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The Age of Misinformation October 18, 2010

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Alas, here I am after months of avoiding blogging. The problem is that my head has been way too caught up with personal matters. But more recently I find myself time and time again consumed with anger during routine Google searches and so it is that I turn to the more savvy netizens (our fickle and fleeting reader base?) to uphold and support my cause–the death of Yahoo! Answers.

As a librarian and self-declared “information specialist” I have no problem admitting that I frequently turn to Wikipedia. While it is certainly no Encyclopedia Britannica, there are references that one can check. So when Wikipedia is returned by Google as the first or second hit, I can deal with it.

However, when Yahoo! Answers is returned in the first page of results (as it increasingly is) I wince inside, and then click on it. I can’t help it. It’s like driving past an accident; you can’t help but look. Not only have I found numerous highly-biased erroneous answers voted “best” by fellow commenters, but the subject matter of the questions concerns me even more. As a pregnant woman who often uses the internet to find quick answers (knowing, of course, that calling the doctor is the best and final way to go), I am shocked by how many people ask crucial, health-related questions.

What are the requirements for people submitting answers? There are none. And to add insult to injury, Yahoo! supplements answers with responses from their “Knowledge Partners”, aka corporate sponsors. As much as we librarians and savvier internet users try to stress the inaccuracy and dubiousness of such sites to our more trusting friends, we are often shrugged off as fuddy-duddy Luddites (have I mentioned I’m 27 by the way?). At the risk of sounding like a sensationalist, isn’t this just another step (or large leap) in the “dumbing down” of our country? I plead with you, as a fellow American, don’t click on Yahoo! Answers; don’t support it. And maybe someday in the not-so-distant-future it will just be a bad memory!

Blogger Burnout and How the iPad Could Save Us All April 7, 2010

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As you may or may not have noticed, I have been recently shirking my posting duties, remaining far from the blogosphere in general for the last few weeks. Something happened to which I cannot quite point my finger. Call it the late-Winter doldrums, the bursting of Spring, or just being overworked–I find that the less I have to think these days, the better. While I once checked Twitter fanatically, I have not even signed on (nor desire to sign on) in weeks. So imagine my surprise when I reluctantly returned to one of my favorite blogs - Shapely Prose – and found that founder, die-hard blogger and technocrat, Kate Harding, was suffering from exactly the same sentiments.

Blogger Burnout Conceptualized (from gelaskins.com)

What first drew me to her post was its alluring first line about the purchase of an iPad. Being a member of the I-think-I’m-better-than-you-because-I-have-a-Mac team, I am very interested in any new review of Apple’s latest product, especially now that the fanfare has subsided and voices of both Apple lovers and haters have relented. And what I found most refreshing about Harding’s post was its honesty. The iPad is not an ideal medium for work, nor for interacting with the media found on the web, according to Harding. But, the iPad is ideal for consuming media–photos, videos, television shows, music, etc. And because it is not as effortless to comment on articles, blogs, etc. as it might be with a netbook, the iPad forces us to s l o w  d o w n and digest, something, according to Harding, that we have forgotten to do. And this is why she and I have both suffered from blogger burnout. Instead of thinking about what we have just read, we were always thinking of how to comment, how to create a post, how to formulate a witty tweet. (Ironic, I know, in that I am doing just that.)

Harding cites an important quote from an iPad review by Laura Miller on Salon.com. Miller warns that our society is in danger of “living in a culture where everyone’s talking and nobody’s listening”.

From gelaskins.com

Well perhaps this was exactly my problem. I work over sixty hours a week and finding time to think even more is beyond exhausting. So I found myself doing exactly what Harding was doing–watching craptastic tv. Like her, my reading and writing, two activities that I used to love, have seriously suffered. That’s why her post touched me so much. But while she hopes to someday take a vacation with an iPad, a gadget that will help her “listen”, I just want a day off to hike through the woods. How’s that for a disconnect?

Visual Impact: Worldmapper.org February 24, 2010

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Not to bombard you with reference resources today, but I stumbled across another great site that will easily keep you occupied for a while. Worldmapper.org provides more than 700 world maps (over half of which are available in PDF form) that showcase various statistics by resizing countries to visually show the impact of such statistics. There are even a few that are animated, and thus display the way the world has changed over a number of years. All of the maps link to excel spreadsheets with detailed statistics as well as sources. The organization is run by a group of college professors. I am going to include some of the most astounding maps below so you can see for yourself what an impact these can have, but make sure to check out the whole list of maps here.

Forest Loss - Click image for more info

Malaria Deaths - click for more info

Research and Development Employees - Click for more info

Nuclear Arms - Click for more info

Dataterrific: Time Travel in TV and Movies Visualized February 19, 2010

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In case you didn’t already know, let’s be clear about something: Information Is Beautiful – especially when it’s collected and displayed by David McCandless (and friends). This graphic can be found in his new book (available now from Amazon.UK) – but he generously has also shared it on his site!

You can find a HUGE version of the image directly on his website.

Early draft sketch

Also, he talks about how he (and his collaborators) went through 36 drafts before arriving at this final version in this post about his data graphing process. It’s incredibly impressive.

We’ve shown you some of McCandless’ work before, but it’s even more fascinating now, knowing how much work goes into the details of an infographic.

What do think? Are you impressed? Any information you think would make a compelling infographic?

