Friday, August 31, 2012

Just the Facts, M'am: The Historian's (Even Minimalistic) Role in Our Current Media Age

The historian of technology, Thomas Haigh, has written an interesting piece on the role of historians in an environment of blogs and speedy news production. He discusses his experience trying to bring the historian's perspective to the controversy surrounding the so-called "inventor of email," V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai.
Mr. Ayyadurai Looking So Very Dapper
 
On the one hand, I am struck by the grimness of Haigh's experience, and the near nihilism of his hopes. We aren't talking about bringing "critical perspectives" or what have you to bear here; we're just talking about getting the facts right--even that is so hard. And, sure, facts are value-laden and norm-y, yada, yada. But can we hope for some minimalistic ethos of research? On the other hand, Haigh is fighting the good fight, and his experience, though frustrating for all, still encourages us to press on.

 Link to Haigh's article: http://cacm.acm.org/magazines/2012/9/154586-seven-lessons-from-bad-history/fulltext

Monday, August 6, 2012

Mapping Scientific Influence

Ben Schmidt at Sapping Attention has a beautiful post up (with many pretty pictures) and exactly the sort of smart analysis one expects from his blog. Among the most interesting---albeit very tentative--- conclusions he comes to:

The 'while/whilst' result is suggestive, in that it indicates we can track cultural phenomena completely independent of science in the data. (India looks more like America, while Australia and South Africa look more like Britain: that's interesting to me.)
The university and city stuff can be interesting as well if we look in the right places. Obviously no one cares that "Harvard" is used more than "Stanford" in Cambridge; but the higher results for Stanford near CERN, and for Harvard--to stretch--in Australia may be telling us interesting things about the way that a project like the SLAC can get international recognition.

In Schmidt's hands, the ArXiv becomes a tool for seeing scientific connections inside and across national boundaries. It's fascinating stuff that begs more attention and more research.