A short history of knowledge, from feudalism to the Internet
Crowdsourcing as an idea isn't anything new, says historian and sex researcher Alice Dreger. She tells us about the history of public gathering of information from the medieval era to today.
Alice Dreger: Peer review is not a simple thing because humans do it and so whenever there’s humans there will be bias introduced, relationships get complicated with regard to peer review. We have a fantasy that peer review will be totally anonymous on both ends – you won’t know who the person you’re reviewing is and they won’t know who you are and it will all be blind. But in reality people figure out in peer review who is who and biases do get introduced. But that said, the idea of peer review is a really important one and we can sort of approach it and that’s the idea that we have people who are qualified judging each other’s work. It allows us to essentially crowd source knowledge and to have an opportunity where blind spots are picked off, where errors are picked up and where we can make work better. So it’s essentially a way to crowd source knowledge.
I want to point out by the way that peer review is historically really interesting. It came out of the enlightenment period. So this was the period when thinkers were beginning to really appreciate the idea that humans together could know more. And what’s fascinating is that democracy and science grew up together and they both use peer review. So science uses peer review because scientific ideas are put forth and then scientists are qualified to do so, judge that work.
And in democracy peer review is used in things like voting systems so when we do voting that’s a peer review form. When we do judging of criminal or non-criminal acts in courts that’s a form of peer review when we have a jury. And so it’s not a coincidence because what was happening was the thinkers of the enlightenment were beginning to figure out that more people looking at a problem could to get you better knowledge. Before the enlightenment the concept was knowledge came from above, it came from the church, from the state, from God, it came from an external higher authority. But the real revelation of the enlightenment was the idea that people could do this themselves they didn’t have to rely on the church, the state, God, an external authority, they could to do it themselves. And so they began to have the idea that they would reject the king and they would essentially reject the teachings of the church and they would reject the state being run by the king; that they would take back control of knowledge. And that was true in democracy and in science.
So, it’s no coincidence that a lot of the founding fathers were science geeks. They were thinking about crowdsourcing. It is what we call crowdsourcing. There are more checks and balances on bad knowledge going forward so there’s accountability at some level. When you’re doing pier review the editor at least knows who you are. When you’re doing voting theoretically you’re not allowed to vote more than once. When you’re on a jury you have got a judge keeping track of whether or not information should be admissible in court whether it’s fair to admit it in court.
The internet is crowdsourcing gone wild. It has no limits on it and so you can have things like bots like things until it actually is noticed by real human beings, you can have situations where something looks incredibly real but it’s not real and it will take off much faster than we can stop it. So the internet really is a beautiful thing in many ways. It allows people to find each other who never could have found each other before, for example, people with very unusual medical conditions can find each other, people with very unusual interests can find each other. The problem is that you have a situation where there are no checks and balances and so you get a phenomenon whereby things that are not real can go forward.
But there are some places on the Internet where there are checks and balances. So Wikipedia is a great example actually. Wikipedia actually has people who function as editors and they will talk to each other, fight with each other and all the discussions get externalized. That allows a level of accountability that much of the Internet doesn’t have. It’s also the case that Wikipedia paid editors can actually stop people from editing in some circumstances or stop people from messing with pages. So there are places on the Internet that have been born of crowdsourcing but that do have some checks and balances built in.
Crowdsourcing as an idea isn't anything new, says historian and sex researcher Alice Dreger. She tells us about the history of public gathering of information from the medieval era to today. The enlightenment period was a big boon to the arts and sciences, but also an even bigger help to how knowledge is organized and distributed. Is Wikipedia, with its checks and balances and appeal to honesty, more like the founding fathers' idea of America than the overtly libertarian wild west that the rest of the internet has turned into? It might seem like a leap, but Alice's position here is full of interesting suggestions like that. Alice's new book is Galileo's Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and One Scholar's Search for Justice.
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What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.
Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
A biologist-reporter investigates his fungal namesake.
The unmatched biologist-reporter Tomasz Sitarz interviews his fungal namesake, maślak sitarz – known in English as the Jersey cow mushroom.