The New New Journalism

Nate Silver is probably one of the best popularizers of big data and how effective it can be at understanding and creating meaning. Today, there is a manifesto on FiveThirtyEight which does several things very well – it outlines the need for more data literacy, justifies how journalism needs to embrace big data and understand it in order to effectively disseminate knowledge, and gives a basic “how and why this works” guide on rigorous data collection and analysis for journalism.

It’s a really good article, with lots of great points. But there is something there between the lines which I think reflects a contemporary paradigm shift. First, there is the “condition of virtuality.” N. Katherine Hayles described virtuality as “the cultural perception that material objects are interpenetrated by information patterns.” There is a dualistic conception of information/matter and a relationship where control over the information leads to control over matter. Coding is an act which invokes new realities, as in the case with computer programing and gene sequencing, but it can be performed wherever there is access behind the user interface.  Continue reading

Scientism, Solutionism, and Hackathons Pt.4

Just for fun, a few words on scientism from my Papers library:


Scientism. The political consequences of the authority enjoyed by the scientific system in developed societies is ambivalent. On the one hand, traditional attitudes of belief cannot withstand the demand for discursive justification established by modern science. On the other hand, short-lived popular syntheses of isolated pieces of information, which have taken the place of global interpretations, secure the authority of science in abstraction. The authority of “science” can thus encompass both the broadly effective critique of arbitrary structures of prejudice and the new esoterics of specialized knowledge and judgment. A scientistic self-affirmation of the sciences can promote a positivistic common consciousness that sustains the public realm. But scientism also sets standards by which it can itself be criticized and convicted of residual dogmatism.’ Theories of technocracy and of elites, which assert the necessity of institutionalized civil privatism, are not immune to objections, because they too must claim to be theories (107).” – Habermas, Jürgen. Legitimation Crisis. Translated by Thomas McCarthy. London, UK: Heinemann, 1976.

Neil Postman (he devotes an entire chapter of Technopoly to scientism. Here’s an excerpt):

“Technopoly… is totalitarian technocracy (42). Technocracies are concerned to invent machinery. That people’s lives are changed by machinery is taken as a matter of course, and that people must sometimes be treated as if they were machinery is considered a necessary and unfortunate condition of technological development. But in technocracies, such a condition is not held to be a philosophy of culture. Technocracy does not have as its aim a grand reductionism in which human life must find its meaning in machinery and technique. Technopoly does (52).

…By Scientism, I mean three interrelated ideas that, taken together, stand as one of the pillars of Technopoly. Two of the three have just been cited. The first and indispensable idea is, as noted, that the methods of the natural sciences can be applied to the study of human behavior. This idea is the backbone of much of psychology and sociology as practiced at least in America, and largely accounts for the fact that social science, to quote F. A. Hayek, “has contributed scarcely anything to our understanding of social phenomena.”

The second idea is, as also noted, that social science generates specific principles which can be used to organize society on a rational and humane basis. This implies that technical means— mostly “invisible technologies” supervised by experts—can be designed to control human behavior and set it on the proper course.

The third idea is that faith in science can serve as a comprehensive belief system that gives meaning to life, as well as a sense of well-being, morality, and even immortality (400).” – Postman, Neil. Technopoly. Random House LLC, 2011.

I find it really fascinating to be able to thread back hackathon solutionism to technologism, to scientism, to technopoloy. The “data hegemony” that might arise out of a culture obsessed with virtuality, is pretty frightening if you understand the implications.

Scientism, Solutionism and Hackathons, Pt.3

So this is the last part of the series (for now), be sure to read Pt.1 and Pt.2

This is a random grabbag of my thoughts I guess. The last article I’d highlight (and everything I linked before, I really enjoyed so you should read them) is FUCK THEORY. I guess it sets the tone for this post – up until now I’d like to think I’ve been pretty deferential about the whole issue, so let me blow off some steam with this post.

Let’s be perfectly clear – “science” as we think of it today is a new thing.  It dates back to the middle of the 19th century, when the disciplinary divisions we today regard as entirely natural were formalized by people like Hermann von Helmholz.  Before that there were no “scientists”:  there were thinkers, writers, philosophers, ethicists, geometers, and doctors.  There were also theologians, who Pinker dismisses out of hand, even though “science” would not exist without the precedent of Roger Bacon and Albertus Magnus.  “Science” is a fully historical product of the regimentation, organization, and professionalization of what used to just be people observing the world and thinking about it.  Science is the transformation of knowledge into a cliquish guild.

Continue reading

Scientism, Solutionism, and Hackathons Pt.2

(Read Pt.1 here)

“Solutionism presumes rather than investigates the problem it is trying to solve, reaching for the answer before the questions have been fully asked.” – Michael Dobbins

My last post left off talking about how scientism relates to technologism, which in turn relates to solutionism. I believe that the commonality between these three is a near total belief in systematic, orderly approaches to problems, and the failure to acknowledge nuance, pure subjectivity, and comparative ethics.

First, there is the orderly approach to problems. City Atlas made this post which riffed off of Sasaki’s piece I mentioned last time.

Peo­ple seek short­cuts to hard prob­lems. Put another way by David Owen in an essay in the Wall Street Jour­nal, “[W]e already know more than enough, and we have for a long time. We just don’t like the answers.”

The rea­son for this is that the answers are some­times ugly. If we can cre­ate a pro­gram that allows us to geolo­cate road­kill, we con­sider our­selves smarter, hav­ing dis­cov­ered an elec­tronic “solu­tion” to this prob­lem plagu­ing soci­ety. We can sit back, happy that we used our incred­i­ble intel­li­gence to tackle an issue with­out even leav­ing the house. But what we, as a soci­ety, really need if these “solu­tions” are to become tan­gi­ble, is some­one who is will­ing to go out and actu­ally scrape a flat­tened squir­rel off of the side of the street.

