Writing was invented to support taxation. Elites’ insatiable appetite for fully domesticated workers boosted forced labour and slavery. It almost comes as a relief to be reminded that the oppressive character of the state was leavened by its own brittleness: rather than precipitating a calamitous slide into chaos, periodic collapse would simply have disassembled larger states into their constituent communities. Plenty of fetters were loosened in the process.
This is not too far from the antifragility, of Taleb
Review of ‘Against the Grain’, by James C Scott in the FT.
It was 40 years ago when Carwyn James warned of the dangers of what he called crash-ball centres, players who were being encouraged to feel rather than think. “The boring, unthinking coach continually preaches about mistakes,” he once said. “The creative coach invites his players to make mistakes. This new midfield ‘crash-ball’ is a disaster – hunks of manhood with madness in their eyes, battering-ram bulldozers happy to be picked off on the gain-line by just-as-large hunks from the opposing side. For what? Just to do it all over again.”
Just last week, when faced with a report that its advertising numbers promised an American audience that, in certain demographics, well exceeded the number of such humans in existence, judging by U.S. Census Bureau numbers, Facebook told the Wall Street Journal that its numbers “are not designed to match population or census estimates. We are always working to improve our estimates.” Facebook’s intercourse with the public need not adhere to the so-called norms of so-called reality.
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, like Cameron and François Hollande, belong to the exam-passing classes.
Great essay by Bruce Schneier.
In 2020 — 10 years from now — Moore’s Law predicts that computers will be 100 times more powerful. That’ll change things in ways we can’t know, but we do know that human nature never changes. Cory Doctorow rightly pointed out that all complex ecosystems have parasites. Society’s traditional parasites are criminals, but a broader definition makes more sense here. As we users lose control of those systems and IT providers gain control for their own purposes, the definition of “parasite” will shift. Whether they’re criminals trying to drain your bank account, movie watchers trying to bypass whatever copy protection studios are using to protect their profits, or Facebook users trying to use the service without giving up their privacy or being forced to watch ads, parasites will continue to try to take advantage of IT systems. They’ll exist, just as they always have existed, and — like today — security is going to have a hard time keeping up with them.
Welcome to the future. Companies will use technical security measures, backed up by legal security measures, to protect their business models. And unless you’re a model user, the parasite will be you.
Which just reminds my of my own ecological ignorance. Many years back I was moaning to William Bains about how “surely the system (insert your own bête noire) will collapse under the weight of all these people who do nothing except get in the way and stop real work being done”. He corrected me by reminding me that in many biological systems the biomass of parasites exceeds that of the non-parasites. It is now my strategy when meeting somebody or hearing some new idea to ask the simple polite question: are you a parasite? There are an awful lot of them. I expect to see more and more.
From the Obit of Derek Walcott.
He would cup a breast as he fondled a white stone from the beach. These propensities, noted when he was teaching in America in the 1980s and 1990s, cost him the chance to be, in 1999, Britain’s poet laureate and, ten years later, professor of poetry at Oxford. He was not concerned, for he did not want to drop his anchor long on any northern shore.
It is odd to live in a country whose very name—the United Kingdom—sounds increasingly sarcastic.
FT. Obvious, but puzzled as I haven’t see it everywhere.
Interesting editorial in Nature. And unexpected. The issue is support for science and the state of politics in the US.
Just telling the same old stories won’t cut it. The most seductive of these stories — and certainly the one that scientists like to tell themselves and each other — is the simple narrative that investment in research feeds innovation and promotes economic growth. ‘It’s the economy, stupid’, so the saying goes, and as nations become a little less stupid by pushing against the frontiers of knowledge, so the benefits of all this new insight spread from the laboratory to the wider population, as improvements in the standard of living and quality of life. This comfortable story has all the hallmarks of a bubble waiting to pop.
The article goes on:
It is right that more scientists should tell stories of the good their research can do. But it is more important and urgent than ever that researchers should question how these stories really end — and whether too many of the people they claim to act for don’t really get to live happily ever after.
Much science is in a vacuous bubble, and arguments for more funding from its practitioners is increasingly viewed as self serving. Universities share some or much of this blame, all too happy to ‘shift more units’. This lack of intellectual honesty will harm academia in the long term. The one uniting feature that justifies higher education is the pursuit of truth in whichever direction enquiry moves. Universities are not businesses, profit centres, or corporations. They have a different set of norms that are distinct from those advertised by much of the rest of the corporate world (or government). STEM has never been enough, and truthfulness is not something you can opt in or out of, like you can some undergraduate modules. The role for universities — and science — is greater than ever: the issue is whether the universities have the necessary leadership. Even with the right leaders, it is a tough ask.
