Thursday, November 29, 2012

Reverse-Anthropomorphic, High-Tech Metaphors On Parade

Follow the link below for an interesting take on the future of Big Data. Lots of good stuff there, but also this gem:

“You and I are streaming data engines.”

Uh huh.  And during the early history of the computer age you and I were information processors. Likewise, during the industrial revolution you and I were thinking machines.  It seems that regardless of the particular moment in intellectual history, the dominant set of metaphors get applied to explain the essence of humanness. 

In fact, it says here that you can recognize a new era of intellectual history by noticing when a new metaphor of humanness takes root.  When someone starts characterizing humans as “meme vectors,” that’s strong evidence that we’re in the genetics age.


Jeff Hawkins Develops a Brainy Big Data Company -

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Neuroscience - Under Attack -

A recurring theme on this blog: The principles of information responsibility demand that each information consumer/producer must know the ways that your brain can let you down.  Awareness of confirmation bias is part of scientific ethics, but it is increasingly part of responsible consumption mainstream journalism.  (Confirmation bias is hardly the only issue. For posts about others, see here, here, and here.)

Now we have this perspective:

A team of British scientists recently analyzed nearly 3,000 neuroscientific articles published in the British press between 2000 and 2010 and found that the media regularly distorts and embellishes the findings of scientific studies. Writing in the journal Neuron, the researchers concluded that “logically irrelevant neuroscience information imbues an argument with authoritative, scientific credibility.” Another way of saying this is that bogus science gives vague, undisciplined thinking the look of seriousness and truth.

Wicked meta. Yes, information responsibility still demands that we understand how our brains can let us down. And yes, most non-neuroscientists learn about that (if at all) from the mainstream media—the same media that the principles of information responsibility demand that we consume skeptically. But don’t give up. Skeptical consumption of mainstream media—or skepticism about anything—does not mean blunt, rhetorical scowling about things you don’t want to believe.  (Exhibit A: Politically motivated dismissals of Nate Silver’s work.) It means developing a finely calibrated bullshit detector, built up from numeracy, logic, awareness of the shortcomings of metaphor and other rhetorical figures, and knowing the strengths and weaknesses of various media sources.

Neuroscience - Under Attack -

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Why political journalists can’t stand Nate Silver: The limits of journalistic knowledge | Mark Coddington

Follow the link and read this entire post.  Worth it.  

The more I think about the rift between political journalism and Nate Silver, the more it seems that it’s one that’s fundamentally an issue of epistemology — how journalists know what they know. Here’s why I think that’s the case.

When we talk about the epistemology of journalism, it all eventually ties into objectivity. The journalistic norm of objectivity is more than just a careful neutrality or attempt to appear unbiased; for journalists, it’s the grounds on which they claim the authority to describe reality to us. And the authority of objectivity is rooted in a particular process.

That process is very roughly this: Journalists get access to privileged information from official sources, then evaluate, filter, and order it through the rather ineffable quality alternatively known as “news judgment,” “news sense,” or “savvy.” This norm of objectivity is how political journalists say to the public (and to themselves), “This is why you can trust what we say we know — because we found it out through this process.” (This is far from a new observation – there are decades of sociological research on this.)

Silver’s process — his epistemology — is almost exactly the opposite of this:

Where political journalists’ information is privileged, his is public, coming from poll results that all the rest of us see, too.

Where political journalists’ information is evaluated through a subjective and nebulous professional/cultural sense of judgment, his evaluation is systematic and scientifically based. It involves judgment, too, but because it’s based in a scientific process, we can trace how he applied that judgment to reach his conclusions.

Why political journalists can’t stand Nate Silver: The limits of journalistic knowledge | Mark Coddington

Framing Political Messages with Grammar and Metaphor » American Scientist

One reason why it is so difficult to be a responsible information consumer: we are easily manipulated by linguistic subtleties. 

A few years ago, I began exploring the idea of grammatical framing. In an article with Caitlin Fausey, “Can Grammar Win Elections?” published in Political Psychology, we explored the consequences of tweaking grammatical information in political messages. We discovered that altering nothing more than grammatical aspect in a message about a political candidate could affect impressions of that candidate’s past actions, and ultimately influence attitudes about whether he would be re-elected. Participants in our study read a passage about a fictitious politician named Mark Johnson. Mark was a Senator who was seeking reelection. The passage described Mark’s educational background, and reported some things he did while he was in office, including an affair with an assistant and hush money from a prominent constituent. Some participants read a sentence about actions framed with past progressive (was VERB+ing): “Last year, Mark was having an affair with his assistant and was taking money from a prominent constituent.” Others read a sentence about actions framed with simple past (VERB+ed): “Last year, Mark had an affair with his assistant and took money from a prominent constituent.” Everything else was the same. After the participants read the passage about Mark Johnson, they answered questions. In analyzing their responses, we discovered differences. Those who read the phrases “having an affair” and “accepting hush money” were quite confident that the Senator would not be reelected. In contrast, people who read the phrases “had an affair,” and “accepted hush money” were less confident. What’s more, when queried about how much hush money they thought could be involved, those who read about “accepting hush money” gave reliably higher dollar estimates than people who read that Mark “accepted hush money.” From these results, we concluded that information framed with past progressive caused people to reflect more on the action details in a given time period than did information framed with simple past.

Framing Political Messages with Grammar and Metaphor » American Scientist

Empathy represses analytic thought, and vice versa: Brain physiology limits simultaneous use of both networks

Read it and weep, but not simultaneously.

New research shows a simple reason why even the most intelligent, complex brains can be taken by a swindler's story -- one that upon a second look offers clues it was false.

When the brain fires up the network of neurons that allows us to empathize, it suppresses the network used for analysis, a pivotal study led by a Case Western Reserve University researcher shows.

Empathy represses analytic thought, and vice versa: Brain physiology limits simultaneous use of both networks

Cassette tapes are the future of big data storage - tech - 19 October 2012 - New Scientist

I have all my data on 8-track because that’s grooviest.

THE cassette tape is about to make a comeback, in a big way. From the updates posted by Facebook's 1 billion users to the medical images shared by healthcare organisations worldwide and the rise of high-definition video streaming, the need for something to store huge tranches of data is greater than ever. And while hard drives have traditionally been the workhorse of large storage operations, a new wave of ultra-dense tape drives that pack in information at much higher densities, while using less energy, is set to replace them.

Cassette tapes are the future of big data storage - tech - 19 October 2012 - New Scientist

Language Log » Ignorance about ignorance

There are many reasons to be discouraged about the state of personal “information responsibility,” including confirmation bias, the internet echo chamber, the malign effect that Texas has on the contents of American textbooks, et cetera. So it is nice to read some responsible, measured discourse indicating that things are sometimes not quite as horrible as typically reported.  Not a cause for rejoicing, mind you, but you take what you can get.

And I recently heard a talk by Arthur Lupia ("Challenges and Opportunities in Open-Ended Coding", presented at a workshop on The Future of Survey Research) that made me even less willing to accept  at face value claims of the form "Fewer than X% of Americans Know Y". Arthur reported on some forensic analysis, so to speak, of the internal records of the American National Election Study.  He learned that the standard methodology, used in this and other surveys for asking, recording, and scoring open-ended questions (and especially open-ended recall questions), systematically underestimates respondents' knowledge.

Language Log » Ignorance about ignorance