Monday, April 30, 2007

Ideological Purity or Intellectual Muddle

I’ve been doing little preparations for my session at the upcoming Faculty Summer Institute. One of my ideas is for instructors to make use of multimedia content that is freely available online and incorporate that into their own presentations. Indeed, the idea is to do some analysis of that content and then deliver the result in a dialogic fashion.

On Friday I saw an item in Ray Schroeder’s Techno-News blog that talked about some good sources for such content, and At the latter site the content can be accessed by subject and after some quick browsing in Business and Economics I found this gem of a presentation/debate on “Business Ethics.”

In the College of Business here we’re talking about how to introduce such ideas to students in a way that is meaningful to them. This video might be a good way to do that. It features Milton Friedman and if the students have never seen him argue before that would be worthwhile in its own right. I watched/listened to the entire thing (after viewing the video long enough to understand who is who in the debate, the audio track is sufficient and one can multi-process that way and still get the sense of the argument). Of course Friedman was a great debater and one of the skills he used to good effect in this session was to argue from a theoretical basis, in this case of what Business leaders should do when they are behaving ethically. This argument was first articulated in the article I’ve got linked in the right sidebar under Pieces I Enjoyed Reading where title begins, The Social Responsibility of Business… (Incidentally, since during the video Friedman mentions the royalties he received from reprint of this article, that the Libertarian Student Group at Colorado posted this piece to the Internet is quite possibly a copyright violation, though I should note that the copy in the Times Archive available via Times Select is not as readable as the version on the Colorado site.)

Friedman, who for me represents the Ideological Purity side of the argument, gets the better of Kirk Hanson, who at least in some of his remarks seems to argue for the other side. And while Friedman really doesn’t need the help of others to make his case, in this debate he gets some help from David Brady, who applauds Friedman’s approach because it produces “an answer” in a systematic way and who offers a critique of Friedman’s argument only in the case of a multinational dealing in a Third World country, where there is no effective government to enforce institutions aimed at providing for the common weal and so where one of the fundamental assumptions in Friedman’s argument about the role of government doesn’t hold. Otherwise, Brady is in the Friedman camp. And that makes this a two against one argument, with Bowen McCoy serving more as a moderator than as a participant in the debate.

* * * * *

In this post I want to try to show several things. First, I can really like something I watch or read without agreeing with it. I like hearing Milton Friedman because he gives a clear articulation of his views and does that well. But I rarely find myself agreeing with him. Here I’m going to come down against Friedman and for the side of Intellectual Muddle, because I think things are harder and more complex than he argues. Second, a piece of material like this video can be viewed as a gateway into a larger discussion rather than as an endpoint to be absorbed. So I’m going to provide some hints at where that larger discussion might head. Third, while this post may seem to be coming from left field, I want to show how it ties into other ideas that have made it into my blog, particularly on the usefulness of economics (or lack thereof) as a guide for decision making and on whether we should be open or closed in pursuit of our own learning.

Below is an annotated list of the issues.

1. Decision making is fundamentally seat of the pants. The economic theory of choice is first presented under certainty where it is logically correct and rarely disputed. It is then extended to a situation of risk, where the loss frequencies are objectively determined, and from this model one can derive a demand for insurance. The theory has been critiqued, most notably by Kahneman and Tversky, because it seems to fall victim of “framing problems.” But there is a more profound issue when the question is uncertainty rather than risk (see part B in this discussion of Knightian risk and Uncertainty which makes it appear that uncertainty is the rule not the exception) and the problem is the inability to separate out the subjective probability distribution of the decision maker from that person’s predisposition toward the choice. In the video David Brady makes it seem that Friedman’s approach requires only that a careful scrutiny be done of all the relevant information to enable the appropriate cost-benefit analysis. However, a little reflection about the big issue of our times, the War in Iraq, should make it clear that predisposition affects the way in which evidence is weighed.

One can mythologize about the decision maker as an independent and skeptical scientist who objectively ways evidence and then makes a choice. Under this myth, if we were equally informed we’d come to the same conclusion and the decision maker qua scientist conveys this notion of replicability. This is what David Brady seems to imply. The problem is that since the decision maker cares about the outcome the detachment in the mythical view is often not there and since the decision is one-and-done there is no discipline device to bring about that detachment. We bring bias into the decision making but in a way where that is only revealed after the fact. We are frequently not aware of our own bias at the time the choice is made.

Further, there frequently is not enough information to rationalize the choice, but a choice needs to be made nonetheless. So we take a stab at it. I often felt that was what I was doing when I made allocation decisions on behalf of the campus in my previous job.

2. The standard agency problem is present. This one even Friedman himself would agree with though he might not agree with all the ways this issue is articulated, such as in this abstract. The standard theory of the firm is best articulated with a single owner/proprietor who makes all the decisions. There is no agency problem in this case. In large corporations, however, there is a separation between ownership and control. A CEO’s desire to take care of #1 may not be in the interest of shareholders. Paul Krugman’s column in today’s NY Times suggests such an agency problem in that high profit firms don’t seem to be investing in capital to increase future productivity. Friedman ignores the agency problem in his 1970 piece, although to be fair to him nobody has offered up that having firms act in a socially responsible way is a solution to the agency problem (as opposed to being a good end in itself) and hence for this argument perhaps the agency problem can be ignored. But I want to bring it back to emphasize that we operate in a world of the Second Best, and hence Friedman’s implicit reliance on the First Fundamental Welfare Theorem may be misplaced.

3. Trust relationships matter. In my own job I find collegiality to be a hugely important value, something I try hard to promote and preserve. Indeed at the Learning Technology Leadership Institute to be held at Madison Wisconsin this July, Larry Ragan and I are leading a session on how to build successful relationships. In principle, one can treat trust relationships as non-tangible capital and then give those relationships some lines on the corporate balance sheet in the same way that plant and equipment are entered there. In practice, assessing the valuation of trust relationships is an art, not a science, and there is likely to be a high degree of imprecision in any such assessment.

