Belonging: Solidarity and Division in Modern Societies


New book by Montserrat Guibernau: “It is commonly assumed that we live in an age of unbridled individualism, but in this important new book Montserrat Guibernau argues that the need to belong to a group or community – from peer groups and local communities to ethnic groups and nations – is a pervasive and enduring feature of modern social life.
The power of belonging stems from the potential to generate an emotional attachment capable of fostering a shared identity, loyalty and solidarity among members of a given community. It is this strong emotional dimension that enables belonging to act as a trigger for political mobilization and, in extreme cases, to underpin collective violence.
Among the topics examined in this book are identity as a political instrument; emotions and political mobilization; the return of authoritarianism and the rise of the new radical right; symbols and the rituals of belonging; loyalty, the nation and nationalism. It includes case studies from Britain, Spain, Catalonia, Germany, the Middle East and the United States.”

Open Data and Clinical Trials


Editorial by Jeffrey M. Drazen, M.D at NEJM.org :”In the fall of 2013, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) convened a committee, on which I serve, to examine the sharing of data in the setting of clinical trials. The committee is charged with reviewing current practices on data sharing in the context of randomized, controlled trials and with making recommendations for future data-sharing standards. Over the past few months, the committee has prepared a draft report that reviews current practices on data sharing and lays out a number of potential data-sharing models. Full details regarding the committee’s charge and the interim report are available at www.iom.edu/activities/research/sharingclinicaltrialdata.aspx….
Open-data advocates argue that all the study data should be available to anyone at the time the first report is published or even earlier. Others argue that to maintain an incentive for researchers to pursue clinical investigations and to give those who gathered the data a chance to prepare and publish further reports, there should be a period of some specified length during which the data gatherers would have exclusive access to the information. Since these researchers could always agree to collaborate with others who were not involved in the study in order to use the data to help answer a scientific question, the period of exclusivity would really apply only to noncollaborative use of the data. That is, there would be a defined period during which the data would not be available to those who wanted to perform their own analyses and draw conclusions that could, for example, provide them with a scientific or commercial competitive advantage over the researchers who had originally gathered the data or allow them to derive conclusions that are potentially at odds with those drawn in the original publication.
As members of a community that either produces or uses data, what approach do you think serves our community best? There is no need to reply to the Journal, but please read the interim report and let the IOM know how you feel about this and the many other critical issues related to data sharing that are reviewed in the document. The IOM is collecting comments until March 24, 2014, at www8.nationalacademies.org/cp/projectview.aspx?key=49578.”

How a New Science of Cities Is Emerging from Mobile Phone Data Analysis


MIT Technology Review: “Mobile phones have generated enormous insight into the human condition thanks largely to the study of the data they produce. Mobile phone companies record the time of each call, the caller and receiver ids, as well as the locations of the cell towers involved, among other things.
The combined data from millions of people produces some fascinating new insights in the nature of our society. Anthropologists have crunched it to reveal human reproductive strategiesa universal law of commuting and even the distribution of wealth in Africa.
Today, computer scientists have gone one step further by using mobile phone data to map the structure of cities and how people use them throughout the day. “These results point towards the possibility of a new, quantitative classification of cities using high resolution spatio-temporal data,” say Thomas Louail at the Institut de Physique Théorique in Paris and a few pals.
They say their work is part of a new science of cities that aims to objectively measure and understand the nature of large population centers.
These guys begin with a database of mobile phone calls made by people in the 31 Spanish cities that have populations larger than 200,000. The data consists of the number of unique individuals using a given cell tower (whether making a call or not) for each hour of the day over almost two months….The results reveal some fascinating patterns in city structure. For a start, every city undergoes a kind of respiration in which people converge into the center and then withdraw on a daily basis, almost like breathing. And this happens in all cities. This “suggests the existence of a single ‘urban rhythm’ common to all cities,” say Louail and co.
During the week, the number of phone users peaks at about midday and then again at about 6 p.m. During the weekend the numbers peak a little later: at 1 p.m. and 8 p.m. Interestingly, the second peak starts about an hour later in western cities, such as Sevilla and Cordoba.
The data also reveals that small cities tend to have a single center that becomes busy during the day, such as the cities of Salamanca and Vitoria.
But it also shows that the number of hotspots increases with city size; so-called polycentric cities include Spain’s largest, such as Madrid, Barcelona, and Bilboa.
That could turn out to be useful for automatically classifying cities.
There is a growing interest in the nature of cities, the way they evolve and how their residents use them. The goal of this new science is to make better use of these spaces that more than 50 percent of the planet inhabit. Louail and co show that mobile phone data clearly has an important role to play in this endeavor to better understanding these complex giants.
Ref: arxiv.org/abs/1401.4540 : From Mobile Phone Data To The Spatial Structure Of Cities”

