Trust and Mistrust in Americans’ Views of Scientific Experts


Report by the Pew Research Center: “In an era when science and politics often appear to collide, public confidence in scientists is on the upswing, and six-inten Americans say scientists should play an active role in policy debates about scientific
issues, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

The survey finds public confidence in scientists on par with confidence in the military. It also exceeds the levels of public confidence in other groups and institutions, including the media, business leaders and elected officials.

At the same time, Americans are divided along party lines in terms of how they view the value and objectivity of scientists and their ability to act in the public interest. And, while political divides do not carry over to views of all scientists and scientific issues, there are particularly sizable gaps between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to trust in scientists whose work is related to the environment.

Higher levels of familiarity with the work of scientists are associated with more positive and more trusting views of scientists regarding their competence, credibility and commitment to the public, the survey shows….(More)”.

De-risking custom technology projects


Paper by Robin Carnahan, Randy Hart, and Waldo Jaquith: “Only 13% of large government software projects are successful. State IT projects, in particular, are often challenged because states lack basic knowledge about modern software development, relying on outdated procurement processes.

State governments are increasingly reliant on modern software and hardware to deliver essential services to the public, and the success of any major policy initiative depends on the success of the underlying software infrastructure. Government agencies all confront similar challenges, facing budget and staffing constraints while struggling to modernize legacy technology systems that are out-of-date, inflexible, expensive, and ineffective. Government officials and agencies often rely on the same legacy processes that led to problems in the first place.

The public deserves a government that provides the same world-class technology they get from the commercial marketplace. Trust in government depends on it.

This handbook is designed for executives, budget specialists, legislators, and other “non-technical” decision-makers who fund or oversee state government technology projects. It can help you set these projects up for success by asking the right questions, identifying the right outcomes, and equally important, empowering you with a basic knowledge of the fundamental principles of modern software design.

This handbook also gives you the tools you need to start tackling related problems like:

  • The need to use, maintain, and modernize legacy systems simultaneously
  • Lock-in from legacy commercial arrangements
  • Siloed organizations and risk-averse cultures
  • Long budget cycles that don’t always match modern software design practices
  • Security threats
  • Hiring, staffing, and other resource constraints

This is written specifically for procurement of custom software, but it’s important to recognize that commercial off-the-shelf software (COTS) is often custom and Software as a Service (SaaS) often requires custom code. Once any customization is made, the bulk of this advice in this handbook applies to these commercial offerings. (See “Beware the customized commercial software trap” for details.)

As government leaders, we must be good stewards of public money by demanding easy-to-use, cost-effective, sustainable digital tools for use by the public and civil servants. This handbook will help you do just that….(More)”

For academics, what matters more: journal prestige or readership?


Katie Langin at Science: “With more than 30,000 academic journals now in circulation, academics can have a hard time figuring out where to submit their work for publication. The decision is made all the more difficult by the sky-high pressure of today’s academic environment—including working toward tenure and trying to secure funding, which can depend on a researcher’s publication record. So, what does a researcher prioritize?

According to a new study posted on the bioRxiv preprint server, faculty members say they care most about whether the journal is read by the people they most want to reach—but they think their colleagues care most about journal prestige. Perhaps unsurprisingly, prestige also held more sway for untenured faculty members than for their tenured colleagues.

“I think that it is about the security that comes with being later in your career,” says study co-author Juan Pablo Alperin, an assistant professor in the publishing program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. “It means you can stop worrying so much about the specifics of what is being valued; there’s a lot less at stake.”

According to a different preprint that Alperin and his colleagues posted on PeerJ in April, 40% of research-intensive universities in the United States and Canada explicitly mention that journal impact factors can be considered in promotion and tenure decisions. More likely do so unofficially, with faculty members using journal names on a CV as a kind of shorthand for how “good” a candidate’s publication record is. “You can’t ignore the fact that journal impact factor is a reality that gets looked at,” Alperin says. But some argue that journal prestige and impact factor are overemphasized and harm science, and that academics should focus on the quality of individual work rather than journal-wide metrics. 

In the new study, only 31% of the 338 faculty members who were surveyed—all from U.S. and Canadian institutions and from a variety of disciplines, including 38% in the life and physical sciences and math—said that journal prestige was “very important” to them when deciding where to submit a manuscript. The highest priority was journal readership, which half said was very important. Fewer respondents felt that publication costs (24%) and open access (10%) deserved the highest importance rating.

But, when those same faculty members were asked to assess how their colleagues make the same decision, journal prestige shot to the top of the list, with 43% of faculty members saying that it was very important to their peers when deciding where to submit a manuscript. Only 30% of faculty members thought the same thing about journal readership—a drop of 20 percentage points compared with how faculty members assessed their own motivations….(More)”.