There is a strong ethical component in the decision to honor or break a trust and anyone engaged in making such a decision is likely to think of it in personal terms. One can try to recast the choice in purely financial terms, in which case the analog is with a collateralized loan where repaying the loan (honoring the trust) makes sense as long as the value of the collateral exceeds the value of the loan, but not otherwise.

Consider the case of employee pension plans, particularly of the defined benefit variety. We know that in cases where those plans have been under funded, such as with the airlines, the bankruptcy laws have been used strategically either to eliminate the benefits to senior employees entirely or to substantially reduce the benefits from what was promised originally – in either case an example of breaking the trust. We know that in other cases where the pension plans were well funded that the company became attractive for takeover so that the pension plan could be raided and then the rest of the company’s assets gutted.

From the perspective of the CEO of such a company the decision to declare bankruptcy or not in the first instance and the decision to accept the raider’s bid or fight off the takeover in the second instance have ethical aspects. And my point here is that if the CEO is looking for wisdom to make a sound decision from an ethical perspective, then there will be little help from Friedman’s admonition to maximize profits. There may be cases where the company is doing so poorly that declaring bankruptcy is not a choice among other alternatives but the only possibility. There may be other cases where the company is doing so well and has such a bright future that selling it off to go out of business doesn’t make any sense. The ethical dimension enters in the vast gray area that lies between those two extremes. And now we’re back in the domain of my point 1. Prior disposition matters. For someone who takes stock in the statement, “My word is my bond,” declaring bankruptcy is a breach of trust.

For others who prefer to look at the pension issue purely in financial terms, there is likely a lower implicit valuation of the benefit from maintaining the trust and hence a chance that they’ll argue for declaring bankruptcy. Is this unethical? Let me turn to the 4th point and then come back to that question.

4. The decision to openly disclose is not straightforward. In describing fairness, one frequently characterizes a situation where the rules of the game are well articulated up front, everyone acknowledges they understand the rules, and then the choice to play the game is opt in. In the last paragraph of Friedman’s essay he writes:

But the doctrine of "social responsibility" taken seriously would extend the scope of the political mechanism to every human activity. It does not differ in philosophy from the most explicitly collectivist doctrine. It differs only by professing to believe that collectivist ends can be attained without collectivist means. That is why, in my book Capitalism and Freedom, I have called it a "fundamentally subversive doctrine" in a free society, and have said that in such a society, "there is one and only one social responsibility of business–to use it resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud."
Applying Friedman’s notion to the question at hand here, does the requirement to be in open and free competition without deception or fraud require the firm to disclose in advance to its employees under what circumstances it will declare bankruptcy? Ask yourself whether it is possible for a firm to do that without the message itself being interpreted as signaling the likelihood that the firm will need to incur bankruptcy because it is not performing well. How else could an employee interpret such a message other than as a pessimistic forecast of the firm’s fortune? If indeed the firm’s future seems rosy to the CEO, wouldn’t it be misleading and irresponsible to create worry in the employees by sending such a pessimistic message?

Now we can return to the question at the end of section 3. I believe there is no credible way for a firm to communicate with its employees well in advance about the circumstances under which it will declare bankruptcy. If I’m correct in that then employees who opt into the pension plan do so under a fundamental uncertainty about the default risk they face. Therefore, breaking the trust in a circumstance where the CEO retains discretion to do otherwise would be unethical (it would be unfair to the employees) although it might very well be profit maximizing. Moreover, in such a circumstance there may be no way to tell for sure whether it is or it isn’t.

* * * * *

I’ve focused on the employer-employee relationship in making my arguments. Do these arguments apply to the firm-customer relationship in a straightforward way, for example with respect to the health and safety of the products produced or even with respect to quality and reliability of the products? I think so. The same conditions regarding opt in are there, though one might want to distinguish between good and reliable customers, on the one hand, and occasional customers on the other. There is a trust relationship with the former where there might not be with the latter.

Does the argument apply as well to the firm-society relationship? Here my instincts are more in line with Friedman’s argument. There may be win-win things a firm can do (provide for daycare near the firm, reduce crime in the vicinity, etc.) that can be justified by profit maximization alone. There is likely uncertainty on this front as well and so management predisposition will matter, but once accounting for that it is hard to make a case for philanthropic gestures that don’t otherwise seem to add to the bottom line. The CEO is not Robin Hood. Nonetheless, I would like to hear somebody argue for the opposite as forcibly as Friedman argues for his view. That would help me to see if I need to modify the case I’ve just made.

Let me conclude with the following observation. Bowen McCoy starts the video talking about his dual roles as a participant (and teacher) in his church and as a businessman and how the one informs his actions while doing the other. I believe that most of us don’t make this cross-over very well if at all. For many of our students they must feel with respect to school that they operate entirely outside a world where ethical considerations apply. We know that many of them have admitted to cheating on occasion, which makes sense only if they see it as a victimless crime, like driving over the speed limit. If we are to teach with this video and Friedman’s essay, and offer lessons on Business Ethics that have meaning, somehow the students need to make connections to their own lives. That will be the hard part with the instruction.

Monday, April 23, 2007


It was a rough weekend health-wise for the entire family. We all came down with some intestinal virus. My older son got it first. He had a wretched night on Wednesday and missed school on Thursday. Then my wife got it Friday night and she was feeling miserable on Saturday, but by yesterday she was up and around. My younger son and I got it Saturday afternoon and we were both out of it then and part of yesterday. I’m still getting some aftershocks – stomach cramps – but am at work and trying to get things done, life goes on, and both kids are back at school.

