Blogs | MIT Center for Civic Media

Forbidden Research liveblog: Messing with Nature: Genetics and Climate

Live blog by Sam Klein, Natalie, and myself.


How do you innovate in a field of massive potential and risk? When it comes to genetically engineering living things, most of the technology being developed happens behind closed doors. How do we change the perception of science and genetic engineering with an emphasis on openness for the sake of safety, ethics, and cautionary vigilance but continue to move forward? Who should be responsible for making “god-like” decisions that will ultimately affect our entire future as a society? Megan Palmer, Senior Research Scholar, Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University was our moderator.

Forbidden Research liveblog: Against the law: countering lawful abuses of digital surveillance

With bunnie huang, Author, Hacking the Xbox: An Introduction to Reverse Engineering and Edward Snowden. Liveblog by Sam Klein, Erhardt Graeff, and myself.

Introduction and overview from Snowden

This is my first time giving an academic talk, and I think it's the first time a US exile is presenting research at a US academic institution. One of the great things about Cory's talk is that we don't talk enough about how laws are a weak guarentee of outcome. theft, murder, etc still happen.

Introduction to Forbidden Research

Liveblog by Sam Klein and myself

Joi (director of the Media Lab), Opening

Research is forbidden when it won't get peer reviewed, you'll be ridiculed, your lab won't get any new students. Academic freedom is diminishing. We're not killed any more for the things we say and do (mostly). But looking at Nobel prizes, people are taking career-risking moves to discover something. Civic did an event called Freedom to Innovate. Laws for criminals used to stifle innovation. Courage needed to explore these areas on Forbidden Research.

So we're asking ourselves: how does an institution become robust? Laws etc put in place to protect the status quo. Academic institutions or society should question the status quo. All the things in history that we see as moments of social change have to do with doing taboo things. Reed Hoffman has agreed to support a Disobedience Prize ($250k). Difficult to award because "what is societally useful disobedience" ends up being complicated. We don't have a firm date but it's an experiment.

Monitoring the School Lunch Mafia

On June 21st, middle and high school students in Brazil’s northern city of Santarém took to the streets in the city center to raise awareness about a crisis with school lunches. The event was organized by the Student Pact for Education in Pará in partnership with the state Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Workers Unions for Public Education in Pará. For years, public school students throughout the state and country have struggled with poor quality or missing school lunches. Some schools in the region report not having received lunches since 2012.

School lunch gallery

The Meaning and Downsides of Academic Fellowship: What I Learned by Receiving the Harvey Fellowship

What does it mean to receive an academic fellowship? Are fellowships just polite language for recognition and money? Or do great fellowships offer something deeper by giving us meaningful networks of friendship and support?

Civic Innovation Workshop in Mérida, Mexico

What does civic innovation look like in México?  There are efforts across the nation to build skills, interest, and capacity for civic technology.  Last week I contributed to these by facilitating a workshop for youth in Mérida, Mexico on the topic of Civic Innovation.  It was organized and hosted at the amazing Workshop school, just outside of town, with the help of my colleague and friend Alberto Muñoz.  Their student-led, collaborative approach to learning was inspired by the Reggio-Emilia style; reminding me of my roots in the Lifelong Kindergarten group.  It provided the perfect setting for this hackathon-style workshop to help youth learn about how to apply their technological and creative skills towards the public good.  The participants ranged from 6th grade, to graduate school; a great mix of skills and interests.

Using Data for More than Operations

While at Stanford to talk about "ethical data" I had a chance to read through the latest issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review within the walls where it is published.  One particular article, Using Data for Action and Impact by Jim Fruchterman, caught my eye.  Jim lays out an argument for using data to streamline operational efficiencies and monitoring and evaluation within non-profit organizations.  This hit one of my pet peeves, so I'm motivated to write a short response arguing for a more expansive approach to thinking about non-profit's use of data.

Fighting Racial Bias with Big Science: Calvin Lai on Mass Cooperation and Open Knowledge in the Social Sciences

How are mass collaboration and open data changing the ways we do social science? While we're used to thinking about data science as a major impact of computation on the study of human behavior, changes in scientific collaboration are driving even more fundamental change in the study of human behavior. In recent years for example, the Reproducibility Project: Psychology coordinated over 270 authors to attempt replications of published findings in psycholog. The working method they developed could dramatically improve the quality and rate of experimental knowledge, even as it revealed serious weaknesses in the slower single-study approach that has been more common.

Practicing Data Science Responsibly

I recently gave a short talk at a Data Science event put on by Deloitte here in Boston.  Here's a short write up of my talk.

Data science and big data driven decisions are already baked into business culture across many fields.  The technology and applications are far ahead of our reflections about intent, appropriateness, and responsibility.  I want to focus on that word here, which I steal from my friends in the humanitarian field.  What are our responsibilities when it comes to practicing data science?  Here are a few examples of why this matters, and my recommendations for what to do about it.