OGP’s Independent Reporting Mechanism to Publish 35 Reports


“The Open Government Partnership has many attributes that make it stand out from other multilateral initiatives. The central role for civil society, the focus on supporting domestic reformers, and the diverse mix of countries in leadership roles, are all cited as organisational strengths. In February it will be the turn of OGP’s unique accountability mechanism, which is set up to be entirely independent and makes all of its findings public, to take centre stage. The Independent Reporting Mechanism will be publishing 35 progress reports over the next month. These are check-ins on how the large group of countries who formally joined OGP at the Brasilia Summit in April 2012 are doing against their open government reform commitments. The reports examine individual commitments from the National Action Plans, as well as the quality of the consultation process and dialogue between civil society and the government. The executive summaries will highlight the star commitments that saw tremendous progress, and were the most ambitious in terms of potential impact. These reports come at an important time for OGP. All the countries receiving reports are embarking on their second National Action Plan, due for publication on June 15th 2014. (Over 2/3 of OGP participating countries are currently developing new action plans.) The recommendations made by the IRM are designed to feed into the process of creating the new plans, making specific suggestions to improve the ambition and quality of new commitments and civil society engagement. However, these recommendations will only be acted upon if they are widely publicized at the national level and used by both civil society and government officials. If the reports remain unread, the likelihood of meaningful reforms through OGP will decrease…”

Mapping the ‘Space of Flows’


Paper by Reades J. and Smith D. A. in Regional Studies on the Geography of Global Business Telecommunications and Employment Specialization in the London Mega-City-Region: “Telecommunications has radically reshaped the way that firms organize industrial activity. And yet, because much of this technology – and the interactions that it enables – is invisible, the corporate ‘space of flows’ remains poorly mapped. This article combines detailed employment and telecoms usage data for the South-east of England to build a sector-by-sector profile of globalization at the mega-city-region scale. The intersection of these two datasets allows a new empirical perspective on industrial geography and regional structure to be developed.”

100 Data Innovations


New report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF): “Businesses, government agencies, and non-profits in countries around the world are transforming virtually every facet of the economy and society through innovative uses of data. These changes, brought about by new technologies and techniques for collecting, storing, analyzing, disseminating, and visualizing data, are improving the quality of life for billions of individuals around the world, opening up new economic opportunities, and creating more efficient and effective governments. This list provides a sampling, in no particular order, of some of the most interesting and important contributions data-driven innovations have made in the past year. (Download)”
 

Google Hangouts vs Twitter Q&As: how the US and Europe are hacking traditional diplomacy


