Academia Milestones: My First Invite from a Predatory Journal

This post is a follow-up to my similarly titled post Academia Milestones: My First Invite from a Predatory Conference. Here I document another pitfall of academia where predatory companies mislead researchers into paying to publish work in a low-quality journal.

Last year, I was invited to speak at a real conference as part of the young investigator contest. It was a great opportunity to share some of the details of my research with other academics. It also proved to be valuable in the sense that we were able to glean more ideas about future directions that the work may take from the talks given by other researchers. By contrast, my liver is thankful that the conference is over!

There are no proceedings associated with the conference. For any internet user who is interested, the book of abstracts* is publicly available for download. In principle, open access of scholarly work is an excellent initiative in terms of fostering innovation where research is accessible to individuals and organisations regardless of their financial situation. However, it is also important that only high quality work is published in order to maintain public confidence in science. Thus many legitimate open-access publishers will charge publication fees as part of keeping the lights on.

Where things get tricky is that charging researchers for publication changes the dynamics of academia completely. It has been in the best interests of academics to publish as many articles as possible since career progression has been heavily metricised** by the administrative dullards in charge of academic institutions and funding bodies. It is now also in the self-interest of open-access publishers to publish as many articles as possible in order to maximise profits. This is done at the expense of the review process that should ensure all accepted work is of sufficient quality. Legitimate publishers can avoid this temptation since: (1) it is an illegitimate and unethical practice, and (2) they’re already making massive profits. However, there is now room for predatory publishers to step in.

Without peer-review, anything could make it into the academic literature, truthfulness be damned! Hence open-access journals produced by predatory publishers are of no academic value due to the uncertainty surrounding the fidelity of the work that they publish. The predatory publishers themselves know this, which is why they make up fake impact factor scores for their “journals”.

In terms of strategies predatory publishers use, I’ve already talked about the OMICS corporation that uses a scatter-gun type approach to snare researchers. But following last year’s conference, I found out that other companies are much more sinister. In my spam filter was an email from David Publishing who were inviting me to publish my talk in one of their “journals”. This one was more convincing as it included the title from the talk that I gave at the conference (view email at this link).

Given the unsolicited nature of the email and the poor grammar, it was still clearly a scam email. But it’s a much more advanced scam than the one OMICS puts out. The attempt at personalising the email makes it much more likely to successfully mislead a researcher. Of course, all the sender would have done was trawl the book of abstracts and sent out emails to everyone who had an abstract in there.

It would have been nice if the conference organisers had emailed all authors to warn against this danger. If any of the work at the conference was published in a low quality journal, the authors would not be able to publish it in a real journal since double submission is frowned upon. That would be a shame.

A cursory search on the Google revealed that David Publishing is a predatory publisher. Amusingly, there was once a message on their front page claiming:

Recently, some authors have been cheated by another company (who told sent the emails in the name of our company but in fact it is not). In case more authors are cheated, please send your paper to us via the submission link as following: …

Understandably they are outraged by another company cheating authors, that’s supposed to be their job!

How do you avoid get sucked in? By doing your research. The very fact that a publisher is emailing you should be a sign of concern. Notice how all of the top journals don’t invite you to submit papers? That’s because they don’t need to. You should check the background of a journal that you are considering submitting to. Ask your supervisor and colleagues what they think. A whole raft of lists exists such as DOAJ, Publons, Think, Check and Submit and Open Access Journal Quality Indicators. Normally I would include Beall’s list, but it has been taken down and I discovered that he holds some un-nuanced views about open access:

Beall published an article arguing against the whole of open access publishing and not just predatory open access, claiming it to be an “anti-corporatist” [sic], “collectivist”, “cooperative” movement which wishes to “replace a free market with an artificial and highly regulated one”.

Beall has it backwards: predatory publishers are the inevitable result of the corporatist free market where self-interested individuals seek enrichment at any cost. Academic publishing is supposed to be cooperative and highly regulated. Articles usually have multiple authors, while peer reviewers voluntarily and anonymously scrutinise articles for quality. Legitimate open-access publishers should and do have these same basic features as closed-access publishers.

So long as predatory publishers are allowed to exist, researchers will continue to get caught out and the public will continue to lose confidence in science. Predatory publishers enable policy makers to use false information to make decisions or to validate their false ideologies. It is critical that all predatory publishers are named, shamed and denied our submissions. Governments and regulatory agencies must decisively try to shut them down for the good of society.

