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Come work in Zurich

by Eszter Hargittai on July 21, 2017

Last week, I shared a bit about what my work day looks like. Want to come be a colleague? My department, the Institute for Mass Communication and Media Research at the University of Zurich, has two open positions. Applications are due soon, rather out-of-sync with the usual US job market time line for this field, so I’m trying to spread the word. If you know of academics for whom these positions may be of interest, please share the info with them. One is a tenure-track assistant professor position in political communication, the other is an open-rank position in media politics/media policy. Knowledge of German is not required although an openness to learn it is. I teach all of my classes in English. Starting my fourth year I may be asked to do some of my teaching in German. It’s a great work environment and it’s a wonderful city!

Wait, so what is this science-a-thon thing?

by Eszter Hargittai on July 13, 2017

I’m nine hours into posting for science-a-thon and someone (thanks, DT!) finally asked me to clarify what the fundraising is for. I didn’t realize that accessing Tracey Holloway’s description of Science-a-thon—which is what I used for explanation—requires a LinkedIn login so I’ll copy her note here:

From Tracey Holloway:

Hi All –
You’ve probably heard about the study that over 80% of American’s can’t accurately name a living scientist—and my guess is that the numbers are similar when asking “what do scientists actually do?” Of course, we do lots of things – work in labs, go out in the field, teach classes, program computers – but the public doesn’t get to see this.

As a large-scale public outreach initiative, and the first major fundraiser for the Earth Science Women’s Network (ESWN), we’re launching Science-A-Thon. … an international “day of science” where participants share 12 photos over 12 hours of their day. From morning coffee through the ups and downs of a day in the life of a scientists (any scientist, any field of STEM, students, professionals – all are welcome).

We already have 100 scientists signed on – lots of earth scientists of course, but also cancer biologists, computer scientists, and more. Men and women, from 10 different countries so far. We’d love to have you! Just go to to sign up. (And you’ll get a great “I love science” t-shirt)

If you’re not up for showcasing your own day, you can support ESWN and Science-A-Thon by sponsoring your favorite scientists (like me!)

Even if you’re not interested in donating to the cause, I highly recommend checking out the #scienceathon hashtag on Twitter as it’s a great way to get a sense of what a scientist’s day looks like. You can see my own Twitter photos here or on Facebook if that’s your preference. Or simply as updates to my earlier CT post today. Actually, I’ll make it easy and am copying the material to the bottom of this post.

Thanks to those who have contributed, I much appreciate it! Perhaps now that the goal is clearer, others will join in. You can donate here, any amount appreciated.

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How to Think about Digital Research

by Eszter Hargittai on July 13, 2017

As part of #scienceathon, I want to give some context to my work. My PhD is in sociology, but I work in a communication department (for 13 years I was at Northwestern University in the Department of Communication Studies, for the past year I have been at the Institute of Mass Communication and Media Research at the University of Zurich). In 2002, when I was on the job market, colleagues in communication seemed much more interested in my work than sociologists so I decided to pursue that route. Of course, some sociologists were very supportive, including my wonderful advisor, but others seemed to see any study of the Internet as a joke. I still remember an interaction in 2008 (!) where a well-known and very established sociologist introduced me to her sociologist colleague using very kind words to describe my work only to have said colleague laugh as though the introduction was meant as a joke since how could a sociologist possibly take the Internet seriously? A few awkward moments followed, but I wasn’t new to it (although a bit surprised for it to continue happening). In any case, I’ve very much enjoyed being in this line of work. But skepticism likely still exists. Although addressing the skeptics wasn’t really our goal, the introductory chapter [pdf] my co-editor Christian Sandvig and I wrote to our edited book Digital Research Confidential can serve as some guidance to such people as well. In it, we discuss the Internet as instrument and the Internet as object of study. We thought it was a helpful intro to the ten chapters that follow describing the behind-the-scenes details of how empirical social science about studying behavior online gets done. I thought it fitting to post about it as part of Science-a-thon since this day is about how researchers work and that entire volume is about the messy reality of everyday research endeavors as compared to the polished versions we see in published accounts.

You can contribute to Science-a-thon here.

It’s Science-a-thon!

by Eszter Hargittai on July 13, 2017

As I mentioned a few days ago, I am participating in Science-a-thon today, which has two goals: show the world what the day in the life of a researcher looks like and raise money for science. I will be posting twelve images as updates to this post throughout the day. (I won’t overwhelm the feed by making each image a new post.) I will also be writing about issues related to doing research. My first image is of the main University of Zurich building that I passed with the tram this morning on my way to my office. (For those who’ve been reading CT for a while, yes, this is a change, I moved institutions and countries last year.) If you’d like to support science-a-thon, you can do so here: I’m 23% toward my goal of raising $1,000 as of this morning.

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Next Thursday, July 13th, is Science-a-thon and I will be participating by writing several posts and sharing pictures about how science gets done. If there are questions you’d like me to address, please post in the comments as I welcome suggestions for topics to discuss.

