Blogging arxiv

by Henry on August 24, 2005

Sean Carroll “reports”: that the “arxiv”: pre-print series has started to integrate itself into the blogosphere; this strikes me as a Very Big Deal indeed for academic blogging. Non-physicists may not be familiar with arxiv (I know that I certainly wasn’t before I started getting interested in network topology) – it’s effectively replaced journal publication as the primary means for physicists to communicate with each other. Journal publication is still important – but as an imprimatur, a proof of quality, rather than a way to disseminate findings to a wider audience. arxiv has now introduced trackbacks – people visiting the abstract of a paper on arxiv can see what blogs have commented on the paper, and read what they have had to say. Furthermore, arxiv has “rss feeds”: of recent papers, classified by subject matter, making it much easier to keep up with new publications in a subfield.

This seems to me to be the nucleus of something like the new approach to academic publishing that John Holbo has advocated, in which blogs and bloglike tools become an integrated part of academia, creating conversation around interesting recent papers, filtering the good ones from the not-so-good ones etc etc. I can see potential problems down the line (trackback spam, attempts to game the system etc) – but the promise that this holds for physicists (and for non-physicists when we get around to creating arxiv equivalents) seems to me to be nothing short of extraordinary.

Update: It appears as though “Jacques Distler”: had a lot to do with this.

McGowan on Nussbaum-Butler

by Henry on August 24, 2005

A recommendation: John McGowan’s second “post”: at on the Martha Nussbaum-Judith Butler controversy is really worth reading – an example of what academic blogging should be like (the “first”: is pretty good too). Lucid, measured and thought-provoking – highly recommended.

Google World

by Eszter Hargittai on August 24, 2005

I am back from a five-stop two-week trip and am finally catching up on CT and various things Web. I missed the discussion John started a few days ago about Google. Instead of adding to that thread, I’ll add a whole post. To think of Google as just a company focusing on search is outdated, in my opinion. Google is becoming much more than that. Since the beginning they have been an expert at using network analysis to their advantage. With the various services they are rolling out, they can use that ability not only in the realm of search, but in the realm of building profiles of their users.

The title of this post does not refer to a new Google program. Rather, it’s what I suspect the company is aiming at overall. That is, they are introducing (whether through internal development or buyouts) new services constantly, many of which suggest that they have their eyes on doing much more than providing search. Today, they launched Google Talk so now they are in the instant messaging market. For Google Talk, you need a Google Account, which is the same as your GMail account if you already have one. If you don’t, you may consider getting one since now they offer over 2.5 gigabytes of storage. Of course, you may never need that amount of space for email (although I learned a long time ago never to say never when it comes to storage space) in which case you may just want to use it as a backup for files.

One of the great features about GMail is that it checks for new email regularly (several times a minute) so as long as you stay logged on, you can get regular email updates. Of course, as long as you stay logged on, Google can track all of your online activities connected to its services, which include searches run on its search engine. Not only do they have information about all of your emails, they also know what searches you run and what results you choose.

Being able to scan your email (as they do for the purposes of displaying Google Ads) doesn’t only give them information about what topics you discuss, they also know with whom. They can develop very nice maps of people’s networks. Now that they have launched Google Talk they will also know which of your email contacts are strong enough that you also tend to contact them through chat (assuming you are using Google Talk for IMing). They will have more data on which to draw for a network map of your connections. And since the use of Google Talk requires a Google Account from both users, they can construct network maps of those people as well. So your network map is not just about your direct connections.

[click to continue…]

Secret Shock Troops of the Gay Agenda

by Kieran Healy on August 24, 2005

Eugene Volokh has been “arguing”: that by pushing for a society where homosexuality isn’t illegal, repressed or stigmatized, gay people are out to convert those who might not have otherwise engaged in homosexual activity. In much the same way, I suppose, many 16 to 18 year olds are out to convert one another to various forms of heterosexual activity. The post is a good example of Volokh’s approach to the social scientific end of legal thinking: a bit of initial data followed by some big hypotheticals followed by a lot of speculation about the motives of some person or persons unknown. The end result is a very narrow argument (on one reading he’s just arguing that bisexuals are more likely to engage in homosexual sex if homosexual activity isn’t illegal or stigmatized), but one that’s nevertheless shot through with unpleasant undertones about the gay rights movement and its supposed efforts to “convert” ordinary decent people. The whole thing depends on equivocating between the narrow denotation of the word “convert” and its broad connotations.

Meanwhile, the NYT presents some doctor arguing that observing childbirth is “such a horrible experience”: that many men never recover from the trauma and lose their “romantic view of their wives.” Naturally this disgust and revulsion is the woman’s problem: “Women may want to consider the risks as they invite their partners to watch them…” Belle has already given this the “response it deserves”: (my advice: bring a bag of boiled sweets, lads, and you’ll be fine). But based on the reactions of “some people”:, the link to Volokh’s post becomes obvious. It’s not just gay people who are trying to recruit straight men to homosexuality, it’s also women, who entrap men in delivery rooms. By having sex with them 40 weeks or so earlier, and then putting them through this awful experience, they surely drive men away from a healthy heterosexuality. These heartless women may also be part-timing it as agents for secular Darwinism, as they show God-fearing men that while the Intelligent Designer might have done a nice job with the fine detail of mitochondria, He really was not paying attention in other departments.

This Is Why We Have The Word Kafkaesque

by Belle Waring on August 24, 2005

From the Washington Post today, a supremely depressing tale of 15 Uighur men trapped in Guantanamo:

All 15 Uighurs have actually been cleared for release from Guantanamo Bay twice, once after a Pentagon review in late 2003 and again last March, U.S. officials said….

Even after the second decision, however, the government did not notify the 15 men for several months that they had been cleared. “They clearly were keeping secret that these men were acquitted. They were found not to be al Qaeda and not to be Taliban,” Willett said. “But the government still refused to provide a transcript of the tribunal that acquitted them to the detainees, their new lawyers or a U.S. court.”

Let’s give the government some nano-credit in that it recognizes that these men will be imprisoned and tortured by the Chinese government if returned. But they’re still pretty badly overdrawn at the moral bank:

In the meantime, the men are still treated as prisoners. Sabin P. Willett, a Boston lawyer who volunteered to take the cases of two Uighurs in March, finally met with them last month, after he and his team went through their own FBI clearances. One of the Uighurs was “chained to the floor” in a “box with no windows,” Willett said in an Aug. 1 court hearing.

Relatedly, this account of prison life in Iraq is not one to inspire confidence:

Since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, the military said it has arrested more than 40,000 people…. The average incarceration at Bucca is a year. The military attributes the surge in detentions to an increase in combat operations and the inability of the nascent Iraqi justice system to handle the crushing caseload.

Many of the freed detainees express bewilderment at why they were held; even the U.S. commander who oversees Bucca, Col. Austin Schmidt, 55, of Fairfax, estimated that one in four prisoners “perhaps were just snagged in a dragnet-type operation” or were victims of personal vendettas.

“This is like Chicago in the ’30s: You don’t like somebody, you drop a dime on them,” Schmidt said. “And by the time the Iraqi court system figures it out, they go home. But it takes a while.”

Well, just 25%…