?> INFOMATTERS | Applying a Third Force to the Architecture of Information

Texas Standard Interview live

I gave a short interview to NPR-KUT’s Teh Texas Standard last week which was broadcast yesterday

PPR talks now online

I greatly enjoyed this year’s Patient Privacy Rights Summit in DC. I usually do not get to attend the same conferences as physicians, policymakers, lawyers etc but this annual summit brings them all together, along with varied invited speakers, to discuss the emerging health information infrastructure. The organizers asked me to provide a closing address and while we had some technical set up difficulties, you can find it here. We need more people to speak up and agitate for our rights in the coming information world, and health is one area where we can all recognize the importance of privacy.

while here, check out the opening address from Deanna Fei, who provide an account of being on the wrong end of health privacy concerns that might shock you.

Seeing accreditation from other sides

I remember when studying perception in undergrad psychology that the term ‘cue aware’ started to fall into our vocabulary to reflect the experience we have of increased experience of phenomena once we knew of their existence. I feel this way about accreditation. Every book or article I find myself reading now seems to have some example of accreditation within. Up first, a couple of articles in the latest issue of Law Library Journal, where James Milles, professor at SUNY Buffalo states in his title that ‘law libraries are doomed’ This is followed by a rejoinder by Kenneth Hirsh, professor at Cincinnati, suggesting it might not be quite that bad. In both, there is much discussion of law school accreditation and how it basically does little to protect the old library function that some argue is central to the great law school experience. Perhaps most telling from some perspectives, the new standards on ABA accreditation no longer require that a law library director have both a law and LIS degree, this now being softened to ‘should’ with numerous cases cited of where even this urging is ignored.

The general arguments about law education are familiar to folks who follow LIS literature — the disconnect between the faculty and the profession, the diminishing demand for the degree, the costs of education, the shifts in research and reading behavior in an online world. So is it reassuring or worrying that law schools are sharing the same pain?

Hot on the heels of this I land on a report from the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions which tackles higher education accreditation head-on. In it, the major criticisms of current accreditation models are stated (familiarly to those of us who read this type of stuff) — it doesn’t reflect quality, it stifles innovation, it’s costly, burdensome and bureaucratic etc. Their recommendations are of the kind some of us have suggested e.g., refocus on quality not compliance, allow more flexibility in review processes, etc. It’s not rocket science, but one imagines we’d never have got a rocket into space if accreditation had been applied to those engineers and scientists.

Chinese radio on reading

I had the pleasure of being interviewed on Chinese Radio International’s English language station this week. Seems there is a lot of interest there on the impact of new media on people’s reading habits and the government is concerned that the average citizen only reads five books a year. Hum….maybe we’re not so different here, though adults do report reading about 17 per year on average. The trouble with all reading estimates is that people exaggerate, since reading is such a socially-desirable behavior. It’s a bit like that with estimates of library visitations, nobody wants to give the appearance of barbarism so yes, of course we all go there regularly, right? Anyway, the interview was times to mark World Book Day, which seemed to pass most of the world by — HERE’S the link

When blogging is life and death

Most comments on the dangers of social media and blogging tend toward warnings about off-the-cuff comments or presenting a public face that you will not be ashamed of in a year’s time when meeting someone new or applying for a job. Jon Ronson’s new book ‘So you’ve been publicly shamed‘ is bringing back and shedding some new light on the well known examples such as the woman tweeting before getting on a flight from UK to South Africa and disembarking hours later to find she’d created a maelstrom of hate by her supposedly off the cuff comment about AIDS. People really do use the tools to humiliate other and the cost, Ronson argues, can be to make others unwilling to speak freely as we collectively get sucked into groupthink. All true and bad, one imagines, but it can be even worse.

The mainstream media have given more attention to this new book than they have the fact that once again, a blogger who espouses atheism has been murdered because of their words they use. In Bangladesh, a blogger was hacked to death this week. Washiqur Rahman was attacked in the street, in daylight. His ‘crime’ was writing about the dangers of religious fundamentalism. He was right. But he was not alone. Earlier this year another blogger, American Avijit Roy was murdered by what are described as machete-wielding assailants while returning from a book fair with his wife (who lost a finger in the attack). Three bloggers have been so murdered in the last two years in that country. And of course, this is on top of the case in Saudi Arabia where public flogging of a blogger for ‘insulting Islam’ actually brought a murmur or two of disapproval from international allies.

One of the less known aspects of free speech suppression (which is everywhere) is that aethesists are among the most suppressed groups. It is estimated that espousing atheism is a crime punishable by death in 13 countries:Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. And that’s just the list of countries where it is enacted as law. There are many more where crimes against atheists are largely ignored and rarely persecuted. And yet religious groups continually campaign that they are the ones who feel persecuted and need laws protecting them. Protect one, protect all surely — is not that a fundamental of all major religions? Those who speak out and pay the ultimate price deserve more than a small column in the euphemistically titled ‘free press’.

The real point here is that I believe shaming others for ignorant tweets is likely a lower point on the same continuum of crowd-hysteria that leads to machete murder of bloggers. This is a concern for people who use social media to chastise but never imagine themselves as fanatics or bad people. The technologies underlying rapid shaming and the behaviors they enable should be studied as more than a curiosity of our age or as a marketing vehicle for corporate identity and personal image making. But I guess there’s less money or fame in that type of work. Come in Information Science……there’s a research question to answer.

The accreditation issue again

I’ve been surprised at the reaction to my earlier plea for accreditation reform (see below) with more than a few people contacting me offline to offer support but in doing so, revealing that they did not feel able to say this out loud in their own schools and departments. That is truly worrying. IF we cannot openly discuss this because of fear among faculty, then something is really wrong. Nearly as worrying, but probably with an ironic twist, it was pointed out to me that the Williamson Report of 1923 invoked the need for ALA-related accreditation as the schools of the time were felt to be unable to raise standards. Well now look where we are.

I seem to find myself on the same side as the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, ACTA, though a close reading of their various publications gives me pause. Let’s just say, we share the same concern that accreditation no long ensures quality, and leave it there.

The real point though is that everyone, in principle, believes accreditation should ensure a certain standard of educational experience. When then, did this setting of standards become so tied to processes of endless review and targets that show so little relevance to real world needs? Maybe ACTA are not so far off when they state that too often accrediting agencies act as monopolies, are a costly nuisance and offer no guarantees of quality. Surely it’s time to revisit this whole mess?

KM meets ML – Information the driver for leveraging distributed expertise

Interesting talk from Jean Claude Monney, now leading KM initiatives at Microsoft. I am generally disappointed in most KM discussions, they seem strong on claims, short on evidence and spend a lot of time trying to change people’s behavior despite everything we know about how humans and organizations operate. That said, sometimes people do push this area forward. Give it a listen – this is short on visuals but there are some deep issues discussed within. Time for a KM comeback?

Achieving Excellence in Global Value Chain – Jean-Claude Monney Group VP STMicroelectronics from Jean-Claude F. Monney on Vimeo.