Hacking for Housing: How open data and civic hacking creates wins for housing advocates


Krista Chan at Sunlight: “…Housing advocates have an essential role to play in protecting residents from the consequences of real estate speculation. But they’re often at a significant disadvantage; the real estate lobby has access to a wealth of data and technological expertise. Civic hackers and open data could play an essential role in leveling the playing field.

Civic hackers have facilitated wins for housing advocates by scraping data or submitting FOIA requests where data is not open and creating apps to help advocates gain insights that they can turn into action. 

Hackers at New York City’s Housing Data Coalition created a host of civic apps that identify problematic landlords by exposing owners behind shell companies, or flagging buildings where tenants are at risk of displacement. In a similar vein, Washington DC’s Housing Insights tool aggregates a wide variety of data to help advocates make decisions about affordable housing.

Barriers and opportunities

Today, the degree to which housing data exists, is openly available, and consistently reliable varies widely, even within cities themselves. Cities with robust communities of affordable housing advocacy groups may not be connected to people who can help open data and build usable tools. Even in cities with robust advocacy and civic tech communities, these groups may not know how to work together because of the significant institutional knowledge that’s required to understand how to best support housing advocacy efforts.

In cities where civic hackers have tried to create useful open housing data repositories, similar data cleaning processes have been replicated, such as record linkage of building owners or identification of rent-controlled units. Civic hackers need to take on these data cleaning and “extract, transform, load” (ETL) processes in order to work with the data itself, even if it’s openly available. The Housing Data Coalition has assembled NYC-DB, a tool which builds a postgres database containing a variety of housing related data pertaining to New York City, and Washington DC’s Housing Insights similarly ingests housing data into a postgres database and API for front-end access

Since these tools are open source, civic hackers in a multitude of cities can use existing work to develop their own, locally relevant tools to support local housing advocates….(More)”.

Concerns About Online Data Privacy Span Generations


Internet Innovations Alliance: “Are Millennials okay with the collection and use of their data online because they grew up with the internet?

In an effort to help inform policymakers about the views of Americans across generations on internet privacy, the Internet Innovation Alliance, in partnership with Icon Talks, the Hispanic Technology & Telecommunications Partnership (HTTP), and the Millennial Action Project, commissioned a national study of U.S. consumers who have witnessed a steady stream of online privacy abuses, data misuses, and security breaches in recent years. The survey examined the concerns of U.S. adults—overall and separated by age group, as well as other demographics—regarding the collection and use of personal data and location information by tech and social media companies, including tailoring the online experience, the potential for their personal financial information to be hacked from online tech and social media companies, and the need for a single, national policy addressing consumer data privacy.

Download: “Concerns About Online Data Privacy Span Generations” IIA white paper pdf.

Download: “Consumer Data Privacy Concerns” Civic Science report pdf….(More)”

Trust in Contemporary Society


Book edited by Masamichi Sasaki: “… deals with conceptual, theoretical and social interaction analyses, historical data on societies, national surveys or cross-national comparative studies, and methodological issues related to trust. The authors are from a variety of disciplines: psychology, sociology, political science, organizational studies, history, and philosophy, and from Britain, the United States, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Australia, Germany, and Japan. They bring their vast knowledge from different historical and cultural backgrounds to illuminate contemporary issues of trust and distrust. The socio-cultural perspective of trust is important and increasingly acknowledged as central to trust research. Accordingly, future directions for comparative trust research are also discussed….(More)”.

We Need a New Science of Progress


Patrick Collison and Tyler Cowen in The Atlantic: “In 1861, the American scientist and educator William Barton Rogers published a manifesto calling for a new kind of research institution. Recognizing the “daily increasing proofs of the happy influence of scientific culture on the industry and the civilization of the nations,” and the growing importance of what he called “Industrial Arts,” he proposed a new organization dedicated to practical knowledge. He named it the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Rogers was one of a number of late-19th-century reformers who saw that the United States’ ability to generate progress could be substantially improved. These reformers looked to the successes of the German university models overseas and realized that a combination of focused professorial research and teaching could be a powerful engine for advance in research. Over the course of several decades, the group—Rogers, Charles Eliot, Henry Tappan, George Hale, John D. Rockefeller, and others—founded and restructured many of what are now America’s best universities, including Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Caltech, Johns Hopkins, the University of Chicago, and more. By acting on their understanding, they engaged in a kind of conscious “progress engineering.”