*Unfortunately, an abstract contains nowhere near enough information to give a complete picture of the work, let alone how to replicate it.
**The metrication of research is also responsible for other fraudulent practices like p-hacking, salami slicing, and fake peer reviews.

Gambling in Games: Some Hope for the Future

Not long after I expressed my irritation about the random number generator (RNG) based gameplay in Elite Dangerous, the video game world was shocked by the release of Star Wars: Battlefront II. The game consisted of opening loot boxes with the possibility of  unlocking more powerful characters. Accessing loot boxes could be done either by spending a lot of time playing, or by purchasing more loot boxes with real money.

This was a slap in the face to gamers considering the price of the base game. EA’s attempts at damage control were a spectacular failure, they have since backed down and removed microtransactions (for now).

The whole affair caught the interest of regulators in Belgium, The Netherlands, Hawaii and Victoria, to name a few. The aspiration to ban loot boxes from the European Union by the Belgian Minister of Justice is particularly encouraging. It is a refreshing change from the prevailing viewpoint by regulatory agencies that loot boxes are not gambling, such as the ESRB, PEGI, and New Zealand’s OFLC.

Of course PEGI’s retrograde viewpoint on this issue comes as no surprise, I finally heard back from them following my complaint about the Engineers in Elite Dangerous (their bold):

the moving images must “encourage and/or teach the use of games of chance that are played/carried out as a traditional means of gambling”. This refers to types of betting or gambling for money that is normally played/carried out in casinos, gambling halls, racetracks. This does not cover games where betting or gambling is simply part of the general storyline. The game must actually teach the player how to gamble or bet and/or encourage the player to want to gamble or bet for money in real life. For example, this will include games that teach the player how to play card games that are usually played for money or how to play the odds in horse racing.
Elite Dangerous does not contain content that would trigger a PEGI gambling.

This definition is too narrow. Of course Elite Dangerous isn’t going to contain traditional gambling, it’s set in space 1300 years in the future! To me, it’s clear that PEGI isn’t that keen on protecting the public.

This comes as no surprise when one considers PEGI’s owners are the Interactive Software Federation of Europe (ISFE). The ISFE represents the interest of software companies, including members such as Activision, EA, SEGA, and Ubisoft. How can we trust a ratings agency created by the software industry to put the interests of consumers before those of their backers? As their response to the loot box saga shows, we can’t.

The IFSE sees PEGI as little more than window-dressing by working “to counteract negative connotations or moral panic“. It’s insulting that gamers concerns about quality gameplay and extortionate economic practices are dismissed as a moral panic. As I have commented before (in the context of television broadcast standards), self-regulation doesn’t work. Self-regulation didn’t stop loot boxes in Japan. Leaving it to PEGI and the ESRB won’t stop them either, there’s money to be made!

While the efforts of the aforementioned politicians are important steps in removing loot boxes from our games, people power still has an effect. Disney, the owners of the Star Wars IP, were allegedly concerned about trending memes associating “family-friendly” Disney with gambling (a brilliant strategy move) and may have had a role in canning the microtransactions. It’s important that society continues to let game developers know who is in charge.

Regarding Elite Dangerous, Frontier has revealed their plans for revising Engineers. I am broadly happy with it, it is more deterministic in the outcome and players have the choice of special effects. I am not too concerned with the progression, it’s better than gambling and material trading should soften the tedium of the grind. Bring on the Q1 update!

To conclude, fuck PEGI and the corporate interests who bankroll it. Public opinion is firmly against loot boxes and RNG gameplay; the sophistry about how it isn’t gambling hasn’t fooled anyone. Politicians around the world are taking action seeking to end the scourge of gambling in video games. My own complaint may have come to naught, but there’s a lot to be hopeful about.


Paradise Papers Reveal Absurdity of GST

As if the Panama Papers weren’t enough, we have had more information about the barely legal and unethical dealings of the super-wealthy following the release of the Paradise Papers. Much of the focus has been about how individuals and corporations with the help of tax havens are able to structure their affairs to minimise their tax bills. In effect, they are stealing from taxpayers who bear an undue brunt of the cost for keeping their respective governments functioning.

