Archive for February, 2009

Feb 25 2009

What Can We Learn From the Network Structure of Wikipedia Authors?

telephone-tapping-network-structure

The edit network for “telephone tapping” shows a bipartite structure, indicating that the topic is controversial (image from Brandes et al.)

An interesting new paper defines the “edit network” of a Wikipedia article by drawing edges to indicate that one person has deleted or restored text written by another. While it’s always fun to look at pictures, the surprise here is that we can verify that the resulting graph structure really does tell us something useful about the article. In this study, articles with a more “bipolar” edit network — meaning that the authors split into basically two camps who routinely undid each other’s edits — were also much more likely to appear on a manually-maintained list of controversial pages.

Although there has been previous work on network mapping of Wikipedia in particular (and of course volumes of work on social networks in general) I find this paper interesting because it tries very carefully to understand whether the pictures mean anything. Like all science, what you find depends on where you look, and the practitioner of network analysis has an absurd amount of freedom to define what a “node” is, what an “edge” is, and how the resulting graph is visually laid out (since the point of a map is a visual representation, it’s very important that graphical properties such as distance, size, color, etc. have the right sort of metaphorical relationships to the more abstract properties we are trying to understand.)  

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Feb 20 2009

What Was Bush Thinking?

bushatinauguration

Bush sits just behind Obama as he swears in, clapping politely, an inscrutable look on his face. Does he worry  that pulling out of Iraq will damage American superiority? Does he feel sad for the loss of oil company-tax credits? Maybe he’s shaking his head because he knows he was doing God’s work.

What was Bush thinking during eight years of presidency?

Why did he start two wars that could not be won? Why did he cut of all funding for stem cell research, sex education, and environmental research?  To me, he always seemed out of touch with reality, blatantly ignoring signals that things were badly wrong: impending environmental catastrophe, declining educational standards at home and the highest rates of incarceration in the world, and over one million casualties in Iraq. But everyone is sane in their own head. What was the utopia he thought to create?

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Feb 11 2009

Maine Man Tries to Build Dirty Bomb, No One Cares

A leaked FBI report states that a man named James G. Cummings was trying to build a dirty bomb when he was shot and and killed by his wife last December 9th in Belfast, Maine. He had plans, parts, explosive ingredients, and small quantities of radioactive material, though nothing that could not be purchased legally within the US. Cummings was a white supremacist who was reportedly very upset about Obama’s election.

The leaked document has been posted on Wikileaks since January 16th. While the material concerning Cummins was first noticed by the rumor site Unattributable.com on January 19th, only yesterday was there any sort of story about it in the mainstream media, in this case the local Bangor Daily News.

Although this dastardly plot was probably not much more dangerous to the public than a garden-variety bomb, this man would certainly qualify as a bona fide “terrorist” under Bush-regime logic. Or at least he would if he was Arab. In point of fact, he actually is a threat to the public, or was. So why haven’t we heard about it? Are crazy white supremacists somehow less of a threat than crazy fundamentalist muslims?

The FBI report notes:

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Feb 05 2009

The 2009 Writer’s Travel Scholarship

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centraljavadawn

Write something, win a round-trip ticket to anywhere. Really. The 2009 Writer’s Travel Scholarship is now accepting submissions at Equivocality.net. This short-form writing contest, now in its fifth year, is open to all writers and aspiring writers. Entries must be 10,000 words or less and can be fiction or non-fiction on any topic — we’re not looking specifically for travel writing.

Submissions accepted through April 30th. Full details here.

I think everyone needs to get out and see the world, especially those who are inclined, for whatever reason, to tell someone else about it later. Write, and go forth!

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Feb 04 2009

How Many World Wide Webs Are There?

newblog-crop

How much overlap is there between the web in different languages, and what sites act as gateways for information between them? Many people have constructed partial maps of the web (such as the  blogosphere map by Matthew Hurst, above) but as far as I know, the entire web has never been systematically mapped in terms of language.

Of course, what I actually want to know is, how connected are the different cultures of the world, really? We live in an age where the world seems small, and in a strictly technological sense it is. I have at my command this very instant not one but several enormous international communications networks; I could email, IM, text message, or call someone in any country in the world. And yet I very rarely do.

Similarly, it’s easy to feel like we’re surrounded by all the international information we could possibly want, including direct access to foreign news services, but I can only read articles and watch reports in English. As a result, information is firewalled between cultures; there are questions that could very easily be answered by any one of tens or hundreds of millions of native speakers, yet are very difficult for me to answer personally. For example, what is the journalistic slant of al-Jazeera, the original one in Arabic, not the English version which is produced by a completely different staff?  Or, suppose I wanted to know what the average citizen of Indonesia thinks of the sweatshops there, or what is on the front page of the Shanghai Times today– and does such a newspaper even exist? What is written on the 70% of web pages that are not in English?

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