So although yesterday was really quite beautiful outside and especially in the morning when there was a crispness to the air, really a perfect spring day and a good time to be outside, it was mostly a “veg out” time for me. I couldn’t get into the Sunday Times at all. Although this profile of Seung-Hui Cho makes for good reading in a macabre sort of way, between the ghastliness of the tragedy at Virginia Tech, the brazenness and stupidity of Alberto Gonzales’ testimony to Congress and the shenanigans of Paul Wolfowitz each covered in Frank Rich’s latest, I literally couldn’t stomach reading the paper. Even the Magazine piece on Martin Amis didn’t do it for me. So I got a DVD and went upstairs to relax on the couch and watch some episodes of West Wing.

This was from the latter half of the second season where the big issues underlying the plot in several episodes is that the President had Multiple Sclerosis (the less severe type) and he failed to disclose the fact, not just to the Public but even to his senior staff. Only a handful of confidants had the information. And he had made a promise to his wife, a promise he’d ultimately break, that he’d be just a one-term president so the information about the MS could come out after he left office without it affecting decisions during the presidency.

Ignoring the issue of whether somebody supposedly as smart as President Bartlet could actually believe that keeping such information locked up tight in a cabal of political insiders was feasible, especially when that group included the Vice President whom Bartlet had beaten to secure the nomination during the previous primary season and who had strong ambition to be the next President, it makes for good drama time a crisis come up where the information has to get out to at least one other to accommodate the circumstance, such as having to alert the anesthesiologist after the President had been shot. And it may be truer to the Bartlet character to note that he was faced with a Hobson’s Choice about the MS and further he himself didn’t expect to win the Presidency at the outset. Yet as the lesson from Watergate clearly has taught us, though that lesson seemingly needs to be learned anew by each subsequent administration, such conspiracies have a tendency to unravel and when they do all hell breaks loose.

* * * * *

I’m really more interested in the keeping of secrets in the learning milieu than I am in considering the political context. As a political outsider, the issues behind the conspiracy in the political context seem rather mundane to me, while with learning I believe there is complexity at a fundamental level. The complexity makes it interesting but harder to reconcile.

Let me illustrate with some actual examples. I’ve been having an ongoing dialog with Susan Curtis who is one of the principals on our Business 101 proposal. Susan has been talking with me about some of the learning issues in her other courses, particularly a course where students are doing some internship in the field as part of the activity. In describing the student writing, and now these are my terms rather than hers, their behavior is chameleon-like. They try hard to deliver whatever it is that the Professor seems to want, but in the process they deny their own thoughts and feelings and sense of self. So in talking about one of our core goals for the Business 101 we discussed the students taking an open and honest approach to their own learning. In the back of my head I’ve got Blogs on my mind as the way to achieve that, certainly some electronic forum with which to share their thinking with their peers and their instructors. This would seem like something we all could embrace.

But this morning in today’s Chronicle Update there is a piece called After the Tragedy where several experts are asked the hypothetical about what they would say if they were to give the Commencement Address this year at Virginia Tech. Below is the beginning of one of those responses.

April 20, 2007

Barry R. Glassner, professor of sociology and executive vice provost at the University of Southern California and author of 'The Gospel of Food' (Ecco, 2007) and 'The Culture of Fear' (Basic, 1999)

Protect Your Perceptions: If you haven’t already done so, start a diary — not a blog but an old-fashioned diary that you write for yourself to preserve your private observations, feelings, and questions about what you have experienced these past several weeks. No one else possesses these, and they will slip away from you faster than you can imagine.

I don’t know Glassner but he obviously is a person of some importance and a respected Academic. And he is quite clear in advising to keep thoughts private, secrets just for the student/writer, to document emotions, thoughts, and issues in a way that is not altered through public conversation. So here the complexity begins. Keeping secrets can be a good thing, a way to explore our inner being. It doesn’t have to mark a conspiracy. It can be a healthy part our own intellectual development.

I have a friend who is a writer and teaches writing as well and who would have no problem understanding Glassner, but who doesn’t understand how blogging can be a legitimate form of inquiry and self-expression – it connotes too much of living one’s life on one’s sleeve and the showing off part invariably must get in the way of the honesty and the inquiry. I hope it’s obvious that I don’t agree with this view. But I will concede that there are circumstances where the explorations are best kept private. And I will argue that in many other instances the blogging being public conveys an important benefit. I get reader comments, quite a few by email. My inquiries are often speculative – I think I’m onto something but I really can’t be sure. I’m somewhat comforted in this by the observation that Hollywood Studios really don’t know what picture will be their next blockbuster, and ditto for publishers of fiction. There is a fundamental unknowing of what will pique the interest in others, especially when we’re not part of an ongoing conversation where the next thing follows immediately from what came before. Hence an email from a reader remarking favorably about a post provides an important confirmation about the ideas themselves and provides a kind of legitimacy as a consequence.

But I’d be the first to admit that not all my ideas find their way into the blog. I filter extensively. I filter because many of the ideas I generate are not very good (my filtering is imperfect so be merciful on this one) but I also filter because the ideas are personal and those ideas don’t belong in the blog, whether they are good or not.

This division sounds straightforward, but it is not. Real learning is personal and full of emotions. There can be emotions about the ideas and the implications of those. And there can be emotions about people, in large part because of the exchange of ideas. The two are inextricably mixed and finding a good sense of what to make overt and what to maintain as secret is difficult. I hope the reader notes that I started this post with something personal, but not too intimate. The vast majority of my posts come this way and that is for a reason. We learn in our own context based on our on situation and that drives the learning. Leaving it out entirely misses a crucial element in what is going on.

I do omit things deliberately. It simply is not in good taste to dwell on the symptoms from the intestinal virus. Good taste can be delineated. In the 1980’s, Miss Manners was a best seller. But good taste and the common sense ideas that underlie good taste is really only the tip of the iceberg.

