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Archive for the 'Luncheon Series' Category

March 11: Luncheon Series: Scoop08: Political Newcomers Welcome – Alexander Heffner, Founder of Scoop08


Guest: Alexander Heffner, Founder of Scoop08ah.jpg
Topic: “Scoop08: Political Newcomers Welcome”

Tuesday, March 11, 12:30 pm
Berkman Center Conference Room

23 Everett St., 2nd Floor, Cambridge MA

Alexander Heffner will discuss, a startup non-partisan student publication he co-founded to offer fresh coverage of the 2008 presidential election through a national network of student journalists. Scoop08 strives to offer distinctive youth perspectives on the race, with innovative and unconventional beats such as “Independent Candidate,” “Rhetoric,” and “Arts” Correspondents as well as a diverse array of columnists. With a full-fledged editorial board and committed staff writers and copy editors, the Website operates like any professional electronic or print magazine. Presently, Scoop08 has a network of several hundred student journalists across the country and abroad, and actively continues to recruit new editors and writers. Its staff hails from colleges and high schools across America, from Phillips Academy, Yale, and Harvard to Ohio University, Arizona State, Washington University in St. Louis to Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley, California.

Scoop08 welcomes veteran student journalists to join its staff, and encourages first-time writers to submit freelance articles and posts to gain experience. Between academic and extracurricular activities, keeping the Website updated daily has been a demanding task, one enthusiastically embraced by its editors and writers. As the 2008 primary campaign takes us into the general election, Scoop08 continues to accept submissions and to publish long-term features and investigative reports delving ever more deeply into the presidential frontrunners, their policy positions and initiatives, and the implications of their would-be presidencies.

Since its birth in November 2007, Scoop08 has grappled with the myriad questions facing online news outlets and virtual newsrooms. Beyond print, how should multimedia be integrated into a news Website? How can journalism—traditional ink as well as new technologies—arouse student interest in public affairs and combat voter apathy? Which tactics work—and which don’t? Without horse race-centered coverage, how can a Website report and present thoughtful, even academic, ideas and still generate buzz in the mainstream media and the blogosphere? How can responsible young people (and adults too) participate in a two-way conversation with the news gatherers and pundits? How can well-informed readers of all ages evolve into trustworthy citizen journalists and writers, upholding lasting principles of “good journalism?” Indeed, can we agree on what makes sound journalistic practices and an informative, truly meaningful story? Join us to discuss, as old-school meets new-school in the world of online journalism.

About Alexander

Alexander Heffner is a senior at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. He is co-founder and editor-in-chief of, an online national student newspaper dedicated to coverage of the 2008 presidential election. Its advisory board includes former U.S. Senators Gary Hart and Alan Simpson as well as journalists Jonathan Alter, Frank Rich, and Judy Woodruff. Heffner is general manager of WPAA, the Academy’s radio station, and founder of The Political Arena with Alexander Heffner, a public affairs program for which he has interviewed prominent figures in politics, journalism, and academic life, including Douglas Brinkley, Doris Kearns Goodwin, James Leach, Bob Kerrey, Jim Lehrer, Helen Thomas, John Zogby, and Mort Zuckerman, among others. This past summer, Heffner served as an online writer for Columbia Journalism Review. For his work in journalism and politics, he was recently named a “Young Person Who Rocks” by CNN.

Links to Scoop08

To join Scoop08’s staff
Scoop08 Trailer
Scoop08 on CNN
Scoop08 on “Young People Who Rock”
Scoop08 on History News Network

For coverage of Scoop08, please visit the following articles

McClatchy Company Newspapers
The Boston Globe
The Washington Post
The New York Times


This event will be webcast live. Webcast viewers can join the discussion through IRC text chat or in the virtual world Second Life. If you miss the live chat, catch the podcast audio & video at MediaBerkman.


March 4: Luncheon Series: “Patent Failure” with Jim Bessen of BU Law School


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Guest: Jim Bessen, Lecturer in Law at Boston University School of Law
Topic: Patent Failure

Tuesday, March 4, 12:30 pm
Berkman Center Conference Room
23 Everett St., 2nd Floor, Cambridge MA

Is the U.S. patent system broken? Recently, business leaders, policymakers, and inventors have complained to the media and to Congress that today’s patent system stifles innovation instead of fostering it. James Bessen will discuss a broad range of evidence on the economic performance of the patent system. He finds that patents provide strong incentives for firms in a few industries, but for most firms today, patents actually discourage innovation because they fail to perform as well-defined property rights. This analysis provides a guide to policy reform.

About Jim

James Bessen is recognized as an innovator in the electronic publishing industry, having developed one of the first commercially-successful desktop publishing programs. As both an economics researcher and a hands-on industry participant at different levels, he brings a unique perspective to the study of innovation.

