Category Archives: public values

Zealotry, Credibility and Knowledge on the Web

A friend of mine recently offered a post lamenting the hooligans that currently terrorize Wikipedia.

Based on my past and recent experiences, my impression is that Wikipedia has become dominated by an entrenched group of individuals who are territorial rather than collegial. Any newcomer is treated as an interloper and is subjected to a hazing process that is likely to discourage them from returning.

Her zeal to contribute and support Wikipedia is contrary to this attitude,  otherwise known as the common wisdom,  expressed in today’s Chronicle:

The rise of Wikipedia seems to have afflicted some scholars with a mild case of existential panic. And understandably so: When the world’s most popular reference tool is such an egalitarian outfit, that can be interpreted as a fairly stiff challenge to the value of expertise, right?

To be fair, the Chronicle article focuses on the philosophy of Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia, who left because “he felt the site’s credentials-be-damned approach benefited vandals and kept away scholars.”  Dr. Sanger (Phd. Philosophy with a bent towards epistemology — he knows whereof he speaks) offers this hypothesis:

“The quality of a given Wikipedia article will do a random walk around the highest level of quality permitted by the most persistent and aggressive people who follow an article.”

I believe Dr. Butcher’s experience offers anecdotal evidence of the truth of his hypothesis.

So, if the public seeks knowledge (a value determined by the market) and knowledge is thwarted by a minority of the marketplace – whose failure is this?

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Filed under Information, public values

Science and democracy have always been twins.

A simple statement with a magnitude of implications.  From an essay in today’s NYT by Dennis Overby:

It is no coincidence that these are the same qualities that make for democracy and that they arose as a collective behavior about the same time that parliamentary democracies were appearing. If there is anything democracy requires and thrives on, it is the willingness to embrace debate and respect one another and the freedom to shun received wisdom. Science and democracy have always been twins.

Then, in the Post, an article concerning Wayne Clough’s vision to make the holdings of the Smithsonian available to all using the internet.  The curators of the Smithsonian are having some difficulty understanding what their role will be if everything is available for anyone to see.  The gatekeepers ask, “Who will guarantee the quality of knowledge?”  To which, Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired, replies:

“Is it our job to be smart and be the best? Or is it our job to share knowledge?” Anderson asked.

Sharing knowledge, sharing information — that’s what makes democracy work.  And, sharing information makes markets more efficient.  I think the philosophers and economists can agree on that point.

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Filed under Government, Information, Market Failure, public values

Cyber Policy – Safety and the Internet – An update

Parry Aftab, blogging on the McAfee Security Insights Blog, gives a quick history on the Internet Safety Task Force that was, well, taken to task because of its corporate funding partners (See Jan 25 post).  She says further research is in the future:

The ISTTF is the first task force of its kind in the United States. And, although it may not have provided major new findings, it did get things jump-started. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) working group will be announced very shortly and hopefully one under the guidance of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will be compiled. The Attorneys General are seeking more concrete recommendations and an action plan. And the members of the ISTTF are looking for the opportunity to provide those concrete recommendations.

A journey, not a destination…we need to remember that.

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The word for this decade “information”

Yeah, plastic is definitely, definitely out.  Information is in.  Got any?  Want some?

Just as plastic raises concerns regarding negative environmental consequences, information raises, metaphorically speaking, similar environmental concerns as individuals and corporations stress over who controls access to information.

Health Care Information Technologies (HCIT) is an area that offers seemingly “low hanging fruit” in terms of immediate individual and societal benefits.  Namely, more reliable information exchange between care providers will significantly reduce errors, thus lowering cost while increasing the quality of care.  Yet, despite bipartisan support for the outcomes of adopting electronic healthcare information systems, the pace of adoption is extremely slow.

Today, a NYT article highlights the difficulties President Obama will face as he pursues the deployment of HCIT.  Here is  one part of a very tough challenge:

“Health I.T. without privacy is an excellent way for companies to establish a gold mine of information that can be used to increase profits, promote expensive drugs, cherry-pick patients who are cheaper to insure and market directly to consumers,” said Dr. Deborah C. Peel, coordinator of the Coalition for Patient Privacy, which includes the American Civil Liberties Union among its members.

