OWS essay online!

Howdy groupies!

Guess what I just found!?!? Apparently the OWS essay just went online. See http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14742837.2012.708858. This considerable revision should provide some of us with a fantastic opportunity to reverse engineer the editors’ suggestions. Clearly, the authors have enhanced the essay in countless ways. In revising the title, for instance, they’ve both rewritten the subtitle in the active voice and made its argument more straightforward. Facebook didn’t help spread OWS, rather “Cute Old Men” and “Malcom X” did so, through Facebook. In the original, the “and” was vague.

And then, of course, we see some restructuring to create continuity. Instead of a “Summary” we have an “Abstract”; but the Abstract departs from convention, in that it asks questions rather than states research findings. By listing a series of questions in the Abstract, our authors have sidestepped the need to revise as completely as one might expect the opening few paragraphs. Instead of a “Conclusion,” we have a “Discussion” section. In the Discussion, our authors once again move from quantitative documentation to the act of sensemaking. Whereas the very word Conclusion seems to denote the end of the OWS movement, Discussion suggests continued sympathy for OWS ideals.

One omission disappoints me, though. But possibly the omission is due to issues of copyright. You’d think that, given the new title and visual focus, the article would include a copy of the Old Man photo. If images evoked such powerful emotions as to draw in OWS helpers, why not reproduce a few to drive home the point?


(not cited for obvious reasons)


Robarts and Brutalism

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how design conveys intention. Of course, one of the best examples we’ve read so far is The Zimbabwe Bush Pump (de Laet & Mol, 2000). And, of course, one of the best examples we’ve heard is the doorknob. As Galey and Rucker (2010) describe: “even doorknobs have politics in that they may be round, requiring a human hand to turn them, or shaped as levers, such that a person with a prosthetic limb or an armload of groceries with one free elbow can still successfully use them” (p. 3). Let’s apply the method to a familiar building:


Robarts exemplifies how the U of T administration envisioned the function of a university library. Designed in the style of architecture known as “brutalism,” the John P. Robarts Library, U of T’s largest individual library, came into existence as a graduate-only zone. In other words, the so-called Fort Book permitted MA and PhD researchers to enter the stacks (floors 9 through 13) but forced undergraduates to recall items from below. For reasons of exclusivity, therefore, the architects designed two elevator systems for the building, incorporated study carols right into the walls of each floor, and commissioned furniture intended to promote intense learning (e.g., desks incorporating high sides to block peripheral vision). To promote controlled movement of the academic researchers at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library and the librarians at the Faculty of Information, the designers connected the buildings via a mezzanine fourth floor. However, early on in Robarts’ history, undergraduate protests led to the building being repurposed.

Since U of T’s undergraduates managed to get access to the stacks, U of T’s administration has since renovated Robarts to make it user friendly. For example, although they’ve left intact the elaborate conveyor belt system originally conceived to facilitate staff retrievals, they’ve removed a considerable number of books. Now the library has large open spaces, with wide tables, in the apexes. Once solid, the walls of the study rooms are now made of glass. And of course, just a year ago much of floor two was outside!


Gayley, A. & Ruecker, S. (2010). How a prototype argues. Literary and Linguistic Computing Advance 25 (4), 405–424.

de Laet, M. & Mol, A. (2000). The Zimbabwe Bush Pump: Mechanics of a Fluid Technology. Social Studies of Science 30 (2), 225–263.

Kindness: the unsung research method

I am only speaking for myself, but hopefully others may relate.

I have spent hours retooling possible blog posts for this blog knowing full well I NEED to get an A- in this class to write a thesis next year. I try and formulate engaging writing about topics I am invested in and try to relate them to the course. But the more and more I write all I see are interest pieces: things I am writing for myself. They are of interest to me, but in no way do I truly feel compelled to post them beyond the requirements of this course (which sounds like selling your soul). Am I just not cut out to become a researcher?

