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Open Data and a Critical Citizenry 50

Posted by Soulskill
from the next-step-in-literacy dept.
Last week we discussed news that the UK government had released a treasure trove of public spending data. Charles Arthur, the Guardian's technology editor, wrote at the time how crucial it was for citizens to find ways to examine and interpret the data; otherwise it would be useless. Now, an anonymous reader sends in a response from open data activist David Eaves, who takes it a step further. He writes, "We need a data-literate citizenry, not just a small elite of hackers and policy wonks. And the best way to cultivate that broad-based literacy is not to release in small or measured quantities, but to flood us with data. To provide thousands of niches that will interest people in learning, playing and working with open data. ... It is worth remembering: We didn’t build libraries for an already literate citizenry. We built libraries to help citizens become literate. Today we build open data portals not because we have a data or public policy literate citizenry, we build them so that citizens may become literate in data, visualization, coding and public policy."
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Open Data and a Critical Citizenry

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  • All true, but (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by tuomoks (246421)

    All true, but we didn't publish books in sanskrit or any other proprietary language! So, the information should be in open format, available for all, not just for some with a, usually very expensive, proprietary tool or toy!

  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Friday June 11, 2010 @06:21PM (#32543220)

    We need a data-literate citizenry, not just a small elite [group] of hackers...

    You aren't going to get that, because what you're talking about is citizen-to-citizen education. Hackers do that already amongst themselves, and as a result they are constantly watched by the government and often viewed as a threat to the state. The government only wants people educated to a certain level -- that level being whatever is necessary so they can become a wage slave. Anything more than that, and you're abnormal, and therefore a threat.

    You'll never have a data-literate citizentry, because you'll never have a government that wants citizens to be capable of independent thought, critical thinking, and access to the facts and circumstances in realtime (or even a reasonable time) because that's a security risk. All that data being released without form or processing ability is not to help you, it's to overwhelmn you and divide you to the point where no criticism can be effectively leveraged against the government because it's simply too large, too entrenched, to make any form of protest useful.

    • Quit being so damned negative!

      Many people teach themselves all kinds of extraordinary talents these day. Have you looked around youtube recently? You don't have to be a geek to be interested in learning after college age.

      Examples from just one subject:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLCsKGRniGY&feature=fvst [youtube.com]
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_WkEKb4Ukzs&feature=fvst [youtube.com]

      I for one, assumed all of this data would be owned and sold by companies, making it scarce. Today's business runs on information, though.

      Where

    • We haven't gotten to get that yet, because what you're talking about is citizen-to-citizen education. Hackers do that already amongst themselves, and as a result they are constantly watched by the government and often viewed as a threat to the state. The government only wants people educated to a certain level -- that level being whatever is necessary so they can become a wage slave. Anything more than that, and you're abnormal, and therefore a threat.

      We don't yet have a data-literate citizentry, because we

      • We are in a world without precedent. While I share girlintrainings's skepticism and understand the point, I don't write off the capability of citizens to make the world and the government a better place.

        THE WEB IS 17 YEARS OLD. Give it time.

        Her point exactly. Would you say that world governments as a whole are heading towards less or more restriction of the internet? Yeah, [webpronews.com] I [wikipedia.org] thought [theinquirer.net] so. [onthemedia.org]

        And much of the censorship apparatus is being manufactured by...yep, you guessed it...Americans.

    • by maxume (22995)

      It really doesn't make any sense to claim to care about what happens to people when you have so little respect for them.

    • by dr2chase (653338)
      No government conspiracy required. People like their ruts, and will pick and choose the data that supports their opinions, and come up with silly-ass reasons to ignore contrary data. Their "reasoning" (to use the word loosely) exists to help ward off the cognitive dissonance in their own head, not to convince anyone else.

      So, for example, in Massachusetts, school spending is measured exactly thus-and-so, by state law. And people who want to believe that a school system is wasting money, they will simpl
  • Yeah... ok.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by werewolf1031 (869837) on Friday June 11, 2010 @06:21PM (#32543224)

    Today we build open data portals not because we have a data or public policy literate citizenry, we build them so that citizens may become literate in data, visualization, coding and public policy.

    Good luck with that, because the painful truth is that the average pop-media-junky, marketing-spoon-fed citizen is resistant to learning as a general course. I've known so many people - adults, mind you - who honestly believe they simply can't learn new things, especially things of any sort of technical nature, be it computer-related, math-related, or what have you. It makes me sad, but there it is.

    • Don't even get me started.

      I have a friend who is so incredibly opposed to reading that it annoys him when I put subtitles on.

      I have another who is reconsidering his decision of going to university this fall because he doesn't think he'll be able to do Calculus, since he forgot most of his high school math. It's not like it'd be that bad to take a refresher course.

