Letting the public decide is key to Big Tech regulation


Article by Rana Foroohar: “Complexity is often used to obfuscate. Industries like finance, pharmaceuticals and particularly technology are rife with examples. Just as programmers can encrypt code or strip out metadata to protect the workings of their intellectual property, so insiders — from technologists to economists to lawyers — can defend their business models by using industry jargon and Byzantine explanations of simple concepts in order to obscure things they may not want the public to understand.

That’s why it’s so important that in its second major antitrust case filed against Google, the US Department of Justice last month asked not only that the company break up its advertising business, but that a jury of the people decide whether it must do so. This is extremely unusual for antitrust cases, which are usually decided by a judge.

It is a risky move, since it means that the DoJ’s antitrust division head, Jonathan Kanter, will have to deconstruct the online advertising auction business for lay people. But it’s also quite smart. The federal judges who hear such complex antitrust cases tend to be older, conservative types who are historically more likely to align themselves with large corporations.

As one legal scholar pointed out to me, such judges are reluctant to be seen as people who don’t understand complexity, even when it’s in a realm far outside their own. This may make them more likely to agree with the arguments put forward by expert witnesses — the Nobel laureates who construct auction models, for example — than average people who are willing to admit they simply don’t get it…

There are, of course, risks to policy by populism. Look at Britain’s departure from the EU after the 2016 referendum, which has left the country poorer. But that’s how democracy works. Allowing important decisions over key issues like corporate power and the rules of surveillance capitalism to be made by technocrats behind closed doors also carries dangers. The justice department is quite right that ordinary people should be able to hear the arguments…(More)”.

Citizens’ assemblies: are they the future of democracy?


Article by Eva Talmadge: “…Citizens’ assemblies, a phenomenon that is gaining in popularity around the globe, date back to ancient Athens, where legislative panels, courts and councils were chosen via random selection. In a practice known as sortition, Greek citizens over the age of 30 were enlisted to debate governmental matters from city finances to military strategy. More recently, citizens’ assemblies have convened to hammer out solutions to such issues as homelessness in Los Angeles, the allocation of a $5bn budget in Melbourne, Australia, and the longstanding ban on abortion in Ireland.

In 2017, after meeting over the course of five weekends for deliberation, an Irish citizens’ assembly came up with a recommendation to legalize the procedure. Sixty-six per cent of Irish voters later approved the referendum, ending more than four decades of fruitless political debate.

Modern citizens’ assemblies are typically convened by legislative bodies, which work alongside non-profit groups to reach out to large numbers of citizens at random – sending letters like the one Bajwa received in the mail – then sorting the respondents who express interest according to social and economic factors. The result is a group of people who are randomly selected and reflect the demographics of the population as a whole.

Sortition, a word that might evoke the next chapter in the Hunger Games franchise, offers a revived spin on democracy. Instead of leaving the decision-making up to elected officials, citizens’ assemblies can offer a special interests-free alternative to politics as we know it.

The system is not unlike jury duty. With facilitators in place to provide background information on the issue at hand and encourage everyone’s participation, the group meets over the course of several days to learn about a problem, hear from a range of stakeholders and experts, and come up with recommendations for new legislation…(More)”

Understanding how to build a social licence for using novel linked datasets for planning and research in Kent, Surrey and Sussex: results of deliberative focus groups.


Paper by Elizabeth Ford et al: “Digital programmes in the newly created NHS integrated care boards (ICBs) in the United Kingdom mean that curation and linkage of anonymised patient data is underway in many areas for the first time. In Kent, Surrey and Sussex (KSS), in Southeast England, public health teams want to use these datasets to answer strategic population health questions, but public expectations around use of patient data are unknown….We aimed to engage with citizens of KSS to gather their views and expectations of data linkage and re-use, through deliberative discussions…
We held five 3-hour deliberative focus groups with 79 citizens of KSS, presenting information about potential uses of data, safeguards, and mechanisms for public involvement in governance and decision making about datasets. After each presentation, participants discussed their views in facilitated small groups which were recorded, transcribed and analysed thematically…
The focus groups generated 15 themes representing participants’ views on the benefits, risks and values for safeguarding linked data. Participants largely supported use of patient data to improve health service efficiency and resource management, preventative services and out of hospital care, joined-up services and information flows. Most participants expressed concerns about data accuracy, breaches and hacking, and worried about commercial use of data. They suggested that transparency of data usage through audit trails and clear information about accountability, ensuring data re-use does not perpetuate stigma and discrimination, ongoing, inclusive and valued involvement of the public in dataset decision-making, and a commitment to building trust, would meet their expectations for responsible data use…
Participants were largely favourable about the proposed uses of patient linked datasets but expected a commitment to transparency and public involvement. Findings were mapped to previous tenets of social license and can be used to inform ICB digital programme teams on how to proceed with use of linked datasets in a trustworthy and socially acceptable way…(More)”.

