Medical Care, Aided by the Crowd

New York Times profile of a new crowdsourced service: “Watsi, which started last August, lets people donate as little as $5 toward low-cost, high-impact medical treatment for patients in third-world countries. The procedures range from relatively simple ones like fixing a broken limb to more complicated surgery — say, to remove an eye tumor. But the treatments generally have a high likelihood of success and don’t involve multiple operations or long-term care… Watsi represents the next generation of charities dependent on online donors, evolving the model started by sites like Kiva. With just a few mouse clicks, Kiva users, say, are able to lend money to a restaurant owner in the Philippines — and to examine her loan proposal and repayment schedule, to read about her and see her photograph.”

Translating public health into media

Jina Moore in the Columbia Journalism Review on the fifth “Envision” conference, convened by the UN’s Department of Public Information, the Independent Film Project, and Social Good Summit Partners: “These days, there’s lots of interest among the do-gooding world—nonprofits or NGOs, private foundations and public agencies—in how to use media. Partners in Health, to name just one big public health player, regularly uses videos and storytelling in its fundraising campaigns and on its website. So Envision’s focus on getting storytellers to understand and raise awareness about public health issues isn’t exactly new. The question is, is it useful?”

America’s problem is not political gridlock

Larry Summers in the Financial Times: “The great mistake of the gridlock theorists is to suppose that all progress comes from legislation and that more legislation consistently represents more progress. While these are seen as years of gridlock, consider what has happened in the past five years…None of this is to say that the US does not face huge challenges. But these are not due to structural obstacles. They are about finding solutions to problems such as rising inequality and climate change – where we do not quite know the way forward. This is not a problem of gridlock – it is a problem of vision.”

Internet Security and Networked Governance in International Relations

Paper by M Mueller, A Schmidt, B Kuerbis in International Studies Review: “This paper asks whether the Internet’s heavy reliance on nonhierarchical, networked forms of governance is compatible with growing concerns about cyber-security from traditional state actors. Networked governance is defined as a semipermanent, voluntary negotiation system that allows interdependent actors to opt for collaboration or unilateral action in the absence of an overarching authority. Two case studies—Internet routing security and the response to a large-scale botnet known as Conficker—show the prevalence of networked governance on the Internet and provide insight into its strengths and limitations. The paper concludes that both cases raise doubts about the claim that introducing security concerns into Internet governance necessarily leads to more hierarchy and/or a greater role for governments.”

Seeing is believing

Christopher Caldwell in the Financial Times , reviewing the new book of film academic Stephen Apkon called The Age of the Image , argues that “The written word is becoming the language of a scholarly establishment”:
“Until recently, it was the essence of statesmanship, scholarship and justice to purge strong emotion from our deliberations. Images today, though, are so plentiful and sharp that they dominate our thought processes. Although Mr Apkon relishes the immediacy of YouTube, he fears that political advertisers will soon be able to craft stories around “hidden mental hungers”, easily manipulating voters.
Citizens tend to think about voting in one of two ways. First, you base your vote on your identity. You are a farmer, so you choose the candidate best disposed towards farmers. The second theory is that you vote on arguments, independent of identity. You believe a sales tax should replace income tax, so you vote for the candidate who shares that opinion. But today’s image-based communication has little to do with identity or arguments. It has to do with the lowest-common-denominator traits that mark you as a human animal.”

Hacktivists as Gadflies

Peter Ludlow, professor of philosophy at Northwestern University, in the New York Times: “Hacktivists, roughly speaking, are individuals who redeploy and repurpose technology for social causes….For some reason, it seems that the government considers hackers who are out to line their pockets less of a threat than those who are trying to make a political point….The law, as interpreted by the prosecutors, makes it a felony to use a computer system for “unintended” applications, or even violate a terms-of-service agreement. That would theoretically make a felon out of anyone who lied about their age or weight on…In a world in which nearly everyone is technically a felon, we rely on the good judgment of prosecutors to decide who should be targets and how hard the law should come down on them. We have thus entered a legal reality not so different from that faced by Socrates when the Thirty Tyrants ruled Athens, and it is a dangerous one. When everyone is guilty of something, those most harshly prosecuted tend to be the ones that are challenging the established order, poking fun at the authorities, speaking truth to power — in other words, the gadflies of our society.”

Vision for Citizen Engagement

From Development Gateway on their “Vision for Citizen Engagement”: “As governments become more open they are producing more open data about their activities. Yet open data is just a “gateway drug” toward more participatory governance. We need to focus on the ecosystem that surrounds such tools to get citizens “hooked” on the power of open data to effect the changes that are relevant to their day-to-day challenges…. The key to Open Data adoption is relevance and context. What data will citizens find relevant? And how they will use that relevant data to improve their lives?…
We believe that an informed and engaged citizenry and civil society, using the tools of Open Data, can improve development outcomes in partnership with their governments.
To find out what matters to citizens, civil society, technologists, and governments, we need to bring them together in “safe” public venues where they can identify development challenges and create lasting solutions together face-to-face. For citizens, governments, and civil society, this can be traditional community centers like libraries, schools, universities and places of worship.
For technologists, co-working spaces like the “Hubs” and “Labs” that are emerging around the world are bringing excitement and attention to development challenges. DG took a slightly different approach than others. We reinvented our working environment, opening up our office space and inviting over sixteen other organizations to form the new OpenGov Hub. With almost daily events mixing citizens, governments, and civil society with technologists, we are beginning to see significant increased collaboration and innovation.”

Map of the internet could make it stronger

From the Scientist: “In many ways the internet is like another country. It has its own communities, cultures and even currency. But its infrastructure – the fibre optic cables that span the globe, and the thousands of buildings housing servers and routers – passes through almost every nation…. Previous attempts to map the internet have been from within, using “sniffer” software to report the IP addresses of devices visited along a particular route, which, in theory, can then be translated into geographical locations. But this approach doesn’t work,… Barford and Roughan head up two separate projects that are attempting to change that. Instead of relying on sniffers, they are scouring ISP databases to find published information about local networks, and piecing these together into a global map. Roughan’s Internet Topology Zoo is a growing collection of maps of individual networks. Barford’s Internet Atlas expands on this, adding crucial buildings and links between networks to flesh out the map. So far the Internet Atlas, perhaps the most comprehensive map of the physical internet, maps 10,000 such structures and 13,000 connections.”