Bessen wrote the first WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) PC publishing software in 1983 and founded a company, Bestinfo, in 1984 to market desktop publishing solutions to commercial publishers. Over the next few years, Bestinfo developed the first system to support PC publishing networks and the first single-source system for commercial-quality page makeup and color imaging. Over 1,000 commercial publishers purchased Bestinfo systems ranging from the Sears Catalogue to Prosveshcheniye (the largest Russian book publisher), from Cahners and Reed (the largest trade magazine publishers in the U.S. and U.K.) to Inc. magazine and TV Guide.

In 1986 Bestinfo received funding from Sevin Rosen Venture Capital with Ben Rosen and Dennis Gorman serving on the Board. In 1993 Bestinfo was acquired by Intergraph.

Bessen is currently Lecturer in Law at Boston University School of Law and he contributes to the Technological Innovation and Intellectual Property newsletter/blog.


+ Bio

+ Book Page (includes several chapters)


This event will be webcast live. Webcast viewers can join the discussion through IRC text chat or in the virtual world Second Life. For information about our event webcasts and remote participation, see If you miss the live chat, catch the podcast audio & video at MediaBerkman, at

RSVP is required, as space is limited. To RSVP, please send an email to Amar Ashar at by March 3 at 12:00PM

Open Lunch Today at the Berkman Center




Today at 12:30pm, we’ll have an open lunch at the Berkman Center. Please feel free to bring topics for discussion and/or questions. We’ll be running the question tool and the IRC Chat, as well. Please note that today’s scheduled luncheon guest, Alex Heffner, will not be presenting today, and will be rescheduled for a later date this semester. If you plan to attend the lunch in person today, please send an email to

February 12: Luncheon Series: Ioannis Miaoulis, President and Director of the Museum of Science


Berkman Center Luncheon Series
Guest: Ioannis (Yannis) Miaoulis, President and Director of the Museum of Science, Boston

Tuesday, February 12, 12:30 pm
Berkman Center Conference Room

23 Everett St., 2nd Floor, Cambridge MA

Although humans make the majority of the objects we interact and use during our day-to-day lives, the current school curriculum focuses very little on how our human-made, or designed world, is made. Pens, cars, pills, buildings are all technologies and the results of the engineering design process. An increasing number of states now include the Engineering process and the nature of key technologies into their learning standards. Introducing engineering as the new discipline into the curriculum offers a wonderful project based learning vehicle for the entire K-12 spectrum that brings to life not only mathematics and the sciences but connects them with social studies, language and the arts. Dr. Miaoulis will describe the value of including Engineering in the formal curriculum and give examples of success at various learning environments. He will discuss the curriculum content for elementary, middle school and high school level and present how engineering makes all disciplines engaging for both boys and girls, and for all types of learners.


On January 1, 2003, Ioannis (Yannis) N. Miaoulis, became President and Director of the Museum of Science, Boston. Originally from Greece, Dr. Miaoulis, now 46, came to the Museum after a distinguished association with Tufts University. There, he was dean of the School of Engineering, associate provost, interim dean of the university’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and professor of mechanical engineering. In addition to helping Tufts raise $100 million for its engineering school, Miaoulis greatly increased the number of female students and faculty, designed collaborative programs with industry, and more than doubled research initiatives. Founding laboratories in thermal analysis for materials processing and comparative biomechanics, he also created the Center for Engineering Educational Outreach and the Entrepreneurial Leadership Program.

An innovative educator with a passion for both science and engineering, Miaoulis championed the introduction of engineering into the Massachusetts science and technology public school curriculum. This made the Commonwealth first in the nation in 2001 to develop a K – 12 curriculum framework and assessments for technology/engineering. At Tufts, he originated practical courses based on students’ — and his own — passions for fishing and cooking: a fluid mechanics course from the fish’s point of view and Gourmet Engineering, where students cook in a test kitchen, learn about concepts such as heat transfer, and then eat their experiments.

His dream is to make everyone, both men and women, scientifically and technologically literate. Miaoulis has seized the opportunity as the Museum’s president to achieve his vision, convinced science museums can bring interested parties in government, industry, and education together to foster a scientifically and technologically literate citizenry. One of the world’s largest science centers and Boston’s most-attended cultural institution, the Museum of Science is ideally positioned to lead the nationwide effort. With the blockbuster exhibit BODY WORLDS 2, the Museum drew an unprecedented 1.9 million-plus visitors in the fiscal period ending June 30, 2007, including more than 250,000 school children. The Museum received the Massachusetts Association of School Committees’ 2005 Thomas P. O’Neill Award for Lifetime Service to Public Education, the first time the award went to an institution, not an individual. The Museum is ranked one of the top two science museums in the Zagat Survey’s U.S. Family Travel Guide and one of the top two most visited hands-on science centers on’s “America’s 25 most visited museums” list in 2006.

More about Dr. Miaoulis


This event will be webcast live. Webcast viewers can join the discussion through IRC text chat or in the virtual world Second Life. If you miss the live chat, catch the podcast audio & video at MediaBerkman.

Please RSVP to Amar Ashar at if you plan to attend.