I omit things out of self- protection, mostly, and also to protect friends and colleagues, on occasion. And it is on this point that I’ve made no progress in my own thinking since I first thought to write this post. There are many who believe that deep learning occurs when one’s previously held world view gets challenged by facts and observations that simply can be reconciled with that view. When one is so challenged, typically one treats it as an affront rather than as an opportunity. Often one goes into denial. When the issue is about the Laws of Physics, as a third party one can see confronting that in an open way is the best course of action. When the issue is about being jilted by a girlfriend, in contrast, blogging about it may be the worst possible thing to do. Yet the feeling for the person going through the experience might be quite the same in the two situations. And I fear that apart from saying to learn what’s right from the context, clearly necessary but not sufficient, I can’t articulate a good principle to distinguish the one from the other.

What can be done is to articulate “safe principles” by which I mean that if the principles of the condition hold then you should know how to behave in the circumstance. One of those is “No Surprises,” a maxim I’ve talked about before and I think a reasonable guide to professional behavior. President Bartlet should have told about his MS as a candidate for this reason – the information was going to get out and he should have known that. And there are like guides for keeping information private, such as when a friend or even more importantly a staff member who reports to you entrusts you with a confidential piece of information. Preserving the trust is paramount. It’s pretty easy to agree on those. But there is a huge amount of gray in between.

It would be good to have some principles for parsing that. Absent those, what are we teaching our students?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Ly Berry 2.0

We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?

Ray Bradbury (1920 - ), Fahrenheit 451, 1953

I woke up at about 2 AM early Saturday morning and couldn’t get back to sleep. I was stressed out by some work stuff. A talk I gave hadn’t gone to my liking. I could see some of the plans I had unraveling and I was trying to force them back into my mental container, but struggling on whether they’d stay there. I looked for some distraction. It was cold and rainy outside – Saturday ended up being quite a dreary day. There was already a West Wing DVD in the player. For my birthday I had received the boxed set and the evening before I had watched a few episodes from the first season. Early Saturday morning I would watch several more.

Three or four years earlier I had gotten hooked on West Wing reruns on the Bravo Network. A little later on I got my wife hooked too, and then my older son. For me the stories had interest not just because of the multiple threads, quick dialog, and political setting, but also because there were parallels to decision making within the IT organization that I was then part of. If there weren’t outright lessons learned, there still might be a sense of uplift because on the show they were able to conquer an issue and move passed it. One of the signpost’s of the show is the President saying, “What’s next?”

As it turns out, my memory is sufficiently bad these days that while I do recall isolated incidents of the shows, mostly the stories seem new to me on this DVD viewing, so they are still fun to watch. The best episode that morning was Let Bartlet be Bartlet. This episode originally aired more than a year before 9/11, but the Stock Market bubble had burst by then and I believe many people had the feeling that the air had been let out of the balloon. The storyline behind the show was that at core instinct Bartlet was a die hard liberal with strong beliefs on a variety of issues and indeed that was why he had won the election and energized his talented staff. But once in office he had become much more of a regular pol who through the give and take of negotiating with Congress went for incremental improvement and mostly for upholding the status quo. The staff started to feel the blahs because they weren’t doing anything with passion and for the “right reasons.” The President felt the same.

Near the end of the show the President returns to his roots and in so doing lifts the spirits of his troops. They were going to fight the good fight and to hell with whether that made sense according to the political calculations. Through their energy and the natural appeal of their message they’d prevail, even if they’d get bloody in some of their battles. This is a nice metaphor, one that informs the rest of this post.

* * * * *

At a more reasonable hour Saturday morning, but still early in the day, JoAnn Jacoby forwarded this link to an ACRL Report from a Summit held the prior November. Along with JoAnn and several others, I’m a member of the Integrative Research Services (IRS) group, a committee whose purpose is to investigate a “Scholarly Commons” and to recommend next generation services from the Library in support of research on Campus. (Today being Tax Day, you’d think the IRS acronym might be trademarked and that our group might be named differently as a consequence. Hmm.)

I started to read the report soon after JoAnn’s message arrived in my Inbox. I was struck by the totally passive way that the core questions were posed:

Will technology finally spur a recasting of how colleges and universities produce and disseminate knowledge? If such a merging of interests takes place, what impact will that have on academic libraries? Or conversely, if there is not a merging of these two agendas, will academic libraries be caught in the middle of an increasingly difficult competition for institutional resources?
I was tempted to write a post then and there to the effect that – come on guys, don’t act as if all the forces in play now will shape your destiny; get into the game and shape it for yourself. But I was sleep deprived and when I’m that way I tend to be angry. It’s not really a great idea to write blog posts in that circumstance. And I shouldn’t shoot off my mouth half cocked. I hadn’t read the full piece yet and here I was ready to give a response. As it turns out I wouldn’t read the full piece until Sunday. So instead I started to do my internal analysis. On the economic front it seemed to me that Academic Libraries are the unwitting agents of the Journal Publishers and part of the trap we’re in is that in their effort to preserve their status on campus Libraries are inadvertently promoting an institutional arrangement that they should be trying hard to defeat. I’ll illuminate below.

First some caveats. We Arvans, at least the Champaign branch of the family, are pretty cowardly. My wife and I joke about that on occasion, with so many memories of scared behavior that really, it’s not funny. I can’t deal with violence at all and even an aggressive dog gives me the willies on occasion. I know its not shrewd to throw stones in a glass house, but I will do my own barking in this post. Also, in case this isn’t obvious, I’m not a Librarian and I don’t even play one on TV. I have some good friends who are Librarians and many colleagues in that category, at Illinois through IRS, some committee work on our Institutional Repository Project, and our fledgling Learning Commons, and through the Frye Leadership Institute and some CIC activities I’ve gotten to know Librarians at many other campuses. I can talk with Librarians, but for the most part I don’t believe they think like me.

The main point of this post is to deliver a simple message – Hey Librarians, stop being a wimp. And hey ACRL, you stop being a wimp too. Your message needs to be clearer and more radical and you need to be seen as really going for it. But beyond that I want to be constructive in the criticism and do so by giving the argument my framing. One central idea, whether the rest of my argument is accepted or not, is to embrace thinking and new activity that is coming from outside the Library, especially where that ties into the Library Agenda. There is some of that in the ACRL report. There could be a lot more.

