Jan 142017
 

As always seems to happen, then end of fall semester was a time of hard deadlines then the holidays were a time of fatigue and recovery. With that behind us, now is the time to comment on a few of the many articles we followed along the way even if there wasn’t time or energy to link to them previously.

The theme of today’s catch-up is a common one here: calling out how campus opportunities and academic freedom are threatened across the nation. While I’ve seen several great articles and commentaries on this over the last month, I flag a few representative examples below.

The Week carries a commentary about students who want to delegitimize the very institutions from which they seek credentials. This does seem odd, don’t you think? Paying money to buy the attention of experts in order to denigrate them for being wrong? Perhaps these students are not actually paying with their own money. If they were then it seems more likely that they’d care whether the resulting credentials might enjoy some legitimacy.

Not just students assail campus scholarship. Other scholars (or at least those charged with leading them) are doing their best to dismantle scholarship too. In a Washington Post opinion piece, José Cabranes, a federal appellate judge and former trustee of Colgate, Yale and Columbia universities, laments how the system is gradually narrowing the scope of speech on campus, to the detriment of our scholarly work products. To find the best results, scholars need freedom to vet all ideas; we learn even in shooting some idea down since the effort to articulate one’s rationale helps us better organize the body of knowledge. Stifling speech because it is unpopular or inconvenient – as happens even here at College Park – thus delegitimizes our results, since objective viewers won’t ever have seen them tested against competing assertions. They won’t have been shown how the results are better. As we’re fond of quoting, if everyone is thinking alike, then nobody is thinking.

We can’t note the limits of speech (as above) without linking to National Review’s roll up of 2016’s most ridiculously PC moments. (Look closely to see how many of those might well have been College Park antics.)

Finally, and with regret, we mark the final columns penned by Prof. Thomas Sowell, as the 86 year old thinker steps back from his regular on-line commentary. We have often quoted Dr. Sowell, and hold in high regard his scholarship, so we will miss him. His farewell column is titled Random Thoughts, Looking Back. But one of his best regular columns appeared just a week before, The Diversity Fraud; he may as well have been staring straight at College Park. We commend to you the tribute to Dr. Sowell published by the Foundations of Economic Education site, since it is grand. Professor Sowell: thank you.

 Posted by at 11:26 am on January 14, 2017
Nov 012016
 

A nice article at Discover Magazine tells some of the many ways our data are used. None of this is particularly surprising to privacy advocates, of course, but this is an interesting perspective since the author speaks from the algorithmic point of view; we of course would have wondered why we allowed data to be available for those algorithms to be used as such in the first place.

 Posted by at 7:29 am on November 1, 2016
Mar 202016
 

The war on impure thoughts continues down its slippery slope.

Harvard Law School will ban retire its seal because it derived from the emblem of a slave-holding family … never mind that the family funded the school’s first professorship 200 years ago. The way ahead is described in a very nice piece of writing by a scholar who studied other problematic icons associated with Harvard.

It will be easier in the future. Today’s digital era, in which so much data are kept, will make it far easier for tomorrow’s enlightened people to reach back and study our private thoughts in order to recognize which of us must be condemned for violating that era’s sensibilities.

They will know better then than we do today.

 Posted by at 8:52 am on March 20, 2016
Feb 242016
 

What starts as a review of an important new book on academic freedom quickly moves to a first person account of the effects of speaking freely at the Naval Academy, written by a professor of nearly three decades there.

We’ve known that open discourse has generally been lost to most campuses, but it sure is sad to see this turmoil at what should be one of the last bastions of liberty. Future officers and leaders should be free to vet ideas on their merits, not on their conformity.

 Posted by at 12:57 pm on February 24, 2016
Feb 092016
 

We appreciate the candor of DNI chief James Clapper in confirming what the tin-foil-beanie crowd might have assumed all along: The Internet of Things will be spectacular for collecting fine grain intelligence about people in their homes. It isn’t like Google and others competing for these data have not already figured this out. Why would the government not want on board too?

 Posted by at 6:18 pm on February 9, 2016
Jan 102016
 

The Washington Post reports on the cutting edge software police are starting to use for identifying people who are possible threats. One example of its use involved flagging someone as a threat based on a 911 call, so officers could call in a heavier response. It is all based on searching police records and social media.

Anyone who thinks the social media part is searched in real time once a name or address turns up in a query will be sadly mistaken. An immense amount of static information is compiled and added to continuously so it will be available at a moment’s notice – like in a 911 call.

One of the several dangers of course is that they get it wrong, and your innocent actions become misinterpreted, with potentially deadly consequences. Oops. But can you control this? No. As with so many “homeland security” systems these days, police cloak the actual computation in commercial operations, where the algorithms, data sources and records are not subject to public information requests or challenge. It will only be a matter of time until the equivalent of a ‘Google Bomb’ is dropped on someone through social media, after which the next interaction with police could involve trying to persuade a tactical team you are not a threat … while zip tied face down on your living room carpet.

 Posted by at 9:52 pm on January 10, 2016
Aug 242015
 

The technology was developed and deployed under the justification that it was needed to protect national security and hunt terrorists. These intrusions on privacy are now being allowed for far more pedestrian needs. The linked article reports on how very routine and daily uses of surveillance technologies, with many of the examples arising just up the road from us in Baltimore.

 Posted by at 9:12 am on August 24, 2015
Mar 292015
 

The role of Google in liberal politics – especially President Obama’s campaign – is highlighted in this article. Besides providing cash, they provided big infrastructure and small nuances (times millions of searches) to influence consumers of political news and activate voters – at least ones who would produce the right outcomes.

 Posted by at 8:13 am on March 29, 2015