This scandal has largely gone unnoticed in New Zealand because the corporate media is too busy recapping events in reality TV shows such as Couples Spend More Money Than Anticipated on Ego Projects, and  Ignorant White People Discover That Arranged Marriages Aren’t That Great After All. So I’ll need to turn to international media again. The Guardian is the most prominent Anglophone newspaper that has covered the Paradise Papers and has put out too many articles to cover in any great detail, but I would like to discuss one that particularly caught my attention:

2017 Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton avoided paying up to £3.3 million of VAT (value added tax, known as GST in New Zealand) when importing a Bombardier private jet. The jet was made to look like it was available for charter, by doing so VAT can be claimed against the purchase and running costs associated with business operations. VAT can not be reclaimed when jet was used for leisure purposes. Depending on the breakdown of business and leisure travel, Hamilton may have been required to pay a proportion of the £3.3 million in VAT.

My disdain for the wealthy avoiding taxes is not limited just to Hamilton, but to everyone who has been caught out in the Paradise Papers. If you want to live in a civilised society, someone has to pay for it. It is only logical that those with the most wealth are liable for most of the taxation levied by governments. The quality of life of the majority of the population suffers when governments are not able to provide high quality services such as education, healthcare, and security.

Furthermore, the wealthy are only wealthy because of public infrastructure, an educated and healthy workforce, state-funded research and enforced intellectual property laws. Were it not for strong and effective government, they could not have achieved what they have been able to do. It is in their best interest to support government, and that means paying taxes. Weak arguments such as “the government would just waste money anyway” are just shallow excuses made by sad individuals trying to allay their guilt.

Of course it one thing to insist that the rich should pay their full amount of taxes voluntarily, but no one listens to me. Instead it is up to governments to close down the loopholes in the law that have been exploited. What I find interesting about Lewis Hamilton’s case is that he was able to avoid VAT, a consumption tax like GST.

GST has been defended by neoliberals because it was seen as “simple”, “efficient” and “hard to avoid”. The Paradise Papers have shown that all of these arguments are a complete sham. GST is nothing more than a regressive ideological act of faith that puts more pressure on ordinary people while allowing for the rich to become richer. Even worse, there are mechanisms which allow wealthy people to actively avoid GST on big-ticket purchases!

Governments are largely paying lip-service to the idea that something must be done, but don’t expect the oligarch-funded centre-right to do anything about it. Meaningful change starts by electing solid left/centre-left candidates to national office. It’s encouraging to see Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn come out against the practices highlighted in the Paradise Papers. The British government should also intervene in their overseas territories to harmonise the tax structure within the UK. That action alone would close so many loopholes featured in the Paradise Papers.

It’s vital to the long-term welfare of our society that it is properly funded by those who have the ability to fund it, who also happen to be those who have benefited the most from it.

Dirty Tricks From Aged Care Provider to Cheat Workers out of Pay Rise

A while back, rest home care providers achieved a superb legal victory against the New Zealand government to increase their pay rates. The argument was that workers were denied equal pay on the basis that the industry, which consisted mostly of women had lower wages than equivalent male-dominated industries. The wage increase was supported with a $2 billion cash injection to the aged care sector from the government.

Despite government funding of the pay increase and the lobby group representing companies providing aged care services endorsing the settlement, there are reports of costs being passed on to residents and their families. Today, there is a report that Aberleigh Rest Home in Blenheim will be restructuring their workforce, where care workers are replaced with lower paid “home assistants” who would not be covered by the equal pay ruling.

Such a development is usually met with the usual boilerplate rhetoric from the political right who claim that wage rises will hinder businesses and increase costs. But before we shed a tear for the poor, embattled rest home owners, let’s consider some of the backround behind Aberleigh Rest Home:

Aberleigh is operated by Dementia Care NZ and its co-owners have been in the sector since 1999. Dementia Care NZ owns 9 rest homes across New Zealand and are not publicly listed on the sharemarket, so information about their earnings isn’t accessible to the public.

It is worthwhile to consider the financial situations of some publicly traded aged care providers:

Ryman Healthcare: One of the largest aged care providers in the country. A cursory glance of their press releases illustrates that they have made record profits for the last two years. Indeed. many New Zealanders would have first heard about Ryman in the investment section of the newspaper. And with good reason, shares in Ryman have an excellent return on investment.