A good place to start is The Ecstasy of Influence by Jonathan Lethem, an elegant defense of the Intellectual Commons, a notion more fundamental than Copyright. This could serve as the Library’s call to arms, its manifesto – scholarly information should be open. Couple that with the salient fact that digital information distributed over the Internet is fundamentally a public good – it takes extra effort and cost to restrict access – and you have the mantra for the Library. Scholarly information in digital form should be open.

The problem, of course, is history. History matters. Books, and here I mean books in print rather than books online, are private good. If I’m reading a book, you can’t be reading it at a same time. You need another copy and that has a significant incremental cost. The institutional arrangements that Libraries had with Publishers of scholarly books and periodicals made sense when print was the primary medium. The Library could then purchase copies of the printed material and via the Right of First Sale, loan the materials out for use. The model makes little or no sense, however, with digital content for scholarly use. Indeed, copyright itself makes little or no sense in this context, since authors are not motivated by royalty streams in creating the scholarly material. Their rewards come in other ways, from the recognition of the work and as a credential for P&T.

That University Libraries serve as gateways to electronic content, in stand alone eJournals or databases with scholarly journal content is an affirmation that at present we have a private goods model being applied to what should be a public good. People want that content and providing it in the current way makes Academic Libraries seem important to the University mission. The Libraries themselves may not want to undermine this arrangement, because it would cut into their importance in the overall mission or their respective campuses. But that is what they should do because scholarly information in digital form being open is more fundamental than that Libraries are critical to the mission of Campuses.

How might we get there? I see at least three distinct paths, some of which have been ventured down, but not far enough or fast enough. There may be other paths as well. First, there are alternative forms to scholarly publication that should be embraced. Invariably, this first path leads to mention of the work of Paul Ginsparg. But, to my knowledge, it has not led to parallel developments in the Social Sciences or Humanities. I don’t know why. Pushing for that should be high on the ACRL agenda in my view. Second, there needs to be serious effort on consolidating the buyers on the licensing of electronic materials. To date those efforts have focused on price. They need to focus on access as well.

If one goes to Google Scholar now from a computer not on a Campus network and finds a reference to an article in JSTOR, for example, one gets this not so delightful rejoinder.

The material you requested is included in JSTOR, an online journal archive made available to researchers through participating libraries and institutions.

Authorized users may be required to log in via their library website. For more information about obtaining the complete article, please see Access Options. The citation, abstract, and first page are available below.

This is absurd. The arrangement exists because Publishers and Libraries operate in a world of licensing fees. Licensing fees are not the way to fund public goods. Public goods should be funded by taxes. ACRL should advance an agenda where on an interim basis Research Libraries agree to be taxed in exchange for open access to content such as JSTOR. On a longer terms basis it should be the Federal Government that pays for such access, and ACRL should be the lobbying agent to move us to that world. If JSTOR were openly available, instead of via restricted gateways, then our alumni would benefit, as would the rest of the public. There is pablum in the ACRL report about alumni portals. If the Library wanted to do something of substance for alumni, it would make scholarly information available to them. Doing so by expanding the scope of current Campus licenses is not feasible. That’s too expensive. Making the content openly available is a better solution. JSTOR is a good place to start with this because by its design it doesn’t include the most recent publications. So one might make some progress while deferring the question about open access to all publications until the collective mood and mindset is ready for the argument.

The third area of focus is Copyright Law itself. Copyright Law doesn’t serve well the communication of scholarly information. Government publications are in the public domain de jure. Scholarly work, part of the contributions to the Intellectual Commons that Lethem describes, should be in the public domain as well. It is quite clear who would stand to lose by changing the law in this way, especially if the law applied retrospectively. So there are economic and therefore political reasons to sustain the status quo. And given the effort more broadly by MPAA, RIAA and others on copyright to expand the influence of Copyright, one should be under no delusion that it would be easy to make such a change. But by concentrating narrowly on scholarly work and not trying to apply the change in the Law to a more encompassing notion of the intellectual commons – for example, authors of great fiction clearly enhance our culture and intellectual life, but those authors do make their livelihoods based on the sale of their works – one should be able to maintain the high ground in the argument.

Open access to scholarly information in electronic form requires one Library in total – that’s for the entire globe. There is a huge amount of wasteful duplication now as each University Library provides in essence the same service. The service that needs to be provided locally, giving access to the private good content that is in the Library collection, will continue indefinitely, but as the report points out there is likely a narrow constituency for that service and that constituency is likely to dwindle in the future. If the Library is to endure as a centerpiece of campus culture and scholarly life, it needs to find a different raison d’etre than as the store of information and gateway to resources. That may be a tough pill to swallow and why the report seems so lukewarm. But to me the conclusion is inescapable.

* * * * *

The irony here, in my view, is that there is a huge need not yet being filled. The need is not for Libraries, but for Librarians. To understand the need one has to go outside the Library to observe other discussions that are going on now about how the Internet is changing the nature of learning itself. For example, consider this interview about the nature of informal learning. Those of us who have been playing with Web 2.0 technologies in our teaching have been trying to understand how to blend informal learning with formal classroom instruction. It would do well for Librarians to pay attention to those conversations. The goal in those conversations is to find ways to make the learning more real for the students. In turn, the Library needs to be having conversations about how to make the Library part of the real learning of its users. In the IRS taskforce we’re beginning to talk this way, but we’re only scratching the surface. Consider this reframing of the issues based on the analogy between informal learning and formal learning on the one hand and formative assessment and summative assessment on the other.

Now tie that analogy once more to the developments with the technology. Informal learning is manifest in the writing one sees in blogs and wikis. This writing is not peer reviewed and it is published very soon after it has been created. Traditional scholarly work has been peer reviewed and appears for publication with some substantial lag after it has been created. There has always been informal writing, sketches of the thinking, rough drafts of the work, but until recently with the cost of publication substantial most of that work never saw the light of day. All of that stands to change.