(via A.V. Club)

Chinese Censorship Visualized February 12, 2010

Posted by pupfiction in InformationIssues.
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Google’s fall out with China that dominated headlines in mid-January was a reminder to everyone that access to information is an important part of democracy and a free society. Google’s agreement, to block certain sites within China, is a hallmark in our technologically-dependent world and should not go without discussion.  This amazing infographic from Informationisbeautiful.net displays the keywords and websites blocked in China. Some of the things that stuck out to me were: nhl.com, YouTube, democracy.com, digg.com –I mean, what are these people doing at work? Being productive? All kidding aside, this graphic is an important reminder as to why we should continually fight for free and open access to information.

Check out the annotated version on the Guardian datablog here.

Information is Power, But Do We Want Everyone to Have Power? February 2, 2010

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Sir Francis Bacon first said that, “knowledge is power”. And if knowledge can be equated with information then people have never had as much power as they have now. Information is everywhere and proliferating at an exponential rate. Information can be used for good or ill. It can be used to create a weapon, produce and disseminate illegal drugs, or unleash biological weapons. It can be used to learn about our environment, our bodies, and to help us understand how to live peacefully by not repeating history’s mistakes. These are ideas we have all grown up with. They are trite, but true. For thousands of years information was withheld from certain classes; it was the privilege of the rich to be educated and literate. Even libraries, for many years, were elitist clubs, the membership paid by its rich clientele. Nowadays we believe we have a right to information. We demand it both from our government (i.e. the Freedom of Information Act), our banks, our credit cards, even commercials whose disclaimers have grown to laughable lengths. We crave this access to information because we know it protects us. But what if this transparency has its downfalls? What if this transparency gives not only terrorists the power to fly commercial airliners but enables “a crippling attack on computer and telecommunications networks”, as the New York Times reports intelligence agents told lawmakers yesterday, stating that “an increasingly sophisticated group of enemies has ‘severely threatened’ the sometimes fragile systems undergirding the country’s information systems.” New Scientist, in mid-January published an article expounding the same fears. With its usual alarmist gusto, New Scientist asked, “Are we in danger of knowing too much?”, citing specific examples of public knowledge that could be used in catastrophically fatal ways, such as the publishing of a virus’s genome.

A t-shirt design from cafepress.com

While the New York Times and New Scientist ask these seemingly novel questions, these are the exact questions we have been asked to mull over and debate in library school. I particularly remember one class where the professor asked us if a public library should carry “The Anarchist Cookbook.” Being the militant liberals we are, we mostly agreed that the it was the duty of the public library to carry such a book and furthermore, that librarians should not question those who borrow it.  Perhaps you don’t agree with my argument and that of Francis Bacon. Perhaps you think books are innocuous. Then why then did the Patriot Act “expand[ed] the authority of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and law enforcement to gain access to… library records, including stored electronic data and communications” (ala.org). And why have most libraries, since the inception of the act, changed their databases to automatically erase the records of their patrons? Who are we? Potential terrorist sympathizers or the militant guardians of free and equal access to information? In the world of 2010 are we the enemies or the last bastions of intellectual freedom? What do you think?

Latest Banned Book: the Dictionary January 27, 2010

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No, it’s not April Fool’s Day. I am serious. Southern California schools have banned Merriam Webster’s 10th edition dictionary for its “sexually graphic” description of oral sex. Last time I checked, it was the purpose of the dictionary to describe things as graphically as possible. And “sexually”, um…yeah…it’s a definition of oral sex. Can’t see how they could have gotten around that one…

Read the whole article from the Guardian here.

Augmented Reality: Enlightening or Aesthetic? January 25, 2010

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Though I’ve been living an augmented reality most of my life, turns out you can download augmented reality apps for use on mobile devices as well. So what’s all the hype about? And are these apps really providing information that we couldn’t already obtain with other apps and reformatting them in more aesthetically pleasing ways? Tell me what you think after you watch the video below.

Stop Freaking Out and Head to the Library! January 20, 2010

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Okay, so you’ve probably heard by now that the New York Times is going to start charging for (frequent) access in 2011. Take a deep breath, relax; it’s all going to be okay. You’ve actually been paying for the New York Times this whole time –with your taxes. Almost all public libraries have a subscription to a database that covers the New York Times. And even if they don’t, most local colleges allow people to have a visitor pass or use the databases on campus. And now that we are in the 21st century you don’t even have to get in your car and drive to the library – you can access the newspapers you’ve been paying for this whole time right from your desktop. And if you’re still moping about changes to access, remember that changes like these allow struggling publications to remain in existence. Obviously the Times wouldn’t charge for access if it could afford not to.

New Yorkers – your access is right here.

Access to Research: Overcoming Barriers Report December 17, 2009

Posted by dataduchess in InformationIssues.
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We have talked about access to information in the past, and the frustration of known but inaccessible information.

A recent report from the Resource Information Network, Overcoming Barriers: Access to Research Information, reaches the same conclusions as those of us who do research (in any field) have already experienced:

The report’s key finding is that access is still a major concern for researchers. Although researchers report having no problems finding content in this age of electronic information, gaining access is another matter due to the complexity of licensing arrangements, restrictions placed on researchers accessing content outside of their own institution and the laws protecting public and private sector information. This means that research into important information resources can be missing. Researchers report that they are frustrated by this lack of immediate access and that this slows their progress, hinders collaborative work and may well affect the quality and integrity of work produced.

The full report is available here or you can download it here.

(via and via)

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