February 5: Luncheon Series: Judith Donath on “Designing Society”


Berkman Center Luncheon Seriesimg_0323bwsmall.jpg
Guest: Judith Donath, Berkman Fellow
Topic: “Designing Society”

Tuesday, February 5, 12:30 pm
Berkman Center Conference Room

23 Everett St., 2nd Floor, Cambridge MA

“Designing Society”

Designers of online environments shape the social potential of these paces far more profoundly than do the architects of our familiar physical spaces: they determine whether participants are anonymous or named, whether history persists, whether reputations are prominently displayed or privately discussed.

In this talk I will present several design projects from the Sociable Media Group. Some are visualizations of online interactions, which reveal important but hard to perceive social patterns. Others are experimental mediated social spaces, where the goal is to balance legibility with innovative computational capabilities.

The focus will be to show how design affects identity, reputation and trust – the foundations of society.

About Judith

Judith Donath is an Associate Professor at the MIT Media Lab, where she directs the Sociable Media research group. Her work focuses on the social side of computing, synthesizing knowledge from fields such as graphic design, urban studies and cognitive science to build innovative interfaces for online communities and virtual identities. She is known internationally for pioneering research in social visualization, interface design, and computer mediated interaction. She created several of the early social applications for the web, including the first postcard service (“The Electric Postcard“), the first interactive juried art show (“Portraits in Cyberspace“) and an early large-scale web event (“A Day in the Life of Cyberspace”). Her work has been exhibited at the Institute for Contemporary Art in Boston and in several New York galleries; she was the director of “Id/Entity”, a collaborative exhibit of installations examining how science and technology’ are transforming portraiture. Her current research focuses on creating expressive visualizations of social interactions and on building experimental environments that mix real and virtual experiences. She has a book in progress about how we signal identity in both mediated and face-to-face interactions. Professor Donath received her doctoral and master’s degrees in Media Arts and Sciences from MIT, her bachelor’s degree in History from Yale University, and has worked professionally as a designer and builder of educational software and experimental media. She is currently a Faculty Fellow at the Berkman Center of Harvard Law School.


* MIT Social Media Group

* Judith’s Hompage


This event will be webcast live. Webcast viewers can join the discussion through IRC text chat or in the virtual world Second Life. If you miss the live chat, catch the podcast audio & video at MediaBerkman.

January 29: Luncheon Series on “User, Hacker, Builder, Thief: Creativity and Consumerism in a Digital Age”


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Guest: Beth Kolko, Berkman Fellow
Topic: “
User, Hacker, Builder, Thief: Creativity and Consumerism in a Digital Age”

Tuesday, January 29, 12:30 pm
Berkman Center Conference Room

23 Everett St., 2nd Floor, Cambridge MA

User, Hacker, Builder, Thief: Creativity and Consumerism in a Digital Age”

The not very slow but definitely steady flow of computer technology into far corners of everyday life has changed fundamental cultural processes and affected how people work, learn, and play. It’s also provided lots of cool stuff to buy. But by some measures there has also been a somewhat fundamental failure of imagination in envisioning what hardware, software and services can look like which has resulted in users from outside targeted demographics adapting technology in unexpected and creative ways. One might argue that such examples of adaptation could serve as potentially valuable illustrations of what technology that is relevant across contexts could look like, if only users were seen as more than consumers – perhaps, also, as citizens.

This talk is about diversity of design, the cult of expertise, and why hackers are the good guys. It’s also about how people use technology in Cambodia and Kyrgyzstan, what user generated content looked like before PCs, and why EULAs fundamentally threaten innovation. Essentially, this talk lays out the argument that theories of subjectivity and axe grinders can be part of the same conversation, and that encouraging users to become hackers, builders, and thieves may be the best way to ensure creative and diverse design.


* Homepage

About Beth

Beth Kolko is an Associate Professor in the Department of Technical Communication at the University of Washington. She was previously a professor of English at the University of Wyoming and the University of Texas at Arlington.

Her work in the early 1990s focused on rhetorical theory and cultural studies with an emphasis on writing as a social act. Studying writers in informal educational settings, both offline and online, sparked her interest in the Internet (which was then text-based) as a writing environment which provided users the ability to put into practice post-structural modes of engagement. At the same time, she began teaching in computer classrooms, and the move from LANs to WANs allowed her to incorporate Internet resources into her pedagogy. As development of Internet technologies affected the range of content online, her research shifted from considering texts to multimedia. Her work on virtual communities at that point began to include visual representations of users in online environments and issues related to community fragmentation online. That work was tied to her long-term interests in how identity and diversity impact people’s use of technology. Her chapter “Erasing @race: Going White in the (Inter)Face” in her co-edited volume Race and Cyberspace framed the argument about diversity and technology in terms of interface design and assumptions about users. Other work in the area has included establishing a virtual world, MOOscape, which was the first of its kind to incorporate race as an element of online identity.

Her current research further develops the idea of diversity and technology by focusing on Internet development in Central Asia. Currently funded by the National Science Foundation, the Central Asian Information and Communications Technology project ( applies theory-based analyses of culture and technology in order to concretely investigate how technology is being used in diverse communities and how such technologies change the cultures in which they adopted. The current phase of the project includes qualitative and quantitative longitudinal studies in the five Central Asian republics (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan). See the project website for more information.

