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by Stephen Downes
Feb 07, 2017

Feature Article
An Ethics Primer
Stephen Downes, Feb 04, 2017.

Many readers will find this section unnecessary, but for many others the range and variety of ethical theories extant may be new to them. It is my objective here to show that a significant number of questions and assumptions in dialogue around ethics are open for discussion. Ethics is by no means a complete or closed discipline; it is a living study that has been shaped and formed by thinkers from the ancient world through to the modern era.

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Algorithms and insults: Scaling up our understanding of harassment on Wikipedia
Ellery Wulczyn, Dario Taraborelli, Nithum Thain, Lucas Dixon, WikiMedia Foundation, 2017/02/07


I've seen this type of result before, but it's worth reiterating. "Registered users make two-thirds (67%) of attacks on English Wikipedia, contradicting a widespread assumption that anonymity is the primary contributor to the problem." The other two observations are also consistent with my own experience of Wikipedia (and speak to why I don't get myself involved in editing Wikipedia documents): "Only 18% of attacks were followed by a warning or a block of the offending user" and "While half of all attacks come from editors who make fewer than 5 edits a year, a third come from registered users with over 100 edits a year."

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Gavagai and TZQQA
Mark Liberman, Language Log, 2017/02/07


I thought this was a fun post. Quine's thesis on the indeterminacy of translation is that in the case of a radical translation - that is, a translation of a completely unfamiliar language - we don't have sufficient evidence to be certain of the meaning of any specific word - 'gavagai', say - in the other language. What's amusing here is that this theory is applied to teens' use of text messaging. What does 'TZQQA' mean, anyways? "There is nothing in linguistic meaning, then," says Quine, "beyond what is to be gleaned from overt behavior in observable circumstances."

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Next Generation Repositories
Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR), 2017/02/07


The Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR) has released a report as a part of its efforts to define a vision for resource repositories. "The vision is to position repositories as the foundation for a distributed, globally networked infrastructure for scholarly communication, on top of which layers of value added services will be deployed." the current report outlines 12 user stories that help define the functions to be supported. This is a draft for public comments (which will be open until March 3). You can comment paragraph-by-paragraph right on the web page.

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Alex Usher, Higher Education Strategy Associates, 2017/02/07


You can split a lot of hairs by saying that 'xenophobia' means 'fear of foreigners' and then saying you don't fear them , you just want them treated differently. The traditional Greek suffixes (-mania, -philia, -phobia) doesn't seem to leave us any alternatives. But there are some. I like 'xenovilic', meaning 'one who vilifies foreigners', for example, by treating them differently. So the Canadian Federation of Students could say that differential fees are 'xenovilic' and avoid the brunt of Alex Usher's argument (which is essentially say "no they're not").

Now it's true that xenovilia is popular worldwide. But should it be? Is there a good rational (morally justified, politically economic, etc) argument to support treating foreigners differently? Usher argues, "services go in priority to people who pay taxes in that jurisdiction." But what about infants and children, and the disabled, and the poor, who pay no taxes? No, the "he who pays" argument doesn't work. Finally, and as an aside, the goal of international trade agreements is to eliminate xenovilia - that is, to ensure foreigners and domestic businesses are treated the same way in each others' countries. They do this very imperfectly, and they do not extend their protections to people, which ultimately is their Achilles heel.

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Copyright 2017 Stephen Downes Contact: stephen@downes.ca

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.