Science-a-thon is being organized by a graduate school friend of mine, Tracey Holloway, who is an Earth scientist at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. The idea is to showcase in 12 pictures throughout the day the work that scientists do with the goal of raising public awareness. I decided to join even though my work is rather different since I very much support the cause of raising funds for science. Here is my fundraising page if you’d like to support the effort financially. Or if you’re a scientist and would like to join Science-a-thon yourself, you can do so here.

Getting creative in a computer science course

by Eszter Hargittai on June 24, 2017

Lane Tech College Prep CS Chicago Flag

There are lots of stats out there about how seriously computer science (CS) education is lacking in the United States (and I suspect many other places). Issues range from high schools not offering computer science classes at all to CS classes not counting toward graduation requirements. There are exceptions, however, and I wanted to highlight a very impressive project from a CS class at Chicago’s Lane Tech College Prep High School taught by Jeff Solin. Jeff had his students create a 3D representation of the Chicago flag. Check out his description and many pictures of the finished project. There is so much creativity in that project! So neat and so impressive.

Doodle some music

by Eszter Hargittai on June 22, 2017

Today’s Google Doodle in honor of Oskar Fischinger’s 117th birthday is very impressive and fun. Click on the image on the linked page and then click on the image again. Click on the little squares to create your music. You can change all sorts of aspects of your creation by clicking on Modify on the bottom and making various selections on the left, and also by changing the instrument on top. (Note that as far as I can tell, changing the instrument reverts to a clean slate so take care with the timing.) Enjoy!

Would you eat bugs? How about a dog?

by Eszter Hargittai on May 21, 2017

In my German class in Zurich this week, we read a piece about how important bugs may be to the future of feeding the planet thanks to being high in protein and having considerably lower environmental costs for production. Several of my classmates seemed visibly disturbed by this. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten bugs before – have you? – but I don’t have a problem with the concept. I’m not a vegetarian and don’t see why I should be any more put off by bugs than a cow or a chicken. If I think about the origins of a cow or a chicken, I may wince, but I still like the food. Why would that be different with bugs?

In the domain of animal consumption, Switzerland tends to garner outrage, because it is legal to eat cats and dogs. This may be disgusting to many Europeans and Americans, but it’s not at all uncommon in countries elsewhere such as in Asia. It is clearly in many ways a cultural issue. While many Europeans and Americans don’t think twice about eating cows and pigs, they are not on the menu elsewhere. (I purposefully said “cow” and “pig” in that last sentence instead of “beef” and “pork”. Why don’t we just say the animal at hand? I enjoyed the ponderings on this MetaFilter thread about that question although didn’t really get a satisfying answer.)

Growing up in Hungary, I ate cow tongue on occasion, something quite tasty, but clearly revolting to some who had never considered it (I base that on personal experiences talking to folks elsewhere about it). Unless you are a vegetarian, it seems it would be hard to make the case that one animal is okay while another is not as long as it is produced and prepared under healthy conditions. (And let’s not even get started on how much of the meat we consume anyway would not qualify as such!) Should pet Miss Piggy be an easier case for dinner than pet dog Spot?

Curiously, the author of the piece advocating for bugs as a source of nutrition and who herself eats them said that she is a vegetarian due to ethical reasons. I cannot reconcile then, how she can justify eating bugs. Anyone want to defend her position?

The mystery behind a group of electoral maps

by Eszter Hargittai on October 23, 2016

Yesterday, when I was going through my Facebook feed, I saw several people in my network post a copy of the map below. (As far as I could tell, 9-10 people in my network had shared it, I figure this from the fact that I saw two and then saw a link “8 shares” or “8 more shares” below them.) To clarify, the images I saw were posting the map without the question that I overlaid on it. I am not posting the original so as not to perpetuate what I think is likely misinformation circulating. As a point of comparison, it is very rare that that many people in my FB network post the same thing, or at least FB doesn’t seem to suggest it often. Three of the people who posted it were academics, one works in the policy realm, all work on Internet-related topics. I mention that simply to note that people of all sorts may be prone to spreading online what seems like factual information without necessarily knowing its source. (See below for more on why I don’t know who the other people were, a bit of a mystery in and of itself.)

Seeking source for group of electoral maps

As far as I can tell, there is no source listed on the image. My searching led to all mentions of it linking to the same image-sharing site, one that as far as I know is associated with people sharing images on Twitter. There are lots of mentions of it on Twitter. But scrolling all the way to the end doesn’t clarify (not on my list of results anyway) who may have been the person to share it on Twitter first since the first link I see actually uses a Facebook short URL. (I guess that could have been the person, but there is nothing to confirm it. There seem to be all sorts of FB links on that person’s Twitter feed that no longer exist.)

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PSA: ATM skimmers

by Eszter Hargittai on June 28, 2016

I suspect – hope – many have heard of ATM scammers, people who try to get information about your card while you are withdrawing cash from an ATM. I will usually look at a machine to see if it looks like someone has tampered with it and I always use my other hand to cover the one entering the PIN. Perhaps that’s silly, but it’s not much of an inconvenience and it’s routine for me now. But as far as I know, I have never encountered an actual ATM skimmer, thankfully.