Citizen Participation and Knowledge Support in Urban Public Energy Transition—A Quadruple Helix Perspective


Paper by Peter Nijkamp et al: “Climate change, energy transition needs and the current energy crisis have prompted cities to implement far-reaching changes in public energy supply. The present paper seeks to map out the conditions for sustainable energy provision and use, with a particular view to the role of citizens in a quadruple helix context. Citizen participation is often seen as a sine qua non for a successful local or district energy policy in an urban area but needs due scientific and digital support based on evidence-based knowledge (using proper user-oriented techniques such as Q-analysis). The paper sets out to explore the citizen engagement and knowledge base for drastic energy transitions in the city based on the newly developed “diabolo” model, in which in particular digital tools (e.g., dashboards, digital twins) are proposed as useful tools for the interface between citizens and municipal policy. The approach adopted in this paper is empirically illustrated for local energy policy in the city of Rotterdam…(More)”.

Open-source intelligence is piercing the fog of war in Ukraine


The Economist: “…The rise of open-source intelligenceOSINT to insiders, has transformed the way that people receive news. In the run-up to war, commercial satellite imagery and video footage of Russian convoys on TikTok, a social-media site, allowed journalists and researchers to corroborate Western claims that Russia was preparing an invasion. OSINT even predicted its onset. Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute in California used Google Maps’ road-traffic reports to identify a tell-tale jam on the Russian side of the border at 3:15am on February 24th. “Someone’s on the move”, he tweeted. Less than three hours later Vladimir Putin launched his war.

Satellite imagery still plays a role in tracking the war. During the Kherson offensive, synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) satellites, which can see at night and through clouds, showed Russia building pontoon bridges over the Dnieper river before its retreat from Kherson, boats appearing and disappearing as troops escaped east and, later, Russia’s army building new defensive positions along the M14 highway on the river’s left bank. And when Ukrainian drones struck two air bases deep inside Russia on December 5th, high-resolution satellite images showed the extent of the damage…(More)”.

Social media is too important to be so opaque with its data


Article by Alex González Ormerod: “Over 50 people were killed by the police during demonstrations in Peru. Brazil is reeling from a coup attempt in its capital city. The residents of Culiacán, a city in northern Mexico, still cower in their houses after the army swooped in to arrest a cartel kingpin. Countries across Latin America have kicked off the year with turmoil. 

It is almost a truism to say that the common factor in these events has been the role of social media. Far-right radicals in Brazil were seen to be openly organizing and spreading fake news about electoral fraud on Twitter. Peruvians used TikTok to bear witness to police brutality, preserving it for posterity.

Dealing with the aftermath of the crises, in Culiacán, Sinaloans shared crucial info as to where roadblocks continued to burn, and warned about shootouts in certain neighborhoods. Brazilians opened up Instagram and other social channels to compile photos and other evidence that might help the police bring the Brasília rioters to justice.

These events could be said to have happened online as much as they did offline, yet we know next to nothing about the inner workings of the platforms they occurred on.

People covering these platforms face a common refrain: After reaching out for basic social media data, they will often get a reply saying, “Unfortunately we do not have the information you need at this time.” (This particular quote came from Alberto de Golin, a PR agency representative for TikTok Mexico)…(More)”

Why Europe must embrace participatory policymaking


Article by Alberto Alemanno, Claire Davenport, and Laura Batalla: “Today, Europe faces many threats – from economic uncertainty and war on its eastern borders to the rise of illiberal democracies and popular reactionary politicians.

As Europe recovers from the pandemic and grapples with economic and social unrest, it is at an inflection point; it can either create new spaces to build trust and a sense of shared purpose between citizens and governments, or it can continue to let its democratic institutions erode and distrust grow. 

The scale of such problems requires novel problem-solving and new perspectives, including those from civil society and citizens. Increased opportunities for citizens to engage with policymakers can lend legitimacy and accountability to traditionally ‘opaque’ policymaking processes. The future of the bloc hinges on its ability to not only sustain democratic institutions but to do so with buy-in from constituents.

Yet policymaking in the EU is often understood as a technocratic process that the public finds difficult, if not impossible, to navigate. The Spring 2022 Eurobarometer found that just 53% of respondents believed their voice counts in the EU. The issue is compounded by a lack of political literacy coupled with a dearth of channels for participation or co-creation. 