Well, not that I do, and in particular not this one. But, after sitting recently working in a coffee shop across the road from a school playground in Berlin, being both disturbed (“I was working!”) and amazed at the racket from all the frantic school children hurtling around a school playground, I do puzzle why it all changes when you ‘grow up’.
This from Science
Anyone who rose morning after morning this week for an exhausting and ache-generating exercise class to fulfill a New Year’s resolution will envy the bar-headed goose. The bird has the strength and endurance to fly 3000 kilometers over the Himalayas between its breeding grounds in Mongolia and wintering grounds in India. Yet a new study indicates that it doesn’t do a lick of exercise to prepare.
In at least some species, extra exercise may even be harmful, studies of captive zebra finches reported at the meeting suggest……… birds getting the extra exercise suffered cellular damage, from oxygen radicals and other charged molecules released by active muscle.
Birdbrain I might be, but not of the goose persuasion.
“This may upset some of my students at MIT, but one of my concerns is that it’s been a predominantly male gang of kids, mostly white, who are building the core computer science around AI, and they’re more comfortable talking to computers than to human beings. A lot of them feel that if they could just make that science-fiction, generalized AI, we wouldn’t have to worry about all the messy stuff like politics and society. They think machines will just figure it all out for us.”
Joi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab
(Via John Naughton)
Or as I quoted Steven Weinberg in a paper with the title, “The Problem with Academic Medicine: Engineering Our Way into and out of the Mess”
“My advice is to go for the messes—that’s where the action is.”
I first became ware of the importance of intellectual property law and custom after reading James Boyle’s ‘Shamans, Software and Spleens’. I had been completely unaware of how important the institution of private intellectual property was, and how destructive it frequently was of human advance. Of course, it was not meant to be this way. Boyle’s book is dense but funny, and he lambasts the contradictions in copyright law, the tortured logic in the bizarre attempts to explain why blackmail and insider trading are illegal, and the craziness that surrounded patenting DNA and what you can do with my spleen once you once removed it. As Cory Doctorow commented, about another of Boyle’s books, ‘Bound by Law’, “Copyright, a system that is meant to promote creativity, has been hijacked by a few industrial players and perverted. Today copyright is as likely to suppress new creativity as it is to protect it.” It was reading Boyle that led me to write an essay in the Lancet on how the ease or difficulty of assigning IPR distorted medical advance.
This is a funny story with a surprise inside. The funny part is the artwork: an artist created glass blocks exactly the dimensions of a FedEx box and then shipped them in those boxes, producing unique art out of the cracks and breakage that resulted. The surprise is that it turns out that Fed Ex has corporate ownership over that space. “There’s a copyright designating the design of each FedEx box, but there’s also the corporate ownership over that very shape. It’s a proprietary volume of space, distinct from the design of the box.” Now I’m afraid I might accidentally violate FedEx’s ownership over that specific shape should I decide to, I don’t know, create my own mailing box.
Not so much enclosing the commons, but space itself.
“David Cameron began 2016 in 10 Downing Street and ended it at DePauw University in a small Indiana town, speaking for a reported £120,000 an hour. The former British prime minister is now paid almost as much for a 60-minute speech as he used to earn in a year, as he tries to make sense of his own historic failure: Brexit.” FT
Exams begin next week. Type-A Anita is particularly nervous. Beginning last week she has refused to learn anything that is more in-depth than the NBME questions: “only high-yield.” She interrupts class once per day to complain when a professor gives more detail than the Step 1 exam books do. She also requests clarification about the number of questions per exam topic. She dropped her sweet Midwestern demeanor and submitted a formal complaint to the administration when an older physician said males have to work more to learn patient interviewing because women are more naturally caring.
via Philip Greenspun
Nice turn of phrase that seems apt way beyond its intended target, attributed to the physicist, John Stewart Bell (NYRB 10/11/2016).
” I hesitated to think it might be wrong, but I knew it was rotten”
The annual cost of protecting our digital world from hackers will exceed the benefits of being connected by 2019, according to a study by the Zurich Insurance Group and the Atlantic Council, Here.
Well, I guess it is sensible for Insurance companies to be cautious. But I continue to be amazed by how much sensitive information around health care and university personal data is put online — just because we can. NHS systems have been hacked, and university sites are continually under assault. There is a lot of personal data stored, that could be used against people. This is the spreadsheet obsession of top down management, where data is equated with reality, and surveillance with caring. And that is before people try to sell it.
