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Melissa Selby

Items from 9 people Melissa Selby follows

Todd Suomela
  • Conservatives have a long history of viewing higher education as a cradle of left-wing thought and radicalism. As early as the 1920s, conservatives were waging an ideological war against liberal education and the intellectuals who viewed higher education as a site of critical dialogue and a public sphere engaged in both the pursuit of truth and in developing a space where students learned to read both the word and world critically. Conservatives were horrified by the growing popularity of critical views of education and modes of pedagogy that connected what students were taught to both their own development as critical agents and to the need to address important social problems. During the McCarthy era, criticism of the university and its dissenting intellectuals cast a dark cloud over the exercise of academic freedom, and many academics were either fired or harassed out of their jobs because of their political activities outside the classroom or their alleged communist fervor or left-wing affiliations.
  • The success of the financial elite in waging this war can be measured not only by the rise in the stranglehold of neoliberal policies over higher education, the increasing corporatization of the university, the evisceration of full-time, tenured jobs for faculty, the dumbing down of the curriculum, the view of students as customers, and the growing influence of the military-industrial-academic complex in the service of the financial elite, but also in the erasing of public memory. Memory is no longer insurgent; that is, it has been erased as a critical educational and political optic for moral witnessing, testimony and civic courage. On the contrary, it is either being cleansed or erased by the new apologists for the status quo who urge people to love the United States, which means giving up any sense of counter memory, interrogation of dominant narratives or retrieval of lost histories of struggle.


    The current call to cleanse history in the name of a false patriotism that celebrates a new illiteracy as a way of loving the United States is a discourse of anti-memory, a willful attempt at forgetting the past in the manufactured fog of historical amnesia. This is particularly true when it comes to erasing the work of a number of critical intellectuals who have written about higher education as the practice of freedom, including John Dewey, George S. Counts, W.E.B. Du Bois, the Social Reconstructionists, and others, all of whom viewed higher education as integral to the development of both engaged critical citizens and the university as a democratic public sphere. (19)

Todd Suomela
  • In what resembles a rehearsal for our controversies of the moment, there was in the mid-1960s a veritable explosion of public discussion centered on the shrinking sphere of personal privacy. A rash of exposés warned of privacy’s imminent eclipse, as did a series of legal-philosophical analyses: The Eavesdroppers (1959), Privacy: The Right to Be Let Alone (1962), The Privacy Invaders (1964), The Naked Society (1964), The FBI Nobody Knows (1964), The Intruders (1966), Privacy and Freedom (1967), and, in what would be a winning formulation, The Death of Privacy (1969).

    For Myron Brenton, author of The Privacy Invaders, growing intrusions in the marketplace, at work, and in the community—ranging from direct-mail advertising to life insurance inspections, “in depth” employment application forms to corporate spying—added up to a “prying, digging, peering, and poking” goldfish-bowl age.4 Vance Packard reinforced this vision in his own 1964 bestseller, The Naked Society. Chapters with titles such as “How to Strip a Job-Seeker Naked,” “The Hidden Eyes of Business,” “The Very Public Lives of Public Servants,” and “The Lively Traffic in Facts about Us” fleshed out the author’s dire portrait of “mounting surveillance” on all fronts.5 Popular journalists were among the first to sound the alarm, but politicians, academics, and activists were not far behind. Together, they publicized an ever-growing list of surveillance impulses, psychological invasions, and technological breakthroughs in breaching previously impenetrable “zones of privacy.”

  • All of this suggested that laws and civil safeguards would not, and perhaps could not, alter the fundamental terms of a society largely run on the basis of information in computerized databases. Indeed, the Privacy Act may have done more to facilitate the ongoing collection of personal data than to staunch or even slow it. Sociologist James Rule has observed that privacy policy in the computer age gradually turned away from regulating the type, amount, and control of personal information stored in files and toward norms of fairness, accuracy, and security.28 This was the new, if uneasy, pact that would be achieved in the 1970s between citizens and those who would know them through their records.

    What lingered was an understanding of the United States as a “surveillance society”: a new kind of social organization with the collection and scrutiny of personal data as its basic feature.29 If existing records systems did not yet constitute a “total surveillance society” à la Orwell—the costs were simply too high—scholars such as James Rule argued that they “now monitor some of the most important junctures between private individuals and the major institutions of modern society.”30 Like the other concepts that came into being in this era—“records prison,” “dossier personality,” “information power”—the formulation implied a social order and a citizenry fundamentally shaped by new capacities to observe, record, and track. This was a vision of society that bore little resemblance to the individual rights−based framework that had seemed to promise a way forward just a decade earlier. Among other things, it implied that concepts of personal privacy might need retooling for a new era.

Todd Suomela

The Black Box Within: Quantified Selves, Self-Directed Surveillance, and the Dark Side of Datification | The Los Angeles Review of Books

"The Formula: How Algorithms Solve All Our Problems — And Create More
author: Luke Dormehl"

Shared by Todd Suomela, Todd Suomela added annotation, 1 save total

  • WHAT HAPPENS WHEN “life as we know it” becomes a series of occasions to collect, analyze, and use data to determine what’s true, opportune, or even right to do? According to Luke Dormehl, much more than we bargained for.
  • When our jobs make us miserable, most of us are well aware of it. We don’t walk around plagued by the mystery of why we’re feeling down. Perhaps, then, the most relevant issue wasn’t that self-tracking enabled “Angela” to learn more about herself. Maybe she already knew how she felt about work but was waiting to quit until she could frame the choice as an evidence-based decision. If so, the question Dormehl should be asking is whether it’s a new type of “bad faith” to turn to data to validate difficult decisions we’re already inclined to make.
Todd Suomela
  • So did it work out that way? The answer, says the study, is yes.

