Human Rights and Biophysics (strange similarities)

I recently received an email from “Daniel” at the “European Human Rights Centre”.

I came across your site while searching the net for
some quality websites. I think you did a great job
with your site.

My name is Daniel. I work for The European Human
Rights Centre (EHRC).

I would like to add your site to our usefull links page
(http://www.ehrcweb.org/links.php ) and I was
wondering if you can post a link with our site in
your website.

For your convenience I send you bellow the code
for our website:
<a href="http://www.ehrcweb.org/">EHRC</a>

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to
contact me and I'll answer your questions promtly.

We are Nonprofit organization .
Best regards,
Daniel
European Human Rights Centre Organisation
ehrcweb.org
HPM G5
ETH Honggeberg
CH-8093 Zurich / Switzerland
Tel: +41-1-638-3453
Fax: +41-1-693-10 73 and 693 11 51

But this email is not quite what it seems….

My own website isn’t especially Human Rights oriented, so I thought the email misguided, but I was busy so I ignored it. Then FIPR (where I’m Treasurer) got a remarkably similar email, and a discussion started amongst the Advisory Council about the European Human Rights Centre, which — rather surprisingly — we had never heard of before.

Looking at the EHRC website we found that “The European Human Rights Centre (EHRC) represents over 100 non-governmental and other not-for-profit organisations interested in the promotion of Human Rights throughout Europe and beyond” and also “Presently 124 Institutional Members from 21 European and 7 Non-European countries join the European Human Rights Centre” and moreover “presently 5100 Personal Members from 39 European and 50 Non-European countries join the European Human Rights Centre”. These numbers are impressive!

However, when I looked at their weblinks page (http://www.ehrcweb.org/links.php) this shows that they’ve chosen to link to a very strange list of websites, with limited involvement in Human Rights. There’s a lot of small clubs, a hip hop site and a publisher of photography and contemporary art books. There’s actually little commonality here, apart from the sites being fairly high in Google rankings and often having existing link pages of their own.

I smelt a rat.

So I looked at who mentioned the EHRC by issuing this Google search http://www.google.com/search? q=%22European+Human+Rights+Centre%22+ehrc. Looking at the results, it is interesting to note that the EHRC always seems to appear on link pages or on blog sidepanels. Not one of those 5100 Personal Members or 124 Institutional members seems to have mentioned their involvement in the organisation.

Very odd!

So I looked closely at the “Who we are” page for EHRC where there is a mission statement which says “Human Rights First believes that building respect for human rights and the rule of law will help ensure the dignity to which every individual is entitled and will stem tyranny, extremism, intolerance, and violence”.

This mission statement, starting “Human Rights First” is, perhaps not surprisingly, identical to the mission statement to be found at the Human Rights First website http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/about_us/about_us.asp

So the EHRC have apparently borrowed their mission statement, lock stock and barrel: apart from the bit at the end where it once said “Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C.” and it now says “Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in Strasbourg (my emphasis).

When I did some other searches on the Zurich address (which is the building of the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biophysics) I turned up some remarkably similar emails reported on blogs (such as this one by Gordon Watts) which looked like this:

Hello,

I came across your site while searching the net
for some quality biology and physics websites.
I think you did a great job with your site.

My name is Gabriel. I work for The European
Federation of Biophysics Organisation (EFBF).

I would like to add your site to our usefull links
page ...
and so on.

That message is touting for links to www.efbfweb.org which says, within a remarkably familiar web design “The European Federation of Biophysics (EFBF) represents over 100 non-governmental and other not-for-profit organisations interested in the promotion of Biophysics throughout Europe and beyond”. This site also says “presently 124 Institutional Members from 21 European and 7 Non-European countries join the European Federation of Biotechnology” and “presently 5100 Personal Members from 39 European and 50 Non-European countries join the European Federation of Biotechnology” which, you have to admit, is a remarkable coincidence in numbers with the EHRC, not to mention the inability to remember if you’re a Federation of Biophysicists or Biotechnologists!

In fact, there is a European Federation of Biotechnology. Their website says “presently 225 Institutional Members from 32 European and 12 Non-European countries join the European Federation of Biotechnology” and “presently 5000 Personal Members from 39 European and 50 Non-European countries join the European Federation of Biotechnology”, which apart from the numbers has a very familiar ring, doesn’t it! The Biotechnologists have a list of their members on their website (who all look plausible), and there’s all sorts of other clues on the website (and in the “Wayback Machine”) that very strongly suggest that they’re an entirely real and reputable organisation.

Returning to the alleged Biophysicists: the EFBF has a Mission Statement on their website (just like the EHRC did), although it reads remarkably similarly to the mission statement of the “Applied Biophysics Foundation”; although that’s a strange site in itself and so it was probably not the wisest of statements to take a copy of, as Tim Worstall observes!

