You are viewing a read-only archive of the Blogs.Harvard network. Learn more.

The Longest Now

The Six Symptoms of Pathological Science, by Irving Langmuir
Tuesday November 13th 2012, 8:43 am
Filed under: %a la mod,gustatory,metrics,poetic justice,wikipedia

This overview of pattern-creation in the guise of science and its mob effect on whole fields must be read and relished.

The Six Symptoms of Pathological Science:

  • The maximum effect observed is produced by an agent of barely detectable intensity.  The magnitude of the effect is largely independent of the intensity of the cause.
  • The effect is of a magnitude close to the limit of detectability, or many measurements are necessary because of low statistical significance of individual results.
  • There are claims of great, even extraordinary, accuracy
  • Fantastic theories contrary to experience are suggested (with enthusiasm)
  • Criticisms are met by ad hoc excuses thought up on the spur of the moment  (this may be contagious)
  • The ratio of supporters to critics rises to somewhere near 50%, then falls gradually to zero.

Also, note that the “Allison effect” and mechanism is the most amazing example given, and may show something different than standard pathological science: it was considered good science for over a decade, and by hundreds of practitioners.

From a talk famously given by Langmuir (1932 Chemistry N’Laureate) in 1953, transcribed by Robert Hall, illustrated by Physics Today, republished and promoted by professors and authors.

Comments Off on The Six Symptoms of Pathological Science, by Irving Langmuir

What works, what doesn’t: the greatest lectures online about the Internet
Tuesday October 16th 2012, 10:18 pm
Filed under: Glory, glory, glory,metrics,popular demand

By JR, for Michael.

Comments Off on What works, what doesn’t: the greatest lectures online about the Internet

UNHRC: Periodic Rights Review (US edition, part 2)
Saturday October 13th 2012, 12:37 am
Filed under: international,metrics,poetic justice,Rogue content editor,Uncategorized

Earlier this year I wrote a bit about the latest UNHRC periodic rights review of the US, something that happens for every country once every four years.  Norway offered the most excellent advice, making 7 solid apolitical recommendations.

They didn’t rehash international policy disputes or convention-signing, which can be nominal at best: and focused instead on essential changes that can be carried out now, and would be historically significant. If we implemented their 7 recs, our nation would be a better place.  Here they are, consolidated (with the # of the rec, and our response):

  1. Consider a human rights institution at the federal level to ensure implementation of human rights in all states (74: yes, will consider, but no current plan)
  2. Take further measures in economic and social rights for women and minorities, including equal access to decent work and reducing the number of homeless people (113: yes)
  3. Take measures to eradicate all forms of torture and illtreatment of detainees by military or civilian personnel, in any territory of jurisdiction, and that any such acts be thoroughly investigated (139: yes)
  4. Take steps to set federal and state-level moratoria on executions with a view to abolish the death penalty nationwide (122: blanket no)
  5. Review federal and state legislation with a view to restricting the number of offences carrying the death penalty (132: blanket no)
  6. Apply the model legal framework of the Leahy Laws to all countries receiving US security assistance, with human rights records of all units receiving such assistance  documented, evaluated, made available and followed up upon in cases of abuse (227: no more than now. ‘we already do this, but in secret’)
  7. Remove the blanket abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid covering medical care given to women and girls who are raped and impregnated in armed conflict (228: no, sorry. “due to currently applicable restrictions”)

The death penalty is increasingly considered outmoded and barbaric in most of the world, yet in our domestic discussions it is seen as a reasonable option – more a matter of regional preference than a fundamental moral matter. 35  states currently allow it.

And what’s up with the 7th point above?  The US has imposed restrictions on its international aid funding over the past few decades to prevent aid recipients from using those funds to provide abortions or suggest them as an option for family planning.  The most well-known example of this is the Mexico City Policy , instated by Reagan and since repealed or reinstated by each preseident in the first days of his term, along party lines.  This affected roughly $100M of aid given to family planning programs; and is also called the “global gag rule” because it prohibited aid recipients from using any of their funds for abortion care.

Today, while the MCP stands repealed, there are other similar restrictions in force – including the one highlighted by Norway.   They are reportedly the first country to bring the issue up in an international setting, as part of a campaign launched with the Global Justice Center.

Overall, I am fascinated at how unified and sane most of these recommendations are. It reminds me that peer review by a large group of peers tends toward the awesome, constructive side of the scale, even when the peer group includes some trolling and posturing.

Comments Off on UNHRC: Periodic Rights Review (US edition, part 2)

“What Wroth Roth Wrought” by Virginia Hefferman and Oliver Keyes
Saturday September 15th 2012, 5:51 pm
Filed under: international,metrics,Uncategorized,wikipedia

We may have a national drought, but a bumper crop of brilliant essays of, by, and for Wikipedia are turning up this weekend.

