Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist

Archive forNovember, 2003 | back to home

16 November 2003

Back in June, the Onion wrote about “social capital”:https://blog.org/archives/000799.html – now it is examining the social consequences of weblogging.

14 November 2003

An article by “Dr Adam Swift”:http://www.politics.ox.ac.uk/about/stafflist.asp?action=show&person=92 in the “Telegraph”:http://www.dailytelegraph.co.uk/education/main.jhtml?xml=/education/2003/11/12/tefswift12.xml&sSheet=/education/2003/11/12/ixtetop.html&secureRefresh=true&_requestid=181438 (registration required) suggesting private schooling in the UK should be banned has inspired an interesting debate on the always-interesting “Crooked Timber”:http://www.crookedtimber.org/ weblog. As so often is the case it seems clear to me that the left and right wings of the case arguing in the comments to the original posting will never agree because they have fundamentally different ethical premises. For me, Spock (and most of the left-wing commentators) ‘the good of the many outweighs the good of the few, or the one’. For the right wingers, parents have an absolute right to do what they can to better the lives of their children, whatever the harmful effects might be for society at large.

12 November 2003

Things Other People Accomplished When They Were Your Age – the site speaks for itself. It’s not quite as humbling as it might be because by default it only includes people’s accomplishments at the same stage in their life, not all the things better people accomplished when they were even younger than you are.

Thanks to “Follow Me Here”:http://world.std.com/home/dacha/WWW/emg/public_html/2003_11_01_blog_archive.html#106859717029946217 for the link

10 November 2003
Filed under:Academia,Weblogs at11:40 am

Weekly INCITE comes from ten researchers and PhD students at the “Incite centre”:http://www.soc.surrey.ac.uk/incite/index.htm at “University of Surrey’s Sociology department”:http://www.soc.surrey.ac.uk.

Recently one of them expressed concerns about “providing the raw data from academic research”:http://www.weeklyincite.blogspot.com/2003_10_26_weeklyincite_archive.html#106760924917923058 for others to analyse. It seems to me fundamental to the whole nature of the academic enterprise that raw data should be as widely available as possible. There is always the risk that people will take your data and interpret it in ways that you don’t agree with but one answer to this is to ensure that the data’s creator(s) are notified whenever the data is downloaded and/or republished. That way if you disagree with the new analysis you can present a counter-analysis of your own and/or point out any methodological issues in your research that make the interpretation given untenable.

There is also the question of whether research subjects should also be re-notified somehow every time the data is re-used. I suppose that would be ideal ethically but might make it practically impossible to use the data. I suggest the best course is full disclosure – something like this: ‘you will not be personally identifiable from this research and I intend to use it to do X but the anonymous data will also be made available to other academics who may do their own analysis.’ I wonder how often this is done at present?

It seems there is a larger question behind this issue – if the whole truth about a study could be damaging to an already disadvantaged group is it right to suppress the damaging information? Is an academic’s highest duty to do good science or to do good (as she or he sees it)? I guess I have absorbed enough of the values of the journalist to try to tell the whole truth first (including providing all your findings) then provide your own interpretation.

In the long run your ideological opponents will likely eventually do their own research and discover the facts you have omitted, putting their own spin on them and devaluing what you have produced. My gut feeling is you should get all the facts out in the open and get your retaliation in first!

“PC Support Advisor”:http://www.pcsupportadvisor.com/ has provided “free downloadable sample guidelines”:http://www.pcsupportadvisor.com/sasample/M0228.pdf for employee Internet use. Though they are fine as a starting point I would recommend tailoring them to your own circumstances and adding a clause warning that agreements entered into by email can often be binding so don’t discuss contracts with outside organizations if you are not authorised to make final decisions.

9 November 2003

As most of you will know by now, Amazon has started enabling people to search for text within 120,000 of its titles and view selected pages from the books – a feature that has inspired some interesting thoughts about where search could go next.

Steven Johnson in Slate suggests you should be able to tell Amazon which books you own and do a search just on those – it would get info on what you have already which it can use to sell you new books and you would get a search engine covering your paper library.

“Gary Wolf in Wired”:http://www.wired.com/news/print/0,1294,60948,00.html uses the news of the new service to delve into the politics of copyright protection and puts the service into context with attempts to publish out of copyright works for free on the web like Project Gutenberg and on-demand book publishing.