Wired (UK): “We’re not yet sure if diplomacy is going digital or just the conversations we’re having,” Moira Whelan, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Digital Strategy, US Department of State, admitted on stage at TedxStockholm. “Sometimes you just have to dive in, and we’re going to, but we’re not really sure where we’re going.”
The US has been at the forefront of digital diplomacy for many years now. President Obama was the first leader to sign up to Twitter, and has amassed the greatest number of followers among his peers at nearly 41 million. The account is, however, mainly run by his staff. It’s understandable, but demonstrates that there still remains a diplomatic disconnect in a country Whelan says knows it’s “ready, leading the conversation and on cutting edge”.
In Europe  Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs Carl Bildt, on the other hand, carries out regular Q&As on the social network and is regarded as one of the most conversational leaders on Twitter and the best connected, according to annual survey Twiplomacy. Our own William Hague is chasing Bildt with close to 200,000 followers, and is the world’s second most connected Foreign Minister, while David Cameron is active on a daily basis with more than 570,000 followers. London was in fact the first place to host a “Diplohack”, an event where ambassadors are brought together with developers and others to hack traditional diplomacy, and Whelan travelled to Sweden to take place in the third European event, the Stockholm Initiative for Digital Diplomacy held 16-17 January in conjunction with TedxStockholm.
Nevertheless, Whelan, who has worked for the state for a decade, says the US is in the game and ready to try new things. Case in point being its digital diplomacy reaction to the crisis in Syria last year.
“In August 2013 we witnessed tragic events in Syria, and obviously the President of the United States and his security team jumped into action,” said Whelan. “We needed to bear witness and… very clearly saw the need for one thing — a Google+ Hangout.” With her tongue-in-cheek comment, Whelan was pointing out social media’s incredibly relevant role in communicating to the public what’s going on when crises hit, and in answering concerns and questions through it.
“We saw speeches and very disturbing images coming at us,” continued Whelan. “We heard leaders making impassioned speeches, and we ourselves had conversations about what we were seeing and how we needed to engage and inform; to give people the chance to engage and ask questions of us.
“We thought, clearly let’s have a Google+ Hangout. Three people joined us and Secretary John Kerry — Nicholas Kirstof of the New York Times, executive editor of Syria Deeply, Lara Setrakian and Andrew Beiter, a teacher affiliated with the Holocaust Memorial Museum who specialises in how we talk about these topics with our children.”
In the run up to the Hangout, news of the event trickled out and soon Google was calling, asking if it could advertise the session at the bottom of other Hangouts, then on YouTube ads. “Suddenly 15,000 people were watching the Secretary live — that’s by far largest number we’d seen. We felt we’d tapped into something, we knew we’d hit success at what was a challenging time. We were engaging the public and could join with them to communicate a set of questions. People want to ask questions and get very direct answers, and we know it’s a success. We’ve talked to Google about how we can replicate that. We want to transform what we’re doing to make that the norm.”
Secretary of State John Kerry is, Whelan told Wired.co.uk later, “game for anything” when it comes to social media — and having the department leader enthused at the prospect of taking digital diplomacy forward is obviously key to its success.
“He wanted us to get on Instagram and the unselfie meme during the Philippines crisis was his idea — an assistant had seen it and he held a paper in front of him with the URL to donate funds to Typhoon Haiyan victims,” Whelan told Wired.co.uk at the Stockholm diplohack.  “President Obama came in with a mandate that social media would be present and pronounced in all our departments.”
“[As] government changes and is more influenced away from old paper models and newspapers, suspenders and bow ties, and more into young innovators wanting to come in and change things,” Whelan continued, “I think it will change the way we work and help us get smarter.”