Oliver Keyes / Ironholds turned out this gem of an essay deconstructing, line by line, how many claims and statements in the original New Yorker piece fell somewhere between confused and false.  In particular, he highlights that Roth has already been cited in the article at the time as disputing the claims by many critics that Broyard’s life was an influence on his character.

And he points out how credulous our traditional media are, when dealing with respected authors: how few outlets made an effort to check statements Roth made before repeating them, and often assumed they were true in coming up with social and factual analyses.

But these are the institutions that we – Wikipedians an everyone else – look up to for fact-checking and peer review in the first place.   How to make sense of this communication gap?

Enter Virginia Hefferman, stage right.  She published an insightful piece, with stylish patter to match the subject matter, on how the Rothroversy illustrates a digital culture war. An excerpt:

At least two Americas, then. Each with its own civilizations, its own holy artifacts, its own shamans. For contrast: Wikipedia is an open-source encyclopedia, born in 2001; it has some 365 million readers in 265 languages. The New Yorker is an American general-interest weekly, born in 1925. It has a circulation of almost 1.05 million, in a single language. Wikipedia America and New Yorker America are so dug into their hierarchies of values that, really, they can only cultivate blindness about the other lest they implode in madness.
The East Coast establishment, for its part, is still so sure of itself that when Roth, one of its most esteemed denizens, finds himself narcissistically bugged in the usual way with something on Wikipedia, he doesn’t do what the rest of us do when Wikipedia narcissistically bugs us: learn the supremely learnable procedures for submitting changes to that populist and infinitely flexible document.
Roth doesn’t read enough on the site to learn that at Wikipedia, nothing is left “on author” (as we used to say of the very rare uncheckable fact when I did my own time at The New Yorker). Everything must be sourced… 

“The Human Stain,” as a novel, might rise or fall on its status as a fictionalization of the life of this or that obscure intellectual. But Wikipedia, as the near-miraculous open-source document that defines knowledge on the Web, lives or dies on the strength of its traditions of anonymity, proceduralism, humility and collaboration. Once it knuckles under to power—literary, political, any kind—it cracks. Wikipedia as it stands is chaotic and error-ridden, although anything but soulless: It breathes with the intelligence of the hundreds of millions of people, around the world, who use it and contribute to it and take pride in it and maintain it.
Hefferman was recruited away from the New York Times to the increasingly impressive Yahoo! News earlier this year.
Comments Off on “What Wroth Roth Wrought” by Virginia Hefferman and Oliver Keyes

Europeana uses CC-0 for huge data exchange
Thursday September 13th 2012, 9:21 am
Filed under: international,metrics,Uncategorized,wikipedia

Huzzah! (HT to Jill & team)

Comments Off on Europeana uses CC-0 for huge data exchange

Digitize it all: from law to code and standard, for public justice
Thursday August 09th 2012, 12:51 pm
Filed under: citation needed,international,metrics,Uncategorized,wikipedia

If you haven’t visited recently, do so now. I’ll wait… you are in for a treat.

Carl Malamud and Friends (soon to be a show on CNN) have kept up the momentum of their early work to digitize and publish technical and other standards, many of which are now online in all their glory.

And there’s a lovely collection of introductions, from the 5-minute summary of why and how to free building codes, to a 20-minute showcase of what the team does. (via boingboing)

This is still rather top-down for my tastes — there’s no obvious way for me to help out, fund the digitization of a particular code, or run a digitizing party in my neighborhood library or FabLab. But I am inspired by the persistent work and vision of the people making this dream a reality.

They also have a lovely site devoted to a national scanning project for scanning all the archives: YesWeScan. Which gave rise to this excellent blog post and commentary from the Archivist of the US, David Ferriero*.

* Recently seen at Wikimania DC saying, in his beautiful closing speech, “If you have any trouble using Wikipedia… tell them, if it’s good enough for the Archivist of the US…”

Comments Off on Digitize it all: from law to code and standard, for public justice

How To Fix Patents: Thoughts from Judge Posner this week on how, and why now.
Friday July 13th 2012, 4:31 pm
Filed under: metrics,Not so popular

Via ycombinator and grellas, HT to jacobolus.

Comments Off on How To Fix Patents: Thoughts from Judge Posner this week on how, and why now.

Louis C. K. says: direct ticket sales online trims scalping 98%
Monday July 09th 2012, 9:13 am
Filed under: metrics,poetic justice

The $6M scalping ban. Nice work, Louis.