My main research interests at the ischool surround how identity is formed through collections, and how those identities are passed on to the public. But I haven’t done much research on the topic yet since I was only inspired to write a thesis in late October of last year. This leaves me with very little with regards to anything really important or relevant to say about the subject other than hunches and bits of information I have yet to truly digest. Nor do I want my postings to read like a grocery list of research methods I foresee undertaking during my research, with reference to how Luker or Knight would feel about it .

I would like to think Luker (2008) would present this as a “So what?” conundrum (136). Why should the reader care? Why should they be interested in the stuff you as a researcher are (137)? I know I care, but I don’t know if I necessarily feel like you need to care as well. At this point in time, I actually think its quite alright if no one cares about my research. Is this bad? Can a researcher truly allow them selves to be uninterested in what other people think?

In the first line I express hope that others may feel the way I do. I initially only wrote the first part before the comma. But then, felt that I didn’t take into consideration writing beyond record keeping: creating and sharing. The very act of attempting to present your ideas in another form than that weird ephemeral voice inside your head changes it. As Luker points out in her first exercise on page 21, Balzac, when asked  how he felt about a play, once answered “How should I know […] I haven’t written the review yet!” The development of ideas or thoughts through words, presents a very distinct process of thinking, and I am coming around to agree with Luker that “something magical happens when you write things down” (20). Even my mood has changed since I forced myself to sit and write about how I felt about this assignment. I am still undecided if I should really care if anyone else cares – even though I hate how that sounds. But thinking repeatedly, rereading parts of Luker’s book and editing my thoughts for this post, has allowed me to stumble upon a part of the research process I never thought I would have: kindness*.

Kindness in so far as I am only now realizing it is a crucial part of how ideas develop best. That we, as budding (or for those established researchers) are jumping into a life where we are expected to share, expected to “take big intellectual risks” (Luker 2008, 220) and put ourselves, our time, our interests, and our research in judgement’s line of fire. Hoping we come out still standing. In this respect it’s not that I have no interest in opinions or sharing, I just don’t believe I am ready for any yet. Yet, this blog requires I talk about things I still feel I know too little about to be sharing. And for this I ask for your kindness. Kindness in that my writing, unfinished (and conceited) as it may be, is not complete, nor will it evolve if it is not shared. It is your kindness as a reader (and hopefully commentator) that will help shape my ideas and enable me to pursue better research.


*You can actually find kindness in Luker’s index, on page 318.

Work Cited:

Luker, K. 2010. Salsa dancing into the social sciences. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Online Research & Week 11 Readings

     The readings for Week 11 offer useful insight into the ethical underpinnings of online research as well as the ethical considerations relevant to our final assignment. The Zimmer (2010) article in particular is quite applicable to an Information Science degree, considering the critical analysis of data management and privacy & surveillance that informs much of the content. For my final assignment I am researching data literacy standards at U of T Libraries and part of my research involves interviewing human subjects and considering aspects of their online presence. The research project that Zimmer (2010) uses as a case study is an excellent example of the contentious nature of researching data specific to online identities. The implications of using unique datasets, such as those found on social networking sites, will absolutely need to be considered when developing a concept of data literacy standards.

     Indeed, the School of Graduate Studies Student Guide on Ethical Conduct  states that “obtaining data about a living individual through intervention or interaction with the individual, or the obtaining of private personal information about the individual” (p.3) must be reviewed by the ethics board. But what does it mean when an ethics board approves misuse of data, even if unintentionally? The case study describes a group of researchers who “released data collected from the Facebook accounts of an entire cohort of college students” (2010, p. 313) and despite efforts to protect their privacy, “the identity of the source of the dataset was quickly discovered.” (2010, p.313) This example is a blatant dismissal of ethical research standards. Zimmer (2010) also notes that institutional approval was given for the research and he asks “just as we can question whether the T3 researchers fully understood the privacy implications of the research, we must critically examine whether Harvard’s IRB – a panel of experts in research ethics – also sufficiently understood how the privacy of subjects in the dataset could be compromised.” (2010, p. 320) Zimmer offers great insight into the need for ensuring ethical standards, especially when entering new domains of social science.

