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    nmw 15:27:59 on 2016/07/12 Permalink
    Tags: academia, academic, , , , , , , , bandwagon, bandwagon effect, , , , , , , , , , compute, , corrupt, corrupted, corruption, , , , , , , group think, groupthink, , , , , , , , , , , , , majority, , , , , populism, populist, , questions, rason, , , , , , , , , , systemic, , , trusted, , , universities, , valid, validity, vote, votes, voting, ,   

    The Spectre of Populism 

    There is a spectre haunting the Web: That spectre is populism.

    Let me backtrack a moment. This piece is a part of an ongoing series of posts about „rational media“ – a concept that is still not completely hard and fast. I have a hunch that the notion of „trust“ is going to play a central role… and trust itself is also an extremely complex issue. In many developed societies, trust is at least in part based on socially sanctioned institutions (cf. e.g. „The Social Construction of Reality“) – for example: public education, institutions for higher education, academia, etc. Such institutions permeate all of society – be it a traffic sign at the side of a road, or a crucifix as a central focal element on the alter in a church, or even the shoes people buy and walk around with on a daily basis.

    The Web has significantly affected the role many such institutions play in our daily lives. For example: one single web site (i.e. the information resources available at a web location) may be more trusted today than an encyclopedia produced by thousands of writers ever were – whether centuries ago, decades ago, or even still just a few years past.

    Similarly, another web site may very well be trusted by a majority of the population to answer any and all questions whatsoever – whether of encyclopedic nature or not. Perhaps such a web site might use algorithms – basically formulas – to arrive at a score for the „information value“ of a particular web page (the HTML encoded at one sub-location of a particular web site). A large part of this formula might involve a kind of „voting“ performed anonymously – each vote might be no more than a scratch mark presumed to indicate a sign of approval (an „approval rating“) given from disparate, unknown sources. Perhaps a company might develop more advanced methods in order to help guage whether the vote is reliable or whether it is suspect (for example: one such method is commonly referred to as a „nofollow tag“ – a marker indicating that the vote should not be trusted).

    What many such algorithms have in common is that on a very basic level, they usually rely quite heavily on some sort of voting mechanism. This means they are fundamentally oriented towards populism – the most popular opinion is usually viewed as the most valid point of view. This approach is very much at odds with logic, the scientific method and other methods that have traditionally (for several centuries, at least) be used in academic institutions and similar „research“ settings. At their core, such populist algorithms are not „computational“ – since they rely not on any kind of technological solution to questions, but rather scan and tally up the views of a large number of human (and/or perhaps robotic) „users“. While such populist approaches are heralded as technologically advanced, they are actually – on a fundamental level – very simplistic. While I might employ such methods to decide which color of sugar-coated chocolate to eat, I doubt very much that I, personally, would rely on such methods to make more important – for example: „medical“ – decisions (such as whether or not to undergo surgery). I, personally, would not rely on such populist methods much more than I would rely on chance. As an example of the kind of errors that might arise from employing such populist methods, consider the rather simple and straightforward case that some of the people voting could in fact be color-blind.

    Yet that is just the beginning. Many more problems lurk under the surface, beyond the grasp of merely superficial thinkers. Take, for example, the so-called „bandwagon effect“ – namely, that many people are prone to fall into a sort of „follow the leader“ kind of „groupthink“. Similarly, it is quite plausible that such bandwagon effects could even influence not only people’s answers, but even also the kinds of questions they feel comfortable asking (see also my previous post). On a more advanced level, complex systems may be also be influenced by the elements they comprise. For example: While originally citation indexes were designed with the assumption that such citation data ought to be reliable, over the years it was demonstrated that such citations are indeed very prone to be corrupted by a wide variety of corruption errors and that citation analysis is indeed not at all a reliable method. While citation data may have been somewhat reliable originally, it became clear that eventually citation fraud corrupted the system.