      I get people at work who ignore me when I try to show them how to take a screenshot and/or copy and paste an error message, because they believe i

      • by X0563511 (793323)

        The people I know who hate subtitles don't hate them because of reading... there are two reasons that I've seen:

        1. If they understand the spoken language, it's distracting. Most of us see text, and the eye is drawn to it to read. This hampers immersion.
        2. If they don't understand it, they spend time reading the subtitle and less time watching what is actually going on. This hampers immersion.

        The commonality between both of these: It hampers immersion.

        • by X0563511 (793323)

          Well, to reply to myself after some though...

          I should mention the people I associate with brighter than average. I don't socialize with idiots, and I'm lucky to have an intelligent family.

      • by tuomoks (246421)

        Well, you got me started, maybe I have too much time now? And I don't want to get you feel more desperate - it doesn't help. And even I haven't given up yet finding people who really, really love the life and learning - it's just hard and frustrating sometimes.

        Now, half retired, in a foreign country with some(!) expats I can tell that opposing learning is not age depend! But so isn't learning - some over 80 (some way over!) know more and learn faster than some of my developers over years, and they were 1/3t

    • by migla (1099771)

      On the other hand, more and more people are finding more information and affiliations all over the world.

      While the pop-media and marketing stranglehold on mainstream culture is depressing, the opposition is growing too. Looking at "pop-media" and "marketing-spoon-fed citizens", things are and have been getting worse for decades, but at the same time, they are getting better.

      I don't know if will take decades yet for critical thinking to reach critical mass, but I can't see the progress of humankind declining

    • by Lord Grey (463613) *

      Good luck with that, because the painful truth is that the average pop-media-junky, marketing-spoon-fed citizen is resistant to learning as a general course. I've known so many people - adults, mind you - who honestly believe they simply can't learn new things, especially things of any sort of technical nature, be it computer-related, math-related, or what have you. It makes me sad, but there it is.

      What you say is, unfortunately, true in the general sense. The average person dislikes learning new stuff for a myriad of reasons. But this line from the summary:

      To provide thousands of niches that will interest people in learning, playing and working with open data.

      I don't think "people" meant all people or the average person. I think it really means, "more than the few who are doing it now." There's always a certain percentage of a population that likes poking around with virtually any topic you could name. If you expand that population, then more people will get involved. That could -- but not nece

  • It's impossible to ever have a data literate citizenship because data is interpreted by religion. It's interpreted by religion because people aren't naturally reasonable and don't do whats in their individual self interest.

    An example, if the sexual behavior of every human being in the USA were released what would be the response by the general public? If you want to predict the response look at the response to homosexuality.

    Another example, if nobody in the USA had any secret from anyone else what would be

    • It's impossible to ever have a data literate citizenship because data is interpreted by religion. It's interpreted by religion because people aren't naturally reasonable and don't do whats in their individual self interest.

      An example, if the sexual behavior of every human being in the USA were released what would be the response by the general public? If you want to predict the response look at the response to homosexuality.

      Another example, if nobody in the USA had any secret from anyone else what would be the result?

      If you are a jew are you comfortable with neo-nazi's having your medical records? If you are muslim are you comfortable with jews having access to your medical history? If you are anyone are you comfortable with everyone having access to every dumb thing you've said or done in your entire life?

      Sure they wont be as much blackmail going on, instead people will be getting killed for who they are and with unlimited information it's much easier to make the lists.

      The sexual behavior of humans was released in the Kinsey books. It offended many people. Medical records are not suggested as an open source item, the data is too personal. You are taking it a bit too far, they are only suggesting making a massive amount of public data available. It would specifically identify your credit card purchases, just the fact that Y people spent X amount over Z time on A things.

      • ... wouldnt^ specifically identify your credit card purchases ...
      • By making the data available, it allows for easy connections of said data.

        Connecting a bunch of innocuous sets of data can create a story line about a person - you would know everything about them.

        Here in the States: It's amazing what you tell about an individual just from their credit report. Add in Lexus-Nexus and I'll know just about everything about you.

        Everyone has something to hide and for good reason.

        People are cruel, shallow and small minded.

      • If we knew for sure the data being datamined on facebook were anonymous and would forever remain anonymous thats one thing but when you have peoples names and identities attached to this data it moves beyond the realm of statistical analysis and scientific research and into the realm of religious judgement and criminal persecutions.

        What you end up with is witch-hunting, banning of certain behaviors, hatred of larges groups of individuals who think a certain way, and general cultural bigotry.

        How can you trus

      • by elucido (870205)

        It's impossible to ever have a data literate citizenship because data is interpreted by religion. It's interpreted by religion because people aren't naturally reasonable and don't do whats in their individual self interest.

        An example, if the sexual behavior of every human being in the USA were released what would be the response by the general public? If you want to predict the response look at the response to homosexuality.

        Another example, if nobody in the USA had any secret from anyone else what would be the result?

        If you are a jew are you comfortable with neo-nazi's having your medical records? If you are muslim are you comfortable with jews having access to your medical history? If you are anyone are you comfortable with everyone having access to every dumb thing you've said or done in your entire life?