     Further to this, I am reminded of a recent article I read in the Critical Making workshop about research related to Pervasive Recording Technologies.  In “Understanding Recording Technologies in Everyday Life,” the authors note that  “electronic records of our daily activ­ities are now common, with both corporations and government agen­cies regularly amassing financial transactions, healthcare records, Internet browsing habits, and more as ‘digital dossiers’.”(2010, p. 64) The article studies recording technologies as a means to examine the issues surrounding technology and online identities. They conclude that “people must develop new understandings and create new explanations for what is being recorded and how it might be used;” (2010, p. 71) a conclusion that absolutely extends to those who research personal data and the ethics boards that approve them.

Wishing you all the very best with the final assignment,

Vanessa K.



Massimi, M., Truong, K.N., Dearman, D., and Hayes, G.R. Understanding Recording Technologies in Everyday Life. IEEE Pervasive Computing. Volume 9(3), July‐September 2010. 64‐71.

SNL, IPhone 5, and Writing

Our discussion today of systems and technology studies made me think of Saturday Night Live. Yes, that’s correct; the skit comedy show reminds me of research methods. I think that comedy, like research, is most interesting when it’s critiquing something either overtly or subtley. Like the short documentary we watched in class today, SNL skits often analyze human relationships and comment on inequalities. The skit about the IPhone 5 I have linked to is a very over-the-top example, but I think it illustrates my point, and is certainly an interesting and humorous examination of how certain social systems function and intersect with technology.

Another way that comedy sketches often resemble more traditional methods of research is how they’re written. I’ve been reading Tina Fey’s book “Bossypants” (2011) and Mindy Kaling’s “Is Everyone Hanging out Without Me” (2012) and both authors/comedians describe how SNL skits are created. Basically, writers prepare sketches alone or in pairs based on a humorous idea they had, and then revise the sketches together. These creative processes reminded me of Knight’s concept of writing-as-thinking. I’d be really interested to see if other comedians employ this style of sketch writing! Cheers and enjoy the comedy,

Katherine Laite

Your Intelligence: Now based on Everything you ‘Like’.

Hello Everyone,

Jessica here. My post today is, embarrassingly enough, brought to you by an internet argument I had this weekend. I know, I know, getting into internet fights is stupid and pointless, I know. But I told myself it was a worthy cause in my campaign against musical elitism. I like to imagine a world where people can like Britney Spears, Ke$ha, and Rihanna without being shamed.

It started with listening to a new music recommendation on youtube. I then made the mistake of scrolling down to read the comments. There, someone was trying to argue that people who listened to rap instead of the indie music that was playing on the page were of lower intelligence, by citing a particular study. As someone who listens to rap, who knows many intelligent people who listen to rap, and is personally very, very tired of people badmouthing the genre and making assumptions about people who enjoy it, this annoyed me. So, when this person suggested I “look it up”, I did.

You can see the study for yourself here: http://musicthatmakesyoudumb.virgil.gr/

At the top of the page, before you even get to the graph there is a large list of media outlets that have featured the study, including the New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal. This is meant to make the study seem valid, I think.

How the data is collected and analyzed is explained on the main page, and in more detail the FAQ. Basically, the author (a Ph.D Candidate at CalTech) used the now defunct Facebook Network Statistics page and compared that data to SAT/ACT statistics from Collegeboard.com in order to demonstrate a correlation between musical tastes and ‘dumbitude’, as the study’s author terms it.

Remembering last weeks class, where we discussed content analysis and interpretation in regards to the Guardian’s graph on the decline of the America’s State of Union address, I realized that this study was just as sensationalist and problematic, and for similar reasons. Like the Guardian’s study it ignores possible variables as well as context, which allows people to spin the data into some misleading conclusions. Like the fact that people who listen to pop and rap are dumb. Notably, the author does have a disclaimer in bold above the graph, stating he understands that correlation does not equal causation, however the name of the study is “Musicthatmakesyoudumber”, so this is misleading.

