Fair Voting as Economic Remedy

We all appreciate the dictum “one person, one vote” for democratic elections.  Do we all understand why it works?

If by “work” you means yields the bets possible fair outcome, then the answer is that it does not really work unless all citizens are well-informed and the majority are relatively sane.  That’s hardly ever true, no matter what country you live in.  But normally by a “working democracy” we mean that the government is merely fairly elected, that everyone potentially has a say, and that the ignorant economists (the species homoeconimus) who say “I don’t vote because I know my vote does not count,” are the real losers (if all homoeconomi voted then the USA would probably not have their current President) who the general populace must suffer.   In this “fair vote” sense a democracy serves it’s purpose, provided there are no violent distortions.

In the USA, and many other large capitalist democracies there are however many distortions.  Campaigning is one. Political parties are another. Political advertising a third.   You can add campaign financing into the distortions too, but the distortion of democracy does not start with the influence of big money, it begins with political parties and with campaign promises in the first place.  An ideal democracy does not require political parties and campaigns.  Many people might think that prior to the Internet age an Ideal Democracy was almost impossible to establish in any country much larger than a few hundred thousand, because to be free of political parties one needed voters who could in principle get to know the character of the political candidates.  Since that was assumed to be impossible political parties conveniently aggregated candidates into fictional factions, and voters could then make simple-minded decisions based upon just a handful, or fewer, party manifestos.  There was no messy need to evaluate several different unique candidates for political office.

A Fair Electoral System Free of Corruption

In the Internet age this justification for the fiction that many candidates all think the same has vanished, because every citizen can look up their local candidates curriculum vitae online, either from the comfort of home or at their nearest library. We persist with a party political system only out of tradition.  It is time that changed, so I urge people everywhere to begin pressing their governments to hold referenda on the compulsory disbanding of political parties, so that all candidates for political office can run as independents.

What few people realise is that this ideal of democracy, where all candidates are free from partisan beholdings, was possible well before the internet era.  In fact, just such a fair and just electoral systems has been in practice for over a century now. Moreover, it has been operating globally, in over 70 countries for at least 75 years.  It is the Bahá’í electoral system.  I urge readers to find out about the Bahá’í process of elections.  They start with annual local body elections,  Every adult is eligible, they elect counsels of 9 members, and the counsels appoint a chair, secretary, treasurer, but all nine members have equal say, and their decisions get put to a community referenda in community meetings spread across a city each Bahá’í month. (The Bahá’í calendar has 5 intercalary days and 19 months of 19 days.)   Separate elections are held each year locally in order to elect representatives who will in the succeeding year, travel to a national conference where these delegates elect the Bahá’í national council, again composed of nine members, drawn from among these delegates.  Every four years a national council representative from each country where a Bahá’í national council has been established, will travel to an international conference to elect the world-wide governing Bahá’í representative council of (again) 9 members, known as the Bahá’í Universal House of Justice.

The Bahá’í also appoint certain learned and respected individuals to act in continental regions like roving ambassadors, who are free agents more or less, but who have no authority over other Bahá’í, they serve only as counsellors.

But if you think this systems sounds wonderful, it gets better.  The Bahá’í elections are explicitly free form campaigning.  Partly because every adult Bahá’í is eligible locally), but mainly to avoid the disunity and schisms of partisanship and campaigning.  There are thus zero fights and zero abuses and zero advertisements in the Bahá’í community elections.  Instead, every eligible Bahá’í voter is called upon to pray and mediate and with good conscience vote for the members they think best exemplify moral virtues of wise leadership, fairness, recognised ability, and mature experience.

If you think I’m making this up, think again.  Look up your local Bahá’í community (they will be online or in the telephone directory) and ask them about their election system.  You will find all I’ve related is true.  It’s phenomenal, and beautiful.

What’s even better, the Bahá’í electoral system could easily be implemented secularly, in any country, of any size.  It is a perfect model for an ideal and corruption free democracy.

Fairness in the Private Sector

I began this essay thinking about voting in corporate board rooms and shareholder conference, would you believe.  The Bahá’í system just filtered up into my consciousness and so I began with the Bahá’í system to set the stage for the next bit.  (My late father, a former New Zealand MP once gave an excellent public speech about the Bahá’í electoral system.)  I was listening to a talk by Joseph Stiglitz, who regularly touches upon injustices in economics and politics of almost every kind.   At one point when he was talking about inequality and the influence of the super wealthy capitalists in politics, who are effectively creating oligarchies all over the world, especially in the USA and Russia, the thought occurred to me that quite a bit could be remedied if corporations were also run according to fair voting systems, rather than majority shareholder rank.

Voting according to one’s shareholdings sounds like a nice idea, but it really is a terrible distortion, which I think is a huge contributor to insane and messed-up corporate decision making.  When the most important decisions of large corporations are placed in the hands of the few, debate is stifled, consultation is suppressed, minority but possibly better ideas get quelled, and the result is what we see in the world today, heartless, greedy, and objectively stupid corporations.  We get corporations who make decisions against their own long term strategic interests, who ignore global environmental disasters on the horizon, and who commit injustice after injustice against society.

Allowing all shareholders to exercise equal voting power sounds ridiculous though, right?  How could that ever work?  Well, I think it can.  Let’s examine some of the reasons why people might defend voting based on share-holding ranking, and then we will see why these reasons are weak and counter-productive, and why fears about giving free reign to all shareholders are unfounded.