For example, at present blogging is accessible to just about anyone as an activity and it is possible for a scholar to lead a “dual life,” to make overt through blogging or other means much of the formative work that goes into the creation of a more formal work that will be prepared for publication that is peer reviewed, as well as informal work that is important but only tangentially related to that goal. Indeed, in my day job I’ve been trying to encourage faculty to start operating in these dual worlds. It has been a tough sell, mostly because the faculty have no time to try new things and if they are to experiment with something new they’d like to see something with more immediate payoff. Neither of these mean the idea is bad; rather it means that in the absence of doing this type of activity, getting established faculty to form the habit is difficult.

Where I’ve heard this work, and I’ve got several anecdotes of good outcomes in this domain, is with graduate students at the dissertation writing stage who have set up a blog to document their current findings, their formative view of the literature, and as a way to build a social network around the issues of their research. This is a great way for the students to market themselves before their dissertation is completed and it is a way to sustain themselves intellectually during the these writing process, traditionally an isolating and harrowing experience. To me this is a natural place for Librarians to intercede as information professionals, in the formative (and possibly ephemeral) collection building that is coincident with this type of research.

What would Librarians contribute to this type of work? While I do think the focus now should be on grad students at the dissertation stage, let me talk about my own information needs created from writing this blog, because that’s what I know best. I’ve been at it for more than two years now. And since it is mostly text, it gets the full index treatment from Google. Most of my hits arise from Google searches. And with that, the unit of measurement is the post or the blog itself. A Google image search returns a different unit of measurement, and ditto for a video search. These are not seemingly tied together in any way. A little while ago I made a post with lots of images to show fundamental principles of learning – one of which is “Monkey See, Monkey Do,” implying that a good instructor should model whatever the instructors wants the students to do. In the process of doing that I had a photo of Jane Goodall and got a lot of hits for it although the picture actually resides on somebody else site and while I mentioned her name it was in the context of my message, likely not what people were looking for when they did the Google search.

That my site gets a fair number of hits via false positive responses to Google searches suggests to me that it also misses hits from false negatives – my site is relevant but folks don’t come and look. In the particular case of my blog, that’s not a big deal. For a student writing a dissertation whose collection building might become an important scholarly resource down the road, it very well could be a big deal. Everything I do in this vein is a kludge. My linked files are all over the place, on multiple possible servers and within a folder structure that emphasizes immediate convenience in putting up the content but with little or no other logic for rediscovery of the items at a later date. Ditto for my naming conventions of the items themselves Further, the need for a coherent structure evolves as I persist in the blogging activity and create more linked content within a certain genre of work (like screen movies for a Tablet PC). I don’t know how to accommodate that evolution and plan best for it. So I have a hodgepodge.

The Librarian as educator and collaborator on addressing these very real information issues seem to me where the focus needs to be. Graduate students rather than old farts like me should be the focus because they represent the next generation of scholars and if there is to be change in how all of academia is to conceive of the Library, affecting the view of the next generation is the right place to start. Further, graduate students typically lead a more hermitic existence abd that would likely make them more receptive to assistance on the documentation and archiving of their informal learning than more mature scholars are apt to be.

Libraries have gotten their noses bloodied with the scholarly work of graduate students regarding the archiving of dissertations. That may further the reluctance in moving toward a focus on the formative work that scholars do. Further, as the report does mention, to the extent that there is perceived value in supporting this type of informal learning, the academic units themselves may try to provide that value. And in some instances one might guess that disciplinary knowledge will trump Library wisdom to address these information needs in context. But in the main I believe this cuts the other way, because the temptation to kludge is huge and a more systematic approach coupled with a big picture view of what is at stake is needed. Who else but Librarians will have that knowledge?

* * * * *

The ACRL report touches on these ideas of new service offerings but it is not front and center. The report does provide an analysis of the political economy issues, both about current and future constituencies as well as differences among Librarians in satisfying those varying needs, and gives more depth to that analysis than to what practices should emerge out the other end of the tunnel. An embrace of scholarship at its formative stages would be a Bartlet for Bartlet approach. Go for it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

More on Video Auto Starting

It appears that with Camtasia is you make the video in Flash, then you don't have the ability to control auto start versus manual start. However, if you do Quicktime or Windows Media, then yes you do have this control. As the issue (about hear the video when looking at other posts) is really transitory until that particular page is accessible only from the archive, I'm going to leave as is for the moment. I hope that Camtasia gives such control in an upcoming version. I note that the Google Video seems only to be manual start, which is my preferred alternative.

Monday, April 09, 2007

My apology about video auto starting

The first video in the post Inky Dink Parlez Vous (two before this one) launches automatically at present. This is not so bad when that is the post you are looking at but it is annoying otherwise. Until I figure out how to stop that, please scroll down and manually stop that video. I apologize for the inconvenience.

Morality Plays

Today’s Quote of the Day

The danger is not that a particular class is unfit to govern. Every class is
unfit to govern.
- Lord Acton

Yesterday being Easter, the weekend featured the usual assorted movies about Christ (The Passion of the Christ, The Greatest Story Ever Told, The Last Temptation of Christ) and a reminder to the heathen, in this case me, that Christ existed for our salvation to rescue us from sin and damnation. At the same time the New York Times ran a variety of columns, including this piece by Frank Rich, which makes it quite clear that there is still a vast amount of sin and abomination, much of it emanating from all things Republican, whether from the White House or in the flailing candidacy of John McCain. And of course much of that ties in some way, shape, or form to our involvement in Iraq.

