Political Correctness and Academic Punking

Political correctness is hot once again. Donald Trump is beating the drum against political correctness in his speeches and I suddenly feel like I was back in college. I was a freshman at Yale university in 1990 when Donald Kagan delivered an “infamous” public speech against political correctness and in favor of Western civilization during the freshman assembly. The speech was a bit of a bombshell in the 1990s culture wars and created a firestorm of controversy on campus.

Rethinking Internet Addiction

When I first read the news reports about internet addiction in the early and mid-2000s I dismissed the idea. How, I thought, could anyone be addicted to the internet? Again in the mid-2000s I started reading more about information overload and personal productivity. I read about Inbox Zero and the transformative power of Getting Things Done. When confronted with a problem created by technology, namely too much information, many people in the technorati went looking for a technical solution.

Libraries, Data, and Collectionism

So I’ve been thinking about a way to describe the enthusiasm about big data that has captured the business, government, and academic worlds over the past decade. I will admit up front that the rapid advances in deep learning technology that large businesses like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon have accomplished in the past few years should be celebrated. The efforts by these companies and the fact that they have open-sourced many of the artificial intelligence frameworks they are creating should be applauded.

Zen and the Art of Science Popularization

I remember reading a stack of popular physics books back in the 1980s and 1990s that proposed a connection between quantum physics and Eastern philosophy. For example, The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra and The Dancing Wu-Li Masters by Gary Zukav. What happened to all of those ideas? I recalled this experience while I was reading parts of Ecology, Ethics and the Future of Humanity by Adam Riggio. I’m in the middle of writing a review of the book and one of the early chapters mentions the connection between ecological thinking and Eastern philosophy and religion.

Anniversaries, atomic and otherwise

So my memory for myself and history must be sagging because I completely forgot about the 70th anniversary of the atomic bomb being dropped by the United States on Japan on August 6, 1945. I read a news story about the anniversary late last night as I was surfing through my Twitter feed before trying to fall asleep. I’ve always been morbidly fascinated by the anniversary of the atomic bomb for almost as long as I can remember.

The Social Sciences and Scale

The following are some preliminary thoughts on scale, epistemology, the social/human sciences, and philosophy spurred by some recent reading on the web. A recent article raised the question about the purpose of the social sciences. One of the criticisms raised by the authors is the sheer scale of the social science research literature. According to the Thomson Reuters Web of Science database there are at least 3000 social science journals which are publishing tens of thousands of articles per year.

Citizen Science and Open Data

I spoke on a panel last week about citizen science and open data. The panel was one of the events put on by the University of Alberta library for Open Access week. I went first so my presentation didn’t reflect directly on the work of others, although there was much to think about. I started by describing the key dilemma faced by many scientists who have turned to citizen science methods: how to deal with the huge amounts of data which are needed to do or are used in science today?

On loops, feedback, and other symbology

A recent article at Aeon magazine proposed that one of the master symbols of twentieth century biology, the double-helix structure of DNA, should be replaced by the symbol of a feedback loop. Jamie Davis provides a quick tour of the ways that understanding DNA has failed to capture or explain the development of organisms. The technology to sequence the genomes of many organisms has only developed in the last two decades and the optimistic hope that once the sequences were completed we would then be able to understand the whole of the organism, the causes of diseases, and much more has been mostly dashed.

Information ecologies in another context

This post is a partial response to a post at the CLIR blog on information ecology and morality by Timothy Norris. In 1999 Bonnie Nardi and Vicki O’Day published the book Information Ecologies: Using Technology with Heart with the MIT press. The book summarizes some of the common metaphors used to describe technology, such as tool, text, system, and ecology. At the same time it reviews some of the major technological critiques of the twentieth century by authors such as Jacques Ellul, Langdon Winner, and Neil Postman.

Death of a Library Search Box

I’ve been thinking about how libraries can become better at serving researchers and expert users, especially through their front pages. A recent news item from the University of Tennessee library prompted me to make the connection between expert users and library home pages. The University of Tennessee library just announced the launch of their One Search box on the home page. I found this quote especially disturbing “launching a major upgrade to the Libraries’ discovery portal: the search box in the middle of library homepages will yield exponentially more results than in the past.