Issue #402
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Hello!

How's your week been? After a pretty intense month, it's half-term for my kids so next week I'm taking things a little easier.

Other than on Thought Shrapnel this week, I published:
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Fighting health disinformation on Wikipedia

This is great to see:
As part of efforts to stop the spread of false information about the coronavirus pandemic, Wikipedia and the World Health Organization announced a collaboration on Thursday: The health agency will grant the online encyclopedia free use of its published information, graphics and videos.
Donald G. McNeil Jr., Wikipedia and W.H.O. Join to Combat Covid Misinformation (The New York Times)

Compared to Twitter's dismal efforts at fighting disinformation, the collaboration is welcome news.
The first W.H.O. items used under the agreement are its “Mythbusters” infographics, which debunk more than two dozen false notions about Covid-19. Future additions could include, for example, treatment guidelines for doctors, said Ryan Merkley, chief of staff at the Wikimedia Foundation, which produces Wikipedia.
Donald G. McNeil Jr., Wikipedia and W.H.O. Join to Combat Covid Misinformation (The New York Times)

More proof that the for-profit private sector is in no way more 'innovative' or effective than non-profits, NGOs, and government agencies.

Seeing through is rarely seeing into

Statue of a man showing bicep muscles, but the statue is crumbling
♂️ What does it mean to be a man in 2020? Introducing our news series on masculinity

🎓 America Will Sacrifice Anything for the College Experience: The pandemic has revealed that higher education was never about education.

💽 One of the world's most cited computer scientists wants cooperatives to be the future of how data is owned

✏️ Your writing style is costly (Or, a case for using punctuation in Slack)

🔐 Taking Back Our Privacy: Moxie Marlinspike, the founder of the end-to-end encrypted messaging service Signal, is “trying to bring normality to the Internet.”

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Quotation-as-title by Elizabeth Bransco. Image from top-linked post.

Perceptions of the past

The History teacher in me likes this simple photo quiz site that shows how your perception of the past can easily be manipulated by how photographs are presented.

Gatekeepers of opportunity and the lottery of privilege

Despite starting out as a pejorative term, 'meritocracy' is something that, until recently, few people seem to have had a problem with. One of the best explanations of why meritocracy is a problematic idea is in this Mozilla article from a couple of years ago. Basically, it ascribes agency to those who were given opportunities due to pre-existing privilege.

In an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education, Michael Sandel makes some very good points about the American university system, which can be more broadly applied to other western nations, such as the UK, which have elite universities.
The meritocratic hubris of elites is the conviction by those who land on top that their success is their own doing, that they have risen through a fair competition, that they therefore deserve the material benefits that the market showers upon their talents. Meritocratic hubris is the tendency of the successful to inhale too deeply of their success, to forget the luck and good fortune that helped them on their way. It goes along with the tendency to look down on those less fortunate, and less credentialed, than themselves. That gives rise to the sense of humiliation and resentment of those who are left out.
Michael Sandel, quoted in 'The Insufferable Hubris of the Well-Credentialed'

As someone who is reasonably well-credentialed, I nevertheless see a fundamental problem with requiring a degree as an 'entry-level' qualification. That's why I first got interested in Open Badges nearly a decade ago.

Despite the best efforts of the community, elite universities have a vested in maintaining the status quo. Eventually, the whole edifice will come crashing down, but right now, those universities are the gatekeepers to opportunity.
Society as a whole has made a four-year university degree a necessary condition for dignified work and a decent life. This is a mistake. Those of us in higher education can easily forget that most Americans do not have a four-year college degree. Nearly two-thirds do not.
We also need to reconsider the steep hierarchy of prestige that we have created between four-year colleges and universities, especially brand-name ones, and other institutions of learning. This hierarchy of prestige both reflects and exacerbates the tendency at the top to denigrate or depreciate the contributions to the economy made by people whose work does not depend on having a university diploma.
So the role that universities have been assigned, sitting astride the gateway of opportunity and success, is not good for those who have been left behind. But I’m not sure it’s good for elite universities themselves, either.
MICHAEL SANDEL, QUOTED IN 'THE INSUFFERABLE HUBRIS OF THE WELL-CREDENTIALED'