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    nmw 13:40:00 on 2016/07/10 Permalink
    Tags: , answered, , develop, , , , , , , , , questions, unanswered,   

    The Unanswered Questions 

    There’s a piece by Charles Ives, a famous American composer, named „The Unanswered Question“. I have long enjoyed this piece, and in particular also its title. In my opinion, there are many unanswered questions.

    One reason why there are so many unanswered questions is that lots of questions are never actually expressed. It is a great irony that quite a few so-called „free“ societies remain unwilling or unable to allow people to voice their own opinions.

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    nmw 17:51:27 on 2016/02/14 Permalink
    Tags: , , , confidence, depressed, depression, doubt, doubting, , , , , Galileo, , group dynamics, , , , , , , , , questioning, questions, , sad, , , , , social cohesion, social group, social groups, , , , , , , , ,   

    Do You Want To Be Right Or Do You Want To Be Happy? 

    Did anyone ever ask Galileo this question? Why or why not? Why do some people ask other people this question today?

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    nmw 15:10:05 on 2015/03/13 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , irresponsible, , , , , questions, respond, response, responsibility, responsible, , ,   

    Responsibility to Life 

    I have many friends — and although I have never met up with the vast majority “face to face”, I nonetheless cherish when they motivate me to think about something long and hard.

    Recently, several things came together in a way that I wish to firstly acknowledge, and also expand upon.

    The first was a blog post by Drew Lepp: “Don’t Overthink It: Why it’s OK to Trust Your Intuition“. Her thoughtful pieces go beyond what is considered web design, user experience, etc. — in this case she also mentioned Barry Schwartz (and I wish to come back to this point in a moment).

    The second was a question raised by Jean Russell on Facebook, and I quote it in full here:

    Questions: to what degree am I responsible for what happens to me? To what degree am I responsible for how I chose to experience it, And the story I tell about it? To what degree am I responsible for what someone else experiences? To what degree am I responsible for how they think and feel about that experience (and their story about it)? And finally, to what degree am I responsible for the society I live in, the patterns it creates, the history it has, and the future it is creating?

    We may not agree on our answers to these questions.

    The third thing actually goes back many months — I came across a blog post by Elizabeth Young which I enjoyed so much that I wanted to learn more… and then I discovered “The Possible Podcast” — which I have been listening to off and on, and I just listened to episode #7: “BE RESPONSIBLE – Always put God first“. To cut to the chase (and yet I also wish to implore you to listen to the quite succinct full discussion — it’s less than 9 minutes, and also less than 9 MB in total): the advice concerning responsibility concerns the way we respond in any given moment, in any given situation.

    This brings me back to Barry Schwartz, who gave a TED Talk almost 10 years ago that also spoke directly to these “responsibility” issues so many people today are concerned about (note that he has also written about many of these issues — see also his website at Swathmore University): “The Paradox of Choice” (the point he makes is about 3 and a half or 4 minutes into this presentation, when he says “Doc, what should I do?”).

    I find Elizabeth Young’s advice is very apropos to a situation in which life demands of us to answer. Barry Schwartz’s research addresses the question of “what if we ourselves are unable to answer (adequately, sufficiently, etc.)?” I, though, have yet another question I want to answer (but at the moment still feel quite clueless about): What if life does not pose any questions at all, but you nonetheless see a way to “respond” — or to simply improve it?

    This is a very real situation for me: Today, virtually no one asks “how can I find X?” … even though the methods most people use to find answers to questions are very antiquated. No one is expecting a response, or a solution or anything like that — to a question they do not have. Most people feel as certain today about the order of the universe as most people did hundreds of years ago when Copernicus and Galileo argued that the universe could be better understood from a different perspective. Copernicus and Galileo were offering solutions to problems these people didn’t feel they had.

    Listening to the podcast that Elizabeth Young and Dr. Phil D. Mayers collaborated on, I sense that the way I address the issue of illiteracy still needs to be optimized — insofar as the literacy rate is nowhere near high (I would say the rate of illiteracy [i.e., literacy/illiteracy in the sense of what used to be called “media literacy”] is somewhere around 99%). When no one is asking a question, how do you respond?

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