Our Economist Debate: Social Networks Do Have a Positive Impact On Education
Jan 16, 2008
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Another of the ridiculous Economists debates is taking place and they've managed to con convince Ewan McIntosh to take part (hey Ewan, are you getting paid for this? How about some disclosure). For my part, the discussions by Will Richardson and danah boyd are more articulate and better informed. But this is the norm with the Economist debates, which are more about propagating a cult of 'experts' (who they, of course, publish) rather than discussion of any given issue. Goodness, look at the stern male hands making authoritative points, as depicted in the logo. The Economist is so far out of the discussion they don't even know what the discussion is. Total: 319
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Re: Our Economist Debate: Social Networks Do Have a Positive Impact On Education

I'm puzzled, Stephen. Ewan is debating online, and you feel he needs to provide disclosure on whether or not he is being paid to do so? He's not promoting a particular product or service, merely providing a professional opinion on an educational issue. As I understand it, you yourself get paid to speak and write on similar issues, and I've never noted full disclosures from you on such occasions. Would you mind elaborating on the ethical issues concerning you in this instance?

I'm also puzzled by your dismissive attitude to the debate. It seems to me that the debate has stirred up considerable commentary and discussion - including the perspectives you've linked to by Will and Danah. Given the nature of the social web, I don't see how you can make an arbitrary distinction between the Economist debate being useless, on the one hand, and the commentary and discussion it generates (on its own site or elsewhere) as being somehow more valuable. The discussion that has ensued is a product of the original debate, which has therefore served its purpose as a catalyst for thought.

For your readers, what would be more useful than a dismissive sweep of your hand and a couple of sentences would be your perspective on the actual issue being discussed - the impact of social networking on education. Care to comment? [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Our Economist Debate: Social Networks Do Have a Positive Impact On Education

OK, first of all, the Economist does not determine what it is that needs to be debated. Part of my 'dismissive sweep of the hand' regards the lack of relevance of the issue they have chosen. I have been talking about social networks for a long time now - and you think it would be useful to go back to a question as simplistic and naive as whether they have a 'positive impact'?

Second, just for the record (again!) I am not, as you suggest, paid to speak and write on these issues. Quite the opposite - as an employee of the government of Canada, I am not allowed to set up a writing and speaking business on the side; this would be a conflict of interest.

Third, I made the point in my post - and have made the same point several times before - that the Economist is making a political point with these debates. People who are taking part in this are very much promoting this political point - specifically, the point that 'there are experts' and that 'publications' like the Economist are the (privileged) place to find them. The Economist - which has a particular conservative agenda, is attempting to place itself as the arbiter of record.

Finally, regarding my 'arbitrary distinction', when the economist can get past the idea of elitist 'Oxford' style debates, and embrace the totaliy of online discussion, which allows everyone a free, equal and fair shot at expressing such an opinion, then I will remove my 'arbitrary ' distinction. But "free, equal and fair" is exactly what the Economist does *not* support. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Our Economist Debate: Social Networks Do Have a Positive Impact On Education

I'm not getting paid, Stephen, no. I'm doing it because I found the question an intriguing one that people like yourself speak about in terms most find hard to understand. Maybe, in fact, that includes Ned Luds like me. Apologies for not coming up to your standards. We are but mere mortals... [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Our Economist Debate: Social Networks Do Have a Positive Impact On Education

You, and Will, and Danah, and myself, and many others, have been having the debate for years, but if the Economist can help move the discussion into the mainstream, more power to them. If it needs picked experts and a self-selected audience to get it there, I won't begrudge it.

Eric Grant
KnowledgeWorks Foundation
http://www.kwfdn.org/map/blog [Comment] [Permalink]

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