Are we cyborgs?

cyborgThe Internet is not -yet- providing us with a so fluid communication that allows us to see  ‘literally see what the other means’ (Cyberia: 140). And we have not replaced -yet- people by avatars in personal interactions. However, Scifi is plenty of both cases. Interactions delegated upon a virtual reality vehicle: films like Matrix or Avatar, or comics like the Surrogates. Remove the picturesque vision of an Earth dominated by machines or of a planet full of blue people, and you’ll have the Internet. People interacting through virtual identities built for the Internet.

Time ago the human gender has become a Cyborg thanks to the integration of technological devices as plug&play extensions of our body. Donna Haraway advanced this fact more than 20 years ago:

‘By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs. This cyborg is our ontology’ (Haraway, Cyborg Manifesto 1991: pág. 150)

Weird? Could you feed and dress up yourself without a credit card? Do you use car, bus or underground? Would you voluntarily live without a mobile phone? Think about that. These devices are part of us. Our definition as a postmodern human being is not complete without them. Not yet convinced? What about glasses or contact lenses?

images

We thought about Cyborgs as someone who replaces legs for wheels or connects an infrared camera directly to his brain instead of eyes or… this guy to the right, who is supposed to be the first Cyborg ever. I don’t think so! Would you accept to visit the surgeon each time you change your mobile phone? It is much easier to keep it in your pocket than connect it to your brain. But this doesn’t’ mean you are not equally dependant on the device. That your life has already changed by that.

We already are Cyborgs. This is our ontology.

 

Raúl Antón Cuadrado

On Writing well by William Zinsser. Methods.

The first part of the book -with maybe some little things that I would change- is overall amazing and makes you reflect on how you write. But this chapter/part is just a collection of -generally truisms- pieces of advice that in the best case could be in a checklist for writers. Or even better in a YOAST-like suggestions panel if you are writing a post. 😀 Some of them are good, but not the kind of stuff you expect finding in a masterwork. Or… could it be he wrote this in the seventies, and now all their thoughts are generally accepted, so that became truisms. This would give a fantastic value to this chapter… :thinking:

I’d save something, however, here. The idea of attracting the attention and not letting go the reader. It is even more critical now with the internet, as the audience attention is multiplexed/shared between various devices or even tabs in the same browser. If your bore your user for just 5 secs your post will become another step in the neverending browser history. Period.

Even if I do think the best part of this book is the introduction, there are still some good lessons to be distilled from the second part, Methods.

Again it starts with an undeniable assertion (a truism):

You learn to write by writing

And then Zinsser gives us some handy pieces of advice that could be used in the form of a checkbox to be passed to our writings/posts ;). Let’s do this.

Unity Aka… have you thought about what you wanted to say before starting?

  • Have you always used the same person in the text? I or We, not both
  • Have you chosen the tense for the text?
  • Is the mood and style uniform along the post?
  • Have you first decided what topic to discuss? Have you got to the point and finished the post once covered?

The Lead and the Ending. Aka…Always try to tell a story. Need help?

  • “The most important sentence in any article is the first one”. Have you double-checked it?
  • The last sentence of each paragraph is the crucial springboard to the next paragraph“. Have you double checked them?
  • Don’t count on the reader’s perseverance. Is it clear what’s in for them since the beginning?

Bits and Pieces. Aka… prune the unnecessary noise.

  • Use passive just if it is unavoidable?
  • Get rid of any unnecessary adverb. (effortlessly easy, slightly spartan…).
  • Get rid of any unnecessary adverb. (yellow daffodils or brownish dirt). “The adjective that exists solely as decoration is a self-indulgence for the writer and a burden for the reader“.
  • Get rid of any unnecessary little qualifier. (a bit, a little, sort of, kind of, rather, quite…) A bit confused is still confused and sort of tired means tired. Be confused, tired, annoyed…

Punctuation. Aka, keep it neat.

  • Period: do short phrases. Also, do short paragraphs.
  • Don’t overuse exclamation points. Don’t exaggerate. Also… is it really awesome or just you are acknowledging? Save your credibility and use words/structures in the correct graduation.
  • Learn to use Mood Changer Words: but, yet, however, still, instead, later, subsequently… saves you longer explanations and prepare readers for changes.
  • Contractors. Use them to sound warmer (Except for I’d that can be misinterpreted as it is polysemic)
  • That and Which. We’ve been told your speech could sound old fashioned if you use that when it can be avoided, but it tends to make the speech clearer.