A security expert happened upon one during his travels recently and captured it on video. In addition to reading his account of it, I highly recommend a careful look at this image from another observer who breaks down very carefully how some components of the ATM (most importantly the section next to where you insert the card) was different from the adjacent ATM that did not have a skimmer. That is likely where the camera resided. In addition to the skimmer, there is usually a camera nearby that captures your motions entering the PIN (if I am understanding this correctly, but do correct me if I am wrong), which is why I tend to cover my hand (and have noticed that now some machines supply some coverage themselves). Snopes has pictures of another version, an older model.

I found the video interesting as I find actual examples of such things helpful thus this public service announcement. Hopefully no one here has related experiences, but if you do, please share.

Exploring your surroundings through GPS-based games

by Eszter Hargittai on June 18, 2016

Would you like to learn more about your home town? How about a new angle to exploring your travel destinations? GPS-based games – or treasure hunts – are great for this! It is an increasingly popular genre with several options. I myself have experiences with geocaching, Munzee, and Ingress. They are all games that depend on technology while also requiring that you get up and move around. Each is somewhat different (I’ll explain some of the differences below), but on the whole focuses on physical movement and exploration. Even if you are not that keen on getting on board, I recommend reading the details below so that you know what the cool kids are up to these days. Or the geeks.

Wearing my researcher hat, I find these games fascinating, because they are a great example of how decisions that the creators of the games make – often technical elements that certainly have alternatives to their current state – influence game play and community interaction. I’ll leave those reflections for another time, for now I will provide an introduction to each with the hopes that you get inspired to try at least one of them.

I started geocaching seven years ago (it has been around for 16), have been playing Munzee for about four (that started five years ago), and Ingress for a bit less than two (that’s been around since 2013). Each of these games, in their various ways, has inspired me to learn more about where I live as well as places I visit. They can be played occasionally or on a daily basis. They can be a completely solitary endeavor or can inspire lots of social interaction. I have seen them each appeal to people of varying ages across the globe. They each offer a wonderful adventure. I hope you’ll consider giving at least one of them a try! (If you are ready to jump in and are wondering which one has the lowest barriers to entry, my vote goes to Munzee.)

Munzee is a treasure hunt where the goal is to find QR codes, those little squares of black-and-white code (or lighter-color and darker-color code) that have popped up in countless places. There are millions of QR codes out there that have nothing to do with Munzee, of course. To know where you can find QR codes that concern the game, use the free app (or look on the site’s map) and use the app to capture the code once you have found it. These codes were placed by fellow players. Munzee leaves it up to the community to populate an area with game pieces.

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by Eszter Hargittai on June 8, 2016

A friend I saw today is not ready to celebrate, because he doesn’t want to jinx it. I, however, am very much in a celebratory mood and wanted to mark the important occasion here.

Ezra Klein does a nice job reflecting on Hillary Clinton’s political savvy. While the following is not a new revelation, it is important to continue pointing out: the gendered nature of elections is stacked against women in so many ways, it is hard to appreciate. It is exhausting just to think about it, never mind come up against it day in and day out, year after year, and still manage to garner so much support. Bravo, Secretary Clinton!

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Required reading

by Eszter Hargittai on June 5, 2016

Everybody needs to read this. I’m in awe of the author for having written something so powerful, important and eloquent. No skimming or scanning, read every word.

It may be the age of big data, but since big data tend to come from those who are already using digital media, such data sets tend to lack information about non-users and those who don’t engage in certain activities online. I make this case in detail about data derived from social network sites in my paper called Is Bigger Always Better? published in the ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.* That paper mainly focuses on those who are already connected, but even among Internet users, I find that data derived from social media tend to bias against the less privileged and the less skilled as such folks are less likely to be on those sites. This is a problem when more and more studies about social behavior and potentially policy decisions are made based on information that automatically excludes certain populations.

Today (3/31/16) the US Federal Communications Commission votes on broadband subsidies for low-income households. Yes, making home broadband more affordable is likely a necessary condition for getting more Americans online. However, it is not sufficient. My colleague Ashley Walker and I analyzed data from an FCC study administered in 2009 on both users and non-users, finding that people who are more concerned about their personal data being stolen are more likely to be non-users, results that hold true when controlling for other potentially related factors such as age and education. The issue here is not about price, it’s about privacy concerns. Other research I and others have conducted (some of it reviewed here*) shows that lack of Internet skills is often an impediment to using digital media and using it in ways from which people may benefit. Again, it’s not simply core infrastructural access that’s a problem.

Why are Ashley and I using data from 2009? Because shockingly no federal agency has collected nationally-representative data about Americans’ Internet uses since then. The Census used to be in the business of gathering such data, but at this point it only does so about very basic connectivity questions. The approach seems penny-wise and pound-foolish. Sure, gathering such data is expensive, but it is a drop in the bucket compared to spending over $2 billion dollars on broadband subsidies without having sound evidence on how that will actually improve a more diverse group of Americans using the Internet in helpful ways.

I also have a piece on Huffington Post about all this.

[*] If you can’t access it, feel free to send me a note for a preprint copy.

Did that really happen?

by Eszter Hargittai on March 24, 2016

From a scientific perspective, wow. From a where-could-this-go perspective, whoa.