Tuesday, September 20, 2011

One Statement from Bachmann, Two Steps Back for HPV Vaccine - NYTimes.com

Information irresponsibility, medico-politico division…

During a debate last week for Republican presidential candidates and in interviews after it, Representative Michele Bachmann called the vaccine to prevent cervical cancer “dangerous.” Medical experts fired back quickly. Her statements were false, they said, emphasizing that the vaccine is safe and can save lives. Mrs. Bachmann was soon on the defensive, acknowledging that she was not a doctor or a scientist.

But the harm to public health may have already been done. When politicians or celebrities raise alarms about vaccines, even false alarms, vaccination rates drop.

One Statement from Bachmann, Two Steps Back for HPV Vaccine - NYTimes.com

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

'Find My Car' iPhone app finds anyone’s car • The Register

A bit of information creepiness.

An iPhone app released a few days ago called “Find My Car” has just turned into a PR disaster for shopping centre operator Westfield.

The idea seemed neat enough: download the app, and if you lose your car, just enter the number plate, which Westfield’s cameras had captured and indexed. Someone forgetting where they’d parked their car can then be shown a photo of where the car is.

As blogger Troy Hunt points out in this blog post, anyone can view anyone’s car.

Worse, he writes, the application can easily be unpicked to download the location, plates, entry and exit times of every vehicle in the Bondi shopping centre in which the service was first rolled out.

Picking the application apart, he says, shows that Westfield is “storing and making publicly accessible the time of entry and number plate of every single vehicle in the centre.”

'Find My Car' iPhone app finds anyone’s car • The Register

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Using a bike computer as a black box

Data forensics: Recreating the details of an accident using a bike computer as a black box.  Cool.  This from the New York Times:

Late last year Ryan Sabga, another top American bike racer, was hit by a car while crossing an intersection in Denver at the beginning of a training ride. The driver, coming out of an alley, was looking over her right shoulder; she stepped on the gas and made a left turn directly into Mr. Sabga as he reached the middle of the street.

The driver told the police she didn’t think she had hit Mr. Sabga. Though her car had a telltale dent, the officer said that without proof of where the cyclist had entered the intersection, he would not be able to write a citation against the driver. That meant Mr. Sabga, who was relatively unscathed, would not be able to get her insurance company to cover the damage to his bike, which was now in pieces.

Back at home, he realized that he might have the proof he needed in the data stored in the Garmin GPS device he used for training.

“Clear as day, you could see where I stopped at the stop sign, where I got hit by the car and where my bike came to rest,” he wrote. “On the corresponding time stamp, you could see the speeds, the stops and even where my heart rate spiked as she hit me.”

The police were unwilling to pursue the case, but they suggested that he send the data to the driver’s insurance company. He did so within a day, and the company took responsibility for the accident.

Filling In the Details Wiped Away by a Bike Crash - NYTimes.com

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Extraneous factors in judicial decisions

Illustration that information responsibility (e.g., looking at the data) promotes ethical responsibility (e.g., equitable justice).

Are judicial rulings based solely on laws and facts? Legal formalism holds that judges apply legal reasons to the facts of a case in a rational, mechanical, and deliberative manner. In contrast, legal realists argue that the rational application of legal reasons does not sufficiently explain the decisions of judges and that psychological, political, and social factors influence judicial rulings. We test the common caricature of realism that justice is “what the judge ate for breakfast” in sequential parole decisions made by experienced judges. We record the judges’ two daily food breaks, which result in segmenting the deliberations of the day into three distinct “decision sessions.” We find that the percentage of favorable rulings drops gradually from ≈65% to nearly zero within each decision session and returns abruptly to ≈65% after a break. Our findings suggest that judicial rulings can be swayed by extraneous variables that should have no bearing on legal decisions.

For those without access to the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences, here are some links to related stories in the mainstream press:

Extraneous factors in judicial decisions

Print vs. Online Newspapers

More on the previous theme: dead-tree versions of newspapers might have some advantages over on-line versions.