And remember…

Scissors and paste -or their equivalent on a computer- are honorable writer’s tools.

And just scissors, are too. Getting rid of a phrase is often the best way to fix it.

On Writing well by William Zinsser. Principles.

Spanish version of this post in Aprehendizajes.com

-Not so- off topic introduction (But you can skip it)

One of the masterworks in modern Language Philosophy, maybe my favorite, is H P Grice’s work about how communication occurs when ‘speaking to an audience’. Grice extracted some conditions to assure it is effective almost 30 years ago (1989, Studies in the Way of Words). And these ideas are still applicable in the Internet era. The key point is the auditory concept. It is evident in offline communication: writing a book or giving a talk in a WordCamp are good examples of these. But also they are still important nowadays because online communication relies on broadcasted messages (a post) or a succession of broadcasted messages (think about a Twitter thread or the conversation starting from a post and carried on with comments).

Cooperative Principle (HP Grice)

What’s amazing about Grice work? The fact it is easier to explain it than to make a TL;DR. He broke down his work into the so-called “cooperative principle” of 4 conversational maxims:

  1. Tell the truth
  2. Make your contribution as informative as required. Not more, not less.
  3. Be relevant
  4. Be perspicuous: Avoid obscurity, avoid ambiguity, be brief, be orderly.

As you can see the formulation is crystal clear. Surgical. So it can be harsh.

Can we make it nicer, more agreeable to read?

Yes, let’s include a discussion about style, add some storytelling and some nicely chosen examples, and we’ll have the first section (‘Principles’) of On Writing Well book.

Where I talk about the book

I love the way in which this first part of the book -Principles- is written. For each chapter, you can read the first paragraph and the last one and you’d get the main idea, so you don’t really need to dive into the body of the text. But do it! Or you’ll miss a clean, vivid explanation stuffed with lots of relevant examples.

Want an example? This is leading by example: “Chapter Two, Simplicity”

FIRST P: Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.

LAST P: Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.

You can easily compose a moral with that. Let’s say : “You must work on your text until it is completely clear”

And what can you find among these two “featured” catchphrases and the subjacent moral? As I said, examples and clarifications :

  • If the reader is lost, it’s usually because the writer hasn’t been careful enough.
  • The man or woman snoozing in a chair with a magazine or a book is a person who was being given too much unnecessary trouble by the writer.

 

Where I summarize the book

on Writing Well summary. section 1 'Principles' Raúl Antón Cuadrado
on Writing Well summary. section 1 ‘Principles’. [in blue] mentioned chapter.
And that’s all.

Well, no. Just a divergent footnote.

Footnote: I love the Usage chapter (7th). Here is where the author explains how he took part in a panel to choose which words and which not to put in a 1960s’ dictionary. (On writing well was edited in 1976).  My point here is: if the panelist were unable to agree on some words and they expressed their individual votes… instead of blindly trusting their votes, let’s write with our own words -but yeah, being clear and simple- 🙂

Then, why do I love this chapter? Because it is picturesque, refreshing and colorful and it shows words are living organisms. And that’s poetry, bro.

BetterTouchTool to set up Keyboard Shortcuts (Switch PC->MAC)

Maybe one of the worst penitences when switching from PC to Mac is about Keyboard shortcuts, especially when you are using a PC keyboard to avoid to avoid that cheesymagic keyboard. Here they are my favs:

  • You will find millions of times you would have used command Key instead of Control. For instance, Control-V and nothing get pasted… mmm mmm… Yay! Again.
  • Start-End keys are a real nightmare. When you intensively used it and you found now send you to the end of the document instead of moving in a single line. Yes, you can use Command-→  y Command-← but is it really someone finding more interesting navigating the extremes of a document than going to the both sides of a line?
  • Screencaptures are really powerful. Screen capture rocks. But I had just a key to do that (That marvelous SCR CAP) and now I need to do finger gymnastics (Control-Command-Shift-3 instead of a single keystroke? Are you kidding! No. :/)
  • Clean the screen aka show your Desktop.
  • And the very best of any of them. Where has gone that friendly Alt-Tab to jump from one to another open Window? Now it is Commend-Tab, but it doesn’t work between 2 opened windows of the same app. In this case, you’ll need… the deeply intuitive Command-` . Great!