In addition to her work on ICT and development, Kolko also leads a research group on digital games. This group is currently working in two areas: (1) cross-cultural investigations of multiplayer games, and (2) research on gender and educational games. For more information, see the project website.


This event will be webcast live. Webcast viewers can join the discussion through IRC text chat or in the virtual world Second Life. If you miss the live chat, catch the podcast audio & video at MediaBerkman.

January 22: Luncheon Series – “Journalism and Public Information in Brazil”


Berkman Center Luncheon Series1-fr-24ago2006-byanaaraujo.jpg
Guest: Fernando Rodrigues, Nieman Fellow
Topic: “Journalism and Public Information in Brazil”

Tuesday, January 22, 12:30 pm
Berkman Center Conference Room

23 Everett St., 2nd Floor, Cambridge MA

“Journalism and Public Information in Brazil”

Brazil has been off of the radar in developed countries for quite awhile, but it has been a thriving democracy since 1985. The country has fixed its economy and the media is enhancing its role in society. Internet and public information have a lot to do with it.

Journalist Fernando Rodrigues assembled a database with some 25,000 records of Brazilian politicians showing electoral information and personal data –including the list of personal assets of each politician who run for office in the three past general elections in Brazil (1998, 2002 and 2006). In 2006, the day the website was last updated, it drew 1,000,000 viewers. It is a free access website and voters can check whether a particular politician has increased his or her patrimony in a compatible way with the declared income. The database has also been an endless source of news stories for media outlets all over Brazil.

Collecting all that information was not an easy task, since Brazil does not have a Freedom of Information Act. Mr. Rodrigues also works with the National Forum of Right of Access to Public Information, a new advocacy group in favor of a FoIA for Brazil. The Forum teaches people how to require public information from government agencies despite that there is no clear legislation about it.


* Nieman Fellows

* Politicos de Brasil

* National Forum of Right of Access to Public Information

About Fernando

Fernando Rodrigues, 44, is a Brazilian journalist currently as an International Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. In Brazil, he has been for the past 20 years with the newspaper “Folha de S.Paulo” –the daily paper with largest circulation in the country.

At “Folha”, Mr. Rodrigues has been Economics Editor (in São Paulo) and foreign correspondent in New York, Tokyo and Washington, D.C. Before coming to Cambridge last August, he was based in Brasília as both a political columnist for the paper’s op-ed page and a feature reporter.

In 2000, Mr. Rodrigues started a political web site for the news portal UOL. In 2002 he launched the project “Políticos do Brasil” (Politicians from Brasil), with data about Brazilian politicians (electoral information, personal data and list of personal assets). In 2006 (election year in Brazil), the web site presented an updated version with some 25,000 records, encompassing virtually all major Brazilian politicians.

Mr. Rodrigues has won several journalism awards in Brazil and abroad. His last book, “Políticos do Brasil”, was awarded the best 2006 journalistic book in Brazil.

Mr. Rodrigues has an MA in International Journalism from the City University of London. He also serves as vice-president for ABRAJI (Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism).


This event will be webcast live. Webcast viewers can join the discussion through IRC text chat or in the virtual world Second Life. If you miss the live chat, catch the podcast audio & video at MediaBerkman.


[Please note that this transcript may not be complete and has been edited for this blog]

We have no freedom of information law in Brazil. Here are some other figures on internet usage in Brazil: 42.6 million people connected to the internet. But only 22.4% of the population has access to the internet right now. Although the figure is high, the % is low. But on the other hand, Brazil has one of the fastest growing rates of people being connected to the net. Between 2000-2007 there was an increase of 752% of people that were connected. Information about e-government in Brazil. Here is research conducted by the Brown Center for Public Policy, and to my surprise, Brazil was ranked 38 in 2006 and is now ranked 13. That’s maybe because there’s been a trend for all gov in all level in Brazil to be more present on the internet. The quality of the services that are being delivered to the Brazilian public are debatable. It’s amazing that a third world country like Brazil ranks 13th in terms of e-governance.

I’m going to talk about 2 cases I’ve been involved with. Politicos de Brazil – means “Brazilian Politicians”. the other is related to the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism in Brazil) – because we don’t have a freedom of information law in Brazil.

