Tag: Belgium

A question of a few centimetres

It’s funny to see that in a short span of time, a few centimetres can make a difference. This month, Austria authorised Niko Alm to wear a pasta strainer as “religious headgear” on his driving-licence (BBC). This month too, Belgian law banned women from wearing the full Islamic veil in public (BBC).

Well, the Belgian law doesn’t exactly formally forbid the Islamic veil although it was often named as the “anti-burqa law”. The exact terms are:

Seront punis d’une amende de quinze euros à vingt-cinq euros et d’un emprisonnement d’un jour à sept jours ou d’une de ces peines seulement, ceux qui, sauf dispositions légales contraires, se présentent dans les lieux accessibles au public le visage masqué ou dissimulé en tout ou en partie, de manière telle qu’ils ne soient pas identifiables.
Toutefois, ne sont pas visés par l’alinéa 1er, ceux qui circulent dans les lieux accessibles au public le visage masqué ou dissimulé en tout ou en partie de manière telle qu’ils ne soient pas indentifiables et ce, en vertu de règlements de travail ou d’une ordonnance de police à l’occasion de manifestations festives.

The automated Google translation gives:

Shall be punished by a fine of fifteen to twenty-five euros euros and imprisonment from one day to seven days or one of these penalties, who, unless required by law, occur in places accessible to public masked or concealed in whole or in part, in such a way that they are not identifiable.
However, are not covered by paragraph 1, those that circulate in places accessible to the public masked or concealed in whole or in part in such a way that they are not identifiable and that, under regulations of work or Order of Police on the occasion of festivities.

This is even more scary: the law basically asks everyone to clearly show her/his face in public spaces except for work (e.g. construction workers with dust protection) or when the police explicitly authorised it during events. If it’s too cold in winter and your hood is hiding part of your face, you may be arrested. On top of that, you add the increasing number of CCTV in operation in Belgium as well as some good face recognition software and you have a tightly controlled society. 😦

Photo credits. Left: Masked by Katayun on Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa). Right: Heiliger Führerschein (Episode #6 – Das Finale) on Niko Alm’s blog.

Calendar of events about India in Belgium

Nachda Sansaar Bhangra group at Bozar in 2006

Although its presence in Belgium is more discreet than China or other European countries (for obvious reasons in the latter case), India has always something to show in Belgium. I decided to put some (most of?) events related to India in Belgium in a calendar so everyone can be aware of them. Here you are:

If you organize or know that something related to India in Belgium will happen, just let me know and I’ll add it to this calendar.

P.S. Although I post the information today (July16th, 2011), the calendar will continue to be updated even after tomorrow 😉
Photo credit: Nachda Sansaar Bhangra group at Bozar from myself 🙂 on Flickr

World Cancer Day

It doesn’t seem jolly but last Friday, it was the World Cancer Day. About this, the WHO set up a nice website about cancer control.

Following my previous post on Jamie Oliver and the top 15 causes of death in the USA, I started to collect similar data from other countries. Linking this to cancers, the annual statistics on cancers in Belgium can be found on the Belgian Cancer Registry. The latest numbers are however from 2006. Here are the top 15 cancers in Belgium in 2006 (all sexes and regions mixed):

Rank Classification Cancer type Cases Remark
1. C50 Breast 9556  
2. C61 Prostate 9254 male only
3. C34 Bronchus and lung 6956  
4. C18 Colon 5233  
5. C44 Malignant neoplasms of skin 3110  
6. C20 Rectum 2264  
7. C67 Bladder 1986  
8. C82-85 Non-Hodgkin-lymphom 1925  
9. C43 Malignant melanoma of skin 1572  
10. C64 Kidney 1377  
11. C16 Stomach 1356  
12. C54 Corpus uteri 1320 female only
13. C25 Pancreas 1172  
14. C80 Unknown primary site 1168  
15. C15 Oesophagus 920  

It’s interesting to note a few things:

  • These figures represent cases of cancer and not deaths by cancer. Note also that prostate cancer is in third position but only concerns males.
  • The latests data is from 2006. The website doesn’t seem to be updated since 2008 (and 2008 seems to be the year when data from 2006 are available ; if we follow the 2-years-gap logic, I guess the data from 2009 are available somewhere but not on this website)
  • Data accessibility seems to be average. Data is there in Excel format (and PDF which is pretty useless if you want to reuse the data). On one side, these Excel files can be opened by almost every office suite. On the other side, some open format would have been preferred. And some direct interaction with the data on the website is now the norm (ok, I just wrote it doesn’t seem to be updated since 2008)
  • The classification is quite good since it uses the “Classification Internationale des Maladies” which is the “International Classification of Diseases” in English better known as ICD-10 (online).

A good issue of Nature, obviously!

The October 14th, 2010 issue of Nature is obviously a good one. It had to be a good one! I usually advocate Open Access but it is always nice to reading complimentary issues of Nature which is Closed Access but is also publishing very good articles about science at the same time.