In my stream of consciousness I started to think back about my immediate reactions after the September 11th attacks. I was out walking, getting a good constitutional on what was until then a nice cheery day here. I believe I thought, almost immediately, about the rationale for the attacks. I may be confusing this time with the first time I heard about Bin Laden’s warnings, but in either case this was soon after the attacks had happened. And there was no doubt about the thinking. We are there in the Middle East primarily because of the Oil. Oil is a linchpin for our economy, perhaps the linchpin. We are not there to practice colonialism in the traditional sense. But our need for preserving the flow of oil is in the spirit of mercantilism, and since mercantilism is often associated with colonialism, we look like latter day imperialists. Certainly, we have little direct concern for the welfare of the peoples of the Middle East. Did we show concern for the people of Panama when we ran the Canal?

All this seems like pretty basic stuff to me but somehow it got lost in our outrage and horror from being attacked on our native soil. Now it was we who were the victim and they the perpetrator and any history that led up to that moment be dammed. Then, ever the economist, I started wondering how much of all that ails us, not just Iraq but really everything, could be explain simply by income inequality and that those at the upper end of the income distribution are blithe to the needs of those at the lower, while those at the lower end bear resentment, in part just for that, but more so because they see no realistic way to improve their lot and have suffered a variety of indignities as a consequence. This Nicholas Kristof piece emphasizes the inhumanity that decent poor people must endure in Pakistan. I don’t have a cite for this one, but I heard a piece on NPR last week that said the basis for the entire Al Qaeda thing with the treatment that some of the core members received in Egyptian prisons. The story is that they have a taste for blood, something that was cultivated from their prison experience.

So I started to ask myself a different sort of question. If we did actually care about these people and wanted to help them in some way, do we actually have the resources to do something substantial to help them out, or is it a pipedream, something beyond our own means. And this in turn gave me an urge to look at the data about income distribution for the U.S., where I had a reasonable guess that the data are abundant and where one could ask the parallel question – can we end Poverty as we know it, the clear goal of the Johnson Great Society programs, or is that too beyond our means, something we can idealize about but not reach? In other words, is this primarily a matter of sufficient wealth or sufficient resolve?

I went to the Census Bureau Web site and in short order found this data series about the earnings of individual men for the year 2005, the most recent year available. There is a parallel series for women. (Indeed there are tables of income that are available by household, family, and individual.) I chose that first series to focus on more or less by happenstance, but also to compare with my own situation, where I know the history.

Here are some quick facts for those who want to follow my argument but not directly peruse the data. The series covers all males ages 15 years and above. There are about 113 million people in this category. The mean income for the entire population is not quite $41,000. The income distribution is quite skewed in that on the one hand it is bounded below by $0 and on the other hand the top category for income is $250,000 and above, more than four time the mean. Is this particular cell there is about 1% of the population and they earn almost 12% of the income.

Partly to get a handle on the skewness and partly just because it’s fun for me to play with Excel, I made a little spreadsheet that has a chart of the income distribution graphed as a Lorenz curve, the raw data from the Census table along with the cumulative percentages on both population and income, and a little worksheet to do an inflation adjustment. I started work at the U of I in August 1980. My 9-month salary that year was $19,500. What would that number be like today, in 2007? While giving a precise answer makes little sense to me, I’m comfortable with a multiple of between two and three over the 27-year period, simply to account for inflation. Incidentally, my understanding of starting salaries in Econ this year were around $95,000, meaning there has been some real increase in starting salaries, it’s not all explained by inflation.

There’s one other factor that needs serious consideration before looking at those numbers as an explanation of income inequality. There’s a clue in that 15-year olds are counted. Some of them are bagging groceries after school. Some of them are not working at all. Their annual income is likely to be fairly low, just because of their age. Even after entering the labor market full time, however, wages are likely to increase with seniority, even accounting for inflation. There are several explanations for this, growth in human capital, better matching of the employee to the work, and providing the appropriate incentives are a few of the explanations. The point is that these factors suggest that earnings will vary over the life cycle, and that a census such as reported in the income table I’m looking at, is sampling people at junctures in the life cycle. Those life cycle effects have to be netted out. When one does that the inequality won’t be quite as stark as it seems from first glance at the numbers.

With those caveats, I’m now going to sound the alarm. The median income is just $27,500 while a full 80% of the population makes under $60,000. Most of us who are faculty or reasonably well placed administrators, even if we feel we’re underpaid and under appreciated, are in an income elite relative to the population as a whole.

And the key point is that high income tends to isolate people from the rest of the population. There is a tendency to live near other people of a similar status. When I was a grad student 1976-1980, I believe my stipend in the last year was still under $4000 and with that I had to pay rent and buy food and gas for the car. (My folks helped me out or I would not have been able to do this.) But I had to live in Chicago where rents were cheaper and incomes more modest, in order to live within my means. Moderate income democratizes. Extreme incomes isolate. Until I did this little calculation, I didn’t realize just how away from the norm we are in academe. That there is an urge to make more income to insulate oneself from some of the hustle bustle is perhaps understandable. That too much of this anesthetizes one from the travails of others may be less immediate, but seems obviously the case. The university as sanctuary itself is meant to provide such insulation, to enable deep inquiry and the institution of tenure may be a necessary component of that. But there has been less commentary about the pernicious effects from creating an income elite that, especially at a public university such as Illinois, is almost certainly wealthier than the student population they teach.

I want to get back to my main theme, about the society as a whole and not worry simply about the isolation within academe. So let me try to address the question of whether we are rich enough to end poverty as we know it simply via income transfer. My conclusion (this warrants more serious argument but here’s the quickie one) is that if one did a linear tax on all income above the mean and likewise a linear transfer of income back to those below the mean then a 10% tax/transfer of this sort wouldn’t do the trick and while a 50% rate would, if the income numbers held up, such a 50% tax would kill incentives on income generation at the upper level (make the tax rate high enough and the Republicans do have a point) and so it wouldn’t work at that level either. So, at the least, that na├»ve approach is not going to work.

One might want to think about that income distribution curve in my spreadsheet not in the static way it is represented there, but in an inter-generational sense. Given the income of the parents, what is the income distribution that the children will face? We all know that if you’re born with a silver spoon in your mouth you’re more likely to end up rich and if you’re born poor in the inner city you’re more likely to end up poor. But is there a decent chance to beat the odds and break out of that circumstance?

