JCMC special issue on search engines

by Eszter Hargittai on February 8, 2005

I am editing a special issue of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication on The Social, Political, Economic and Cultural Dimensions of Search Engines. I hope to receive submissions from people in a variety of disciplines. Details below the fold.

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How Economists Kill People

by Daniel on February 8, 2005

I’ve mentioned Peter Griffiths and his book “An Economist’s Tale” before, and I’m going to mention it again in future, because it’s important. The book is a detailed case study of what Griffiths did when he was working for the government of Sierra Leone during a period when the World Bank suddenly got the free market religion. It’s a fantastic read, and by reading it you will get two valuable pieces of information; you’ll understand what economic consultants (those people whose jobs are advertised in the front bits of the Economist) actually do for a living, and you’ll understand the exact why and wherefore of what it is that people are complaining about when they protest against the Bretton Woods institutions and the Washington Consensus. Griffiths isn’t an “anti” in the normal sense; he makes clear at a number of points in the book that he’s actually in favour of free market reforms as the long term solution to a lot of development problems. But he is someone with very detailed, on-the-ground experience of the problem that Joe Stiglitz identified; the regrettable state of affairs that lets poor countries’ governments get bullied around by “third-rate students from first-rate universities”, with often disastrous results.

Below the fold is an article written by Peter, summarising some of the themes of the book; there are lots of good bits (including my favourite one-sentence summary of the moral dilemma of the economics profession, on which I will post anon) which aren’t mentioned there, so reading the article isn’t a substitute for buying the book. The book can be bought from Peter’s website; link above. Non-economists are not excused this one; if you can understand a Grisham novel you can understand this. It’s pacey, it’s exciting and it all really happened. It even has a happy ending (of a sort; given that the setting is the country of Sierra Leone, a genuinely happy ending was never on the cards).

(Full disclosure: I have no commercial or personal connection with Peter Griffiths other than through sending him an email to get this article. I bought the book with my own cash after seeing it advertised on the Zed Books website).

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More on Ward Churchill

by Henry on February 8, 2005

Via “Cliopatria”:http://hnn.us/blogs/2.html?id=1829, Thomas Brown, an assistant professor of sociology at Lamar University, has posted an “essay”:http://hal.lamar.edu/~BROWNTF/Churchill1.htm that accuses Ward Churchill of having committed fraud in his research. I know nothing about the historical issues at stake, so can’t comment on the truth of the allegations – however, if the accusations have merit, they transform the case from one of free speech and academic freedom, to one of whether or not Churchill has lived up to the minimal standards required of a tenured academic.

Also, see this “Timothy Burke essay”:http://www.swarthmore.edu/SocSci/tburke1/perma20805.html which responds gracefully to my (and apparently others’) criticism of his lumping Glenn Reynolds and Ward Churchill in together.

Update: “Inside Higher Ed”:http://www.insidehighered.com/insider/a_new_ward_churchill_controversy has a follow-up story, with some interesting quotes from people on both sides of this issue.

Stray Bits

by John Holbo on February 8, 2005

Per my Amazon Associates fundraising efforts, I was going to send
another check for about $150 to the Singapore Red Cross. But they’ve
maxed out their fundraising. In general, tsunami
relief seem to be doing OK. So who should I give to, do you think?
Oxfam general fund?

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Google Maps

by Eszter Hargittai on February 8, 2005

Last week Gawker Media launched Lifehacker, a site I have gotten addicted to quite quickly. It’s a great resource for any geek or geek-wannabe. One of today’s finds is the most recent service launched by Google: Google Maps. They offer very nice clean maps that allow searches for more than just addresses. For example, see chocolate in evanston. Click on the red pointers and get the exact addresses. With another quick click you can add an address for directions. By clicking on “Link to this page” you get a static link you can share with others. (Note that the arrows for navigating are in the upper left hand corner not on the sides of the map as with some other services.)

The results to searches are far from exhaustive though. I’m afraid the above search misses my favorite chocolate store in town. In fact, curiously, it misses relevant stores that a regular Google search will bring up and Google Local doesn’t seem to be using Google Maps yet either. Since they’re still in beta, hopefully we’ll see some improvements. Regardless, it looks like a very nice new service worth checking out.

Manipulating choices

by Henry on February 8, 2005

Alex Tabarrok “protests too much”:http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2005/02/schelling_is_ow.html in response to John Q.’s “post”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/003214.html on the Lomborg ranking exercise.

bq. Thus, believe it or not, the new theory of how Lomborg rigged the climate change study is that he chose someone to write the global climate change chapter who was too strong an proponent of its importance! Give me a break.

Alex may sneer, but this is exactly what at least one, and possibly two of the members of the Lomborg panel suggest, according to the “Economist”:http://www.economist.com/agenda/displayStory.cfm?story_id=3630425

bq. Thomas Schelling of the University of Maryland, who voted on the final choices, thinks that presenting climate change at the bottom of the list as “bad” is misleading. He says he and the other gurus did not like Kyoto or the aggressive proposals made by Dr Cline, whom he sees as the “most alarmist of the serious climate policy experts”, but Dr Schelling says he would have ranked modest climate proposals higher on the list, because he sees climate as a real problem. Robert Mendelsohn, a conservative Yale economist who was an official “critic” of the climate paper in this process, goes further: because Dr Cline’s positions are “well out of the mainstream”, he had no choice but to reject them. He worries that “climate change was set up to fail.”

This is strong language for academics – Mendelsohn is saying that Lomborg may have tried to predetermine the outcome by ensuring that the climate change choice was unpalatable to all the panelists. Nor does this invalidate John’s previous argument that the panelists as well as the choices on offer were selected in order to conduct towards this outcome – a different group of economists might well have preferred even the more radical climate change option that was on offer. I’m not sure what the point is to Tabarrok’s surly and ungracious post. If he doesn’t believe that choices between several options can be fixed so that individuals go for the one rather than the other, he only needs to find out a little more about the gentle art of push-polling. If he’d like a slightly more rigorous discussion, I refer him to William Riker’s work on heresthetics. If he doesn’t believe that there’s some serious reason to suspect that this is what happened here, he should re-read Schelling’s and Mendelsohn’s descriptions of the process, as quoted in the Economist. There’s nothing here that’s exactly difficult to get.

Instead of a muffin with your coffee this morning…

by Kieran Healy on February 8, 2005

Try “Juan Cole’s critique of Jonah Goldberg”:http://www.juancole.com/2005/02/goldberg-v.html and his ilk. Fewer calories and more satisfying.