Comments Off on Louis C. K. says: direct ticket sales online trims scalping 98%

Musical ethics: In defense of free music, Shaw and Masnick shine
Thursday June 28th 2012, 3:16 pm
Filed under: Glory, glory, glory,international,metrics

A recent kerfuffle about music sharing, free culture, and direct support of artists began on NPR and ended on TechDirt.

Last month, Bob Boilen wrote “I Just Deleted All My Music” for NPR’s All Songs Considered blog; to which summer intern Emily White replied last week “I Never Owned Any Music To Begin With“.  Trichordist’s David Lowery shot off a ranting Letter to Emily White that was a viral hit.

Finally, Zac Shaw of mediapocalypse wrote “In Defense of Free Music“, an eloquent explanation of Free Culture ideals and commitment to supporting artists. And culturist and summation genius Mike Masnick has the last word, wrapping up the discussion and aftermath.

Es Werde Lichtstrom! Germany runs on solar for 2 full hours
Monday May 28th 2012, 8:09 pm
Filed under: Glory, glory, glory,international,metrics,popular demand

The German solar power grid is among the world’s densest and fastest-growing. They have doubled their capacity for each of the last 10 years, and currently average 25% of all their power from the sun.

This has so far led to a 10% drop in the average price of power on their electricity exchange, thanks to the institution of “merit order” power supply: in which the lowest marginal-cost power is used first at any given moment. However the tremendous growth and success of solar power means they will soon have to cope with an unusual problem for modern national energy grids: storing excess renewable power. (Spain and Portugal have faced similar surplusses thanks to their tremendous wind power grids.)

They recently hit a few milestones: they set the world record for national solar generation (22GW), meeting fully half of the national energy demand. And for two hours, around midday Saturday, their solar output exceeded the national energy demand for the first time, for two hours.

National power data (GW): wind, solar, total demand

I’d like to see more detailed data on all of this. The annual doubling of solar generation is fantastic and must involve extensive retooling of many subsidiary systems and capacity networks. How centralized/localized are those solar sources? Some data sources say national power production in Germany averages close to 70GW year-round, others claim a peak power draw of 50GW in the winter.

I’d also like to hear more about the limits of pumped energy storage and other uses of excess generated power. We could certainly generate an annual energy surplus for the planet if we tried to; but where’s that market in energy futures, and how much of an energy reservoir could we build up? What are other denser, more robust long-term ways to store power?

24-hour awesome circus brunch bar, free, for everybody
Thursday May 24th 2012, 11:57 am
Filed under: chain-gang,metrics

AFP breaks down her successful kickstarter project to support an album:

it means i’ll probably buy an abandoned church somewhere and turn it into a free 24-hour circus brunch bar for everybody.

we’re all investing, dollar by dollar, pledge by pledge… not just in the future of my little record and band, but in an idea whose time has come.

Comments Off on 24-hour awesome circus brunch bar, free, for everybody

Google’s Knowledge Graph: connecting structured knowledge from diverse sources
Tuesday May 22nd 2012, 2:12 pm
Filed under: citation needed,Glory, glory, glory,metrics,SJ

Stefano Mazzochi and other former MetaWebbers now at Google have turned out another beautiful structure in the garden of human knowledge: the Knowledge Graph.

This helps visualize one key aspect of information meshes, though it has many limitations still. (It is only a graph, as the name suggests; as defined within Google it is only the part of the universal knowledge graph that they choose to bless as ‘clean’; it doesn’t include any data that they choose not to make publicly visible; and there is no higher level of structure to support a metric, or a multi-dimensional space).


Happy On Birthday: Which Birth Dates Are Most Common? Most statisfying.
Wednesday May 16th 2012, 5:25 pm
Filed under: Blogroll,metrics,poetic justice

A fine heatmap of birthday frequency, in which you can see what country the data comes from, which holidays they celebrate, and even some of their superstitions:

HT to Amitabh Chandraand Matt Stiles.

Comments Off on Happy On Birthday: Which Birth Dates Are Most Common? Most statisfying.

Context for the day: sunshine, clarity, reflection
Saturday April 28th 2012, 2:27 pm
Filed under: %a la mod,meta,metrics

A friend yesterday reminded me how valuable and important it is to take time to step back and reflect on one’s direction and focus. And how we should all do this more often. The meta-context was the value of sabbaticals, and the possibility for organizations to do the same thing. (For instance, from recent threads here: the chance for olpc pilots to reflect on their shared vision and principles, while considering how to pool resources; for wikimedia organs to reconsider their purpose; for OER visionaries to review what they want to help society accomplish.)

