ahr's blog

Invading the Ivory Tower: How to Define and Perform Civic Science

My project changed several times over. Initially, I planned to combine my science background with the class curriculum and my ostensible status as a journalist to write a news series on civic science projects. However, the more I researched this subject, the more I realized that I needed to back up quite a bit before I could attempt such an undertaking.

First, a little background. Many modern policy issues explicitly involve science, but we increasingly find that debate focusing on the facts of the science itself, rather than finding policy solutions to our science-related problems. This state is what some call the ‘knowledge war’ – a stark battle between scientists, whose community tends to be somewhat removed from general public; and the rest of the population, which has a uneven connection to and understanding of the scientific process. And without knowledge of basic scientific facts, or an appreciation for how scientific ideas are analyzed, people will have trouble (1) keeping up with important science-related issues, (2) assessing the validity of new information, and of course (3) participating meaningfully in the political process.

Intro to Civic Media 10/31: Games, newsjacking, and the great Kony debate

Civic Games

This week in class, we were visited by Scot Osterweil of Education Arcade.

He started out by challenging us to play a few quick games of tic-tac-toe with our seatmates. This generated a fair amount of noise, laughter, and intensity, despite the fact that, as Scot pointed out, "tic-tac-toe is a stupid game." He explained that play is more important than it seems, and that it says something "about the way we engage more thoughtfully or interactively with the world."

Tic-tac-toe was one of Scot's many different examples of play, which included:

'The Floods of Change'

In class last week, my group proffered a somewhat poetic vision of social change. We called it "The Floods of Change."

Change is natural, inevitable, ongoing. In our model, the "mountain" of society constantly interacts with the "river" of ideas flowing down it. This river shifts over time, with some tributaries growing steadily or even spawning new branches. Meanwhile, other sections are at risk of drying up altogether. Some sections can even be forcibly blocked by man-made "censorship" dams. Ideas pool in the ocean at the bottom, and can later recycle through the ecosystem through evaporation. The overall change "climate" -- monsoon season? drought? -- may also play a significant role.

All the while, the shifting waters reshape the mountain, just as the mountain can reroute the waters.

Successfully wading through the social media onslaught

I am a science writer.

As such, I am one of many who claim membership in the scicomm* community, which has a vibrant internet presence. When I first decided to pursue a career in science writing, I spent a lot of time seeking out scicomm blogs, videos, Twitter feeds, etc. etc. etc. Suddenly, my daily media diet was far too rich. It's extremely difficult to keep tabs on what people are talking about, especially now that I am a full-time graduate student.

I suspect that I am not the only person who feels this way. That's why I would like to develop a discussion strainer (tentatively nicknamed 'Colander').

The application would work like this:
* You point Colander to a list on Twitter and define time parameters, e.g. the past day or week
* Colandar develops an internal word frequency list
* Colander presents (1) a list of the top 10-20 terms, (2) a graph showing the changing popularity of those terms over the given time period, and (3) any particularly popular comments on the topic

Intro to Civic Media: Crisis & Digital Inequality

This post was co-written by Aviva Hope Rutkin and Alexander Ho.

We gathered together this week to discuss the current struggles of modern media and to explore the concept of digital inequality.

First, we reviewed a 2011 report from The Economist on the news industry. The report argues that the very idea of a “crisis in media” is U.S.-centric. India, China, and Brazil are all experiencing a significant increase in newspaper subscriptions. Meanwhile, in the United States, newspaper subscriptions are dropping, TV continues to be many people’s dominant source of information, and new digital platforms are complicating the media landscape.

Hey there, Civic Media.

I have to come clean: I don't really know anything about civic media. As a graduate student in MIT's science writing program, I am permitted to take only one elective each semester and CMS.860 was just one of many classes that got shoehorned into an ambitious course-shopping schedule.

I have experience in journalism (cue bio at right), but no formal education. At the beginning of class on Wednesday, my definition of "civic media" would have been "whatever bloggers do." By the end of the night, I had learned civic media includes Julian Assange, QR codes, certain programming languages, the FCC, KONY2012, humanitarianism, my iPhone, maps... The conversation was enlightening.

So, my definition of civic media required some initial research and reflection. In the end, I like Beth Noveck's approach best: Civic media makes participation an everyday lifestyle.