Amazon in an attempt to calm nervous publishers “has announced”:http://www.internetnews.com/IAR/article.php/3102731 already sales growth for searchable titles outpaced non-searchable titles by 9 percent – though “one blogger”:http://scrivenerserror.blogspot.com/2003_10_01_scrivenerserror_archive.html#106764958373017865 has pointed out this could be a one-off novelty effect.

“Steven Kaye”:http://vheissu.typepad.com/about.html has been tracking the Amazon book deal on “his weblog”:http://vheissu.typepad.com/blog/ in more detail. P.S. I had refrained from commenting on this so far because for the moment I am unable to use Amazon’s book search. It turns out (in my case at least) since I haven’t bought books from the US operation recently they can’t verify my credit card even though it is valid and therefore won’t let me see the pages. Frustrating!

Following on from that news, it turns out Google has its own book search plans covering 60,000 titles and is also going to incorporate links to library catalogues – some two million of the most popular books will be indexed and readers in North America (and only there for the moment it seems) will be directed to their nearest library that stocks the book when they enter the postcode.

All of this is very welcome news – there is a lot more “quality” information around in paper form than the Internet alone provides so people should be encouraged to broaden their searches to include books.

8 November 2003

I recently learned about “Keith Hampton”:http://web.mit.edu/knh/www/bio.html’s new “weblog”:http://e-neighbors.mit.edu/blog/index2.php and already it has turned up something useful. He just blogged about the release of “preliminary results”:http://www.eurescom.de/e-living/publications/e-living-update-Oct03.pdf from a major study of adoption and usage patterns of Internet use, testing the social and economic benefits of new ICTs.

The best part is that if you are interested in the information for non-commercial/academic reasons you can download the raw survey data and manipulate it yourself (once you have registered yourself at the “UK Social Science Data Archive”:http://www.data-archive.ac.uk/findingData/snDescription.asp?sn=4728).

7 November 2003

Scott Burgess of The Daily Ablution has done “a little digging”:http://dailyablution.blogs.com/the_daily_ablution/2003/11/a_look_at_ican_.html about the people behind the “iCan project”:https://blog.org/archives/cat_egovernment.html#000899 and is unhappy with what he has found – one of the iCan ‘roving reporters’ “Stuart Ratcliffe”:http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/ican/U517705 is backing an “anti-war group”:http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/ican/club32 on the site, which he sees as problematic given the BBC’s claim to be impartial. Well, I would be surprised if any BBC reporter, particularly one with a political ‘beat’ had no political opinions at all, but it was pretty unwise of Stuart to back a group through the site – particularly since it will then make it pretty well impossible for him to report on the group and be taken seriously!

On the other hand, I think it is a legitimate point of view to suggest that it is better that all reporters should be open about any political views they may bring to their coverage, then strive to ensure that these don’t bias their actual reporting (which is after all the important point). It’s only possible to ‘adjust for’ a reporter’s views, after all, if we know what they are.

As for whether iCan is biased, I suggest we need to withold judgement and see if there is any evidence of preferential treatment in the way the site is run rather than rushing to judge the people who run it by their expressed private views.

6 November 2003
Filed under:Current Affairs (UK),London,Personal at6:44 pm

The “London Health Commission”:http://www.londonshealth.gov.uk/ has launched a website survey on where people should be allowed to smoke in London. It seems someone has started a “campaign about this”:http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/ican/Club146 over at the BBC’s new iCan site. Personally I would be delighted if smoking could be banned in pubs, though doubtless it would annoy many of my fellow Londoners.

Many is the time I have wanted to go out with friends but I have cried off when it emerges they want to go to a pub. If I do go I end up returning home with my clothes reeking of smoke and I dread to think of what it does to my lungs. Moreover sometimes I need to eat in pubs and having to eat with people smoking around me is just diabolical.

5 November 2003
Filed under:London,Personal at1:21 pm

Here’s a recent magazine profile of my local area (I have helped to encourage some of the changes in my role as press officer of the “Newington Green Action Group”:http://ngag.org/). Just today a pizzeria is opening around the corner from us and when a nearby street is closed at one end (part of the council’s urban regeneration plans) patrons will be able to sit out in the sun (when there is some).

Also in the same magazine, a profile of local heroine “Mary Wollstonecraft”:http://www.n16mag.com/issue19/p18i19.htm and news of “plans for a multiplex cinema”:http://www.n16mag.com/issue19/p11i19.htm in Dalston, close enough for us to walk to.

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