And, here is another:

In a letter to Congressional leaders, Karen M. Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group for insurers, expressed “serious concern about privacy provisions being considered for inclusion in the economic stimulus bill.”

She criticized, in particular, a proposal that would require health care providers to obtain the consent of patients before disclosing personal health information for treatment, payment or “health care operations.”

Which leaves us with this pithy summation:

Such a requirement, she said, could cripple efforts to manage chronic diseases like diabetes, which often require coordination of care among many specialists.

“Health information technology will succeed only if privacy is protected,” said Frank C. Torres, director of consumer affairs at Microsoft. “For the president-elect to achieve his vision, he has to protect privacy.”

As an area of policy, one could ascribe the lack of progress to market failure, public failure, or both.  Multiple public values can be identified within this discussion.  Privacy, quality of life, and economic concerns are just a few of the values inherent to this debate.

The core topic of this debate, as portrayed by the article, is the quality of privacy.  How good is it?  Who controls it?  More importantly, who defines what “privacy” is?

So, who wins the debate?  Whose definition of  “public value” carries the day?  In sum, whose values does policy represent?

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Filed under Health, public values

Madoff – Public Value Failure and Market Failure

Markets depend upon information to be efficient.  This NYT story on Madoff indicates that information was in short supply, and a disaster ensured.

The outsize impact on the industry may have resulted largely because Mr. Madoff (pronounced MAY-doff) managed his funds much the way that real estate leaders have operated successfully for decades: He provided little information and demanded a lot of trust.

So, where were the government regulators, those charged with ensuring that the market provide the necessary disclosures so that investors can rationally make their “risk” decisions?  Absent, according to a Washington Post op/ed:

Those who support regulation also say that hedge funds should disclose more of what they do. Well, Madoff did make some disclosures; it’s just that they weren’t true. As SEC Chairman Chris Cox has all but admitted, the scandal doesn’t show that his agency lacked the power to regulate; it shows that it failed to exercise it. Responding to this scandal with more regulation would be like thrusting more pills on a patient who refuses medication.

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Filed under Market Failure, public failure, public values

Inertia, Public Participation and low probability of a consensus

Our founding fathers warned of a “tyranny of the majority“.   The city of Grand Junction thought they had an idea the people would endorse — a means to fund public safety projects.  However, the voters of Grand Junction failed to endorse the measure.  Here are reasons why:

  • In focus groups, 9.6 percent said the initiative may have failed because of its tie to overturn TABOR for a nonspecific amount of time, which many said was an unpopular move in Grand Junction.
  • Another 13.7 percent said the project was misunderstood, and 7.8 percent said the poor economy didn’t help.
  • Nearly 9 percent said people who voted no distrusted the city or didn’t believe the city couldn’t find the money another way, and
  • 6.7 percent said people didn’t approve of the way the city spent money in the past, such as on roundabouts of the Seventh Street and Colorado Avenue projects.

Question : If the public can’t agree on how to fund a public value – is that a public value failure, or a market failure (lack of information)?

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Filed under Government, public failure, public values

Public Participation – A public value problem

Here’s a synopsis of the problem.  People are increasingly disengaging themselves from government (local, state, and federal).  As they become more disengaged, there is a growing dissonance between public values and public policy (i.e. policy elites command the agenda, public input is minimized, sometimes to zero).  As dissonance increases, disengagement increases until the system which supports the policy apparatus collapses in upon itself, much like a dying star.

So, how do you reverse this inertia feeding increasing dissonance?

Perhaps by encouraging students/public to ask provocative questions — as this interfiew with Jessica Fridrich states, the questions are sometimes fifty percent of the answers.  For a bio article on Jessica Fridrich see NYT “Jessica Fridrich specializes in problems that only seem impossible to solve“.

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