Further the data used isn’t reliable. The facebook data is based on people’s ‘likes’, which limits the study to those who actually reported their likes and the college they attend on facebook. The use of the SAT as an indicator of intelligence ties to a point made by Knight (2002) on reliability and validity, “It is very debatable whether IQ test are a fair measure of intelligence unless we define intelligence as that which IQ tests measure” (p. 81). Knight (2002) elaborates in an example, “Again, there are problems in claiming that some reading tests are valid measures of reading. They may be good tests of word recognition, of word attack strategies and of how well someone can sound out words. Whether those achievements are ‘reading’, which some would see as a form of thinking, is another matter” (p. 81). This applies for  the measurement of intelligence in this situation. Looking at the data may not say as much about intelligence as it does about other factors, like class or race.

I only realized later, that this whole experience is relevant to my own research proposal, which focuses on how high school and university students determine what information they find on the internet is reliable. I now wish I was performing the study, because I have never been more sure the results would prove very interesting.

– Jessica

Further reading…

Pitchforks apt critique of the Musicthatmakesyoudumb study


Much to my chagrin, there is also a book version: http://booksthatmakeyoudumb.virgil.gr/

Also, the most recent attempt to tell you how smart you are based on your ‘likes’ (via Laura C.)



Works Cited

Knight, P. (2002). Small scale research methods. London: Sage Publications.

Griffith, V. (2009). Musicthatmakesyoudumb. Retrieved from http://musicthatmakesyoudumb.virgil.gr/

Luker, Data Reduction & CAQDAS

I apologize if my blogs about blogs are becoming redundant but I was quite taken by an active blog produced by Dan Hirschman, a PhD candidate at the University of Michigan. In his About This Blog section, he describes his academic and research interests as follows: I am a PhD candidate at the University of Michigan in Sociology and the certificate program in Science, Technology and Society (STS). Broadly, I am interested in economic sociology, the sociology of economics, organizations, and science studies. Specifically, I am interested in the interaction of quantification, law, organizations and knowledge-production. His research interests are multidisciplinary and I couldn’t help but wonder how his inquiries would be framed in and influenced by the context of an information science degree here at the iSchool.

In any case, I came to know this blog by searching for reviews of Luker. While I agree with much of what she says and find her analogies quite plausible, I was looking to come to an understanding of what graduate students at other institutions and from other disciplines felt about her work. In a post devoted to his reaction to Salsa Dancing into the Social Sciences, a methods book that he claims not only to have read but to have devoured, he raises key insights into her strengths.  He astutely expounds on Luker’s main notion of finding balance between the logic of data and the discovery of a good a research question. He also praises the fact that she sheds light on sampling, operationalization and generalization as not quite sufficient for research that aims to generate theories. This point is actually something that I grappled with while conducting my peer review assignment as the research questions posed in the paper I chose to review had mostly theoretical implications.

To draw slightly further on Hirschman’s review, he claims to not be completely in agreement with Luker’s endorsement of CAQDAS (Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis, see p. 200) and Charles Ragin’s method of Boolean analysis (Qualitative Comparative Analysis – QCA) which is a method that works “out an algorithm that most economically describes the patterns observed in the data.” (Luker, 2008, p. 209) Luker argues that Ragin’s method “permits us to see both the messiness and the contingency in social life, while at the same time recognizing the patterns.” (2008, p. 213)

I understand that the algorithm recognizes patterns and is not intended to measure the messiness of life but the skeptic within does not trust its ability to make meaning out of nuance.

In any case, Luker’s chapter on Data Reduction  hones in on the intricacies of INF1240. Learning about research methods is somewhat linear however learning how to effectively use the methods and conduct data reduction in a way that allows us to “reduce our data to something we can manage, and analyze our data in meaningful ways,” (Luker, 2008, p. 198-199) is where practice and theory meet.

As a final thought, Hirschman cites one of his favourite examples from Luker and I would like to share it with you as it quite possibly may put a smile on your face:

“Librarians, along with pediatricians, are among the greatest human beings in the universe.” (Luker, 2008, p. 85)

– Vanessa K