This last run out my patience, so I started trying to find something -an App- to make my life easier. And I found it: BetterTouchTool. It’s great. I’ve programmed function keys, cloned Command shorcuts for those friendly Control Key combinations and… I started playing again.

Here it is my setup  -F7’ed- screencapture:

captura-de-pantalla-2016-11-26-01-16-11

 

Awesome en ReactionGifs
Awesome en ReactionGifs

Raúl Antón Cuadrado

   

   

CC BY flickr.com/photos/holmesjr

Scientific journals and Robin Hood ethics.

CC BY flickr.com/photos/holmesjr
CC BY flickr.com/photos/holmesjr

Setting aside the probably unethical basis of scientific publication structure, which is sometimes more interested in protecting the status quo than improving mankind’s living conditions — an old-fashioned legitimation of science — let’s focus on the inequality it promotes. A clear research divide is created between those with access to these journals and those without, between those paying abusive subscription fees and those who are not able. Or, in some other cases, even between those who are able to pay to have their work published in predatory journals and those with no money enough.

So.

What if a researcher in Russia makes 48 million journal articles freely available online?

“For those of you who aren’t already using it, the site in question is Sci-Hub, and it’s sort of like a Pirate Bay of the science world. It was established in 2011 by neuroscientist Alexandra Elbakyan, who was frustrated that she couldn’t afford to access the articles needed for her research, and it’s since gone viral, with hundreds of thousands of papers being downloaded daily..” [sciencealert]

Is this is a pirate act, or a Robin Hood action?

At the end of last year, the site was ordered closed by a judge in New York, so it seems the verdict is it’s piracy.

But this triggered a debate about science. Or, more exactly, about scientific journals. Let me copy here some parts of the open letter the Sci-hub.org operator addressed to the New York court [You can take a look at it here]:

“When I was a student in Kazakhstan university, I did not have access to any research papers. These papers I needed for my research project. Payment of 32 dollars is just insane when you need to skim or read tens or hundreds of these papers to do research.”

“Authors of these papers do not receive money. Why would they send their work to Elsevier then? They feel pressured to do this, because Elsevier is an owner of so-called “high-impact” journals. If a researcher wants to be recognized, make a career – he or she needs to have publications in such journals.”

“we never received any complaints from authors or researchers, only Elsevier [the editor] is complaining about free distribution of knowledge”

So, again the question. Is Sci-hub.org created by an evil stealer-hacker, or by a RobinHoodsonian prominent philanthropist?

Raúl Antón Cuadrado

       

Impact measures, anti-science and ethics.

CCBY flickr.com/photos/phantomleap/5055245466
CCBY flickr.com/photos/phantomleap/5055245466

I remember something about saying impact measures and citation indexes have anti-scientific structures… at least if you think about science as a weapon against the status quo to improve mankind’s living conditions.
The idea of having shamans checking any research article against their standards to validate their inclusion in one of the Mount Olympus research journals could be stomach-churning from the epistemology of science point of view, and at least it smells old. This reminds me of the brilliant point of view of Andrew Spittle about the stupid constraint of printing PhD theses, especially when they are not inherently printable, for instance, those having to do with the Internet, like his, and mine, just to support an authority argument structure born in Middle Ages universities.
But there is a more powerful concern. Pardis Sabeti clarified for me any single doubt I could have in her amazing and inspiring Ted Talk ‘How we’ll fight the next deadly virus’. Let me cite several lines of this brilliant and inspiring talk (remember, she speaks about epidemic disease DNA medical research):

“But the way that science works, the position I was in at that point is, I had the data, and I could have worked in a silo for many, many months, analyzed the data carefully, slowly, submitted the paper for publication, gone through a few back-and-forths, and then finally when the paper came out, might release that data. That’s the way the status quo works.
Well, that was not going to work at this point, right? We had friends on the front lines and to us it was just obvious that what we needed is help, lots of help. So the first thing we did is, as soon as the sequences came off the machines, we published it to the web. We just released it to the whole world and said, “Help us.” And help came.
Before we knew it, we were being contacted from people all over, surprised to see the data out there and released. Some of the greatest viral trackers in the world were suddenly part of our community. We were working together in this virtual way, sharing, regular calls, communications, trying to follow the virus minute by minute, to see ways that we could stop it.”

