Down the rabbit hole

I read another great Quartz Obsession e-mail the other day, this time on Wikipedia.

Earlier, I shared some articles on two celebrated Wikipedia editors, Steven Pruitt and Jess Wade. This one is about the project more generally, its history and controversies, as well as some fascinating lists.

Wikipedia
“The wiki rabbit hole is the learning pathway which a reader travels by navigating from topic to topic while browsing Wikipedia and other wikis,” says Wikipedia. Intrinsic learning—to learn something for its own sake—is the number one reason people use the site. And truly, there is so much weird stuff to discover.

In 2011, Wales told Esquire that one of his favorites is the entry on the Metal Umlaut. Quartz editors nominated the following as their favorite Wikipedia pages: BloopList of largest cosmic structuresGardiner’s IslandThe humList of common misperceptionsObservable universeSodor’s legend of the lost treasureAnimals with fraudulent diplomasLongest flightsEmperor NortonInventors killed by their own inventionsImpossible color, and What Wikipedia is not. And you could spend a day following every link in Unusual articles and List of lists, two Wikipedia metaguides to eclectic content.

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Here are some other Quartz Obsessions I’ve enjoyed. You should sign up too, if you haven’t already.

Re-thinking supposedly anonymous data

This is a little alarming.

Anonymised data isn’t nearly anonymous enough – here’s how we fix it
We developed a machine learning model to assess the likelihood of reidentifying the right person. We took datasets and we showed that in the US fifteen characteristics, including age, gender, marital status and others, are sufficient to reidentify 99.98 per cent of Americans in virtually any anonymised data set.

Some more examples.

The simple process of re-identifying patients in public health records
In late 2016, doctors’ identities were decrypted in an open dataset of Australian medical billing records. Now patients’ records have also been re-identified – and we should be talking about it.

‘Anonymous’ browsing data can be easily exposed, researchers reveal
A journalist and a data scientist secured data from three million users easily by creating a fake marketing company, and were able to de-anonymise many users.

[…]

“What would you think,” asked Svea Eckert, “if somebody showed up at your door saying: ‘Hey, I have your complete browsing history – every day, every hour, every minute, every click you did on the web for the last month’? How would you think we got it: some shady hacker? No. It was much easier: you can just buy it.”

Playing to your strengths

Being at school can be stressful, as this study from Ireland shows, and students’ well-being seems to steadily decline as they make their way to their final exams. But are some children better at maintaining good mental health than others? The key might lie with whether students are in touch with their character strengths.

Well-being of students starts to decline from the moment they enter secondary school
But our study also found that the biggest predictor of lower levels of well-being was when students did not regularly use their greatest strengths of character. Strengths of character can be measured using a survey like this one by VIA. The survey identifies teenagers’ top strengths that they can use during their daily lives.

But just because someone’s top strengths might be honesty, prudence and perseverance, does not mean that they use these strengths frequently. Those who scored the highest for using their strengths daily, also had the highest scores on their levels of well-being. Therefore, using character strengths every day could help secondary school pupils to maintain higher levels of well-being.

You can learn about your character strengths through questionnaires like this one, from the VIA Institute on Character.

Bring your character strengths to life & live more fully – VIA Institute
When you discover your greatest strengths, you learn to use them to handle stress and life challenges, become happier, and develop relationships with those who matter most to you. What are your strengths?

I worry sometimes that I’m too cynical with such things. Is the secret to better emotional health and well-being really as straightforward as completing a 10-minute questionnaire, being told what your strengths are (or rather, what you want them to be), and acting on them?

Maybe I should give this a go. This emphasis on strengths of character does chime with what I’ve been learning about Stoicism, after all.

Tackling Wikipedia’s diversity problem, one page at a time

Anyone can edit Wikipedia, and you can start articles about anything you like. And yet, as physicist Jess Wade notes, “somewhere between 84% and 91% of Wikipedia editors are male” and “only 17.7% of Wikipedia biographies written in English are about women.”

Why we’re editing women scientists onto Wikipedia
What we choose to edit is informed by what we know — not only in terms of our scientific expertise, but also from our own lived experiences. For women and people in other under-represented groups in science, that knowledge includes an intimate understanding of how our contributions are downplayed or outright erased from the history of science. The Wikipedia community should reflect the populations it serves — in race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. The US National Science Foundation has invested money to understand and bridge the gender gap on Wikipedia, and we are hopeful that more efforts to better recognize the contributions of all other under-represented groups will follow.

It sounds like a huge, thankless task, though some appreciation and recognition seems to be coming her way.

Jess Wade one of Nature’s 10
Nature notes that when Jess started writing a Wikipedia page every day, she didn’t expect her efforts to earn her global attention. She was simply trying to correct the online encyclopaedia’s under-representation of women and people of colour in science. But in July, when she tweeted about a trollish comment she’d received about the work, it prompted an outpouring of support and a big boost for her quest. “That wouldn’t have happened without that one mean comment,” she says.

Meet the physicist on a mission to change perceptions of women in science
Dr Jess Wade has a much higher profile than most scientists conducting research into chiral organic light emitting diodes. When I mention to a friend that I’m interviewing the 29-year-old physicist, that friend – who has not been in a science lab since her GCSEs – brightens with recognition. “Oh, the Wikipedia scientist?” she says. “I’ve heard about her! She’s so cool!”

A physicist is writing one Wikipedia entry a day to recognize women in science
Wade, who works in printed electronics and creates light-emitting diodes, said she doesn’t find herself notable enough as a scholar. Yet Ben Britton, an engineer in the Department of Materials at her college, created a Wikipedia page about her. And Wikipedia hasn’t deleted it.