Oceania Healthcare: A more recent listing on the NZ Stock Exchange, Oceania reported a net profit in the year to May 31st of ~$45 million. Currently shares have gained 20% since the company was listed on the NZX.

Bupa: An international aged care company which operates rest homes in NZ. In the Australia/New Zealand market unit, their underlying profit for 2016 was $344 million. Their share price on the LSE has increased by ~25% over the past 5 years.

Judging from these market performances, it is clear that the aged care is a highly profitable sector and a great investment for bitter millennials! It’s also clear that these enterprises are not in a desperate financial situation where a wage rise would cripple them, especially when the NZ government claims that it has fully funded the cost of the pay rise.

Without seeing the specifics of Dementia Care NZ financial details, it’s hard to tell if their decision to circumvent the equal pay ruling was done to keep the business afloat or to preserve profitability. However, we may infer that Dementia Care NZ has less than $20 million in assets and has revenue is below $10 million since they are not filing financial statements with the Companies Office.

Given that approved aged care providers receive funding from the Ministry of Health, I believe that the public should have access to the financial details of all these providers. Regardless of the financial situation of Dementia Care NZ, the simple fact of the matter is that their employees should be given this pay rise since it is mandated by law. That the company is trying to avoid paying workers their due serves to reinforce the negative perception of an aged care sector that milks the elderly and their families for the enrichment of shareholders.

The nature of the aged care sector shows how far our society has degraded over the past three decades. Our elders are no longer valued for who they are, but valued for the money that the wealthy and powerful can extract from them. I can only hope that the media spotlight and public pressure will force Dementia Care NZ to do right by their employees and give them the pay rise that is their entitlement.

Let’s Make Magic Water Again!

Previously, I wrote about Te Kiri Gold, an extortionately priced product whose desperate users were told could cure cancer and suchlike. The product in question is no more than electrolysed salt water. I sardonically mused that such a product could be made from the reject stream of the reverse osmosis brine electrodialysis process, such as the one used in a chlor-alkali process designed by a team that I was involved with for an undergraduate project. Because of the low production cost and the attractive pricing, our generic Te Kiri Gold would generate a tremendous amount of revenue!

Recently shared an article about another type of magic water, sold here in good ol’ New Zealand under the label of NZ Water Purifier Ltd. This magic water is different; while TKG was a solution of sodium hypochorite, NZ Water Purifier Ltd is a solution of dissolved chlorine dioxide. Chlorine dioxide should not be consumed by humans, let alone anything living. Funnily enough, it can also be produced by the chlor-alkali process!

During my undergrad project, another team also designed a chlor-alkali plant. They targeted it for use in the pulp and paper industry. A Kraft pulping plant is the perfect companion for a chlor-alkali plant since both the chlorine and NaOH are consumed on-site. Sodium hydroxide is used during the cooking and bleaching operations, while the chlorine is reacted with NaOH to produce sodium chlorate (famous for causing trousers to explode), which is reacted with hydrochloric acid to produce chlorine dioxide, which is the bleaching agent used.  Judging from the leading photo in the article (higher res at the original article at, sodium chlorite and HCl are sold in separate bottles* to mix together at home, or you can buy it pre-mixed for convenience.

Economically, how does this compare to TKG? We can’t use electrodialysis dilutate to produce NZ Water Purifier Ltd because the membrane cell requires highly concentrated brine (250 g/L as opposed to 32 g/L). So instead, lets just dump it back into the ocean and re-purpose the plant to make chlorine dioxide.

I’m not exactly sure about the amount of chlorine dixoide that can be produced, but from a crude analysis of the molar ratios in the chemical reaction equations I think there is a 2:1 ratio of sodium chlorate:chlorine. Thus we are limited by the amount of NaOH produced. There is then a 1:1 ratio of Chlorate:chlorine dioxide. Let’s say that from 90,000 t/y of NaOH, we can make 152,000 t/y of chlorine dioxide. (Note that I’ve ignored the production of HCl, which could be achieved from the remaining chlorine that isn’t used to make sodium chlorate. It becomes chlorine again during the reaction to produce chlorine dioxide anyway). Let’s assume we sell the solution at 25 wt%, then we are making 608,000 t/y of solution. Assuming a density of 1 kg/m³, and $190/L, we have a revenue of $116 million/y. Thus, we can conclude that a plant making Te Kiri Gold was a much better investment at $260 million/y in revenue.