Continue reading

Scientism, Solutionism, and Hackathons Pt.1

If you follow the same people I do, no doubt you’ve come across the recent debate over Stephen Pinker’s piece in The National Review. The discussions that have followed this article highlight something that I think is relevant to the nature of hackathons I’ve been unveiling in my work.

Scientism itself is a pretty contested word – Pinker chooses to describe it thusly:

“[Scientism is] more of a boo-word than a label for any coherent doctrine. Sometimes it is equated with lunatic positions, such as that “science is all that matters” or that “scientists should be entrusted to solve all problems… Scientists themselves are immersed in the ethereal medium of information, including the truths of mathematics, the logic of their theories, and the values that guide their enterprise. In this conception, science is of a piece with philosophy, reason, and Enlightenment humanism. It is distinguished by an explicit commitment to two ideals, and it is these that scientism seeks to export to the rest of intellectual life…. The second ideal is that the acquisition of knowledge is hard.

I’m not going to debate Stephen Pinker, since I am a lowly masters student not yet in a PhD program, and he is purportedly one of the most influential thinkers on the planet at the moment. Instead, I’ll let others do that for me! Continue reading

Another Year of Summer Institute and Youth Media

Next week I’ll be rejoining Youth Rights Media for their summer institute program, a “five-week long youth employment program designed to give YRM Interns hands-on work experience in community organizing and media making in order to build their sense of power, leadership capacity and commitment to generating community change.” If it sounds awesome, it’s because it is. Participants basically experience a highly accelerated version of the programming available throughout the year, which includes video production, audio engineering, basic media literacy and research skills in order to address social issues in their community.

Last year when I helped facilitate the program, I was leaning towards youth media as a research agenda. I actually put together a media literacy curriculum with the expectation that I would be working as an artist/instructor during the fall and spring. However, due to lack of funding and participation, we had to shelf those materials. In the following months I was fortunate enough to meet danah boyd, when my advisor brought her into a class I was in. Her ethnographic work on youth and myspace as well as the collaboration with Mizuko Ito and others “Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out”  was very influential at the time – PAR methodology focused on youth demographics following the drumbeats of Henry Jenkins and others was very enticing. But the fact that my proposed class never came to be led my attention elsewhere, and so there was a lot of work and thought I sort of left where it was last year.

At the same time, I’m currently busy preparing for semi-structured interviews for the final research work on my thesis, rewriting the paper I presented in May for an anthology, and worst of all… brushing up on my math for the GRE. Believe it or not, qualitative methodologies do not exactly keep your arithmetic sharp (which is pretty embarrassing since I want to apply to programs this fall).

At the same time, IDC is going on right now and the media I’ve seen coming out of it looks great! I almost submitted something for a workshop based off of the public art project I did with YRM awhile back, but I didn’t for two reasons – one, I felt like I needed a break at the time, and two, for the reasons I mentioned above. Youth media is a very cool and exciting focus area in media studies, and I think there’s a lot of work to do. But I’ve felt like my work has taken me away from it… maybe Summer Institute will reinvigorate my interest!

MiT8 Reflections/ End of Semester

I should have written this post a few days ago, but I seem to be in a state of semi-exhaustion the past week. I’m finishing up my finals and looking forward to a few days off, but as with the end of every semester, I seem to have forgotten how to jump and am stumbling through the final hurdles.

Media In Transition 8 was a very enjoyable conference – I took the train up last Friday, dropped my bag off at the hotel and went immediately to the opening proceedings. I was really impressed with the way the organizers had stacked so many compelling sessions throughout the day, which really made it difficult to choose where to go and what to attend. There were a lot of familiar themes, if you’re paying attention to the current trends in media research and work – surveillance, algorithms, big data, “spreadability” and “oversharing.” I personally enjoyed the more “transgressive” concepts discussed in panels on activism, pirate politics and counterpublics. Some of the presenters I was really impressed with include Christobal Garcia’s network analysis of the Chilean Student Movement, Thomas Poell’s work on media activism and representation, and Patrick Burkart and Martin Fredriksson work on pirate politics and what someone termed “liquid democracy.” I have so many notes to yet dig through…

I was also very happy to present along with Luis BohorquezCarlotta Cossutta & Arianna Mainardi, and Tom Pettitt, in a session the organizers dubbed “Media Spheres” which wound up having a great deal more to do with a reconstituted sense of self via our relationships in network society than public sphere stuff. Cossutta and Mainardi were talking about subverting surveillance and reconstructing alternative expressions of the self, Bohorquez talked about finding a sense of home and belonging in a highly mediated community, and Pettitt (a medievalist at a media studies conference) gave us a historical context for the changing perception of self and what he calls the “Gutenberg Parenthesis,” something that really interested me and I am still processing mentally – I feel it somehow relates to ecology and anti-androcentrism, two things I am very interested in.

Unfortunately I seem to have lost my business card holder where I was storing all the contacts I made at the conference… very frustrating, since there were a great deal of very insightful people I met! So if we bumped into each other, feel free to reach out.

I would write more about my own work, but I’ll save that for when I’ve collected my thoughts – several weeks ago I finalized my thesis proposal which was accepted (far as I know!) and I’ll be working on it over the summer and this fall. My earlier post on the Yackathon Hackathon shows how I was able to complete a PAR-styled event or exercise and was incredibly useful for my research… but also needs to be fully processed still!