The Politicos is a website, the project started in 2000. We have more than 25,000 politicians listed on the site, covering the three national general elections – 1998, 2002, and 2006. Everyone who ran for office in those elections are listed (most of them). It’s a free search website. Anyone can search, look for information about any politician. And just to give you a flavor of what this is all about, in 2006, when we last updated it, it had an audience of more than 1 million unique visitors on the first day. The objectives of Politicos was to be, first of all because it was funded by the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo, it was suppose to be source of stories for the newspaper. So we produced lots of news stories for the newspaper. But together with that, we had some side benefits from this project. For instance, we could check (journalists) and every citizen in Brazil could check individual records from any individual politician. It was an easy way to get hold of information about politicians. It was hard to get it through the authorities because we lack a Freedom of Information act. For the past 3 or 4 decades, there is a mandatory federal regulation that makes any politician running for public office to file with the election commission lots of information including his list of personal assets, patrimony – and that’s suppose to be a way for them to be held accountable, so that people would know whether they got richer during the time they’re in office, in a way that’s not compatible to the salaries they’re earning as politicians. Those documents were not previously made public, aside from some major politicians. The whole idea of this website is to provide all this information to the public in a free and open way. We had used during this process what we called in journalism ‘computer assisted reporting’ because we received the information in several formats. Most of the time it came in paper, so we had to type it, scan it, and then we had different sort of files and had to mash them up together. As I said, the beauty of this is making it possible for people to compare how a politician would be at the beginning of his term and compare the beginning situation to the situation to when he/she is about to leave office.

This is the homepage of Politicos. It’s an easy database, and I’ll show you how it works. You have basically three years (98, 02, 06), and you can choose, for instance, ‘president.’ It’s only in Portuguese – we don’t have an English version for that. So we have all the politicians who run for president in 2006- Lula. You get his personal file, and when you click here, you get instantly his personal assets in the year of 2006. You see his apartments, savings accounts. If you want, you can choose from 2002 and see the PDFs of his documents. You can see the form filed by the candidate. So we have that for 25,000 records. Of course that generated tons of news stories, because the data is open to anyone in Brazil. Because the newspaper was a national paper, it was interested in national politicians. We weren’t interested in local guys, but local newspapers were interested in local guys. It empowered journalists in other states to look for information about politicians of their local constituencies. That was the first time they had that opportunity.

The Forum of Right of Access to Public Information: the forum was founded in 2003. ABRAJI is a coalition of 18 organizations – including lawyers and judges groups – pushing for a national freedom of information act. This is the world map showing the countries – in South America, most of the countries are still debating the need (Ethan: Where can I find that online? This map is good for pondering why still countries are lagging behind in terms of dealing with freedom of information, internet. The forum’s accomplishments so far include: getting 15 congressmen from the Brazilian congress committed to our effort to push for a FOI law in Brazil. We just launched a website for the Forum ( The website talks about the need for a law regulating this right in Brazil. And we’ve been training people to move forward and write requests for public information in Brazil. There’s an article in our constitution saying that everyone has to have access of public information, but this hasn’t been regulated with a law, that has been a gray area, and some local officers are never certain of the way to deal with those requests, so it’s difficult for the rank and file to get public information. For journalists, it’s been a little more information, and it’s possible to push some authorities to give you the information you need. We have been training people to do that.

This is the website: and when you go down, you have a model of a request, so anyone can print that and send it to any public office in Brazil, any public agency. Although sometimes you have to sue the local agency to get the information released. Most newspapers have been doing that. Just to go forward, this is basically about it.

Bruce: I’m curious how you got the site built.

A: It was basically very time consuming. It took 4 years for (me) to put that together. Because the politicians have to file their records in each of the 27 Brazilian states (there is a local authority). So we had to go sometimes in person to each of these states, and it was amazing to have my paper supporting me. In 2002, right before the general elections, which happens in Brazil every October, right before that we manage to put that together and it was online, it was an instant success. And as you mentioned, the major difficulty until 2002 was the fact that the information filed by the politicians was strange – it was all in paper. They were never giving us information in digital form, so it was me and one intern, we had to scan thousands of pages and put them together in a readable form and feed the database. In 2006, because I would say we put so much pressure on the Federal Elections commission in Brazil, they started to give us information in digital form. That’s why in ’98 you have PDFs and 2006, it’s digitized. It’s more searchable, but we could not afford to type information from previous years. The major difficulties were technical and political. We had to convince the local agents and sometimes we had to go to court and file suit. But we succeeded in the end.

LW: Do you know whether this model is being adopted or whether these problems are the same in other Latin American Countries (Mexico, Venezuela, Columbia)

Fernando: As far as I know, it hasn’t been replicated anywhere. But you have to bear in mind it’s necessary to have some provision to have politicians to file that information (otherwise you;d have to approach politicians individually). As for at FoI, well, Freedom of right of access to information, Mexico is ahead of the Latin American countries right now. They had a law enacted in 2002, which I believe is very effective and should be seen as a model for other Latin American countries, but they don’t have anything that would oblige politicians to file that information.

Persephone: I understand the site boasts not only the declaration of assets, but also the tax identifier, including the candidates that lost. Did you not have any privacy challenges on that?

Fernando: This is basically what would be a social security in the US. We published 25,000 of these on our website, and that makes it possible for anyone to take that number and the website says “know how to check politicians and their fiscal situation” – it’s a manual on how to use that number to see if that person is paying his or her taxes. People were very angry at us, but we decided that we should do that. I happened to be based in Brazil, I went to the Supreme Court and talked to some justices, and if we could as a newspaper, send them as a newspaper a formal question about whether politicians should have or not that number disclosed in Brazil (What would be their understanding of it). And they decided formally and responded that politicians, because they are in public life, there is no impediment whatsoever for a newspaper/website to publish any information regarding their fiscal situation. Because we aren’t disclosing the salaries of the politicians – this is whether or not they pay taxes. Their salaries are public anyways. So yes, that was a useful tool of the website as well.

