writer of non-fiction, I’ve always balanced my academic work with public writing, which ranges from newspapers, magazines and museum catalogs to belletrist work that culminated in a memoir published at the start of 2021. That memoir, Floating in A Most Peculiar Way, gave narrative to the life and work thus far.” 

“What it might not have given shape to is how I became Director of African American Studies at Boston University as well as the editor in chief of The Black Scholar, one of the oldest and still leading journals of Black Studies in the United States. The memoir is the story of someone for whom ‘Blackness’ has had such a problematic US-centrism that Diaspora is less an organized continuity than a sphere of endless conflict, tension, and difference. As such, I never thought of my work as being ‘African American’ or ‘Black’ Studies at all! However, it is because I see Blackness as fragmented, fissured, discordant and often irreconcilable I’m able to see and hear things most others can’t, or won’t.” 

Leon Heward-Mills, Managing Director, Researcher Services, Taylor & Francis

“My work is geared around developing Taylor & Francis’s services for expert research communities. It all begins with our purpose as an organization: using knowledge to foster human progress. This concept of human progress at the center of everything Taylor & Francis does is a critical starting point to think about what we do and why we do it. I endeavor every day to use my time, energy, and talents to enable the dissemination of quality, data-driven research that is essential to drive human progress.”   

“What I’m working on now with my colleagues is removing some of the friction from the process. We want to speed up the movement of research and make it as easy as possible for researchers to connect, collaborate, and disseminate good quality, trusted content. I’m committed to democratizing that research, in order to make sure that the widest and most diverse range of expert voices are heard. I’m really keen to level the field so that the best of the best can emerge, and ensure that the most relevant expert knowledge is surfaced and disseminated. Bringing diversity, equity, and fairness to academic research communication is my passion. Making sure that we’re giving researchers a voice and a trusted platform and that we are creating valued services. This work has caused me and my team to think more creatively about what we do as a business.”  

“what Routledge and Taylor & Francis have always done… (is to) create a place where curated, validated content can exist and evolve, where ideas collide and where thinking and insight can develop.”

Leon Heward-Mills, Managing Director, Researcher Services, Taylor & Francis

“Quality and ethical integrity is the basis of the trust on which all research and research communication has to be based. Our role is to ensure all research that we publish is thought through, validated, and properly curated. If it is wrong, we will say that it’s wrong and, if necessary, working with our expert communities, will remove or adapt it. We create a place where curated, validated content can exist and evolve, where ideas collide and where thinking and insight can develop. That is what Routledge and Taylor & Francis have always done. To do this work is a privilege; it’s one of the most rewarding and one of the most vital things that anybody could be doing in communications right now.”

Godwin Siundu Ph.D., Professor, University of Nairobi; Founding co-editor of Eastern African Literary and Cultural Studies

“I am a literary and cultural studies scholar based at the University of Nairobi, and founding co-editor of Eastern African Literary and Cultural Studies, which has regularly run since 2014. I have passionately focused on highlighting literary and cultural scholarship in and on the region for greater visibility and use across Africa and the world.”

“I am driven by an understanding born from my appreciation of the limited opportunities available for scholars who are based in the region to conduct and publish innovative, timely, and relevant research that also speaks to trends and emerging philosophies of knowledge in the rest of the world. This means that little that emerges out of the region travels across the world. This problem is traceable to conceptual limitations of what is ‘new, relevant, publishable knowledge’ that is relatable to other scholars from elsewhere. The conceptual constriction is further complicated by the popularity of archaic pedagogical approaches that emphasise ‘lecture’ methodologies, which undermine dialogic exchange of ideas between our students and their lecturers. This is frustrating to everyone.”

“I find passion in mediating instructional and publishing experiences among colleagues, current, and future researchers, as a way of facilitating a deeper understanding of literary and cultural trends in eastern Africa in the current world order of knowledge-based economies.”

Godwin Siundu, Professor, University of Nairobi; Founding co-editor of Eastern African Literary and Cultural Studies.

“Therefore, as a journal editor and educator based in one of the most privileged spaces of knowledge production in the Global South, I find passion in mediating instructional and publishing experiences among colleagues, current and future researchers, as a way of facilitating a deeper understanding of literary and cultural trends in eastern Africa in the current world order of knowledge-based economies.”  

Image of book cover: Black Girlhood, Punishment and Resistance

Photo: Black Girlhood, Punishment and Resistance

Photo: Black Girlhood, Punishment and Resistance

Image of Dr. Nishaun T. Battle holding the book she authored.

Photo: Dr. Nishaun T. Battle holding her book ‘Black Girlhood, Punishment, and Resistance: Reimagining Justice for Black Girls in Virginia’

Photo: Dr. Nishaun T. Battle holding her book ‘Black Girlhood, Punishment, and Resistance: Reimagining Justice for Black Girls in Virginia’

Image of Dr. Louis Chude-Sokei

Dr. Louis Chude-Sokei photographed by Cydney Scott

Dr. Louis Chude-Sokei photographed by Cydney Scott

Image of The Black Scholar, Volume 51, Number 4. Winter 2021.

Photo: The Black Scholar, Volume 51, Number 4. Winter 2021.

Photo: The Black Scholar, Volume 51, Number 4. Winter 2021.

Photo of Leon Heward-Mills

Photo of Leon Heward-Mills.

Photo of Leon Heward-Mills.