Unlike TKG, this is not a kiwi product. In fact, NZ Water Purifier Ltd is already so infamous, that it has it’s own RationalWiki page (under the name, MMS). Consuming chlorine dioxide is a terrible idea, with some very unpleasant health effects. Beyond the usual aspirations of curing cancer, MMS has lately been marketed to parents of autistic children as a way to “detoxify” them. This is no doubt connected to the anti-vaccination movement, which has demonised autistic people as being “damaged” by vaccines. The level of ableist prejudice among the anti-vaccination and alternative medicine communities is outrageous. It only serves to increase the contempt that I have for them.

Fortunately, Medsafe has issued a warning over the product. Even better, the government has introduced the Natural Health and Supplementary Products Bill, which regulates the manufacture, sale, and export of “natural” health products and creates new offences for deceptive behaviour and harming human health. It’s currently at the committee stage prior to the third reading. Let’s get the bill passed and close NZ Water Purifier Ltd down.

*The concentrations of sodium chlorite and HCl are unclear. Are they weight percent, or per weight of water? Either way, it looks like sodium chlorite is in excess when the solutions are mixed. The pre-mix is given as 3000 ppm, is this weight, volume or molar? What  a bunch of scientifically illiterate bastards.

My Opinion on the Andrew Little Defamation Trial

On Monday, news broke that the Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Little has been partially cleared of defaming the owners of a hotel chain. This verdict makes writing the post easier as I know that some of Little’s statements were not defamatory and can report on them with less fear of negative consequences. Having read up on online defamation, I should be OK if I stick to verifiable facts and genuine statements of opinion. Of course that’s no guarantee. As Little has found out, you can be sued for defamation even when what you said wasn’t defamatory. The comments about the case on social media and other blogs were probably more defamatory than anything Little ever said. But I guess suing an internet random doesn’t have the same gravitas does it?

How did this all begin? The founder of the Scenic Hotel Group hotel chain donated $101,000 to the governing National Party prior to the last election. One month later, Scenic Hotel Group was awarded a government contract to run the Matavai Resort in Niue. That these two events occurred is beyond doubt, the issue is a matter of optics as to whether there is any connection between the events.

I think the timing could be described as “interesting”, or “unfortunate” as a cynical mind can’t help but wander, especially since there is history with National Party donors and unfortunately timed government contracts such as Beemer-gate. In that case, the dealer saw sense and didn’t sue anyone. With the hotel incident, Little made some comments where he alleged corruption. The Hagamans sued him for defamation prior to an investigation by the Auditor-General. Once the Auditor-General got involved and gave the process the all-clear,  Little apologised to the Hagamans.

From the reports of proceedings in the trial, Lani Hagaman said that she wanted a suitable public apology. I think that the statement on the Labour Party website was sufficient. They should not have expected an apology before the AG investigation when they sued him, why should Little apologise when the facts are yet to be determined? I found that Little was being sued for $2.3 million inconsistent with the claim that Hagaman just wanted an apology. I am unconvinced by the excuse that it is to restore Earl Hagaman’s reputation. Ironically, my opinion of Hagaman is diminished by the fact that Lani Hagaman thinks that his reputation can be restored by an amount of money that would bankrupt Little. If they didn’t want me to think poorly of them, then they shouldn’t have donated money to the National Party in the first place.

I am also concerned about the political motivations that could have been involved. National Party donors and presumably supporters suing a Labour Party politician unsettles me. Will suing for defamation under unconvincing circumstances become a tactic for the wealthy and powerful to censor dissenting voices? The integrity of our democracy is more important than the feelings of greedy multi-millionaires whose own actions do more to harm their reputation than anything Andrew Little could say. Fortunately, one of the findings of this case was that Little has qualified privilege as Leader of the Opposition to draw attention to potentially murky dealings. As noted by Antony Robins, this is good for democracy.

Unfortunately, it may not be over yet. Lani Hagaman looks to be seeking a retrial over the inability of the jury to decide whether Little had defamed Earl Hagaman. She also does not believe that Little is not protected by qualified privilege. Little has washed his hands of the issue as has the corporate media, who have moved on to other things.  By donating to the National party, companies are making a statement that they view their customers and New Zealand with contempt. However, contempt goes both ways so I will not be purchasing goods and services from Scenic Hotel Group in the forseeable future.