  1. Owner Privilege — this is a terrible defence of excess voting power.  People who establish companies are usually good entrepreneurs, but that means they often have different skill sets than those optimised for maintaining and running a company sustainably.  For one thing, entrepreneurs are always looking for new things.  Besides this, few company founders or owners rarely have majority voting power, people like Mark Zuckerberg are extremely rare. Indeed, it is usually against the interests of the company as a whole to give one small group more voting power than other shareholders, because it encourages dictatorship and discourages the spark of genius sometimes found in a lone voice, a maverick, who might often have a lot of dumb ideas, but every so often will hit upon something brilliant no one else thought of, the proverbial Black Swan.  Excess voting power to the few strongly discourages the beneficial types of Black Swans in business decisions.
  2. Leaders Know Better — often true, leaders should be in position because they are smart and know what is good for a company.  But no one is omniscient.  The best leaders listen carefully to all points of view, and when they know they are correct, on moral and economic grounds, they can persuade the other voters in frank and open consultation.  So it is a myth that great leaders need the majority voting power.  Great leaders can persuade and encourage and will take the time to engage in consultation with all shareholders, to form a united decision.  Weak leaders rule by dictate and hunger for power.
  3. Mob Rule is Destructive — no it isn’t.  Leaders who are fearful shareholders will organize and take-over are again weak leaders. Besides, shareholders all have their stake in the company at interest, and they will not be voting so that their positions are in jeopardy.  While this means reducing employee salaries and bonuses is hard to get a positive vote on, that should not trouble good corporate leaders, because the power of a company is in their human capital.  This is what the leaders should invest in.  There are always other things that can be cut back.  But even so, if high salaries and bonuses will cause a company to become bankrupt, the management simply need to open the books and share this information with employee shareholders, who (generally) will/should not want to lose their jobs, and so they will not vote for high wages if it means the destruction of the company.  Most employer–employee disputes have this character, there seems a point of conflict, but there is always a deeper common ground.
  4. Consultation and Persuasion Take too Much Time — not true, not always.  A company whose managers have the trust of their employees can get through deep and meaningful consultation efficiently and effectively, precisely because there is trust.  Without trust any consultation starts with defence and wariness, and that is the true cause of lengthy consultations.  Good leaders avoid that possibility by always being honest and open and always consulting on important decisions that effect shareholders and employees.  Because they consult early in processes, consult often, and consult honestly, consultation is usually brief and agreeable.

This is a lot like debugging software.  The more you commit changes to a shared repository, the faster the debugging process.  “Commit early and commit often” is the rule for software development.

IN summary, there are few justifiable reasons for a few people holding the majority of voting power in a company.  In fact, the more equitably voting power is shared, approaching one-person one-vote, the healthier a company will be, provided trust is established and everyone has a shared vision and willingness to always seek unity.  This allows difference of opinion, which is bets handled using open consultation.

Unfortunately, very few leaders know how to practice the art of consultation.  The traditional “Roberts Rules” are not sufficient.  In a proper consultation process everyone should be encouraged by a chairperson to speak, venture their opinion, then be detached, once their opinion is aired it is the property of the whole group.  The chairperson should not allow bullying, and should not give undue time to participants who have already made their point.  Finally, in all matters unity should be sought, not immediately put to a vote, if after some time reasonable discussion is exhausted then the matter should be put to a majority vote with all participants having the same weight of vote.   I would also recommend any reader go and look at the Bahá’í Principles of consultation, they are as good a model for business as the Bahá’í electoral system is for secular government.

 

Advertisements

Social Media and Cambridge Analytica

Comments on social data use, privacy, stupidity and traceability of truth

Where to begin? Sometimes to vent my anger I will post a comment on YouTube. That’s a pretty futile activity of course, but about once in 50 posts I actually do get nice feedback and a little conversation. Hardly a robust forum though, so these days I turn off notifications and just post comments like I am flicking matchsticks into the Sun.

Following my previous admittedly simple minded and ill-thought through post on “BitTruth” I thought I’d write a bit on the social media data mining that is in the news. I still think something like BitTruth is a good idea, but in my simple scheme there are too many flaws. Something far more sophisticated is needed to heal our civilization and rid us of the cancerous effects of propaganda and so-called “fake news”. What we need is something called honesty, a fairly radical concept. Seems like a pretty rare commodity. I really am starting to think no technical fix like my BitTruth proposal will work. We need to start working on growing small communities infused with honesty, grow them, and use them to overwhelm the cancers of trivia, news for ratings, reality TV, political propaganda of all stripes, Internet trolls and bots, and the like.

Will it happen? I do not know, maybe not in our lifetimes, but also maybe it could very well happen quite soon? Social change is so darn hard to predict. Who two years ago would have predicted the rise of the #MeToo movement? Who would have predicted a runner-up candidate for POTUS who used the word “socialist” to describe his basic worldview? To me it seems like a kind of critical build-up in false memes, something like an intellectual economic crisis looming, that will soon collapse around our eyes and ears, driving people out of sheer desperation towards a culture of trust and honesty.

I cannot help make one dopey comment: if people are so worried about privacy, why the hell are they posting al that information about themselves online on Facebook and Instagram?  I guess millions of stupid people just do not understand the Internet.  And yeah, people are stupid, almost everyone has a sphere of un-sublime ignorance shrouding their decisions, hell, even here on WordPress I am probably giving away far too much without getting any return for it.

Fake Frickin News — We’ve Always Been Fighting It

So first up a quick BTW: I kind of object to that sound bite “fake news”… throughout history most news has been objectively false if not fake, the question for consumers of news is what degree of truth is there in news content. As I will explain below, our modern problem is not spread of propaganda, we’ve always had that problem, our modern problem is the intensification through Internet and SmartPhone mediums.

On Cambridge Analytica: after watching the Channel 4 exposé and other fairly raw sources (they caught Alexander Nix stone cold on hidden camera telling the truth, so that was pretty darn raw and true) I have to wonder about people who think Cambridge Analytica did anything wrong or evil. I can conclude they were pretty evil, but not in an obvious way.

I saw an old d3con seminar by someone named Molly Schweickert, who was a geek working for Cambridge Analytica. She probably had no idea what she was doing on a ethical level, and she spoke quite openly about how Cambridge Analytica used Facebook data mining to try to influence US voters. Was this evil? Well, “no”, not if they were merely mirroring society.  But “yes, hell yeah” if they were spreading false stories.