Catherine: Do you have any way of knowing that this information affected voting patterns? Whether people exposed who had been dishonest?

Fernando: I don’t have much information on that, but the only objective information I would have to give you is the audience of the website – which has been enormous. And I suppose that because so many people searched through the website, more people made conscious decisions at the time they were going to vote in Brazil. But I don’t have any specific answers about if more people voted, or got involved in politics. My hunch is yes, it helped to improve political standards in Brazil

Ethan: There’s a whole trend towards sites like these in the US now. One of the things I find interesting about this is that you did this very much from a journalistic perspective – your newspaper helped smaller newspaper. Do you think the audience is the general public? Activists? Journalists? Who are we building these resources for, and who does it make sense to build them for?

Fernando: Primarily, it would be journalists. Last week a newspaper from Rio interviewed me about this and made the front page of it last week (even though this has been online for 2 years now). Because – we don’t have that many journalists in Brazil. We had 1 million unique visitors – so it’s all tied to people who would be interested in this. The prime time for this is prior to the election. Right now it doesn’t get much of an audience, but during election years, it was all over the internet, the bloggers were posting notes and comparing politicians.

Ethan: What’s the biggest story? The biggest scandal?

Fernando: So many. Let me show you. The increase of patrimony of politicians in Brazil being much higher than the increase of the average Brazilian taxpayer. Patrimony assets are apartments, cars, phones, – net worth. Basically I’d say the major story is how much in personal assets have politicians accumulated over the years? It was increasing at 10 fold the rate of inflation, but that was the major impact in my opinion. But we had tons of stories about inconsistencies in documents filed by politicians and the real life they were having in their local towns. We had several local newspapers doing that. A practical example of what happened: a competitor’s newspaper used it – and I thought it was great. This politician was a former governor of an state, and his assets were R$549,000,00 roughly $250k, in 1998 he had R$400,00,00, but when he was about to leave office the politicians were filing those records with no concern – they could lie – because no one saw them. And then he bought a penthouse for 3,000,000.00 R$. And how could he? So it was a big scandal. Another example: a politician declared his house for a small value, but see what the reporters found when they went to the address. They compare the evolution of assets of politicians over the years now.

This story came out last week, of the net assets of politicians in Brazil that it was increasing at a rate of 41.8% over an election cycle (4 years), and inflation in Brazil is around 3-4% these days.

RobF: The theories behind how to break the cycle of corruption (1) info is not available to the electorate and (2) the electorate doesn’t care that much. Are there other examples of politicians being reelected to office if you find these flags?

Fernando: I would say yes – that people would still vote for those bastards. It’s democracy, you know. It happens.

Ethan: What’s the sort of public perception of corruption? Brazil doesn’t rank well in the corruption index by Transparency International.

Fernando: I like your question so much. Because this index put together by Transparency International is so bad. It’s a misconception, because in Brazil we’ve had democracy for more than 2 decades. And above all, a free media, a competitive media in Brazil, and we have been chasing the bad guys so hard and we’ve had so many stories about corruption that one might have the wrong impression that everybody is a thief and the index put together is about impressions. It’s one aspect of life in these countries. I think the standards might be as bad as those in other countries, but because we have this more transparent way in Brazil, that there may be more corrupt people perceived in Brazil. Thank you for asking that – it’s really a misconception. Let me just follow up to that and say that I’m a member of ICIJ in Washington, an international network of journalists around the world, and in 2003 we started the “Global Integrity Index” and we decided that we should go after measuring corruption in another, we would go and see how the institutions were functioning in different countries and how people would have access to anti-corruption mechanisms in those countries. And of course, because corruption is not a measurable thing, it’s impossible to measure.

Q: I’m curious about another aspect- conflict of interest problems involving politicians, which may or may not be relevant in terms of increases of net worth. So conflicts of interest where a construction company or a defense company says to a politician ‘maybe I’ll pay you’ or maybe ‘I’ll support your next campaign financially’ and in exchange I hope you’ll give us support in legislation.

Fernando: We aren’t as advanced as the US in tracing those lobbyist and those interests. The Center for Public Integrity, the Open Secrets Foundation, they will do a great job here. We are trying to mimic those experiences in Brazil. We haven’t had success because it’s a new initiative in Brazil, but because soft money is much more dramatic, so it’s been a little difficult for us to trace out the lobbying and who is behind every politician in the country. Certainly something we’ll be heading to in the next couple of years. The quality of the public/official data in Brazil is very poor. Following up on what Ethan said, this is the Global Integrity Index, it’s much smaller, but includes 290 indicators in each country, which is much more precise for measuring corruption in my opinion.

