Sunday, 4 December 2011

Information Bubbles and the Search for the Perfect Red Wine Continues

Last week I came face to face with someone who in the words of Eli Pariser, described the way in which at any particular time, we create, enter and inhabit a bubble that allows us to make sense of the incomprehensible, the inexplicable, the exciting but unknown aspects of the world we live in and in doing so, we are able to retain some sense of ontological security. OK Eli doesn’t say all of that, it is of course my interpretation of his work. In his book The Filter Bubble, Eli argues that why we might all live in the era of personalization, our world views are being distorted by the change in the way media is being consumed by internet users.

In a week where I explored with a group of new Masters students the impact of what I call a Focauldian governance of the UK Public Sector, I find Eli to be an intriguing online organiser and disorganiser. He has been a long term critic of the way in which in the new information age algorithms, code and robots curate search engine result – amid as such, can we ever be sure were seeing the whole picture? Some would answer yes, resoundingly.

Last week I dealt with two Academic Misconduct cases, where through Turnitin, colleagues were able to say, and say categorically, that students involved had extensively copied from other peoples work and presented it as their own. I also waited with two colleagues for life changing information to filter through and reach us. And when it did, the information in itself did not help make sense of what, up to that point might have seemed a perfectly rationale world.

Importantly, for me and perhaps all of us, (with the possible exception of those asleep on the train to Preston) is the growing need to get to grips with the way in which the so called information age is changing human life profoundly. Arguably an almost unfettered access to information is changing culture, language, and it has even changed the thought process – legitimisation by Wikipedia rules OK.

This week the UK Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley observed that many patients will benefit directly from Governmental efforts to make health data transparent and easy to use by the medical research community. Allegedly such free access will fuel advances in treatment, as well as positioning the UK as a centre of excellence for research. Of course this access to personal data is a good thing, but I wonder where all this information has come from, where it is stored and who is using it for what other purposes. Whether any of this prolific collection of data and information will make a difference to patient care or patient choice remains to be seen.
Also this week I have been involved in looking at the work of colleagues in the College and the wider University in relation to the forthcoming Research Excellence Framework (REF). It was good to see that in the main we are already in a good position. As I have noted before, UK research papers attract 11% of the world’s citations and make up 14% of the world’s highly cited output, including 17% of the world’s research papers with more than 500 citations and 20% of those with more than 1000 citations. The average research impact of UK publications now surpasses that of the US and we manage all of this on very limited State support. The UK spends 4% of the world’s Gross Expenditure on research, and the UK boast 6% of the world’s researchers who are authors on 8% of the world’s research articles and reviews published in internationally influential journals.

And as my research mentor enters his last couple of weeks with us the search for the Perfect Red Wine continues afoot. Finding and drinking the right amount of red wine is of course, as the research evidence suggests, crucial to our health and well being. This week in an attempt to contribute to this knowledge base, I have imbued some very indifferent Italian, some superlative Australian, and some excellent, if somewhat overpriced Chillan red wine. The wine from Chile was a Syrah Mouvedre from the Maipo Valley. The taste was of elegant aromas of dark fruits such as black cherries and redcurrants with rich chocolaty notes, with hints of toffee and nutmeg. So far the Chillan is winning – although of course, a little more empirical research is required.

And for all those Rainbow Warriors out there - sorry but yesterday I had to ditch the solar powered Christmas Tree lights on my Weeping Birch tree. They never got past 7.5 minutes of feeble illumination. So I rejoined the National Grid and now enjoy warm whitel lights glowing brightly in the darkness. However, unlike my neighbour with his unattractive grey plastic junction box, I utlised a blue tit nesting box to bring the wires, transformers and so on together in a totally eco friendly way.