Today is an excellent day for this reflection – warm sun, tesselated waves, clear skies. I mean to see what I can sort and extrapolate from the wealth of raw individual ideas and motivations that I have seen over the last two weeks.

This context makes me want a more orderly family of terms to describe the form of analytical thought that includes strategy (military, corporate planning), systems thinking (systematics, synergetics), lateral thinking (thinking hats, parallel analysis), and pattern analysis (I Ching, oblique strategies, mesh decomposition). Now… where to file feature requests like this for one’s own language?

Comments Off on Context for the day: sunshine, clarity, reflection

Wikipedia Zero
Saturday April 28th 2012, 1:40 pm
Filed under: %a la mod,international,metrics,popular demand,wikipedia

Free access to Wikipedia on mobile devices.

That is Wikipedia Zero in a nutshell. With a current focus on making this possible through mobile partnerships in the developing world. It’s a bold and lovely project, a focus of Wikimedia outreach this year, and deserves wider visibility.

Comments Off on Wikipedia Zero

Mission of the day: Sister Project Committee mesh
Thursday April 26th 2012, 2:30 pm
Filed under: international,metrics,wikipedia

There have been many threads about sister projects since I recently reraised the idea of fixing our process for reviewing new project proposals.  The past two weeks saw a dozen brainstormers, a few etherpads with notes on how to form a related committee, 2 ideas for how to stage and review proposals to replace the current dated process, and a few serious new project proposals raised.  Thanks to all of the enthusiastic participants, it brings back the visceral joy of being on a knowledge frontier that characterized the earlier days of Wikipedia.

If you have a favorite project concept, ideas from an existing sister project, or related strategy proposals from our brainstorming two years ago: please bring them up again now on Meta to give the discussions a well-rounded and practical focus.

I’ll try to summarize these threads and proposals today.   I am eager to see us start to actively incubate new project ideas that experiment with gathering new types of knowledge.  As a community we have the infrastructure to do this today, we just need a little more flexibility and guidance for how we empower enthusiastic project founders to create a new workspace and gather their initial community and visionaries.

Comments Off on Mission of the day: Sister Project Committee mesh

Managing the Scholarship Dilemma of well-funded communities
Saturday April 21st 2012, 5:37 pm
Filed under: international,metrics,Uncategorized,wikipedia


I have been dealing recently with reimbursements for OLPC community events, more difficult this year than in years past.   Among other things, this year we asked event organizers to cap travel support at $150 per person, to avoid having a few all-stars soak up available funds.

Within Wikimedia, in contrast, it is becoming the norm for some well-respected community members to get full rides to multiple conferences each year.  This made me reflect on how different communities set expectations of scholarship and support, and the long-term implications for the movement.

Expanding travel scholarships always seems like a good short-term idea, but has negative side-effects; raising what I think of as the scholarship dilemma – something most strongly affecting large communities that are flush with funds.  A similar dilemma exists within academia and other communities, but this essay focuses on grassroots and volunteer communities.

Too much of a good thing?

The progression from benefit to dilemma goes something like this:

  1. Early community events are a shared hustle: whoever can come and is passionate about them makes them happen, helps find funds for themelves and their proposed speakers,  and the whole event powered by love and enthusiasm.   Special guests are encouraged to find their own funding; reimbursements and support for travel and lodging are reserved for those who absolutely can’t come without it.  Some outside supporters may offer limited scholarships to the needy.
  2. With experience and perhaps central organization, this gets easier every year.  Sponsors return for many years running.  The movement itself enjoys the events and starts finding funds to bring people representing the diversity of the movement.  Local branches of the community start funding travel for a few people from their region.
  3. The movement becomes well-funded, and starts supplying most or all scholarships from their central organization/foundation.  They begin hiring many of the core community members, and funding attendees who are contractors or staff.  The major meetings become a place to hold in-person business meetings for core parts of the movement, and those start applying for their own pools of travel funding.
  4. Suddenly, getting travel support of some sort is a prize that everyone who would like support, or thinks they may deserve it thanks to their good work, applies for.   It is a minor status symbol, rather than a sign of need.  Expectations start to be set that certain ‘core’ or active people will always be at such events – or will at least be funded to get there.

Herein lies the dilemma: some great participants can’t come on any given year for financial reasons. And most people enjoy in-person meetings.  On the other hand setting expectations that you can get scholarships if other people want to meet you can split the community, and may mean that when funds inevitably become tighter, people stop showing up.  The sense of pulling together to make the first conferences happen — that everyone should be able to raise their own funds, or share the cost of the event —  is lost.

More on unwanted side effects and possible solutions, after the jump.

Bad Behavior has blocked 224 access attempts in the last 7 days.