Here is what I posted on a YouTube comment:

Is Molly Schweickert evil if she does not see the immorality of her work? Cambridge Analytica could have chosen not to work for the big bucks and instead helped a principled small party like the Greens and Jill Stein, but even that would have been sleazy the way they chose to do the propaganda. Instead of repeating what SM did for Obama in aid of the GOP. Scientists throughout history have created powerful tools that can be used to do either good or evil. Many physicists who worked on the Manhattan Project later realized they did not stop to think about how the military would use nuclear power, as opposed to using it for electricity generation. I urge people to go and read Hannah Arendt, (or even just summaries of her work) where she explains the banality of evil. It is apropo here. It is not an excuse to hide behind the claim “I was just doing science”. Molly is ethically stupid but mathematically smart. So she is banal in her evil. It is not Facebook the platform which is evil, it is how people are abusing these social media platforms which is evil. People need to think more about what they are doing, and not swallow propaganda so easily. But propaganda has been a cancer on society of hundreds of years, it is nothing new, what is new is how social media amplifies all the false narratives, the truth is also amplified, but drowned out (because for every one truth there are dozens or hundreds of leis and misdirections). So also SmartPhone = non evil. Stupid SmartPhone user = banal evil. People should go and read Arendt’s analysis and they will see how to avoid blindly and unthinkingly swallowing mainstream and lunatic fringe news propaganda. It takes is some careful thought, diligence and effort to check facts. It is a great good to hold up a mirror to society, but a great evil to deliberately taint that mirror with false images.

Cambridge Analytica Molly Schweikert speaking at d3con 2017

Cambridge Analytica executive Molly Schweikert speaking at d3con 2017. Be warned, it is hard to watch her talk without getting queasy — you might want to keep some scopolamine handy.

That’s really almost all I want to say about Cambridge Analytica. I mean, they are simply banal greedy ass holes. Their greed led them to use borderline criminal, or at least blatantly sleazy, tactics to help a clearly corrupt and socially malevolent election campaign. They might have done the same for some more principled candidate like Bernie or Jill Stein, but that would not excuse their utter lack of moral scruples. They have acted with quite startlingly evil banal malice according to the Arendt analysis.

Actually, maybe Molly Schweickert really is, as one YouTuber put it, “some piece of work, the plain face of evil”, because I just looked back at the clip and noticed she is not one of the coder geeks, she was a VP, so she was in management at Cambridge Analytica. If you have not already then you need to study what Edwards Deming had to say about managers: good managers are vital for organizations, but most managers are thoroughly corrupt and incompetent. For Deming a good manager cares about the people they are entrusted to help and protect. In Molly we see just another one of these MBA graduate type managers who care mostly about profits and nothing about morals and ethics.

Adopting RealMe for the Social Media World?

So I just had one other thought for this post along the lines of “not reinventing the wheel”. In my previous post I wrote about a concept I dubbed BitTruth. The idea was that truth and honesty are becoming a premium, so it might make sense to have a cryptographic ledger system, similar to bitcoin, for authenticating news stories. People would anonymously be rated and gain or lose credits for how accurate their reporting turns out to be after the facts come in. A distributed BitTruth ledger could be used to rate the PROBABLE accuracy of news media.

The further thought I had came about when I was recently paying some tax to the New Zealand government. They use a digital identity verification system called RealMe.

So this is a possible way to clean up a lot of social media. By adapting a system like RealMe to the international sphere and Internet social media, it might be possible to add SSL type authentication to social media posts.

Just a thought. I think this is a great business opportunity. But it has to be done right, some smart people need to do it, not some code cowboys. I would think of someone like the dude who invented ZCoin, he seemed to know his cyber-security.

When you think about it, is it not utterly astounding that social media authentication certificates have not already been invented? Come on you good white hat hackers, please get on to this!

A BitTruth or RealMe for social media will not eliminate fake news, but it will make it easier for ordinary folks to filter out the most diabolical rubbish floating around on the Net.

When I posted this idea into the black hole of YouTube comments, I added this warning:

[The folks who run RealMe should have the capability I would imagine. Although I hope that did not just jinx those lovely kiwi’s. If you do it internationally, please firewall your NZ implementation!!! I have warned you!]

A Technical Bit on Truth Traceability

I just want to finish by adding that a social media authentication system is not trivial to create. False stories can be propagated by honest actors. The trick is to borrow ideas from Metrology (the science of measurement standards). With such a system all media stories would have SSL type certificates that contain traces back to a raw set of independent original sources.  How do physicists ensure traceability in measurement standards?  Answer: they use an ISO system.

The ISO-17025 accreditation system is the quality assurance system used in physical measurement standards laboratories around the world, it is how we know a centimetre from an inch and a kilogram from a pound, and how the world time standard works using atomic clock calibration certificates (absolutely vital for modern air traffic control and GPS).

Why should physicists and engineers be the only profession who enjoy such standards? We should want similar traceable standards for all our news. (And same for the justice system. All evidence in courts of law should have traceability guaranteed by an ISO 17025 type system.)

There are some huge advantages to employing such “truth” quality assurance systems for society: one is that it will provide plenty of good jobs for people, jobs that a person working in can truly say they are doing something useful and good for society.

*      *      *

Licence:


CCL_BY-NC-SA(https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/legalcode)

BitTruth — RFC for a Cryptosystem for Information Authentication

This article begins with some madcap comments I posted to YouTube after watching yet another story on the TYT Network about the present lunacy in the USA. Although it starts satirical, please keep reading to the end where I moot an original idea about how to combat fake news. I think someone with the technical skill should look into my proposal. I suggest a scheme for news accuracy authentication (especially on websites) using a cryptographic ledger scheme, analogous to the blockchain algorithm used as the BitCoin backend.

I mean to say, if you are an ace programmer and wish to do some good in this world, then forget about another cryptocurrency, we do not really need them, and in fact, cryptocurrencies are proving to be just another boon for the rich and for organized crime. My proposal is for a distributed authentication crypto system in an entirely new direction with, I think, very powerful positive social benefits. It think this is pretty important stuff, it is as close to writing an Internet RFC that I think I’ll ever get.