“I know I’m not notable enough yet as an academic, and it has become a space for trolls to nominate me for deletion and basically discuss how rubbish I am!” Wade said. “I’m much happier talking about how great other people are other than anything I’ve achieved.”

This isn’t just an issue with Wikipedia, though, as she explains in this interview with Wired.

We’re all to blame for Wikipedia’s huge sexism problem
The lack of diversity in science is not only an issue of equality, but impacts the science that we study, the real-world applications we create as well and the environments that researchers exist in. The questions scientists ask, the problems science seeks to solve, and the assumptions scientists bring to their research are all informed by researchers’ lived experiences.

Ensuring a diversity of experiences and backgrounds are included in the research endeavour is essential for correcting biases and pursuing a diverse set of questions. Representation of currently underrepresented groups is therefore not a mere matter of justice, but a requisite for doing good science.

Show and tell and tell and tell

Here’s a guy who has a lot of time on his hands a thirst for knowledge.

Meet the man behind a third of what’s on Wikipedia
Steven Pruitt has made nearly 3 million edits on Wikipedia and written 35,000 original articles. It’s earned him not only accolades but almost legendary status on the internet. […]

“I think for a long time there was an attitude of, ‘That’s nice, dear. The boy’s crazy. I don’t know why he wastes his time, the boy’s crazy,'” Pruitt said of what his parents think of his volunteer gig. That may have changed when Time magazine named him one of the top 25 most influential people on the internet, alongside President Trump, J.K. Rowling and Kim Kardashian West.

I took a leaf out of Steven’s book and tried research a little wider to look for some more articles about him. Here’s one from the alumni magazine of the William & Mary University in Virginia.

Steven Pruitt ’06: Wikipedia’s most prolific editor
He began dabbling in Wikipedia when he discovered the online encyclopedia while he was attending William & Mary as an art history major. The first article he wrote was about Peter Francisco, a Portuguese-born Revolutionary War hero known as the “Virginia Giant” who was also Pruitt’s great-great-great-great- great-great grandfather on his father’s side of the family. Since that first contribution, he’s written more than 31,000 other articles — some, he acknowledges, with the aid of a template.

“He cares so intensely about the spread of knowledge,” says Bethany Brookshire ’04, a friend from college who lives in the Washington area. “The instant he learns something, he has to tell you.”

I wonder if he’s been tempted to edit his own entry on Wikipedia. The page has certainly been quite busy this month, with this fresh set of articles about him doing the rounds.

Better off without it?

It seems every day there’s a new delete-your-Facebook-account article doing the rounds, but what happens if you did? Would the effects on your wellbeing really be as positive as people suggest? New research would suggest the answer is yes.

What would happen if Facebook were turned off?
Those booted off enjoyed an additional hour of free time on average. They tended not to redistribute their liberated minutes to other websites and social networks, but chose instead to watch more television and spend time with friends and family. They consumed much less news, and were thus less aware of events but also less polarised in their views about them than those still on the network. Leaving Facebook boosted self-reported happiness and reduced feelings of depression and anxiety.

Happy feet?

Get up and move. It may make you happier.
Of course, this type of study does not establish causation. It cannot tell us whether being more active actually causes us to become happier or, conversely, whether being happy causes us to move more. It only shows that more activity goes hand-in-hand with greater happiness.

I’m not sure if it’s the walking that’s making me happy, or seeing my Fitbit’s step count climb to first place on the leaderboard.

All strapped in?

Nearly 16% of US consumers now own wearables
“Fitness bands continue to outsell more advanced smartwatches,” reported Lauren Guenveur, Consumer Insight Director for Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. “In the fourth quarter of 2016, just 35% of wearables purchased in the US were smartwatches, a decline from 40% in the third quarter of 2016.

Well, I’m very happy with my fitness band, though it feels like we’ve all voluntarily bought electronic tags like a load of criminals.

Going deep

How to write six important papers a year without breaking a sweat: The deep immersion approach to deep work
When you check in weekly on a long term project, it’s easy to fall into a minimal progress trap and watch whole semesters pass with little results. What if, instead, weekly meetings were replaced with occasionally taking a couple days to do nothing but try to make real progress on the problem?

The trick seems to be not so much blocking out an hour or so each day, but every now and then blocking out an entire two day period when you can completely immerse yourself into a task such as the one bothering me at the moment… Would like that, I think. Distraction-less. And this is one thing I’d like to try really soon, if poss.

Technology and HE

Blackberrys and Beyond: Technology and Global Higher Education
I worry that this effect might infect researchers who are increasingly able, through these devices combined with blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and the like, to live in even more specialised worlds of research and gossip, even though they may feel like cosmopolitans.

E-admin

e-Learning Focus – e-administration and enterprise resources
Resources in the area of e-administration.

E-Administration
e-Administration, or electronic administration, refers to any of a number of mechanisms which convert what in a traditional office are paper processes into electronic processes, with the goal being to create a paperless office. This is an ICT tool, with the goal being to improve productivity and performance.

e-Administration
e-Administration is ‘the effective management of the coordination and control of business processes and the electronic information they create’. It has two fundamental objectives: to increase the efficiency of administrative processes within institutions and to lessen the administrative burden faced by all staff during this process.

Twitter: The virtual loud hailer
I can’t help visualising Twitter as a loud hailer. And… it doesn’t necessarily matter how witty and apt your tweets might be if you’re stuck talking down the wrong end of it! As you tap your 140 characters into the Twitter dialogue box it is as if you are talking aloud to yourself, but with the added echoing effect of a loud hailer, broadcasting to all those – virtually – around you.