In this issue, I was interested in various topics …

First, there is a serie of articles about the US midterm elections and what (US) scientists feel about two years of Obama administration. Obama promised total transparency in American science, a new era of integrity and more freedom for scientists. From what I read, this isn’t the case yet.

Then, there are two article about publishing computer code from scientific experiment. In a World View, Nick Barnes, director of the Climate Code Foundation takes some concerns about that to pieces. The main reasons to provide computer code is to improve programming skills (the software author’s and others’) and enable others to engage with your research. Don’t be ashamed of the quality of your code. Don’t be afraid of starting the trend if no one around you share their software. Don’t be afraid to refuse support when badly asked for. Don’t overestimate the intellectual property value of your code. Nick Barnes also wrote a blog post about it. And you can comment on the Nature article here.

In a News Feature, Zeeya Merali tells stories of scientists who found themselves in uneasy positions regarding to the software they wrote but, at the same time or later on, realised publishing their software was the best thing to do. Besides formalising one’s training in programming, Zeeya Merali advocates some simple steps to practise “safe software”: use a version-control system ; track sources, data and events ; write testable software ; test the software and encourage sharing of software.

I was also interested in these articles in two ways. First, I also realised the need of a formal training in programming during my Ph.D. and I eventually got a B.Sc. in computer science. In the team and field where I’m now working (Health Economics and modelling of infectious disease), I can clearly see the benefit of having such training. Don’t get me wrong: I meet wonderful colleagues every day who don’t have the training but have lots of skills and can solve lots of problems ; I just often see the ease to grasp algorithms as well as some better procedures and testing that comes with training. And, second, I would like to addd that free software licences are to be considered when publishing your software (for science or not).

In the same issue, there was also a small news about the Europe’s use of research animal. This reminded me of the good-old-days :-). Fundamental biology still account the largest proportion of animal experiments but what intrigued me is the 12.2% of “Other” usage.

There was also a comment on a book, The Professional Guinea Pig, about paid participants in phase I clinical trials. Interesting perspective from “the other side” of trials.

There is also an Outlook on the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. It features interviews with 10 Nobel laureates (it’s always nice to readd their comments on science) and an article about science in the digital age (not yet read but it seems interesting).

Finally, an ad for my previous lab (GIGA ULg) caught my attention, as well as the small article about Science in Belgium. I must however write that this article is a bad summary of the research landscape in Belgium with, for example, mention of only two universities: the KUL and the UCL (we have many more). Souvenirs, souvenirs.

Belgian eavesdropping increased in 2009

Following this article (French), official phone eavesdroppings again increased in Belgium in 2009: Belgian police listened 5265 times to private conversations. The French transcript is here.

Evolution of the number of official eavesdropping in Belgium

One doesn’t get much more than these numbers: nothing about the number of hours spent listening, nothing about the percentage of effectiveness/results, nothing about internet eavesdropping (e-mail e.g.). One thing struck me: all requests for eavesdropping were accepted. Or, at least that what the Minister implied when he wrote “there is no distinction between the number of requests and the number of effective eavesdropping”.

Happy Diwali 2008 in Belgium!

Diwali by Kalyan Kumar on FlickrDiwali, the Indian Festival of Lights, is under way in India. But if you live in Belgium, there will be at least three occasions to celebrate!

In Antwerpen, first, on October 29th, morning.

Then in Leuven, on November 1st evening, organised by the association of Indian students in Leuven.

Finally in Ghent, on November 3rd evening, organised by the Indo-Belgian Association of Ghent.

Edit on November 1st: Bharatiya Samaj is also organising Diwali in Bruxelles on November 8th.

By the way, Rose, a non-profit organisation supporting and fostering basic education for children in developing countries will organise its traditional Fund raising Indian Dinner on November 29th, 2008, in Leuven.

Photo credit: “happy diwali!” by Kalyan Kumar on Flickr (CC-by-sa)

Belgian police is storing personal details in a database

If you live in Belgium, you probably noticed a small buzz about a database police is building about Belgian citizens and, more precisely, about the access control of this database. The “problem” is that this database already exists and it has a legal basis since … 1998 (10 years!). But mainstream media won’t tell you that (or I’m unaware of it). I don’t think there is a conspiracy. It’s just that, sadly, the current economic environment doesn’t leave much space for this kind of information. The Minister of Justice’s website has more info on this database and its content (excerpt of translation below):

The database already appeared a royal decree. This decree states that the police can store a bunch of sensitive data about certain categories of Belgian citizens since they are 14-years-old.
These include information on about family ties, consumption habits, ethnicity, physical and mental health, political and religious beliefs, membership of trade unions and political parties and suspicions of criminal offenses.

So what can we do about it? Human rights organisations as well as members of the Parliament (La Chambre, look for “P0499”) questioned the Minister of Justice, Jo Vandeurzen. He agreed that there should be both internal and external controls on what is inserted, who have access to the data, who can check the data and the access, … He promised the “Committee P“, the privacy committee and a supervisory body headed by a magistrate will be consulted. Let’s see …