The Satircal Bit

This might be wildly optimistic, but another thing that could be done with Donny Tinnyhands, apart from goading him into accidentally stumbling into a peace deal in Korea by virtue of his utter ineptitude and unpredictability forcing the Koreans into uneasy peace deals just to save themselves from Trumpoaclypse, might be to get him to pardon folks like Edward Snowden. Get Trump on the right day and mood, tap his shoulder, and suggest how awesome it would be to, as a lark, give a middle finger to the surveillance sate apparatus by pardoning all charges against someone Obama wanted to indict for treason, I think you get a high probability the random Trump brain will say “yes, do it.” (50:50 odds at least, right?) With the right people tapping Trump on the shoulder like this, the next 2 to 6 years might not be all bad. I know we are talking about disaster mitigation, not disaster avoidance, but that’s where the USA is at for now I think.

[Aside: the above comment alludes to the frequent suggestions on TYT Shows that Donny Trump is prone to go along with any good sounding idea regardless of ideology, since he (TYT would claim) has no ideology. He is a principle-free zone, but that means he is open to any sort of “good PR” sounding ideas! The TYT theory would be “if only” good people surrounded Trump, instead of right-wing nutters, he might end up, by default, being a “not too bad” POTUS.]

How to goad Trump? Well, I’m no political mover and shaker, but a “not too crazy” idea might be to mention the fame and fortune he could win from becoming a unique historical figure for all time: the only POTUS ever to be indicted, imprisoned and also win the Nobel Peace Prize. Yeah, I know, fantasy land, the Noble committee would have to hold their noses on that one so tight they’d destroy their nostrils! But they virtually did so for Obama and Gore! (or at least had to post facto gag to not breath in the devilish fumes from those decisions.) But anyway, to goad Trump you only need to float the rumour that the Nobel committee are considering him. That’d be enough to turn his formless principle-free brain into a peace-making machine. Someone aught to start that rumour post haste. Hell, Fox News would swallow the rumour hook line and sinker. Get it out on Fox and Friends and then maybe this is the fastest route to peace in the Middle East as well? Would this be considered ethical use of fake news? Of course not. I for one would not be so bold to tell lies even if the ends justified the means, but I’m just sayin’,… someone with fewer scruples should spread these rumours, just in the off chance… what’s the harm? At the end of the day it’s fake news, so “so what” if it ends in some ironic relative peace in the world? [OK, I know this whole comment appears like a weird non-surreal LSD trip, but again, so what? I had to post it, just to get it off my brain.]

OK, next I am going to get off my LSD and talk about the real problems of fake news. This is not a thesis, it’ll be short and sweet, I promise.

fakenews_Radiolab_demo

Screenshot taken from the Radiolab episode demonstrating faking a person’s speech and facial visuals. If you cannot see this is fake, just think how much harder it will be when this software gets even smoother.

The Serious Bit

BTW, and FWIW, this whole era of fake news we are living through will get a lot worse before it gets better: Microsoft Research and Adobe have systems that can fake a person speaking, visuals and audio, you can make an image of someone say anything you like with their proprietary software (there was a RadioLab episode on this: http://www.radiolab.org/story/breaking-news/ and see the demo here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vprETB4dzNE (Future of Fake News, Radiolab WNYC, 28 July 2017) )

But I think there is a huge positive consequence of fake news, which few people have yet recognized. What is means, as faking gets easier and easier and eventually becomes an amateur activity, is that in our near future there will be an virtual “infinite” premium on trustworthiness and honesty. The fraction of the world’s people’s who have an iota of conscience will be forced to become more honest and trusting. We will have no other choice, there will develop a trusted natural ecosystem of truth and honesty, and people will be rapidly expelled from this network if they are caught lying. Software systems similar to Bitcoin, where authenticity is anonymously encrypted and confirmed and recorded distributively via a public ledger of transactions, will be one way of securing an Internet network of trusted information sources.

An RFC for BitTruth

The software analogy here is not even too difficult to see, think of TRUST as a medium of exchange like e-coins. Such a “TruthCoin” (or “BitTruth”?) system will not allow all news sources to be trusted, but a small network should be a good start for restoring democracy. The key, or one key, is the source of the BitTruth news information would be anonymous, so reporters and independent journalists and fact-checkers would have no “coin” for fame in this game, they get no public personal benefit from faking a story, but would simply get credits for checking or reporting the (post facto authenticated) truth. Journalists would now get gainful employment, something they have been starved of in recent decades, as they will be employed to dig around for authenticity and verification evidence, a hard job, but one that currently there is little demand for, and so a BitTruth system would give a new generation of journalists something to live for and respect themselves for participating in, like current coders who anonymously contribute to Free Software projects like GNU, Gnome, KDE and Linux, etc. It might slow down the reporting of valid information, but “breaking news” could also still be viable, it would just need to be corrected or redacted once the BitTruth system has processed the breaking stories.

In a world where breaking news seem to be all we get, this would also move people’s focus away from immediate sensationalist breaking news, and acclimatize people to wait a bit for the BitTruth verified information to come out. As mentioned earlier, the premium will be on verified truth or at least accuracy, and so not every website will be checked, and not every broadcast news story will be validated, but we would have a system for trust for at least some of the more important news stories. The flotsam and jetsom of fake news would then still exist, but would surf in a separate fantasy corner of the Internet unverified or marked as downright false by BitTruth ledgers.

If anyone denies such a system would work, I just point to BitCon and Z-Coin and other crypto-currencies, they are incredibly hard, some say near impossible, to crack. No one has ever managed to counterfeit any bitcoin (see bitcoin.stackexchange.com/…/can-bitcoins-be-counterfeited). For BitTruth imagine the analogy: you might find BitTruth information sparse, since it would require hard journalistic effort to verify stories, but once verified, the BitTruth would be impossible to counterfeit. Why? Because of distributed ledgers, you would literally need passwords for millions of computers’ “BitTruth wallets” to spread fake BitTruth information.

