Freedom of misinformation

October 10, 2010

Although the title is slightly facetious, have you ever wondered what happened to all that Freedom of Information data that government bodies supply to a seemingly endless sea of requests? I sometimes do. However, it’s all becoming clear now thanks to Francis Maude’s recent insistence that it should be in machine-readable format and a little piece in the Guardian. Not being a Guardian reader these days I must thank en.europa-eu-audience for the heads-up on this one.

This tidy little piece, with lots of hints and tips, has given me a greater understanding of why newspaper reports, such as the web costs one, can appear so poor –

  • Less than 100% response rate to FoI request
  • Inconsistency across data supplied
  • Lack of clarity of FoI request
  • Misinterpretation of data supplied

In academia one is challenged if both the data and analysis are not robust enough, however journalists have always been prone to expressing conclusions based on data with dubious analysis and origins. The frightening thing now is that the graphical tools are so easy to use!

It is one thing Eric Pickles, Minister at the DCLG, demanding the data for local ‘armchair auditors’, it is another when ‘armchair’ journalists add two and two and get twenty-two.

Great tools, but make sure the rigour is there before publishing please…

In fact I’m not alone in thinking open data presents it own issues, Webmonkey has recently noted this too. However of the four proposed solutions to it, where the two of universal broadband and training will come from, I don’t know. On that basis, the promoting and formatting of the data are the least of our worries.


Measuring social media

December 23, 2009

A long time ago, in social media terms, the Guardian published a piece about the 1% rule (Guardian 20 July 2006). The piece was picked up in a recent entry entitled “What is the 0.9% rule?” These were all to do with how much comment is made upon Inernet posts and what standard vale can be placed upon this. The Europa-eu piece also picked up a recent David Berkowitz post  on MediaPost entitled “100 Ways to Measure Social Media“.

In my own paper, accepted for Ethicomp 2010, that I’m currently completing, I’ve considered a few of the simple metrics I’ve employed to keep track of my own research blog. I certainly wouldn’t have time to record a hundred or anywhere near that! But perhaps they may provide some experimental data for someone with time on their hands, which I don’t currently. We do need to consider whether time invested in the social media is worth it and whether it can become anymore than ‘vanity’ publishing.

Disinfecting the swamp

November 1, 2009

I found a link on my regular en.europa-eu-audience mailing entitled “Against Transparency: The perils of openness in government” but it didn’t take me directly to the source, so first time around I ignored it! Receiving the mail again on Saturday morning, when there was little other news, I trawled a bit further and found it. It’s an article  in The New Republic by Lawrence Lessig, Professor at Harvard Law School and takes a more objective view of the whole business than is generally the case. His view of open data argument is that  “The naked transparency movement marries the power of network technology to the radical decline in the cost of collecting, storing, and distributing data. Its aim is to liberate that data, especially government data, so as to enable the public to process it and understand it better, or at least differently.”

He concludes with “There is no questioning the good that transparency creates in a wide range of contexts, government especially. But we should also recognize that the collateral consequence of that good need not itself be good. And if that collateral bad is busy certifying to the American public what it thinks it already knows, we should think carefully about how to avoid it. Sunlight may well be a great disinfectant. But as anyone who has ever waded through a swamp knows, it has other effects as well.”

I find the article reverberates around some of the reasons e-democracy, e-governance etc never seem to get anywhere in a hurry, which I could believe, if I was completely cynical, is because the powers that be, in representative government, would,  be draining their own money-pits, whilst creating a more uneven society run by propellor-heads and their friends (digital exclusion).

If one gets into full socio-philosophical mode and starts considering agency and the structure of society, it’s all too easy to envisage the good and bad that could occur when clearing the swamp, to use Lessig analogy. I remember years ago when skydiving near Ampuriabrava in Spain that the area was alive with mosquitos that when someone had used DDT to get rid of them, instead it killed off their predators, letting the mosquitos rule in peace. I guess that’s what Lessig is concerned about?