Anyway, you’ve probably got the idea by now as to how much these sites are to be believed, and so you’ll be wondering why “Daniel” and “Gabriel” are going to all the effort of sending out these emails? Well have a look at:

http://www.ehrcweb.org/jobs/

and see how the character of the website suddenly changes! It looks rather as if they intend to make money (gosh!) from Google ads and job application referrals… and of course being better linked to (and thereby getting a better Google rank) will considerably help in that aim.

If you use WHOIS to look up who registered the ehrcweb.org and efbfweb.org domains you’ll find that it’s a “Nichifor Valentin” from Tulcea in Romania. Interestingly, he also owns cyberdomino.com and, guess what, looking that up on Google leads you into a twisty maze of websites, all different, and all covered with ads and multiple keywords and suchlike devices (just the way to make money from misled searchers)… Hands up anyone who thinks that he may own some other domains as well?

Anyway, enough of linking to his sites. In my view, as I’ve set out above, the EHRC and EFBF (the Biophysics version) are entirely bogus. So, just for fun, here’s a small excerpt from the Hall of Shame, some of the reputable organisations who have linked uncritically to these sites, starting with people who point at the EHRC:

The Council of Europe
The School of Politics, International Relations & Philosophy, Keele University
The Albert Sloman Library, University of Essex
University of Connecticut Libraries
Derechos Human Rights
The International Centre for Disability Resources on the Internet
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
Ethical Consumer
The Global Development Research Center
South Asian Citizens Web

and I could add many more, but it gets boring. As to the EFBC:

University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
Scottish Crop Research Institute
Cal State Fullerton
Physics Research Library, Harvard

and many more there as well, including 🙁 one Cambridge site:

Quarterly Reviews of Biophysics So, I’ll drop them an email… Hello, my name is Richard. I work for...

17 thoughts on “Human Rights and Biophysics (strange similarities)

  1. I put the links in deliberately, after some thought, to allow people to rapidly review the evidence for themselves. Also, people who are vaguely suspicious may be assisted in their own Googling by having them there.

    For a subtly different list of sites on the same machine try:
    http://whois.webhosting.info/66.45.255.123

    Of these the “European Organisation of Family Health Research” says that it “represents over 100 non-governmental and other not-for-profit organisations interested in…” which is familiar. The “about us” says it is “the nation’s only non-profit organization whose mission is to improve the health of all family through research, education and advocacy”, remarkably similar to the statement on http://www.womenshealthresearch.org/site/PageServer
    that “The Society for Women’s Health Research is the nation’s only non-profit organization whose mission is to improve the health of all women through research, education and advocacy”.

  2. What amazes me most is the amount of work put into some of these websites. The payback must be worth it ?! 🙂

  3. … the amount of work put in … ??

    All they need to do is find, cut and paste content from legitimate sites (such as the mission statement) and make a few changes to suit their purposes. Web publishing is easy – even I can do it (!) – and cheap.

    And yes they do make money from it. I’ve just blogged about a phishing scam using a fake begging letter that appears to come from (what I believe to be) a genuine charity. Not satisfied with spoofing PayPal and banks, the identity thieves have fallen to new depths. Have they no morals? [/Dumb]

    Gary.

  4. Hehe. Yeah, I’ve had a couple of emails from them, but didn’t bother to go beyond looking at their page, and filing them under ‘kooks and crooks’. Thanks for putting them in the ‘crooks’ box!

  5. So, just for fun, here’s a small excerpt from the Hall of Shame,

    Well, Mr.Clayton, I’m glad we provided some entertainment for you.

    Although I ‘m grateful that you did the research that helped me remove a bogus site from my links page, I do not appreciate your attitude. A (how shall I say it? ) kinder person would contact us, “hole-of-shamers”, and warn us about it. You, however, chose to make fun of us, publicly, confessing that it’s fun. This seems, well… unseemly.

    Enjoy your sense of superiority.

    Marina

  6. First off, this is just a blog. Writing without a sense of fun (or perhaps passion) is, IMHO, a waste of the readers’ time.

    That aside, a kinder person would need a couple of spare days to work through the entire list of people who have somewhat uncritically added links to their sites; to deal with the inevitable email bounces; and to explain the issues over and over again in words of one syllable.

    Someone is trying to get another of the handful of sites I listed (which were just the ones whose names I thought people would know from the first page or so of Google results) — and they are currently on their third email (they’ve been cc’ing me) without the penny yet dropping 🙁

    Cleaning up link farms is a task for someone with a lot more tuits than I have!

  7. FYI, Nichifor Valentin’s latest intiative: The European Intellectual Property Association, at www dot eipaweb dot org. FAQ on the front page copied from the UK government.

    Mail:

    Hello,

    I came across your site while searching the net for some quality
    websites. I think you did a great job with your site.

    My name is Daniel. I work for The European Intellectual Property Association (EIPAWEB).

    I would like to add your site to our usefull links page ( http://www.eipaweb.org/links.php )
    and I was wondering if you can post a link with our site in your website.

    For your convenience I send you bellow the code for our website:
    European Database Patents

    If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me and I’ll answer your
    questions promtly.