(!!Wait… what is the “wallet” analogue for Truth? [And yeah, I know “truth ” is a loaded word, here it just means a highly authentic source of information”, absolute truth is something a bit more transcendental, I know!] If you have a “Bitcoin wallet” I guess you have a “BitTruth heart”(?), or is it a “BitTruth mirror” since mirrors cannot lie?)

BitTruth could also work for ordinary weblogs and almost any web content. Web authors could choose to submit their websites for BitTruth authentication. This would be a lengthy process of course, it would require multiple human authenticated checkers to verify a web site, and a BitTruth stamp or certificate of “verified accurate” would thus not be possible for the vast majority of websites. This is, of course, no big problem, since today no websites are BitTruth verified. So any tiny fraction of BitTruth authenticated web sites would be a bonus on the present state of Internet content affairs. Trusted BitTruth human checkers and journalists would likely tend to work on the web content they freely choose as most urgent in need of verification, such as publications with the most traffic. I imagine BitTruth certificates would be largely wasted on Facebook pages and Twitter content for instance, which I think is appropriate, since no one should be trusting what they read on Facebook or Twitter, they are basically the modern version of gossip and puffery, only cheapened with social graph exponentially magnified gossip, which makes these websites far worse than normal family or small network gossip.

Again, as I wrote twice before, the truth would be at a premium. We cannot just expect every website we want to read to be BitTruth checked.

Websites that cannot independently attain BitTruth verification should be regarded as what they are, essentially no different to gossip magazines of the lowest credibility rank, even if they contain some accurate truths.

Note also the distinction BitTruth would have compared to so-called “fact-check” services. Fact-check services which currently exist are trusted only by reputation. They generally have no oversight ombudsman checking their trustworthiness. We should not place much faith in these services because they can be gamed by insiders.

But what about possible gaming of BitTurth. here is a possible scenario you have thought of already: an organization, oh, say, like the NRA or some other political lobbyists, might spend vast resources on training up trusted BitTruth fact-checkers, planting them essentially as sleeper agents, then strategically when ready they would unleash their agents to falsely check their desired web content as verified accurate. What would be the BitTruth safeguard in this case? Well, I think there are four basic “pretty good security” safeguards. One is source independence, another is trusted agent credentials, and the third is banning of agents who egregiously falsify certificates, a fourth is public flagging of suspect information.

These safeguards rely, naturally, on the flagging of potentially false BitTruth certificates. These would become top priorities for the entire community of fact-checkers, they would be sent messages to check the flagged false content as urgently as possible, since this sort of breach of trust is absolutely vital to “nip in the bud”. This would be the top tier quality assurance level of the distributed BitTruth ecosystem.

The trusted agent credentials are important, they need to be rigorously and routinely reviewed by BitTruth managers, and any false credential agents permanently banned form the system.

Once a good agent credential system is in place, then source independence can be used as a second safeguard. BitTruth verifications would not be allowed from closely related sources or closely associated agents. So using hundreds of sleeper agents for similarly affiliated organizations should be impossible, and would have no extra weight on the accuracy rating of any particular website. In particular, no source affiliated with the website itself would be eligible for input into the accuracy rating of their websites.

To some readers this might seem like an impossible demand, surely clever crackers can infiltrate and defeat even these safeguards, But not so. It is extremely hard to fake source and credential independence. Statistical analysis of correlations in data are fairly easy to automate, and are incredibly hard to fool.

Moreover, even if the BitTruth system were “breached” for a short period, if the website or news feed that was breached was at all widely read, it would not take long for ordinary people to notice the fishiness and smell of corruption. So a fourth safeguard is that any members of the public could be allowed to flag websites or news feeds as suspect. Again, making such content rise to the top tier agent check level.

The policy of permanently banning agents who prove untrustworthy is another vital aspect. Such severe rejection is essential to avoid litigation and ambiguity over the trustworthiness of fact-checkers. People acting as BitTruth agents simply have to do the best possible fact-checking, otherwise their credentials must be permanently revoked. So it is a zero tolerance for error system. Again statistical checks should be pretty easily developed to automatically block untrusted agents. Trusted agents could also accumulate trust rating levels. When multiple independent trusted agents get a certificate wrong, this need not result in a banning, since they are independent the system would by default assume they were fooled, a human foible. But in such cases these agents would have their trust rating lowered.

New agents wishing to contribute to BitTruth could sign-up for a trial period where they accumulate trust points, but their actual votes would not be registered in the BitTruth community accuracy verification ledger. Once they have a proven credit rating then there input would begin to be weighed in the ledger.

Finally, if a trial BitTruth systems proves to be inefficient and wasteful or easily cracked, then it would be quickly abandoned, with no harm done other than some depression for the folks who tried to erect the system. Such a collapse would likely not take long. It is worth the effort though, because if BitTruth succeeds, especially in reliability, it would in quick order gain a robustness due to proven infiltration-proof quality and utility of the service,

You can begin to see how a community ecosystem is what is needed to provide such a high level trusted service. It would truly give journalists and even amateur sleuths a good livelihood. A livelihood of good ethical morally responsible work, all thanks to fake news.

A small financial incentive for dedicated fact-checking journalists would be possible, and although I am not a business expert, I imagine a fairly reliable system would be that every human checker who gets one of their web site checks verified by a critical number of independent checkers, would get a share in both BitTruth “credits” (and these literally would be credits! Credentials as an ever more trusted checker) as well as a share in profits from subscribers to BitTruth who would be anonymously donating money for the service.

To achieve BitTruth checker independence, human checkers would need to submit credentials, but moreover, the data they cite as checks on the accuracy of information would be submitted to a distributed database (itself authenticated via a BitTruth crypoto system), and automated software could be used to parse such data to test journalistic source independence (a quick way to do this is via web page metadata, a slower way which could run in parallel would be to use full text content mining and NLP software).

