Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Claremont McKenna College Says It Exaggerated SAT Figures - NYTimes.com

Lots of lessons here in information responsibility and naivety.

Claremont McKenna College, a small, prestigious California school, said Monday that for the past six years, it has submitted false SAT scores to publications like U.S. News & World Report that use the data in widely followed college rankings.

In a message e-mailed to college staff members and students, Claremont McKenna’s president since 1999, Pamela B. Gann, wrote that “a senior administrator” had taken sole responsibility for falsifying the scores, admitted doing so since 2005, and resigned his post.

The lessons?  First and most obviously, the senior administrator has utterly failed to live up to the principles of information responsibility.

Second, publishers of books of college rankings deserve our scorn for simplifying a highly textured phenomenon (quality of colleges and universities) into ordinal rankings.

Third, American consumers suffer from what might be called “rank frenzy.”  This appears in many guises, including:

  • Folks running around insisting that “We’re number one,” as if being second-best at something is a cause for shame.
  • Nike advertising campaigns that suggest “You don’t win silver; you lose gold.”
  • Credulous parents and students actually believing that it is better to go to the #6 school than the #7.

And finally, a happy lesson.  Kudos to the president of Claremont McKenna College for getting ahead of the story, going public when the malfeasance was discovered.

Claremont McKenna College Says It Exaggerated SAT Figures - NYTimes.com

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Kudos to The Retraction Watch

From the Ministry of Information Responsibility, Division of Scientific Research, Departments of Quality Control, Conflict of Interest Disclosure, and Academic Misconduct:

The Retraction Watch is a website that tracks retractions of previously published scientific research “as a window into the scientific process.” 

Three cheers.

False Memory and Concocted Identity

For students of information responsibility: an artist’s take on false memory syndrome, and a snarky project about concocting more glamorous identities for ourselves.

For Hopwood, examining the ways we deceive ourselves through memory is perhaps a natural progression. He has worked with fellow artists as part of the WITH Collective on projects that expose and poke fun at the many ways we style our public selves. “Identity is not fixed,” he says. Instead, it shifts depending on the company we are in, and even the format of the interaction - be it social media or in person.

We’re extraordinarily preoccupied with sculpting our identities, as the glut of self-help books and pseudoscientific methods for personal development demonstrates. Through the WITH Collective, Hopwood has pushed this to the preposterous in a series of whimsical, biting and often hilarious “solutions” offering people alternate realities to claim as their own. In these fictitious scenarios, people can avail themselves of “traumaformer” for example, a “product” that conjures up a more traumatic past for the purchaser, or shift the blame to someone else with “scapegoad”. For the sexually curious but timid, there’s also “homoflexible”: “We perform your fantasies/fears for you, as you, so you don’t have to,” the site boasts.

These past projects have all been gleefully tongue in cheek, “cheerful antagonism” as Hopwood describes it. Yet these satirical takes on modern living have been cast in new light as his understanding of memory has grown, and with it his fascination for false memory in particular.  

To add your own false memories, go to falsememoryarchive.com.

CultureLab: Remembering things that never happened

Friday, January 20, 2012

We are desperate for something metric

In news coverage, numbers connote authority merely by dint of their not being mere words.

But all this raises the question of why we overcover Iowa and New Hampshire in the first place. And the answer, as ever, is that we, the political reporting claque, cannot resist anything that looks like a scoreboard. We are desperate for something metric, and we are desperate for early returns. It hardly matters how many or from where. Or how they are counted.

Iowa Republicans To The GOP: Please Don't Ask Us Who Won : It's All Politics : NPR

Thursday, January 19, 2012

SOPA Boycotts and the False Ideals of the Web - NYTimes.com

Jaron Lanier makes a point.

Our melodrama is driven by a vision of an open Internet that has already been distorted, though not by the old industries that fear piracy.

For instance, until a year ago, I enjoyed a certain kind of user-generated content very much: I participated in forums in which musicians talked about musical instruments.

For years, I was warned that old-fashioned control freaks like media moguls might separate me from my beloved forums. Perhaps a forum would be shut down because it was hosted on some server with pirated content.

While acknowledging that this is a possible scenario, a very different factor — proprietary social networking — is ending my freedom to participate in the forums I used to love, at least on terms I accept. Like many other forms of contact, the musical conversations are moving into private sites, particularly Facebook. To continue to participate, I’d have to accept Facebook’s philosophy, under which it analyzes me, and is searching for new ways to charge third parties for the use of that analysis.

And it’s not Facebook’s fault! We, the idealists, insisted that information be able to flow freely online, which meant that services relating to information, instead of the information itself, would be the main profit centers. Some businesses do sell content, but that doesn’t address the business side of everyday user-generated content.

The adulation of “free content” inevitably meant that “advertising” would become the biggest business in the open part of the information economy. Furthermore, that system isn’t so welcoming to new competitors. Once networks are established, it is hard to reduce their power. Google’s advertisers, for instance, know what will happen if they move away. The next-highest bidder for each position in Google’s auction-based model for selling ads will inherit that position if the top bidder goes elsewhere. So Google’s advertisers tend to stay put because the consequences of leaving are obvious to them, whereas the opportunities they might gain by leaving are not.

The obvious strategy in the fight for a piece of the advertising pie is to close off substantial parts of the Internet so Google doesn’t see it all anymore. That’s how Facebook hopes to make money, by sealing off a huge amount of user-generated information into a separate, non-Google world. Networks lock in their users, whether it is Facebook’s members or Google’s advertisers.

SOPA Boycotts and the False Ideals of the Web - NYTimes.com