        Sure they wont be as much blackmail going on, instead people will be getting killed for who they are and with unlimited information it's much easier to make the lists.

        The sexual behavior of humans was released in the Kinsey books. It offended many people.

        Medical records are not suggested as an open source item, the data is too personal.

        You are taking it a bit too far, they are only suggesting making a massive amount of public data available. It would specifically identify your credit card purchases, just the fact that Y people spent X amount over Z time on A things.

        Unfortunately your medical records aren't as secret as you think. When you search for certain terms on Google or buy certain things on amazon the spyware, adware, and other products track where you go, what you look at, and somewhere somebody knows at least some of your medical vulnerabilities. These individuals are running privately controlled corporations which may be controlled by foreign entities with no regard for the Constitution or your rights. This information can be sold to anybody for any reason o

      • by X0563511 (793323)

        What's this "Kinsey books" ? More information is requested :)

    • what he said.
    • Cool post! Mind if I share it with my friends on facebook?

      (And goddammit, why do I use facebook? ... sigh ...)

  • Too bad most of the population doesn't even grasp basic tactics used to manipulate the representation of data. The most common ones being:
    -cherry picking
    -disproportionately small samples sizes
    -no idea of what a confidence interval is
    -the fallacy of appealing to tradition/religion/celebrity-endorsement/belief
    -the inability to distinguish between science and psuedo/junk-science
    -or that, GASP, correlation does not imply causation


    This is a simple combination of common sense and critical thinking, which
    • by Ashriel (1457949)

      Wow, where did you go to school? Wherever it was, consider yourself lucky. While I don't remember much about my early school years (I spent most of the time either sitting in the back reading, or skipping class altogether), I'm pretty sure critical thinking skills weren't a part of it. Where I went to school, you either had critical thinking skills, or you (most likely) didn't. No one taught them (who wants children that can think for themselves?).

      • I went to school in a smaller town based around a farming-type community. Not quite the burbs, but still small-townish. I was fortunate enough that my teacher was very passionate about what he taught. Two days after we started learning plotting simple graphs, he showed how zooming in could be used to to deceive. Small things here and there that accumulated over time.
    • They don't teach critical thinking in school anymore.

      The ideologues in charge of modern education don't want children thinking critically about their indoctrination. That would hamper the programming.
  • Unfortunately, here in the US 99% of the population isn't interested in becoming really "literate". They are happy to watch NASCAR events and American Idol on TV, read People magazine and the Weekly World News and not much else.

    The Internet is specifically for playing games, forwarding hoax emails and for building up a self-reinforcing attitude of superiority by reading blogs from people suffering from "Extreme Ego Syndrome" or EES. It used to be that in person when encountering someone with EES you would

  • If you lack logic and mathematics skills and have no real understanding of scientific method, to say nothing of broader and deeper general education than you are likely to get in American schools, all the data in the world won't help you. We are decades past the point when an average person with an average education and no particular motivation to constantly self-educate can understand the world around them, much less make coherent policy decisions.

    We have reached the point when we must either commit to muc

  • The more data you flood people with, the less likely it is that they will look at any of it. At best, they will pick an agency (one that agrees with their prejudices and preconceived notions) to aggregate, collate, and boil down that data into short bites that have little relation to the meaning of the original data.

    At worst, they will be overwhelmed to the point where they simply ignore most of it.

    Example of the latter: at my job, I receive about 150 work-related emails a day, even on my weekends.
  • Could we please have the same flood of open data for China, in the hope that we might reveal the secrets of their blooming economy?

  • Of course I meant quality, but it was a typo. Anyone searching for "quality" in the subject field would not find it. There is a huge amount of "dirty data" out there. In addition 2 organization, even in the same building; part of the same department or work group; Ofen record things differently or have conflicting information.

    How do we find the inforation and insure it is correct?Quality must
    be addressed before releasing data.

  • Take Facebook.. due to the flood of usage and forcing people to use what is a *web app* as opposed to just a web site/blog, I think it's made a lot of people becomes more web-savvy and aware of things like "settings".

    In that way, I think FB has, however inadvertently, done the general public a great service. It's also, inadvertently, made people think more about "technology issues" like privacy and security, and what "data" actually means.

  • with informative article titles like Bing Gets A Foursquare Badge For The World Cup With Thrillist Tips [techcrunch.com]

    I read the article and still don't know what it means.

  • To most people, money works kind of like this:
    $1,$10,$100,$1000,$10,000,$100,000,$gazillions and gazillions

    This leads to insane election results, where an incumbent government is kicked out
    because the documentation was missing on $ 3 million (i.e. $ 3 gazillion) in government spending, on some
    insignificant program, when the government was managing a $150 billion annual budget.
    The unaccounted for amount was 1 / 50,000 (=0.002%) of the budget being managed.

    (This actually happened in Canada).

    Or, when asked wh

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