As a user, to BitTruth verify a web-site, you would submit a request, which may or may not be actioned, but if it is verified by the distributed BitTruth Network, then the web-site can be tagged with a BitTruth verification certificate, which would again be encrypted and linked to the BitTruth network ledger, so that clicking on the BitTruth embedded link on a web site would reveal privately (only to you, the BitTruth user) that this web site content has been either (1) Verified accurate, or (2) inaccurate or (3) unverified.

Websites choosing not to opt in to display a BitTruth stamp would of course by default be BitTruth “untrusted”, but a third party could still submit such websites to a BitTruth check, which would have to involve being discovered by a third party user entering the URL of that uncredentialed website into a separate BitTruth database lookup, which itself would require authentication in case supposedly fake BitTruth databases were to spring up on the Net. (This would be a convenience to obviate the need for users to check the BitTruth database URL. We all know fake URL’s for scamming operations are a plague on the Internet.) There is no guarantee anyone would bother to action such submissions, but the service should at least cater for such a possibility. I would suggest that if a user urgently wants/needs a particular website to be BitTruth checked, then they might be able to pay money to get some sort of priority guarantee from dedicated trusted checkers.

Analogies with Peer Review

To further the case for feasibility of BitTruth, why it could or should work ok, we can note a similar commercial system already exists, although restricted to the sphere of peer reviewed journals. The problem for the whole Internet is that peer review does not scale, and is far too slow for checking news report accuracy.

BitTruth would also be fairly slow in the early stages, but as an ecosystem grows it should become rapid enough even for some of the main sources of breaking news. I would guess some degree of BitTruth verification might even be possible within the hectic 24 hour news cycle, perhaps not 100% authentication level, but something approaching “good enough accuracy” should be verifiable within 24 hours, given high enough demand and, most importantly, a healthy and abundant population of independent journalists with BitTruth credentials.

BitTruth is a system that journalists should be dying to create.

Spread the Word of BitTruth

Note that I do not make a single dime off this weblog, it is 100% creative commons free license, so you can copy and share this article provided you credit the author. In fact, please do so, tell anyone you think might remotely know of someone with the computer savvy to implement something like BitTruth as I have described it above in broad outline.

Even if you have no idea what I’m writing about, share it anyway!

It might be one of the most humanitarian acts you accomplish in your life! (I would consider it my top 2 or 3.) I say “might” because I am not so egotistical to think this BitTruth idea really is the remedy to fake news that I have suggested. In fact, I actually think the true longer term remedy is nothing less than a sea change in human spirituality, a total reorientation of a vast majority of the worlds people away from materialism and towards spirituality, away from consumerism towards sustainability, away from aggressive competition towards enlightened cooperation, away from factory education and towards free education, away from wage slavery and towards voluntary cooperative endeavours which benefit local communities, and towards cooperative banking and voluntary taxation, voluntary but near universal charity work (or ideally, profit sharing before there is any need for charity).

These ideals are founded on basic economic facts that there are plentiful enough resources on Earth to support a healthy and high quality life for all people, not just the privileged and wealthy. It is founded in the fact that most people will voluntarily choose to work for a living if they are free to do work they enjoy and see as contributing value to society. It is founded in the fact that most people do not seek to be greedy tycoons controlling the lives and work conditions of others “below them”. Most sane people in our world are pretty humble and honest and do not seek fame and excessive fortune. A comfortable life is generally what makes most people happy, not a life of excess luxury and conspicuous consumption. (If you are thinking, “Oh, speak for yourself you pathetic flowery leftie!” I would claim you are one of the minority of greedy materialists. So a pox on you! Or rather, I just feel very sorry for you, and pity you. You know not how hollow and empty of spirit you are.)

Furthermore, I could not care less if I get no credit for this idea. It might be a really dumb idea, or a completely impractical idea. And I haven’t done the research, so I have no idea if someone else has not already thought of this “BitTruth” idea for news authentication. I just want someone to work on it. The dude I thought could be receptive to this was they chap who invented Z-Coin, one of the (IMHO) better cryptocurrencies. But if you know anyone else who could take to this project, please whisper in their ear.

And if you start working on something like BitTruth, please trademark the name before some fascist idiot from Opposite-World does! And drop me an email to let me know you are working on this idea (achrononmaster_AT_gmail_dot_com). I would hope that for trademarks you can cite this article as some kind of prior claim? I doubt trademark law is quite so accepting, but if it is, then please feel free to take the name BitTruth as your trademark, just be sure, it must be used for a distributed cryptographic information authentication system true to what I have outlined in this article. If you use it for any other purpose I will make it my mission to see you in court if at all possible. (I keep offline USB drive hard copies of my OneOverEpsilon posts, so even if someone cracks this weblog, I will still have a record of the original.)

*      *      *

Licence:


CCL_BY-NC-SA(https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/legalcode)

Performance Reviews of Performance Reviews and Bayesian Blindness

Recently while researching the pros and cons of performance appraisal systems I cam across a lecture from the Deming’s Institute by an educator David Langford, which seemed pretty good.  But, sadly, just to prove a point about how bad social science research is, here’s a comment made about the value of education.

Wanting to show the positive effect of school education the speaker cites data showing students who went through the school system had significantly lower rates of unemployment (less than 5%) compared to students who had not graduated from high school (40% unemployment). It was an 11 year study tracking students until they were 24 to 27 year olds. The speaker then notes:

So we knew from just looking at that statistic that we are creating people who can go out and [look at the next system].

(the last bit of that quote is garbled from the audio, but the idea I think is that he meant the graduates were able to be successful — in some sense — in society compared to early school leavers.)

So what’s the big problem here? Seems fairly definitive right? Wrong!

Although the study says something useful, all it tells me is that early school leavers are unlikely to find consistent employment on average, and school graduates are able to find employment. Is this not what the study tells you?

Yes, sure.

What this cited data does not show at all is that school helps people find employment.

It may of course be true, but there is no evidence for this in the data. It is like these social science researchers have Bayesian blindness. If you do not know what I mean then this is not your WordPress favourite. (Go look up “Bayesian inference”.) The point is, even without going through school, those top students would be much more likely to find employment. It is not necessarily going to school that influences future employment rates, there is a prior correlation between probability of staying and doing well in school and being able to find employment.

