Research Picks Weekly – 3 Jan 2018

Digital democracy

The advent of social media and online social networking has also given rise to the possibility of digital democracy whereby citizens become greater participants in the political process than ever before. Austrian researchers have drawn on a legal review, case studies, and quantitative survey data about views on transparency and participation in digital democratization. They discuss whether this change in world perspective represents a shift towards a political utopia or a descent into a dystopia in terms of personal privacy, advocacy, media manipulation, and other factors.

Parycek, P., Rinnerbauer, B. and Schossböck, J. (2017) ‘Democracy in the digital age: digital agora or dystopia’, Int. J. Electronic Governance, Vol. 9, Nos. 3/4, pp.185–209.

China’s high-speed ghost towns

China is developing quickly. Part of its rapid growth has seen the construction of new infrastructure such as high-speed trains between the main centres. Along theose railway lines local government has seeded new towns and cities to exploit the new transport. However, research suggests that many of these new cities are almost bereft of occupants, they are ghost cities. Is this problem limited to China and its rapid growth rate or might such failed urbanization occur elsewhere when governments attempt to foster growth through such high-speed transport infrastructure so rapidly? The clue lies in the fact that this enforced growth does not follow the norms of market rationality and population density. “Ghost cities exemplify an ineffective conjuring trick, the team concludes.

Zhao, S. and Ma, D. (2017) ‘Ghost city phenomenon along China’s high-speed railway grid’, Int. J. Sustainable Society, Vol. 9, No. 3, pp.210–225.


Generic approach to reducing side effects

Once the patent on a medicine expires, companies other than the owner of the patent are usually free to market and sell their own formulations of the same drug. Different formulations can bring different side effects to bear on patients. Now, researchers in Korea have developed an approach to harvesting information from social media and elsewhere to tag different generic pharmaceuticals with their specific side effects and particular interactions with other medication. Healthcare practitioners might then have a better perspective in offering specific patients a better alternative to their medication that might otherwise lead to problems where a different formulation might be better suited to them. The team focused on drugs used in depression and anxiety disorders, but the same approach might be applied to identifying alternative prescriptions for other health problems based on harvesting user reviews.

Hwang, S., Kim, J., Kim, J. and Park, S. (2017) ‘Recommending alternative drugs by using generic drug names to minimise side effects‘, Int. J. Data Mining and Bioinformatics, Vol. 18, No. 4, pp.301-314.


Do you want to know a secret?

Researchers in India have developed a perfectly secure hierarchical sharing scheme using parts of English grammar to obfuscate the true message prior to transmission. The approach means that a message might be sent as plain text without the usual encryption methods being applied. The approach involves a distributed sharing of the information so that rather than every key recipient having to be sent the complete secret the sharing process itself provides the obfuscation of the message. Individuals can bring their part of the message together to reveal the full message but no individual can then share the message with third parties. The hierarchical nature of the sharing model means that at the top of the management tree in an organization, for instance, only a limited number of managers need join their parts of the message to reveal the complete message, whereas further down the chain the requirements become more unwieldy so that lowly workers cannot inadvertently reveal the message or act as whistleblowers or industrial saboteurs, for instance.

Chatterjee, S. and Koolagudi, S.G. (2017) ‘Hierarchical secret sharing scheme using parts of speech of English grammar‘, Int. J. Security and Networks, Vol. 12, No. 4, pp.241-254.

Author: David Bradley

Award-winning, freelance science writer based in Cambridge, England.