Thankfully, Sandel, has a rather delicious solution to decouple privilege from admission to elite universities. It's not a panacea, but I like it a first step.
What might we do about it? I make a proposal in the book that may get me in a lot of trouble in my neighborhood. Part of the problem is that having survived this high-pressured meritocratic gauntlet, it’s almost impossible for the students who win admission not to believe that they achieved their admission as a result of their own strenuous efforts. One can hardly blame them. So I think we should gently invite students to challenge this idea. I propose that colleges and universities that have far more applicants than they have places should consider what I call a “lottery of the qualified.” Over 40,000 students apply to Stanford and to Harvard for about 2,000 places. The admissions officers tell us that the majority are well-qualified. Among those, fill the first-year class through a lottery. My hunch is that the quality of discussion in our classes would in no way be impaired.
The main reason for doing this is to emphasize to students and their parents the role of luck in admission, and more broadly in success. It’s not introducing luck where it doesn’t already exist. To the contrary, there’s an enormous amount of luck in the present system. The lottery would highlight what is already the case.
MICHAEL SANDEL, QUOTED IN 'THE INSUFFERABLE HUBRIS OF THE WELL-CREDENTIALED'

Would people like me be worse off in a more egalitarian system? Probably. But that's kind of the point.

Tedious sports

This made me smile:
You can divide most sports into those that take place in the real world (road cycling, sailing, cross country running) and those that are played on the artificial space of a court or pitch. Some (golf, croquet) occupy an uncertain middle ground, which may be one of the reasons they are so tedious to watch. Others (football, rugby) started as the former and, as they were codified, became the latter.
Jon Day, Better on TV (London Review of Books)

Man is equally incapable of seeing the nothingness from which he emerges and the infinity in which he is engulfed

Drone Survival Guide
👻 How to hide from a drone – the subtle art of ‘ghosting’ in the age of surveillance

♻️ How to Repurpose Your Old Gadgets

🎮 What Digital Doping Means for Esports—and Everything Else

💬 Sony clarifies PS5 voice chat recording feature following privacy panic

🚗 Split-Second ‘Phantom’ Images Can Fool Tesla’s Autopilot

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Quotation-as-title from Pascal. Image from top-linked post.

Biometric surveillance in a post-pandemic future

I woke up today to the news that, in the UK, the police will get access to to the data on people told to self-isolate on a 'case-by-case basis'. As someone pointed out on Mastodon, this was entirely predictable.

They pointed to this article by Yuval Noah Harari from March of this year, which also feels like a decade ago. In it, he talks about post-pandemic society being a surveillance nightmare:
You could, of course, make the case for biometric surveillance as a temporary measure taken during a state of emergency. It would go away once the emergency is over. But temporary measures have a nasty habit of outlasting emergencies, especially as there is always a new emergency lurking on the horizon. My home country of Israel, for example, declared a state of emergency during its 1948 War of Independence, which justified a range of temporary measures from press censorship and land confiscation to special regulations for making pudding (I kid you not). The War of Independence has long been won, but Israel never declared the emergency over, and has failed to abolish many of the “temporary” measures of 1948 (the emergency pudding decree was mercifully abolished in 2011). 
Yuval Noah Harari: the world after coronavirus (The Financial times)

Remember the US 'war on terror'? That led to an incredible level of domestic and foreign surveillance that was revealed by Edward Snowden a few years ago.

The trouble, though, is that health is a clear and visible thing, a clear and present danger. Privacy is more nebulous with harms often being in the future, so the trade-off is between the here and now and, well, the opposite.
Even when infections from coronavirus are down to zero, some data-hungry governments could argue they needed to keep the biometric surveillance systems in place because they fear a second wave of coronavirus, or because there is a new Ebola strain evolving in central Africa, or because . . . you get the idea. A big battle has been raging in recent years over our privacy. The coronavirus crisis could be the battle’s tipping point. For when people are given a choice between privacy and health, they will usually choose health.
YUVAL NOAH HARARI: THE WORLD AFTER CORONAVIRUS (THE FINANCIAL TIMES)

For me, just like Harari, the way that governments choose to deal with the pandemic shows their true colours.
The coronavirus epidemic is thus a major test of citizenship. In the days ahead, each one of us should choose to trust scientific data and healthcare experts over unfounded conspiracy theories and self-serving politicians. If we fail to make the right choice, we might find ourselves signing away our most precious freedoms, thinking that this is the only way to safeguard our health.
YUVAL NOAH HARARI: THE WORLD AFTER CORONAVIRUS (THE FINANCIAL TIMES)

Until next week!

Doug
Dr. Doug Belshaw is an Open Thinkerer, currently working with We Are Open Co-op to help make the world more open and awesome. You can hire him to help improve your organisation!

Connect by replying to this email, or via LinkedIn and Mastodon. A feed of his writing from various places goes out via Twitter.

Some say he's short of steps. Others think he's fond of crêpes. No-one thinks he's fluent in Vepse.
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