*    *    *

Now, to be even-handed, there is one really nice bit in Langford’s talk that was a little eye-opener for me:

The number one factor in variability of performance is time.

Cool to know!

Ah yes, but now can we trust this guy with his flimsy research methods? In this case I’m prepared to risk a bit of trust. No one is wrong all of the time. Still, I’m not going to go around quoting this cause of performance variability as if it were gospel. But it was a nice semi-factoid.

Furthermore, I’ve heard Sir Roger Penrose say something about this on more than one occasion. When he was a school student he was very dull-witted at mathematics (apparently). He did poorly on the school tests. Luckily though he had a lovely mathematics teacher who took an interest and recognised young Penrose’s ability to focus and work hard, so he told Penrose he could take as long as he liked on the tests.

Result: Penrose was superb at mathematics. But he was very slow. Why? Because he tried to work out everything himself, not taking too much for granted. He was deriving results rather than simply mindlessly applying rote formulae. You can imagine the young Albert Einstein might have told similar anecdotes about school life.

*    *    *

While doing my research I also found a lot of convergences between scholastic tests & exams and the ubiquitous employee performance appraisal. My conclusion is that Edwards Deming was a genius, a true humanitarian, and almost all organizations and managers who support performance review systems are blindingly stupid, or ignorant, or evil.

This goes for the much lauded ex-Google head of People Operations, Laszlo Bock. He did some good things. But Google have the luxury of being able to hire high performing people who are not in need of performance appraisals. Like the school value example, Google employees will phreakin’ vie to outperform each other in drinking water contests without touching the glass. They will vie to outperform each other in flatulence aroma. You can give them anything and they will compete for fun. Under such a culture doing performance assessments is always going to show results. But it proves nothing about the performance rating system. All it proves is that these people love to compete. (Of course some don’t, but they will still be top coders or whatever.) You hire the best, you get the best.

And nor does any of this justify behavioural management. These Googlers are not responding to carrot and stick rewards systems and incentive pay or whatever. They are just basically playing at games they naturally enjoy. It is completely cognitive psychology. It just looks like performance rewards are working, but that’s a chimera. (Give me a million dollar research grant and I’ll prove it for you with robust statistics. … I’m only half joking about that! )

Truly, I was so overwhelmed by the pathetic quality of research that supports the use of performance appraisals (it is all of the same ilk as that ill-considered comment about the value of schooling)  — please shoot me if I ever publish “research findings” that make such spurious claims  — that I wrote a long 20 page memo to my department.  It was not well-received.  People get so agitated and fearful when they cannot see a criticism of a system is not a criticism of the people within the system.  Even after trying to explain my motives, the response was, “well, you should have informed management first before emailing your memo to everyone.  You have created disharmony. ”

Well, I could understand their fear.  But I still find it hard to understand the bad quality research literature.  Or maybe I do understand it, since it is ironically part of the same problem.  People publish fast and loose research not because they wish to, but because they have performance appraisal pressures that basically say various versions of “publish or perish”. Under such career pressure academics will publish any rubbish that they can dress up as respectable, and a kind of intellectual myopia sets in whereby they eventually cannot even see that their research is rubbish.  The thing is, 90% of it is not rubbish at all, it is often really good work. At least the data is usually ok.   It’s just the conclusions and summary that are trash.

In fact, I become so incensed that I wrote a research grant proposal to simulate the effects of performance ratings systems in the academic work environment, using evolutionary models.  I tend not to listen to the publish or perish meme.  I do feel ambient stress related to it, but I actively craft my work to make it deform away.  Consequently, you might not see my proposal turn into a paper any time soon, but when published I’ll write a note on it at OneOverEpsilon  for sure.


CCL_BY-NC-SA(https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/legalcode)

Splintering of the Left and Why the Left is Still a Dominant Force

Whenever I get a break from teaching I default to two activities, exercise and watching quality TV. There is not a lot of quality television.  I am a very fit 50 year old.  LOL

However, I have at least found a reasonable recommendation service: TasteK;d, and it was from a three minute browse on TastK;id that I discovered a Danish show Borgen recommended by fans of the Wallander.  If you have not seen Wallander then get it on DVD.  Even on a crappy old vacuum tube television set the cinematography and all-around production quality is brilliant, and the stories are not too bad either if you do not mind a lot of nasty psychopathic characters in your crime dramas.

Borgen, the Danish TV series

Borgen = PGD ~ “Pretty Good Drama”. Produced by Camilla Hammerich for the Danish DR1 network.

But the thing about Borgen that got me writing this little recommendation is the way the political landscape portrayed on Borgen mirrored quite amazingly closely the landscape in my home country New Zealand.  It also mirrors fairly closely Great Britain, Australia and Canada.  I am not familiar with other countries political systems, but my suspicion from this small sample is that many countries, perhaps a majority, are tending towards a multi-party system where coalitions need to be formed, where the right-wing parties consolidate most power through their internal unity, and where the left-wing parties are almost completely fractured, but still have remarkable influence.

Since I am a mathematical physicist and IT lecturer, I am not by any stretch a fount of wisdom on political matters, but my father was a New Zealand MP and he loved discussing world politics.  He was also a chief negotiator for the Bahá’í World Community based in Haifa Israel, where he had to deal with a sometimes hostile Israeli political system.    So I picked up a lot from him.  Thus, while I will not write here at length, I would like to make a few pithy observations and hopefully get some readers to respond or go away and do a thesis or write articles or books on these topics.  I also like to hope any decent lecturers on political science are observing and debating these ideas in their courses with their students.

The main cognitive dissonance I get from my sparse survey of world politics is that the leftist political parties are badly fractured and yet their ideologies are the more forceful and powerful.  Why is this?  How is it possible? What might it be indicating for the near future (50 to 100 year horizon)?