I confess that over the weekend I watched a fair amount of golf. At first the Masters tournament seemed like a dud to me. The blustery conditions led to poor play and that watching all the pros fail made for poor television. But on Sunday things warmed up a bit, there were some really wonderful shots, including some long putts that went into the hole after making a 90 degrees change of course due to the undulations in the green, and the tournament ended up producing a great Horatio Alger story. The champion, Zach Johnson, a heretofore unknown from the state of Iowa who at the time wasn’t good enough to earn a scholarship at the University of Iowa (great golf school, right?) so went to Drake instead, just kept at it and kept at it, and went through all the levels of tournament golf below the PGA tour, ultimately making it to the highest level and then proving himself to be the best on this the most visible stage in golf (at least in the U.S.).

We love stories like this. As long as these things can happen on occasion, and not just for sports performance but for other areas of achievement too, then we’re ok with the income distribution chips falling where they may. As long as the game is fair and not rigged, then fine. All of us live with the immigrant myth of how the grandmother washed floors for a living so the father could have time to attend night school and so the children could go to Harvard (or the U of I). It’s the opportunity for advancement that the system must provide. It’s not a guarantee that everyone succeeds in the struggle.

The problem is, the game is rigged. Education was supposed to be the equalizer, the guarantee of equal opportunity, the enforcer of the meritocracy. But inner city kids, overwhelmingly Black and with no one caring about their learning, have no chance. Kozol calls it apartheid. No Child Left Behind blames the schools. But nobody cares for the children. This is a tragedy. It’s here, not in Iraq. Yet it doesn’t make the papers. The test scores make the papers. The conditions in the schools do not. What could speak louder about our insulation?

* * * * *

There is a different morality play going on that also doesn’t seem to be getting enough attention. This one is about Barack Obama and his raising a vast war chest of campaign contributions, enough to rival Hillary Clinton and literally give her a run for her money. Has anyone who is not Republican been asking about the type of press Obama is getting? If the linked piece from the New York Times is any indication, he’s getting only praise, cast as a sensitive intellectual type who is above the fray of partisan politics but in tune with the needs of ordinary people. Adlai Stevenson is mentioned… the possible downside. It seems everything is coming up roses for Senator Obama.

But what of the implied promises to those donors, the ones who’ve given the big bucks? Don’t they expect their voices to be heard and heard loudly? How can one raise all that money and credibly preach a populist message? When the reckoning comes, how will this play out? Will Obama’s bubble burst or will it be ours that bursts because we have so much hope in him?

This is not the inexperience question. It’s different. After Bush, we want the Messiah. We need the Messiah. Obama seems like a good guy, but he is not the Messiah. It would really help if the press, particularly the New York Times, made that point forcibly. Unfortunately, they’re not ready to do that and nobody really wants to listen even if they did.

In our collective hubris, we’ll cometh to a collective fall.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Inky Dinky Parlez Vouz

My friend and colleague Larry DeBrock gave a nice talk last Friday at the OIM brownbag, where he showed many interesting uses of the Tablet PC, both for note taking at meetings and for lecturing. Near the end he showed a little demonstration movie he had made with Camtasia that he uploaded into Google Video. I know from private chats with Larry that he's not completely satisfied with this solution because Google Video compresses the screen capture and makes it appear smaller than it actually is. So in this post I'm going to demonstrate some alternative ways to do suggest that at least for Ink movies, there are better alternatives than Google Video, but for talking head, Google Video works quite well.

Let me begin with a little screen movie that I want to display well within this blog post. Note that the column with the blog is fairly narrow. So if you want to show a movie that way that is itself not compressed, you have to make the capture window fairly narrow to. In this case I used the following trip. I open up Excel so it would show Column F without resizing, but not show Column G. (Actually, as my demo below shows with the horizontal scroll bar at the bottom, it should be even narrow, only to show Column E.) I then opened Windows Journal (the application I'm using to do the writing with Ink) and made that window as wide as the Excel file. It's a little awkward writing in that constrained space, but not too bad. And finally I set the Camtasia region to capture the Windows Journal area below the menu bar and pen settings.

I've found that I do a pass twice, once to just record the screen movie when I write and then a second time to record the audio with Audacity. Once I've got the video made, I use Camtasia to produce a Web presentation at the highest quality settings for viewing and listening. Then I upload the folder of that presentation to my College of Business Web space. That can be viewed directly by following the link, but I've also got it so it can be viewed within the blog.

This looks like it is embedded but it is not. Actually, I'm using the iFrame command in html to show a Web page within a Web page. The first Web page is the Camtasia movie. The second is the blog. Then I set the iframe so it has no border and gives the appearance of being embedded. The last part of this is to set the height and width appropriately. There is no great science to that. I try settings till it looks ok. This is the html code I ended up with where I've deleted the "<" before"iframe src" as well as the ">" after "/iframe" so the html doesn't render a second time.

iframe src="" frameborder="0" height="650" width="425">
Also note that the Camtasia movie is sitting on a regular Web server. It seems to load reasonably quickly and I'm happy about not needing a Flash server to make this work.

Below there is a talking head movie with a bit of a how to for making those. Google video is fine for this, particularly if you record the video larger knowing that it will be compressed. For these I'd just as soon not have that on a Web server that the College hosts. But the Campus seems to get into a tizzy about having educational content on a third party server. I'm not sure why.

So now we have two different ways to "embed" movies one really with the html embed command and the other using iFrame, and we can using Google Video for talking head but use Camtasia published to a regular Web site for screen capture that doesn't get reduced in size after it is uploaded. This plus text and images gives the instructor/presenter an ample arsenal for making and distributing content that can be produced on the fly fairly easily.

That last point needs some qualification. One has to know a bit of html to do this, but nothing too burdensome.