I am just back from OEB16 in Berlin. A really terrific meeting, which I enjoyed more than I anticipated (my philosophy; check out that I wasn’t missing too much: I was wrong). I will write some more later. And although I have been to Berlin many times, on this occasion I had time to see much of the city. Also to chat with some bright and talented young people who have left the UK, fed up with Brexit and the State of the UK, aiming to make their life there.
“The contribution of student loans to net government debt is forecast to rise from around 4 per cent of GDP today to over 11 per cent in 2040”. Here
“the state of most learning management systems is verging on embarrassing in the face of the smartphone generation” and that “grainy footage of an hour-long lecture, filmed from the back of the lecture hall, just won’t cut it”.
Simon Nelson of FutureLearn in the THE
Michael Feldstein writes about ed tech companies and Pearson:
1 Never, ever, say that you want your company to be the Uber of education, the Airbnb of education, the Pokemon GO of education, or the insert name of tech darling of education unless you really enjoy being a recluse (or you are secretly a double agent for your employer’s direct competitor).
2 If you absolutely must say something like the above, then do not say you are the Netflix of education. Honestly, Netflix isn’t even great at being the Netflix of movies. The last time they recommended a movie that I actually wanted to watch was…uh…never.
There is a recurring cultural fantasy that “solving” the education “problem” consists of creating a customized playlist of little content bits. So really, more like the Spotify of education, if you want to play that game. This idea enrages educators because it trivializes what they do. Nobody who has taught believes that proper sequencing of content chunks is the hard part.
“We’re starting to meta-tag all the content so it can be chopped up into component parts and reassembled on the fly for each user,” explained Hitchcock………
We’ve gone from Netflix to Google Ads. Out of the frying pan, into the fire. Can we get a spamming algorithm analogy just for good measure?
Worth a full read.
This is just a test. And thanks to Roslin design.
“No one should use comic sans for lectures in a university.” Student feedback. It wasn’t me!
Louise Richardson said a few interesting things talking to Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs. Anybody who has been taught by (Irish) nuns or Christian brothers, will know some of the terrain.
In response to, ‘The most recent NUS survey says that 63% of students support the view that people with potentially offensive views should be banned from British campuses and from speaking from events’, she replied, ‘Well the first point is that I couldn’t disagree more with than view, I have to say’. No flimflam here, thank God. She pointed out that this is not entirely a new phenomenon, and wondered if young people are now less exposed to alternate views than they once were, and are more ‘cosseted’ by their parents.
I wonder how the for-profits would handle this issue.
It is usually taken for granted that the skills gap is a problem of skills supply, and public concerns often focus on a lack of STEM skills and soft skills. So proposed solutions tend to involve reforming education and worker training programs. The most popular approach has been to reduce tuition fees for selective fields of study, usually STEM majors.
However, I argue that this view is not correct. Research that I and my colleagues have conducted suggests that the skills gap persists mainly because employers are unwilling or unable to pay market price for the skills they require…..
Yet the skills gap remains, because the adjustments that workers and firms make will only eliminate the gap if wages reflect the relative supply and demand for various skills across occupations. But our data shows that this is not happening: Many jobs in industries that generate high profits (retail trade, educational services, mining, and forestry) tend to pay low wages and are therefore unattractive to workers, whereas jobs in industries that pay higher wages (finance, computer and electronics manufacturing, paper and printing) are not very profitable.
Via Stephen Downes
Nice turn of phrase, from Benedict Anderson’s autobiography, in the Economist. I think it says a lot about the Academy.
“Scholars who feel comfortable with their position in a discipline, department or university will try neither to sail out of harbour nor to look for a wind,” he writes, paraphrasing an expression in Indonesia. “But what is to be cherished is the readiness to look for that wind and the courage to follow it when it blows in your direction.”
“In an attempt to clean up, Novartis has appointed a chief ethics officer and is in the process of tightening its rules on relations with doctors”. FT
Martin Wolf awhile back in the FT drew attention to the danger of pharma being viewed in the same light as many of us view Banks. Ethics committees don’t work. It is in the corridors outside the committee rooms that people act natural. The problem is both with an organisation, and with what organisations are.
Now I know; I think.
Kurt Vonnegut said it best: “Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”
Quoted by John O’Callaghan in the Economist.
Nice graphic over at flowingdata.com. Lots of other great graphics, too.