    After being presented with the consensus message, people on average increased their estimate of the percentage of scientists who agree about climate change by 12.8 percent. And the paper further found that when people up their estimate of the percentage of scientists who accept that global warming is caused by humans, they also increase their own belief in the science, and their own worry about it, becoming more likely to want the world to take climate action.

    “Perceived scientific consensus acts as a key gateway belief for both Democrats and Republicans,” wrote the authors. Interestingly, the paper found that the consensus message was particularly effective with Republicans — a group that, in general, is not easily swayed on the climate issue.

  • It’s important to note, however, that not every researcher agrees with this approach. Indeed, Yale public opinion researcher Dan Kahan has already blogged a response to the new study, and it’s pretty critical.

    “I gotta say, I just don’t see any evidence in these results that the ’97% consensus msg’ meaningfully affected any of the outcome variables that the authors’ new writeup is focused on (belief in climate change, perceived risk, support for policy),” he wrote. Kahan objected that while statistically significant, the changes were relatively small and may not have “practical” significance.

    More broadly, Kahan questions whether, in light of how politicized the climate debate has become, mere statements about fact like the “97 percent” claim can successfully depolarize matters. Kahan himself recently published research suggesting that a wildly different approach — telling people about the subject of geoengineering — actually has a depolarizing effect.

Todd Suomela
  • This claim to being the world’s great equaliser is the very factor that makes Silicon Valley into a non-stick industry impermeable to social criticism. But the premises of its venture humanitarianism are not as rigorous and unshakable as they seem. There are at least three possible lines of attack.
  • Second, Silicon Valley’s empowerment fairy tale is just that: a fairy tale. It conceals the fact that the nominally free information available on Google is not equally useful to an unemployed graduate and a secretive hedge fund with access to sophisticated technology to turn data into trading insights. The same goes for attention-channelling services like Twitter: they are not equally useful to an average person with 100 followers and a prominent venture capitalist followed by a million people.
  • This, however, raises the third and most troubling question: why bother to have a state at all, if Silicon Valley can magically provide basic services, from education to health, on its own? Even more important, why still pay taxes and fund non-existent public services, which are to be provided – on a very different model – by tech companies anyway? This is a question that neither the state nor Silicon Valley is prepared to answer. One feels, however, that the modern state wouldn’t mind having the tech companies play a greater role, allowing it to concentrate on the one task it likes most: fighting terror.
Todd Suomela
  • Nevertheless, last year my doctor told me she was worried about my sodium level. I misunderstood at first, and figured that I needed to make additional efforts to cut back. But no. My serum sodium level was too low. What's more, it turns out that most Americans consume a safe amount of sodium. The usual recommendation is to keep sodium intake below 2400 mg per day, but the bulk of the evidence suggests that twice this much is perfectly safe for people who don't suffer from hypertension. (And even the recommendations for people with hypertension might be more restrictive than they need to be.)


    Then there's cholesterol. I guess I don't have to say much about that: the evidence is now so overwhelming that even the U.S. government's top nutrition panel announced a couple of weeks ago that dietary cholesterol was no longer a "nutrient of concern" in its latest guidelines. Go ahead and have an egg or three.

Todd Suomela
  • My fear is that when we turn libraries into maker spaces we send the message that reading isn't relevant; that it's boring, that it's a chore. We quit treating it like a candy store and start acting like it's the salad line when soft serve ice cream is just around the corner. 

     Libraries exist to inspire the love of reading.

     It may informational texts or novels or graphic novels. But it should be that place where kids go to fall in love with reading. When I walk into a library, I want to see kids working with librarians, picking apart information and arguing over bias and loaded language as they geek out about research. I want to see libraries as spaces where kids aren't necessarily making things so much as taking it all in. I want to see libraries as spaces where "augmented reality" means getting lost in a fantastical world.
Todd Suomela
  • Something I know from personal experience is that when someone has an undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, or mismanaged health care condition, they tend to get to a point where they spend an unusual amount of time in the Emergency Room. These are, shall we say, usually not a person’s happiest moments. People with rare conditions are more likely than not to have gone through a period of time in which their condition was not properly diagnosed. There are excellent reasons for this, with the largest one being that clinicians are taught explicitly to err on the side of assuming their patients are relatively ordinary, rather than extraordinary or unusual, or rare. This is included in medical slang as the word “zebra,” implying that people’s diagnoses are more likely to be a “horse.”
  • The focus of the Wainwright-Morrison post is on the non-compliant patient, a topic which is kind of a pet peeve of mine. Not to diverge too much (and I’ll try to make a separate post on ‘noncompliance’), I’ve been writing about this for a very long time. In our 2002 book, I argued in favor of the idea that “patients have reasons for being non-compliant,” that calling patients non-compliant is actually patient-blaming and unproductive, and that informed consent implies people deserve the right to make decisions which the experts might not agree with.
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