Pardis Sabeti in How we’ll fight the next deadly virus’ Ted Talk.

Awe inspiring. Isn’t it?

Raúl Antón Cuadrado

       

Science to perpetuate statu quo

Lyotard warned several decades ago in his seminal work, The Postmodern Condition, about noun_225280science’s lack of legitimation. At least, about the lack of a “beautiful” legitimation, as he noticed that instead of searching for the truth or trying to improve mankind’s living conditions, science is nowadays ruled by what he called the performativity principle. In brief, science must be lucrative, returning money to investments in the same way other businesses do. Or returning more, if you want to assure a regular money flow to research. For those to whom “performativity” sounds like cryptic philosophy, Feyerabend provided (why not Plato?) a straightforward explanation:

20th century science has resigned to have any philosophic pretension to become a big business. It is no more a threat to the society, but one of the firmer pillars.

Yep, a threat to society sounds bad … except if you think about society as an ideological system with the function to reproduce inequality by supporting and transmitting the scheme that maintains few people in the zenith of the social pyramid: those who own resources and retains power relationships.
There are lots of examples of how science is no longer mankind’s progress weapon but a way to perpetuate the status quo. Here is one of my favorite examples: citation indexes.

Citation Indexes? What’s that?

Citation indexes (CI) are essentially lists in which scientific journals are ranked according to their impact factor, or the measure of how important their articles are for the scientific community. Sounds nice and helpful as this shows

‘a journal’s true place in the scholarly research world’ and ‘Measure research influence and impact at the journal and category levels’ (Thomson Reuters, the editor of the JCR ranking, dixit).

Perhaps it sounds nice, but it isn’t. In the same way JCR qualifies journals, these journals transitively pinpoint good researches –whose works are published in these journals – and exclude the others.

C.I. Rankings promote inequality

noun_97178.pngFirst, top-list journals are expensive, so there is not global access to these, and this becomes a powerful source of inequality. “There are countless researchers without access to most impacting articles because journals abusive price: each paper costs about $30 and you should read lots of papers. If these articles are, arguably, the best scientific works, those people without access to them would have more difficulties in developing brilliant, innovative results, thinking science as an accumulative process.
Additionally, citation indexes make countless researchers all over the world systematically invisible as they are misrepresented. Their works are excluded from mainstream research not even because of their quality but because of where they are published and, indirectly but not less important, because of the language (the vast majority of journals in the first quartile are in English) or researchers’ relationships.
Of course, those researchers are not explicitly excluded. But the symbolic violence of this segregation is brutal, first because it is explained and legitimated in terms of quality of the research work, and second, due to the relative invisibility of this segregation.

An alternative to citation indexes?

Criticism has been dethroned by pseudo-democracy or pseudo-intersubjectivity mechanisms to focus literature or entertainment contents consumption. Habermas complains about the intellectuals’ lack of authority to direct public discussions. Science, a change engine by definition, seems to be one of the few places resisting this democratizing wave by maintaining authority argument in the form not only of peer review committees with shamanic powers to interact with Knowledge deities to decide what’s good or not.

That’s even worse when you know that sometimes those peer reviews can be fabricated or just hilariously stupid, made only to justify picking money from young researchers’ pockets.

I’m overtly not in love with mass pseudo-democratic mechanisms, easily influenced and cooked by advertising constructions or filter bubbles. But it is clear that we need to give voice to horizontal and open peer-review systems where anyone can be a peer. And national research certification systems could also take into account more open and modern impact measures, more aligned with what science and research should mean.
Is there anything like that? There is.

What do you think about Academia.edu, for instance?

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Academia.edu is a platform for academics to share research papers. The company’s mission is to accelerate the world’s research.

Academics use Academia.edu to share their research, monitor deep analytics around the impact of their research, and track the research of academics they follow. 32,590,050 academics have signed up to Academia.edu, adding 9,815,878 papers and 1,817,127 research interests. Academia.edu attracts over 36 million unique visitors a month.

[https://www.academia.edu/about]

Raúl Antón Cuadrado