    We are Nonprofit organization .
    Best regards,
    Daniel
    European Intellectual Property Association
    eipaweb.org
    HPM G5
    ETH Honggeberg
    CH-8093 Zurich / Switzerland
    Tel: +41-1-638-3453
    Fax: +41-1-693-10 73 and 693 11 51

    Yes, Daniel’s everywhere!

  8. He’s at it again. My site – fiction, and much of it bogus – got the link-spam letter from the stamped-out-of-the ground EOFHR (“European Organisation of Family Health Research”).

    This time, the google fodder below the fluffy toplevel site seems to be a WebMD Drug A-Z clone.

    This guy has a great future in astroturf.

  9. Daniel gets around. I recently received the following email.

    Subject: epidemiolog.net request

    Hello,

    I came across your site while searching the net
    for some quality websites.I think you did a great
    job with your site.

    I am Daniel and I am the administrator of Drug3k
    (Online Drug Encyclopedia) website.Drug3k is a
    project of European Organisation of Family Health
    Research (EOFHR) – a non-profit research and
    education organization .(
    http://www.eofhr.org/technology.php )

    I am looking for potential link partners. Our site
    offers an excellent free online database for most
    commonly prescribed drugs , includes links to
    detailed product monograph(Prescription Drug
    Information, Side Effects, Interactions,Drugs
    pictures). This site is only for information on
    correct use of medical drugs and side effects,
    there are no pharmaceteutical products for sale.

    I have seen you allready have in your site
    information and links regarding health , for
    instance in this page:
    http://www.epidemiolog.net/resources/onthenet.htm

    I would like to place a link to your website in
    our links page, and if you could please add a link
    to our website in your webpage.

    For your convinience here it is the code needed:
    Prescription
    medication information
    Drug3k- Prescription
    drug information for consumers

    Please send me information about your site as you
    would want it to appear in our links page.

    Thank you for your time,
    N. Daniel

    #########################################
    Drug3k – Online Drug Encyclopedia
    HPM G5
    ETH Honggeberg
    CH-8093 Zurich / Switzerland
    Tel: +41-1-638-1113
    Fax: +41-1-693-10 31 and 693 11 21

  10. He certainly does get around.

    One thing you might have forgotten to mention is that if you check the contact information on the websites, there is no mention of an actual address or telephone number of the entity, just a vague blurb of what they do. Very odd – which is when I decided to do the WHOIS and Google lookup. Found the Romania address, and your review respectively.

    Thanks for posting this note. I’ll report the e-mail to Google as spam.

    Here’s the e-mail I got as webmaster for http://www.livingmanicdepressive3.com.


    to jinnah@alum.mit.edu
    date 17 July 2008 14:32
    subject livingmanicdepressive.com request

    Hello,

    I came across your site while searching the net
    for some quality websites.I think you did a great
    job with your site.

    I am Daniel and I am the administrator of Drug3k
    (Online Drug Encyclopedia) website.Drug3k is a
    project of European Organisation of Family Health
    Research (EOFHR) – a non-profit research and
    education organization .(
    http://www.eofhr.org/technology.php )

    I am looking for potential link partners. Our site
    offers an excellent free online database for most
    commonly prescribed drugs , includes links to
    detailed product monograph(Prescription Drug
    Information, Side Effects, Interactions,Drugs
    pictures). This site is only for information on
    correct use of medical drugs and side effects,
    there are no pharmaceteutical products for sale.

    I have seen you allready have in your site
    information and links regarding health , for
    instance in this page:
    http://www.livingmanicdepressive.com/0_links.html

    I would like to place a link to your website in
    our links page, and if you could please add a link
    to our website in your webpage.

    For your convinience here it is the code needed:
    Prescription
    medication information
    Drug3k- Prescription
    drug information for consumers

    Please send me information about your site as you
    would want it to appear in our links page.

    Thank you for your time,
    N. Daniel

    #########################################
    Drug3k – Online Drug Encyclopedia
    HPM G5
    ETH Honggeberg
    CH-8093 Zurich / Switzerland
    Tel: +41-1-638-1113
    Fax: +41-1-693-10 31 and 693 11 21

  11. We got the Drug3K version of the email at a website I admin. My guess is that it is an automated spam sent to sites that hit some keyword search, based on the bit that says “I have seen you allready [sic] have in your site information and links regarding health , for instance in this page: [url]”

    I found your blog entry while searching for details on “European Organisation of Family Health Research” to explain to the website owner why I thought the email was bogus. Thanks for posting your research and making that task easy.

  12. “I am looking for potential link partners. Our site offers an excellent free online database for most commonly prescribed drugs , includes links to detailed product monograph(Prescription Drug Information, Side Effects, Interactions,Drugs pictures). This site is only for information on correct use of medical drugs and side effects, there are no pharmaceteutical products for sale. I have seen you allready have in your site information and links regarding health , for instance in this page: [url]”

    I found your blog entry while searching for details on “European Organisation of Family Health Research” to explain to the website owner why I thought the email was bogus. Thanks for posting your research and making that task easy.

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