Big-Data Scientists Face Ethical Challenges After Facebook Study

"Big-Data Scientists Face Ethical Challenges After Facebook Study" By Paul Voosen from

"Jeffrey Hancock, a Cornell U. professor who teamed up with Facebook on a controversial study of emotion online, says the experience has led him to think about how to continue such collaborations “in ways that users feel protected, that academics feel protected, and industry feels protected.”
Last summer the technologists discovered how unaware everyone else was of this new world.

After Facebook, in collaboration with two academics, published a study showing how positive or negative language spreads among its users, a viral storm erupted. Facebook "controls emotions," headlines yelled. Jeffrey T. Hancock, a Cornell University professor of communications and information science who collaborated with Facebook, drew harsh scrutiny. The study was the most shared scientific article of the year on social media. Some critics called for a government investigation.

Much of the heat was fed by hype, mistakes, and underreporting. But the experiment also revealed problems for computational social science that remain unresolved. Several months after the study’s publication, Mr. Hancock broke a media silence and told The New York Times that he would like to help the scientific world address those problems"


Teaching Technical Writing

I am giving a presentation at the New Jersey Writing Alliance Spring (NJWA) Conference this week on my experiences teaching technical writing this year at New Jersey Institute of Technology and at Montclair State University. NJIT is NJ's science and technology university and MSU is the state's second-largest comprehensive university.

Although the two schools are seen as quite different, the approach I take to technical writing is very similar. My presentation is on "Technical Writing Across Disciplines" and will examine how a technical writing course can emphasize a research approach and problem solving that is not like most of the academic writing done in other writing classes.
One thing I enjoy about the NJWA conference is that it has presenters and attendees from both K-12 and higher education. That doesn't occur often enough.

Keeping with the conference theme of "Achieving College-Ready Writing: The Common Core and Beyond," I'll also examine how secondary school teachers can teach writing about science and technical subjects. That is a strand of the English Language Arts Standards that are part of the controversial Common Core State Standards Initiative as adopted in NJ and other states.

Thinking Bloggers

Everyone likes to get an award, right? Being called a "Thinking Blogger" is good, yes?

Earlier this month, another blog that I write about poetry was tagged for a "Thinking Blogger Award" by a Canadian blogger at Line Upon Line.

This is a meme (rhymes with "gene"). It's a term created by biologist Richard Dawkins for a "unit of cultural information" which can propagate from one mind to another in a manner analogous to genes" (i.e., the units of genetic information).

Violet lists the "rules" as being: 1) If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think. 2) Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme. 3) Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote.

She said something nice about my blog: "Poets Online - the blog, which is a companion to Poets Online. The thought-provoking poetry-writing prompts at Poets Online are explained and expanded in this excellent poetry blog."

And what did I do? I rejected my award. Instead of being gracious, I posted a comment saying:

Thanks for thinking of us as thinking. Rather than risk the wrath of Technorati, I will decline to participate. I do agree with them that chain posts too often lead to splogs and clog up the blogosphere, and to quote Groucho Marx, "I wouldn't want to belong to any club that would accept someone like me as a member."

Geez, what an ingrate. But I had read about splogs (spam blogs used only to promote other blogs or websites) and chain posts (like chain mail; post a link to me and then link to 5 friends and in days you will get lots of hits) and I know that Technorati frowns on this and supposedly takes action to prevent it from affecting their ratings.

So, I played it safe.

But last week, someone who I would put in my own thinking blogger list, Karine Joly of, was listed by someone and she accepted & reciprocated with a link, and gave her own list of five, and I made her list.

Now, what do I do?

I've written about the incestuous nature of bloggers here before. I don't want to encourage splogs and chain posts. But I don't want to be ungrateful. Again.

I have done recommendations for podcasts I like here, and I'm almost always linking to another blog or site. So, it's not like I'm opposed to linking.

Even Technorati's own blog lists favorite blogs. In fact, that's the point of their whole service - to measure the buzz on blogs - how many people link to you gives your blog "authority" (Karine's authority is 83; mine is only 17, so she really must know what she's talking about when she picks me!).

Now, I'm thinking about this (I mean, I am a twice-tapped thinking blogger, so I must be) and it doesn't seem quite so strange to do this post.

Don't punish me Technorati!

No point in linking to blogs that get all the attention on Technorati already. I couldn't come up with 5 thinking poetry blogs (know one? send me a link), but here are some blogs that get me thinking about things...

  1. Throughlines - is a very thoughtful blog written by Bruce Schauble, head of the English Department at Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii (tough location!). His interests include teaching, writing, reading, photography, and music. He says, "I'm perhaps most interested in learning more about how the open arena of technology can enhance my students' learning experience. I know it's been enhancing mine." A sample of his thinking/blogging is this post on habits of mind.
  2. Inquiry and Se Hace Camino Al Andar are both written by Nancy Brodsky, a teacher in New York City who writes about her lessons and her personal growth as an English teacher. The first blog is on the site and the second is more personal, so it's on Typepad.
  3. indexed - a blog by Jessica Hagy made up entirely of diagrams/graphs/charts drawn on index cards. This blog also gives me hope that someday some media mogul will decide to pay me to blog: the indexed blog as a book will be in stores in early 2008. She describes it as "a little project that lets me make fun of some things and sense of others. I use it to think a little more relationally without resorting to doing the actual math."
  4. I just recently started reading Christopher Sessums' blog which is on It's a blog I came upon back when that was known as Elgg and I had added him as one of my "friends" there. He listed distance learning as an interest there. He directs the Office of Distance Education in the University of Florida’s College of Education, and is going for his doctorate "where I am investigating the impact of social software on teaching and learning."
  5. I had my students this spring create Blogger accounts for a course on visual design that I taught. All were new to blogging and most were not even blog readers. It was both a way to create a more authentic writing environment & audience, and offered the opportunity to talk about the visual aspects of blogs (CSS, video embeds, images, logos etc.) for those who had little or no web design experience. They needed to think about their blogging (if only because it was parts of their grades) and I needed to think about their blogging. Here are two samples that I thought were very good for blog newbies. I'm hoping that some of the students will continue blogging now that the course is over - wouldn't that be something that would make a teacher happy. Catherine's Corner: Observations of a Tech Writer is at and Sandra's blog On Technical Writing and Visual Design is