Sharing and Caring


Tom Slee: “A new wave of technology companies claims to be expanding the possibilities of sharing and collaboration, and is clashing with established industries such as hospitality and transit. These companies make up what is being called the “sharing economy”: they provide web sites and applications through which individual residents or drivers can offer to “share” their apartment or car with a guest, for a price.
The industries they threaten have long been subject to city-level consumer protection and zoning regulations, but sharing economy advocates claim that these rules are rendered obsolete by the Internet. Battle lines are being drawn between the new companies and city governments. Where’s a good leftist to stand in all of this?
To figure this out, we need to look at the nature of the sharing economy. Some would say it fits squarely into an ideology of unregulated free markets, as described recently by David Golumbia here in Jacobin. Others note that the people involved in American technology industries lean liberal. There’s also a clear Euro/American split in the sharing economy: while the Americans are entrepreneurial and commercial in the way they drive the initiative, the Europeans focus more on the civic, the collaborative, and the non-commercial.
The sharing economy invokes values familiar to many on the Left: decentralization, sustainability, community-level connectedness, and opposition to hierarchical and rigid regulatory regimes, seen mostly clearly in the movement’s bible What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers. It’s the language of co-operatives and of civic groups.
There’s a definite green slant to the movement, too: ideas of “sharing rather than owning” make appeals to sustainability, and the language of sharing also appeals to anti-consumerist sentiments popular on the Left: property and consumption do not make us happy, and we should put aside the pursuit of possessions in favour of connections and experiences. All of which leads us to ideas of community: the sharing economy invokes images of neighbourhoods, villages, and “human-scale” interactions. Instead of buying from a mega-store, we get to share with neighbours.
These ideals have been around for centuries, but the Internet has given them a new slant. An influential line of thought emphasizes that the web lowers the “transaction costs” of group formation and collaboration. The key text is Yochai Benkler’s 2006 book The Wealth of Networks, which argues that the Internet brings with it an alternative style of economic production: networked rather than managed, self-organized rather than ordered. It’s a language associated strongly with both the Left (who see it as an alternative to monopoly capital), and the free-market libertarian right (who see it as an alternative to the state).
Clay Shirky’s 2008 book Here Comes Everybody popularized the ideas further, and in 2012 Steven Johnson announced the appearance of the “Peer Progressive” in his book Future Perfect. The idea of internet-enabled collaboration in the “real” world is a next step from online collaboration in the form of open source software, open government data, and Wikipedia, and the sharing economy is its manifestation.
As with all things technological, there’s an additional angle: the involvement of capital…”

Video: Should Politicians Be More Like Silicon Valley Entrepreneurs?


“Should all politicians have to launch a startup before entering politics? That’s the question I asked California’s Lieutenant Governor, Gavin Newsom, at the latest Ericsson and AT&T hosted FutureCast event held at the AT&T Foundry in Palo Alto. Newsom, the author of “Citizenville,” a kind of digital manifesto for 21st century networked politics, didn’t beat around the bush.
“Yes,” Newsom replied, sounding more like a startup guy than a career politician. But then that’s what Newsom is. A serial entrepreneur who treats politics like a Silicon Valley startup, Newsom is about as unlike a traditional politician as anyone in California, particularly since he answers questions honestly. “Are you saying that government doesn’t work?” I asked the second most powerful state politician in California. “I’m saying technology and government doesn’t work–period, exclamation,” Newsom shot back.”

Predictive Modeling With Big Data: Is Bigger Really Better?


New Paper by Junqué de Fortuny, Enric, Martens, David, and Provost, Foster in Big Data :“With the increasingly widespread collection and processing of “big data,” there is natural interest in using these data assets to improve decision making. One of the best understood ways to use data to improve decision making is via predictive analytics. An important, open question is: to what extent do larger data actually lead to better predictive models? In this article we empirically demonstrate that when predictive models are built from sparse, fine-grained data—such as data on low-level human behavior—we continue to see marginal increases in predictive performance even to very large scale. The empirical results are based on data drawn from nine different predictive modeling applications, from book reviews to banking transactions. This study provides a clear illustration that larger data indeed can be more valuable assets for predictive analytics. This implies that institutions with larger data assets—plus the skill to take advantage of them—potentially can obtain substantial competitive advantage over institutions without such access or skill. Moreover, the results suggest that it is worthwhile for companies with access to such fine-grained data, in the context of a key predictive task, to gather both more data instances and more possible data features. As an additional contribution, we introduce an implementation of the multivariate Bernoulli Naïve Bayes algorithm that can scale to massive, sparse data.”