Posts Tagged ‘research’

Librarians of the FUTURE!

August 19, 2009

JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee – although to me that’s always been as meaningless as the acronym) released a slick video recently canvassing opinion and conjecture on what libraries might look like 10 or 20 years down the line:

While I find all the talk about virtual information hubs, networks and the like interesting, I’d always thought librarians of the future were supposed to look like this:

Terminator Librarian WH40K

(from here)


Should science only be funded if it makes money?

February 7, 2009

That’s the question posed by Lord Drayson (UK Government Minister for Science and Innovation) and picked up by the Guardian on Thursday, where it has already generated heated debate:

Should science only be funded if it makes money? | Science |

The responses so far can be largely summed up by “No! Are you joking?!” As someone who works in research funding, I can only shake my head and echo the words of “hungrydoug”: You can’t do applied science if you’ve got no science to apply.

The thing about research, in the true sense of the word, is that you don’t know if it’s going to give you the results you thought you were looking for. So how are you going to judge what will and will not yield a return?

150 = Magic Social Network Number

August 12, 2008

That’s according to Professor Robin Dunbar, who writes a fascinating short article on the link between brain size and social grouping sizes in the British Academy’s latest Review of research. Here’s an extract from “Why Humans aren’t just Great Apes“:

This figure of ~150 appears frequently in many aspects of historical and contemporary human organisation. It was the mean village size recorded for almost all English counties in the Doomsday Book as well as during the eighteenth century, and is the typical size of the company in most modern armies, the number of recipients of a typical Christmas card distribution list in Britain, and the size of the social network in reverse ‘small world’ experiments, amongst others.

A few things are interesting about this. First is the fact that this 150 “limit” is structured differently in modern networks (both in the real world and virtual world). In modern society, social groupings are fragmented and diverse – if you and I are in the same social network, the 150 people in my network will overlap with, but won’t be identical to the 150 in your network. Whereas in traditional hunter-gatherer and pre-industrial society, the 150 in a given community tended to all know each other.

The second interesting facet is concerned with different hierarchical “levels” within this 150. According to Prof. Dunbar’s research, our most intimate grouping will contain roughly 5 people, the next level of social closeness has 15, then 50, 150, 500 and 1,500. But beyond 150 the social network degrades to the point where we typically have little to no “personal” knowledge about the people in the group.

Third, and central to Dunbar’s argument, is that the social grouping number of 150 correlates with brain size (specifically neocortex size). This, he argues, is related to “intentionality” or theory of mind, i.e. I think that he believes that she supposes… etc. Most humans are limited to five orders of intentionality, though some can hold six in mind at once (some autistic people, of course, never develop theory of mind).

Social Networks

Social Networks

I wonder whether our varying ability to hold five or six levels of intentionality in mind – and, relatedly, our brain size – might be reflected in the size of our online social networks. I suppose I’m fairly average, judging by the size of my Facebook network (180). Most of those I would say I know reasonably well (or have known at some stage in my life).

However, as predicted, there are clear levels of intimacy within that group. There are probably 4 or 5 people I message and interact with regularly on Facebook, and another larger group that I will send a message to once in a while. Beyond that, my network is definitely “fragmented and diverse”, composed of a range of old school and university friends, work colleagues, as well as friends from church.

I’m sure that there are endless competitions of who can add the most friends on Facebook and other social networks, but does this reveal anything about advanced theory of mind of the competitors or are they just trying to up their stats to compensate for something else? Hmm…

Online Privacy Is A Matter Of Trust

November 27, 2007

ESRCLast week, the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council reported on research it funded into ‘self-disclosure’ of personal information online:

Internet Users Give Up Privacy In Exchange For Trust

The research […] revealed that internet users will reveal more personal information online if they believe they can trust the organisation that requests the information. ‘Even people who have previously demonstrated a high level of caution regarding online privacy will accept losses to their privacy if they trust the recipient of their personal information’ says Dr Adam Joinson, who led the study.

Self-disclosure is currently a big issue, not only on social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, but also personal banking sites and in internet shopping.

Dr Joinson found that when a website is designed to ‘look trustworthy’, users will be more likely to divulge personal data. But more important than website design is the reputation of the company behind the website. This is closely tied to whether or not the user trusts the company, and therefore whether they will give over personal details.

I recently registered for free with New York Times online, and I was put off because of the level of personal information requested — why do you need to know our household income just so I can read a news article? Although NY Times is a large and (potentially) trustworthy organization, this level of detail seemed like prying to me, and I chose ‘prefer not to say’, which — incidentally — is at the bottom of the drop-down menu — another subject touched on in this report.

This is a particularly timely report, given that it comes days after the unprecedented loss of CDs containing the personal data (names, addresses, dates of birth, and bank details) of 25 million people. If we can’t trust the government with our personal information, should we really be happily entering it into Facebook — or maybe you trust corporations like Facebook more than the government…

Library phone answerers survive the Internet

July 3, 2006

I found this rather sweet:

“Anyone, of any age, from anywhere can telephone 212-340-0849 and ask New York Public Library researchers almost any question.”

And they only have five minutes to answer. Take that Internet!

Full story (Cnet news).
(from Digg)