In parallel, there is a strong desire from citizens to make their voices heard. A January 2022 Special Eurobarometer on the Future of Europe found that 90% of respondents agreed that EU citizens’ voices should be taken more into account during decision-making. The Russian war in Ukraine has strengthened public support for the EU as a whole. According to the Spring 2022 Eurobarometer, 65% of Europeans view EU membership as a good thing. 

This is not to say that the EU has no existing models for citizen engagement. The European Citizens Initiative – a mechanism for petitioning the Commission to propose new laws – is one example of existing infrastructure. There is also an opportunity to build on the success of The Conference on the Future of Europe, a gathering held this past spring that gave citizens the opportunity to contribute policy recommendations and justifications alongside traditional EU policymakers…(More)”

Kid-edited journal pushes scientists for clear writing on complex topics


Article by Mark Johnson: “The reviewer was not impressed with the paper written by Israeli brain researcher Idan Segev and a colleague from Switzerland.

“Professor Idan,” she wrote to Segev. “I didn’t understand anything that you said.”

Segev and co-author Felix Schürmann revised their paper on the Human Brain project, a massive effort seeking to channel all that we know about the mind into a vast computer model. But once again the reviewer sent it back. Still not clear enough. It took a third version to satisfy the reviewer.

“Okay,” said the reviewer, an 11-year-old girl from New York named Abby. “Now I understand.”

Such is the stringent editing process at the online science journal Frontiers for Young Minds, where top scientists, some of them Nobel Prize winners, submit papers on gene-editinggravitational waves and other topics — to demanding reviewers ages 8 through 15.

Launched in 2013, the Lausanne, Switzerland-based publication is coming of age at a moment when skeptical members of the public look to scientists for clear guidance on the coronavirus and on potentially catastrophic climate change, among other issues. At Frontiers for Young Minds, the goal is not just to publish science papers but also to make them accessible to young readers like the reviewers. In doing so, it takes direct aim at a long-standing problem in science — poor communication between professionals and the public.

“Scientists tend to default to their own jargon and don’t think carefully about whether this is a word that the public actually knows,” said Jon Lorsch, director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. “Sometimes to actually explain something you need a sentence as opposed to the one word scientists are using.”

Dense language sends a message “that science is for scientists; that you have to be an ‘intellectual’ to read and understand scientific literature; and that science is not relevant or important for everyday life,” according to a paper published last year in Advances in Physiology Education.

Frontiers for Young Minds, which has drawn nearly 30 million online page views in its nine years, offers a different message on its homepage: “Science for kids, edited by kids.”..(More)”.

Report on the Future of Conferences


Arxiv Report by Steven Fraser and Dennis Mancl: “In 2020, virtual conferences became almost the only alternative to cancellation. Now that the pandemic is subsiding, the pros and cons of virtual conferences need to be reevaluated. In this report, we scrutinize the dynamics and economics of conferences and highlight the history of successful virtual meetings in industry. We also report on the attitudes of conference attendees from an informal survey we ran in spring 2022…(More).

A Comparative Study of Citizen Crowdsourcing Platforms and the Use of Natural Language Processing (NLP) for Effective Participatory Democracy


Paper by Carina Antonia Hallin: ‘The use of crowdsourcing platforms to harness citizen insights for policymaking has gained increasing importance in regional and national policy planning. Participatory democracy using crowdsourcing platforms includes various initiatives, such as generating ideas for new law reforms (Aitamurto and Landemore 2015], economic development, and solving challenges related to how to create inclusive social actions and interventions for better, healthier, and more prosperous local communities (Bentley and Pugalis, 2014). Such case observations, coupled with the increasing prevalence of internet-based communication, point to the real benefits of implementing participatory democracies on a mass scale in which citizens are invited to contribute their ideas, opinions, and deliberations (Salganik and Levy 2015). By adopting collective intelligence platforms, public authorities can harness local knowledge from citizens to find the right ‘policy mix’ and collaborate with citizens and relevant actors in the policymaking processes. This comparative study aims to validate the adoption of collective intelligence and artificial intelligence/natural language processing (NLP) on crowdsourcing platforms for effective participatory democracy and policymaking in local governments. The study compares 15 citizen crowdsourcing platforms, including Natural language Processing (NLP), for policymaking across Europe and the United States. The study offers a framework for working with citizen crowdsourcing platforms and exploring the usefulness of NLP on the platforms for effective participatory democracy…(More)”.