My Concerns About Toastmasters International

I’ve been a member of a Toastmasters club for the past 3 years. While I am by no means a terrible speaker, I appreciate being able to keep my speaking skills up to date and network with a group of like-minded people. Lately, I’ve become increasingly concerned about the path Toastmasters International has been taking. Where I take issue may be divided into two main categories: finances and democracy.

Let’s start with the finances: Each member of a Toastmasters club pays membership fees in order to access the educational program resources. The club then pays this money to Toastmasters International (TMI). Clubs may also charge extra to cover essentials such as room hire and non-essential items such as snacks and (in the case of NZ clubs) the District Service Charge.

This year, it was announced that the membership fees that clubs would have to pay to TMI will increase by 25%. TMI published a vague and verbose FAQ to allay concerns. All good right? Sure, if you’re sycophantic with cult-like tendencies then everything’s great. Even with the fees increase, “Toastmasters is still great value!”.

However if you are capable of empathy or if you have experience with university club sign-up days (I have both!), then you will know that telling someone that joining a Toastmasters club will cost you about 120 NZD/year* is an effective way to scare off new members. Increasing this number by 25% will only serve to make Toastmasters more unattractive to university students.

And it’s not just us ivory-tower academic elitists that are affected. What about the unemployed, or those on low incomes who have the will-power to improve their skills in order to ascend the career ladder? A fees rise further shuts them out, which is perversely ironic as Toastmasters should be an instrument of social mobility!

It gets even worse. In NZ, $120 /year isn’t much for many people (about 30 cups of coffee from your local café). For other countries however, 120 NZD would be regarded as a lot of money. Are regional disparities considered when TMI calculates fees? Of course not, it’s 6 USD/per month for everyone! Undoubtedly, this inhibits the growth of the organisation in many parts of the world.

And yet, who adds the value that members experience when they attend club meetings? Why, it’s their peers and the club executive, none of whom are paid to reflect the value they add. In fact, they’re all contributing to the Amazonian revenue stream that flows towards TMI! In fact, there are executives (which most Toastmasters members probably have never heard of) who receive exorbitant salaries for doing what appears to be not much.

To summarise so far: Toastmasters members already pay fees which are prohibitive for those of limited means and those who work to ensure their clubs are of high quality do not get remunerated for their efforts. And now the fees are going to increase?!

Well, let’s look at what happened the last time that fees were raised in 2011. There was no increase in spending on membership services in the following two years, instead funds were used to play the stock market and building an unnecessary amount of reserves! How can we trust that TMI will spend the proceeds on membership services this time around?

As far as I’m concerned, we can’t. The fees rise should be vigourously opposed by everybody since it is unnecessary and has been inadequately justified**. But I’m just some guy ranting on the internet. What do other Toastmasters think?

Apparently not much. I was made aware of these issues by a mass email sent out by  a Toastmaster from District 59 (Southern and Western Europe). What did the District 72 (Toastmasters NZ) leadership have to say about this?

It has come to my attention that District 59 (European District) is sending unsolicited emails out to various clubs/people around the world regarding the upcoming fees increase.

Please be advised that the District Trio and World Headquarters are aware of this and there is no need to (sic) Clubs to respond to this email.

Well, that puts my mind at ease! \sarc. It also highlights the rather dictatorial, top-down approach that is persistent in Toastmasters where those in leadership roles generally stick to the establishment view. I see it as a classic example of groupthink. Those in leadership positions become immersed in their new-found importance (i.e. the organisation has done good things for them, therefore the organisation must be good) and become strident defenders of whatever TMI World Headquarters (WHQ) advocates.

That brings us along to the lack of democracy in Toastmasters: The upper echelons of TMI were not happy about this information being revealed. Of course, the logical course of action to take was to prohibit criticism of the organisation (see here for more details). It’s also become very apparent that the current system disenfranchises clubs from being able to get in the way of TMI WHQ’s aspirations.

For example, consider Proposal A from the 2016 International Convention in Washington DC. Passing this proposal would mean that TMI was no longer required to locate the WHQ in California. TMI argues that California is too expensive*** and that having the option to re-locate would be financially advantageous to all new members. On the web page which explains Proposal A, there’s a big information box advising clubs to vote “for” this proposal. Similarly, the District Director parroted the same endorsement in an email sent out to all NZ clubs.