Ethan: And what’s particularly fascinating about it, people working in the developing world, doing the best jobs about transforming their government – Argentina, Columbia, Botswana – TI’s a bit weird. It’s a perception, one that can take decades to change – it’s measuring a brand of a nation. In looking at this, looking at the moderate rating (Argentina, Ethiopia, Ghana… etc) and out of that list, the vast majority are sort of fairly happy governance stories over the last decade. If we omit Kenya and Georgia because of recent problems, the rest of them are pretty good narratives about strengthening of the public sector.

Q: Regarding the funding of this initiative. Up to now it was funded by the newspaper. I’d like to ask first if the newspaper is owned by a company with politically interests. And second, the fact that you are providing other newspapers that are competing with you, what’s the incentive? Third, will this initiative continue if you leave?

Fernando: The newspaper is a family run business. It’s a successful newspaper, it’s the best selling paper in Brazil, very influential. This project added to the credibility of the newspaper. Everyone recognized it as the major supporter of this idea. So I think the gain for the newspaper was adding to its already good image, some more elements that would last for a while. And they have to build up on that. As far as incentive for the newspaper because it was fueling some competitors to write news stories, I don’t think that’s a major issue. We knew from the beginning that would happen, and what we did, before we put the database online, we prepared tons of stories so that we were ready to go at least at the same time as competitors. And we put the major stories out before everyone. The other newspapers stories weren’t the major ones, because we had already published those. And to your third point, the project depends a lot on me, but I don’t have any plans to leave the newspaper so I haven’t really thought about it.

Doc: Has this helped newspapers?

Q: Has anyone resigned during elections? Or returned any money (even donations to charitable organizations?)

Fernando: Politicians have superegos. No, they haven’t. Some of them have been facing legal charges, as the governor I mentioned. He’s still a politician, trying to run for office again.

Doc: The guy in jail?

Fernando: Yes.

Ethan: How do we turn this into a movement? For this to happen in Brazil, you already had on the books an incredibly useful law (the patrimony law). I’d love to get this law passed in Ghana. At the same time, this example is going to make Ghanaian politicians really nervous, so how do we take a really exciting story, an exciting tool for journalists – how do we export this revolution? And is this something you are actively trying to do?

Fernando: I’ve had lots of work trying to keep this up, so I haven’t had the chance to think about taking this international. I think it’d be wonderful to have this in other countries. The way to do that , as far as I’ve learned in my experience as a journalist, no initiative would be successful without massive public support or a very, the various actors of that particular society truly involved and committed to do something like that. So you have to start putting together, as we did in Brazil for the FoI law, a forum. It’s starts like an interest of a particular group (take the FoI in this country, or freedom of right of access. In this country, in 1954 it took the nuclear tests in the south pacific to start the conversation, then it took 3-4 for years for Johnson so sign something into law). Journalists work with information, from the FoI act in this country, less than 5% of requests come from journalists themselves, 95% come from people that are not journalists or working for media companies. Which tells you there is a general demand or interest for that. The journalists have to be involved from the very beginning. In Ghana, I would say, a good half would be to start up to convince news media to hop onto that and try to get together and build up a movement and motivate people from other sectors of society. We started as journalists, then we invited judges, businessmen, to show that this was in the general interest of society, that it’s not just a journalist thing.

Q: How, in a society that is so corrupt, the politicians would pass a law in the first place?

Fernando: It was in place in the past 40 years, but wasn’t used by anyone. The generals, during the dictatorship, who imposed that law on the politicians during the right wing military dictatorship (1964-1985), in the beginning of it, one of the main ideas of the coup, they were coming into to get rid of the corrupt politicians in Brazil. And they enacted some laws to show people that they were actually ridding corruption from Brazil, but because we didn’t have democracy, the law was pretty much useless. Then it was dormant, then we had democracy, and then in the 90s, people started looking more at the laws we have in our judicial framework and use those a little more, and it culminated with this database when I requested all the documents that were filed. And then things became a little different, but to answer your question, the law wasn’t passed by the politicians being shown here. I doubt if we didn’t have that, it would be possible to get that in an easy way right now.

Doc: Have you been threatened?

Fernando: Yes, sometimes. While the situation isn’t the best in Brazil, I work for a mainstream outlet in Brazil, the threats would be minimized, but I would say that situation in countryside states would be very fierce. The only time I faced direct threats was 1997 when I put out a story on a vote-buying scheme in the congress and I had concrete evidence and some congressment were expelled from Congress. I got threats by telephone, the newspaper gave me a bodyguard, but that was the last time it happened.

Michael Anti: What made you have the idea for this database? Before this website, did you have some examples that you referenced?

Fernando: I’ve always been a computer/internet junkie. Looking at experiences in other countries, and I thought I should do something here in Brazil, and then I ended up doing this. I picked up examples from other countries, most of the time in the US.