Although the number of readers tested in the study is small—just 45—the paper confirms my print-superiority bias, at least when it comes to reading the Times. The paper explores several theories for why print rules. Online newspapers tend to give few cues about a story's importance, and the "agenda-setting function" of newspapers gets lost in the process. "Online readers are apt to acquire less information about national, international and political events than print newsreaders because of the lack of salience cues; they generally are not being told what to read via story placement and prominence—an enduring feature of the print product," the researchers write. The paper finds no evidence that the "dynamic online story forms" (you know, multimedia stuff) have made stories more memorable.

The paper cites other researchers on the subject who have theorized that the layout of online pages—which often insert ads mid-story or force readers to click additional pages to finish the story—may alter the reading experience. A print story, even one that jumps to another page, is not as difficult to chase to its conclusion. Newspapers are less distracting—as anybody who has endured an annoying online ad while reading a news story on the Web knows. Also, and I'm channeling the paper a little bit here, by virtue of habit and culture a newspaper commands a different sort of respect, engagement, and focus from readers.

Print vs. Online: How the print edition of the New York Times trumps the online version. - By Jack Shafer - Slate Magazine

The Mechanic Muse — From Scroll to Screen - NYTimes.com

From codex to eBook…  Two steps forward, one step back…

The codex also came with a fringe benefit: It created a very different reading experience. With a codex, for the first time, you could jump to any point in a text instantly, nonlinearly. You could flip back and forth between two pages and even study them both at once. You could cross-check passages and compare them and bookmark them. You could skim if you were bored, and jump back to reread your favorite parts. It was the paper equivalent of random-access memory, and it must have been almost supernaturally empowering. With a scroll you could only trudge through texts the long way, linearly. (Some ancients found temporary fixes for this bug — Suetonius apparently suggested that Julius Caesar created a proto-notebook by stacking sheets of papyrus one on top of another.)

But so far the great e-book debate has barely touched on the most important feature that the codex introduced: the nonlinear reading that so impressed St. Augustine. If the fable of the scroll and codex has a moral, this is it. We usually associate digital technology with nonlinearity, the forking paths that Web surfers beat through the Internet’s underbrush as they click from link to link. But e-books and nonlinearity don’t turn out to be very compatible. Trying to jump from place to place in a long document like a novel is painfully awkward on an e-reader, like trying to play the piano with numb fingers. You either creep through the book incrementally, page by page, or leap wildly from point to point and search term to search term.

The Mechanic Muse — From Scroll to Screen - NYTimes.com

A Case of Information Naivety

Never mind the responsibility/irresponsibility of hiding knowledge from your colleagues…  Here we are highlighting a special form of organizational/management naivety: Assuming that information sharing will just happen because the software that allows it is so cool, or because the utopian macroscopic benefits will outweigh the disadvantages perceived by individual cutthroats.

"We've had years of research in organizations about the benefits of knowledge-sharing but an important issue is the fact that people don't necessarily want to share their knowledge," says David Zweig, a professor of organizational behaviour and human resources management at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management and the University of Toronto at Scarborough.

"A lot of companies have jumped on the bandwagon of knowledge-sharing," such as spending money on developing knowledge-sharing software, says Prof. Zweig. "It was a case of, 'If you build it they will come.' But they didn't come."

The paper identifies three ways employees hide what they know from co-workers: being evasive, rationalized hiding -- such as saying a report is confidential -- and playing dumb.

Why do they do it? Two big predictors are basic distrust and a poor knowledge-sharing climate within the company. Companies may be able to overcome that through strategies such as more direct contact and less e-mail communication, highlighting examples of trustworthiness, and avoiding "betrayal" incentives, like rewards for salespeople who poach each other's clients.

Employees don't always share well with others, says new paper exposing 'knowledge hiding'