Progress itself is understudied. By “progress,” we mean the combination of economic, technological, scientific, cultural, and organizational advancement that has transformed our lives and raised standards of living over the past couple of centuries. For a number of reasons, there is no broad-based intellectual movement focused on understanding the dynamics of progress, or targeting the deeper goal of speeding it up. We believe that it deserves a dedicated field of study. We suggest inaugurating the discipline of “Progress Studies.”…(More)”

The World Is Complex. Measuring Charity Has to Be Too


Joy Ito at Wired: “If you looked at how many people check books out of libraries these days, you would see failure. Circulation, an obvious measure of success for an institution established to lend books to people, is down. But if you only looked at that figure, you’d miss the fascinating transformation public libraries have undergone in recent years. They’ve taken advantage of grants to become makerspaces, classrooms, research labs for kids, and trusted public spaces in every way possible. Much of the successful funding encouraged creative librarians to experiment and scale when successful, iterating and sharing their learnings with others. If we had focused our funding to increase just the number of books people were borrowing, we would have missed the opportunity to fund and witness these positive changes.

I serve on the boards of the MacArthur Foundation and the Knight Foundation, which have made grants that helped transform our libraries. I’ve also worked over the years with dozens of philanthropists and investors—those who put money into ventures that promise environmental and public health benefits in addition to financial returns. All of us have struggled to measure the effectiveness of grants and investments that seek to benefit the community, the environment, and so forth. My own research interest in the practice of change has converged with the research of those who are trying to quantify this change, and so recently, my colleague Louis Kang and I have begun to analyse the ways in which people are currently measuring impact and perhaps find methods to better measure the impact of these investments….(More)”.

How Can We Use Administrative Data to Prevent Homelessness among Youth Leaving Care?


Article by Naomi Nichols: “In 2017, I was part of a team of people at the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and A Way Home Canada who wrote a policy brief titled, Child Welfare and Youth Homelessness in Canada: A proposal for action. Drawing on the results of the first pan-Canadian survey on youth homelessness, Without a Home: The National Youth Homelessness Surveythe brief focused on the disproportionate number of young people who had been involved with child protection services and then later became homeless. Indeed, 57.8% of homeless youth surveyed reported some type of involvement with child protection services over their lifetime. By comparison, in the general population, only 0.3% of young people receive child welfare service. This means, youth experiencing homelessness are far more likely to report interactions with the child welfare system than young people in the general population. 

Where research reveals systematic patterns of exclusion and neglect – that is, where findings reveal that one group is experiencing disproportionately negative outcomes (relative to the general population) in a particular public sector context – this suggests the need for changes in public policy, programming and practice. Since producing this brief, I have been working with an incredibly talented and passionate McGill undergraduate student (who also happens to be the Vice President of Youth in Care Canada), Arisha Khan. Together, we have been exploring just uses of data to better serve the interests of those young people who depend on the state for their access to basic services (e.g., housing, healthcare and food) as well as their self-efficacy and status as citizens. 

One component of this work revolved around a grant application that has just been funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Data Justice: Fostering equitable data-led strategies to prevent, reduce and end youth homelessness). Another aspect of our work revolved around a policy brief, which we co-wrote and published with the Montreal data-for-good organization, Powered by Data. The brief outlines how a rights-based and custodial approach to administrative data could a) effectively support young people in and leaving care to participate more actively in their transition planning and engage in institutional self-advocacy; and b) enable systemic oversight of intervention implementation and outcomes for young people in and leaving the provincial care system. We produced this brief with the hope that it would be useful to government decision-makers, service providers, researchers, and advocates interested in understanding how institutional data could be used to improve outcomes for youth in and leaving care. In particular, we wanted to explore whether a different orientation to data collection and use in child protection systems could prevent young people from graduating from provincial child welfare systems into homelessness. In addition to this practical concern, we also undertook to think through the ethical and human rights implications of more recent moves towards data-driven service delivery in Canada, focusing on how we might make this move with the best interests of young people in mind. 

As data collection, management and use practices have become more popularresearch is beginning to illuminate how these new monitoring, evaluative and predictive technologies are changing governance processes within and across the public sector, as well as in civil society. ….(More)”.

The New York Times thinks a blockchain could help stamp out fake news


MIT Technology Review: “Blockchain technology is at the core of a new research project the New York Times has launched, aimed at making “the origins of journalistic content clearer to [its] audience.”

The news: The Times has launched what it calls The News Provenance Project, which will experiment with ways to combat misinformation in the news media. The first project will focus on using a blockchain—specifically a platform designed by IBM—to prove that photos are authentic.

Blockchain? Really? Rumors and speculation swirled in March, after CoinDesk reported that the New York Times was looking for someone to help it develop a “blockchain-based proof-of-concept for news publishers.” Though the newspaper removed the job posting after the article came out, apparently it was serious. In a new blog post, project lead Sasha Koren explains that by using a blockchain, “we might in theory provide audiences with a way to determine the source of a photo, or whether it had been edited after it was published.”

Unfulfilled promise: Using a blockchain to prove the authenticity of journalistic content has long been considered a potential application of the technology, but attempts to do it so far haven’t gotten much traction. If the New York Times can develop a compelling application, it has enough influence to change that….(More)”.