Surely those who had reservations about this proposal would be given an equal platform to argue their case, right? No. For example, one California-based toastmaster was denied the opportunity to provide an alternative viewpoint on the TMI website.

Having decided that I opposed Proposal A (along with the rest of the club executive team), I then had to navigate the confusing world of proxy-voting. Since nobody from a university club in New Zealand is going to travel to the International Convention, we would need to allocate our votes to someone who is attending in person. We had two options: designate (1) the District Director as our proxyholder, or (2) any Toastmaster in attendance. Given our District Director’s enthusiasm for Proposal A, could we trust them to follow our instructions? After a bit of wrangling via email and Facebook, I was able to find a like-minded Toastmaster who was happy to be our proxyholder. Electronic voting would be much easier, allowing all clubs the opportunity to make their voices heard. We are able to elect student union representatives via electronic voting, why not make it more widespread? I don’t think it’s a good idea for parliamentary elections where integrity is paramount, but Toastmasters elections aren’t as important so the risks are not as serious.

So, how did the vote go? Badly. There doesn’t seem to be an official breakdown of the vote available online, but Facebook comments indicate that Proposal A passed with 98% of the vote. Now we find out that TMI is going to relocate its WHQ. TMI deny that the 2016 dues rise will fund the massive capital expenditure required for such a move, instead:

The potential relocation will be funded by Toastmasters International’s investment funds, which have been set aside for such a purpose.

i.e. the thing that the 2011 dues rise was spent on! TMI doesn’t list this as one of the things that the last dues increase was used for in the 2016 FAQ. Why weren’t more members outraged by this?

In some ways, such a one-sided result wasn’t too surprising. The members who are vocally opposed to this had spare time, experience with Toastmasters and a strong sense of justice. Not all club executives have all of these traits. They are well-meaning people who follow the advice of TMI and their District Director and vote for Proposal A and don’t think about it again. Other executives might not even know there were proposals to vote on. Executives may have wanted to vote “Against”, but didn’t know anyone who shared their view who was going to the International Convention. And, there’s no way of knowing whether District Directors followed the instructions of “Against” voters who gave them proxies. While the result is legitimate, that doesn’t mean that it is representative of club opinion.

What can I do about this? Not much. The bureaucracy involved with TMI is too difficult for members to propose and effect changes. As a club president, I owe it to my fellow members to not lead them head-first into a worse situation. For the club I belong to, I see three options:

  1. Accept it. Raise the fees and ignore the bad issues. If I’m going to be part of a cult, I may as well enjoy it! Drive away potential members because the price is too high.
  2. Arrange funding from the student union to pay for the fees rise. This would only apply to our student members, but would avoid potential chaos associated with leaving TMI.
  3. Leave. The club would then be free to manage things as it sees fit, but we lose the education programme, leadership training and contests. To replace the education programme with something in-house would be more effort than we would be prepared to make.

As things stand, the plan is to go with Option 2, a luxury many TM clubs won’t have. For those who want to leave, I would encourage you to check out Agora Speakers, an initiative that arose from the concerns of some of the members of District 59. They have some very good ideas which I look forward to seeing develop in the coming months and years.

To conclude, Toastmasters International is more corporatised than we would have imagined when we went along to our very first club meeting. It is my opinion that the top-level leadership have made a poor decision in choosing to relocate WHQ, leading to poorly justified fees increases. That the International Executives are highly paid, while those who actually add value to the organisation do so for free is completely unfair. To claim that TMI is democratic is fanciful, given the convoluted process that clubs need to go through in order to make their votes count.

We must all ask ourselves: Is this something that we want to be part of?

*This is the best-case scenario where a club charges the bare minimum to cover the charges that TMI imposes upon clubs. The fact that it has to be paid in 6-monthly blocks is also ridiculous and is a nightmare for any VP Membership who is sufficiently competent to notice.

**I also think the 2011 fees rise should be reversed given that the proceeds have been used inappropriately, that would make a massive difference in terms of making TM more attractive to potential members.

***This comes across as standard right-wing non-logic. A non-profit organisation shouldn’t concern itself with tax rates. Plus, it seems that the heritage of TMI being founded in California isn’t worth much.