January 15: Danielle Citron of UMD Law School on “Technological Due Process”


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Guest: Danielle Citron of UMD Law School
“Technological Due Process”

Tuesday, January 15, 12:30 pm
Berkman Center Conference Room

23 Everett St., 2nd Floor, Cambridge MA

“Technological Due Process”

Today, computer systems make decisions about important individual rights—they terminate Medicaid benefits, decide who is not allowed to fly commercial airlines, and mislabel individuals as dead-beat parents. Last century’s due process norms, however, are ill-suited to protect individuals from arbitrary agency action. At the same time, automation impairs participatory rulemaking, the traditional stand-in for individualized due process. My piece develops a new model of procedural regularity and policy-making that can operate when pivotal government decisions are made by automated systems and the programmers who design them.

About Danielle

Danielle Citron is an Assistant Professor of Law, originally joining the faculty as a Visiting Assistant Professor in 2004. She teaches Civil Procedure, Information Privacy Law, LAWR I, and Appellate Advocacy. She was voted the “Best Teacher of the Year” by the University of Maryland law school students in 2005.

Professor Citron’s scholarly interests include information technology’s transformative effect on law and legal theory. Her article, “Minimum Contacts in a Borderless World: Voice over Internet Protocol and the Coming Implosion of Personal Jurisdiction Theory,” appeared in the U.C. Davis Law Review in 2006. Her article, “Reservoirs of Danger: The Evolution of Public and Private Law at the Dawn of the Information Age,” was published by the Southern California Law Review in 2007. Her most recent work includes “Technological Due Process,” which will appear in the Washington University Law Review and “Open Code Governance,” which will be published by the University of Chicago Legal Forum.


January 8: Luncheon Series: Deb Roy of MIT on “The Human Speechome Project”


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Guest: Deb Roy of MIT
Topic: “The Human Speechome Project”


Tuesday, January 8, 12:30 pm
Berkman Center Conference Room
23 Everett St., 2nd Floor, Cambridge MA

“The Human Speechome Project”

The Human Speechome Project is an effort to observe and computationally model the longitudinal course of language development of one child at an unprecedented scale. We are collecting audio and video recordings for the first two to three years of one child’s life, in its near entirety, as it unfolds in the child’s home. To analyze the resulting massive audio-visual corpus, we are developing new data mining technologies to help human analysts rapidly annotate and transcribe recordings using semi-automatic methods, and to detect and visualize salient patterns of behavior and interaction. To make sense of large-scale patterns that span across months or even years of observations, we will develop computational models of language acquisition that are able to learn from the child’s experiential record. I will describe the methodology for ultra-dense in vivo data collection (including privacy management), preliminary data analysis tools, and sketch our plans for expanding the effort beyond N=1 for the purpose of understanding and treating developmental disorders such as autism.


About the project:

About Deb

Deb Roy directs the Media Lab’s Cognitive Machines group, and is Chair of the Academic Program in Media Arts and Sciences. His research focuses on the interaction of language with physical and social context, which he explores through the construction of robots, video games, and the study of child language acquisition. Roy has published over 60 peer-reviewed papers in the areas of Artificial Intelligence, cognitive modeling, human-machine interaction, data mining and visualization, and machine learning. He has served as guest editor for the journal Artificial Intelligence and is an Associate of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. His work has been featured in mainstream media including NPR, BBC News, Wired Magazine, Science Magazine, New Scientist, Technology Review, PC Magazine, and Popular Science. Roy holds a Bachelor of Applied Science in computer engineering from the University of Waterloo, Canada, and both an MS and PhD in media arts and sciences from MIT.

December 18: Luncheon Series: “The Internet and Democracy: Problems and Ideas”


Berkman Center Luncheon Series
Guest: Victoria Stodden of Stanford University
Topic: “
The Internet and Democracy: Problems and Ideas”

Tuesday, December 18, 12:30 pm
Berkman Center Conference Room
23 Everett St., 2nd Floor, Cambridge MA

The Internet has enormous potential: it can educate voters on issues, provide tools for self expression to both peers and to policy makers, and even spread ideas about democratic notions themselves. This talk examines the benefits and pitfalls of these aspects and argues a successful approach to understanding the phenomena will address the problems created by the Internet as well as its potential.

About Victoria

Victoria Stodden recently finished her Statistics Ph.D. with Professor David Donoho at Stanford University. She is currently enrolled in the Law School and is teaching two classes there (Law 374 Empirical Legal Analysis and Law 468 Statistical Inference) as a Lecturer in Law. Victoria also completed a master’s degree in statistics at Stanford University, as well as a master’s degree in economics from the University of British Columbia.

In the summer of 2000, she was an intern at the IBM T. J. Watson Research Labs in New York working on speech recognition. She passed her qualifying exams in summer 2001. In the summer of 2002 Victoria worked on Optical Character Recognition at (formerly Xerox PARC) in Palo Alto. Since then she has taught stats212, Applied Statistics with SAS, a new course she developed here in this department.


Victoria’s Homepage:


This event will be webcast live. Webcast viewers can join the discussion through IRC text chat or in the virtual world Second Life. If you miss the live chat, catch the podcast audio & video at MediaBerkman.

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