by Stephen Downes
Oct 10, 2014
Adobe is Spying on Users, Collecting Data on Their eBook Libraries
The Digital Reader,
Another company joins the ignoble ranks of those spying on its users. "Adobe is gathering data on the ebooks that have been opened, which pages were read, and in what order. All of this data, including the title, publisher, and other metadata for the book is being sent to Adobe’s server in clear text." Here's a timeline:
"But wait," says Nate Hoffelder, the writer who broke the story. "There’s more. Adobe isn’t just tracking what users are doing in DE4; this app was also scanning my computer, gathering the metadata from all of the ebooks sitting on my [e-Reader], and uploading that data to Adobe’s servers." Seriously Adobe?
Can Scientists Speak?
Karen Magnuson-Ford, Katie Gibbs,
Evidence for Democracy, Simon Fraser University,
I'm not sure what I can say about this report. :) Just kidding. I can say what I want about it (though I can't issue a press release about it, which I can't say surprises me). This report co-sponsored by an organization called 'Evidence for Democracy' and Simon Fraser University criticizes the Canadian government for imposing speech limitations on its scientists. My own division, the National Research Council, was given a score of 69, or C+, scoring most poorly in "safeguards against political interference" and "protects scientific free speech". these scores, which count for more than half the overall grade, seem a bit harsh to me. I think the report would have been improved had it looked not just at the policies in place but also the practice. The full report is a 24 page PDF; here's the summary.
View From Nowhere
The New Inquiry,
Interesting article commenting on Dataclysm, "a new book-length expansion of OkCupid president Christian Rudder's earlier blog-posted observations about the anomalies of his dating service’s data set." OkCupid is a matching site which posed questions to men and women and pairs them with their best matches. The data produced by the responses and other activities are mined for insights into human interactions. Nathan Jurgenson likens the approach employed by this site and other Big Data enterprises with the 19th and 20th century philosophy of positivism, which is the idea that the "world can be known and explained from a value-neutral, transcendent view from nowhere in particular." This is a very light and not altogether accurate take on positivism, but it set the stage nicely for a criticism of the hubris and ethical ambivalence demonstrated by big data enterprises.
Nigeria: How Policy Somersaults, Corruption, Indiscipline Plague Public Schools, By Educationists
I can't reconcile the hadline with the story, which is about Open Educational Resources (OERs) and Massive Oppen Online Courses (MOOCs) in Nigeria. Here's the gist: "When courses are converted to OER, they are delivered as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)." Which is an interesting (though not totally accurate) take. The context is a talk by Abel Caine on the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) conversion of some of its courses to OER. "OER would create a platform for NOUN to share their huge intellectual wealth so that other educational institutions within Nigeria, Africa and globally could use them free of cost, as well as with the legal freedom to adapt them," Caine stated.
Do the social sciences need a shake-up?
Amanda Goodall, Andrew Oswald,
Times Higher Education,
This reminds me of the call not so long ago to reform the teaching of economics. Students in that discipline issued a manifesto calling for the teaching of less orthodox (and hopefully more accurate) theories. In this case, though, the call comes from an editorial in the New York Times from Nicholas Christakis, head of the Human Nature Lab at Yale University. "The social sciences have stagnated," he writes. "They offer essentially the same set of academic departments and disciplines that they have for nearly 100 years... social scientists too often miss the chance to declare victory and move on to new frontiers." He wants them to move on from studying "classic topics like monopoly power, racial profiling and health inequality" and instead learn from Yale and Harvard and teach things like "biosocial science, network science, neuroeconomics, behavioral genetics and computational social science." But iws nomenclature really the problem? Goodall and Oswald respond, "What principally matters is whether social scientists are doing their job of helping humans to understand the world and improve life." And it's worth noting that institutions like Yale and Harvard have the effect of preserving monopoly power and inequality, precisely by closing discussion of these topics.
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