Here are a few of my summary observations:

  1. Right wing parties tend to stay unified and thus consolidate power, my thesis would be that this is due to a general right-wing or conservative-minded mentality (more on this below).
  2. Left wing parties are badly fracturing, particularly when any two-party system goes multi-party (usually due to a constitutional change from first-past-the-post to a more proportional representation system), and my thesis is that this a prototypical left-wing psyche.
  3. In multi-party democracies the Libertarians also tend to get precipitated out of both the left-wing and right-wing dominant parties.
  4. Although political legislation and executive power probably lies predominantly with right-wing conservatism (witness the USA despite their President), nevertheless, the world is unerringly moving more and more towards old-fashioned progressive and leftist policies and ideologies.

Forget for a moment about the incongruence of the phrase “old fashioned progressive”.  I will hopefully explain what I mean by that in what follows.

What I hope to illustrate in my brief discussion to follow is a vague feeling that the psychological factors which underlie each of the above observations seems, to me, to highlight the good in each brand of political ideology.  Moreover, the emergence of these distinct trends and differences points to a potential for a healing of the bad-old ways of 19th and 20th century democracy, which tended to be horribly corrupt and “democratic” in name only, not serving the people, but serving more faithfully corporations and wealthy interests.

You will have to fill in a lot of the details yourself I warn you!  I do not have time to write a major thesis here. But I think just a  few words under each heading should be sufficient for anyone to go away, do their homework, and fill out the bulk of the over-arching thesis I am presenting in proposal.

Also in what follows it might be hard for American readers who tend to think “socialism” is a dirty word.  In my lexicon “socialism” is simply a nature of politics that uses collective resources to help those in great need.  Thus, almost every single country has socialist health care, almost without exception. Taxes from people who never use health-care go towards subsidizing the costs of health-care for the poor.  Broadcast television is another great socialist system.  So is the school education system in most countries.  Normal garden-variety socialism exists all over the place in the USA.  When we in New Zealand talk about socialism we tend to think of schools and hospitals, police, law courts, and never any hint of Marxism or Communism creeps in.  The Communist failure was accepted in New Zealand probably back around 1948.  We do not have any hang-ups about left-wing socialism.  We accept the good of modern socialism and have long ignored as irrelevant to any modern consumer culture any potential threat from the corruptions and inhuman inefficiencies of communist style social centralization.

Finally, for any extremist readers, I personally think the spoils of evil and corruption are fairly uniformly distributed across the political spectrum.  There might be statistically more socialists imprisoned than conservatives but only because of extreme times like the McCarthy era in the USA or the radical feminist era in the UK and elsewhere and for the communist “red conspiracy” theorists who once held political or judicial power in many countries.  There is also a bias on the left since Trade Unions were often infiltrated by organized crime, and there is no way that Mafia or other crime organizations can be considered left-wing or right-wing.  They are basically wingless.  And would utilize any existing power structure at the level that they could usefully infiltrate and corrupt.

Objectively, and with an even-handed look into all the possible biases and miscarriages of justice over the last few centuries, I think one would find no significant correlation between political belief and corruption or crime, and instead only a correlation between power and corruption (I might be wrong, I have not looked into any such research).  Each side of the political spectrum likes to believe their’s is the more honest and just side, but I would guess there is no objective evidence for such beliefs.  There are just good and bad people who seek power, and the more power they gain the worse people’s ethics seem to become, if for no other reason than the purely banal fact that with more power one can “get away” with more slight of hand and wrong-doing even if for pure motives.  What’s more, with some people who gain inordinate power, they often will not even realize they are evil.  Indeed, maybe often they are not in themselves “evil”, and it is only their incompetent or ill-considered actions that are evil.

Hopefully that last paragraph clears a  little bit of ideological fog to make what I am about to write a little easier to glean.

Conservative Unity

A number of studies in psychology have documented the (by now commonly understood) phenomenon of right-wing conservative fear.  Conservative react with measurably more disgust to images that are violent and horrific, while left-wing proponents are far more calm & cool when faced with disgusting or psychologically disturbing images. See “Unconscious Reactions Separate Liberals and Conservatives” by Emily Laber-Waren, Scientific American, 1 September 2012.  See also, “Fear of Ebola Could Make People More Likely to Vote Conservative”, by Alice Robb, in The New Republic, October, 2014.

Conservatives tend to react to aggression and hostility with a military sort of mentality.  They circle-the-wagons, hold down the fort, and adopt defensive postures.  This is not, or even remotely, only in physical aggression circumstances. It is a general psychological trait of conservatives that per-determines a lot of their decisions and actions in the everyday world.  But there is a beauty in these traits.  Despite many personal differences and internal strife and implementation debates, conservatives tend to have a remarkable ability to remain united in the face of onslaught or in-party friction.  It is an admirable character of a conservative mind-set that liberals and progressives and radical find almost impossible to replicate. This strength of conservative movements in general (and yes, here and in what follows I am making deliberately sweeping generalizations that should in no way be attributed to any particular individual human) will help conservative opinion remain a strength in politics for as long as I can foresee.

This is important, because as the world moves inexorably more towards left-wing and caring pro-socialist capitalism, the loss of hard-line conservative opinion would be a terrible blow for democracy and representational government.  Socialists need to be reigned in by fiscal conservatives from time to time.  Corruptions in centralized power structures (like our current schools) need to periodically be released form the tyranny of social conformance and allowed to burst free and explore new and innovative options that require a more libertarian mind-set.

Left Wing Diversity

Socialist and left-wing thinkers tend to have a greater tolerance for outside views and do not automatically revert into defensive modes when threatened. This is often perceived as a political weakness. It also tends to make left-wing minds less worried or fearful of internal debate and dissension.  Left-wing parties also tend to have deserved reputations for division and an inability to see-through hard line decisions.  This is a natural psychological trait in general for people who favour the political left.  It is characterized by higher diversity of opinion, higher tolerance for dissension, and weakness in resolve and a tendency for disunity.

But I think the disadvantages of the political left are becoming less important.  Multi-party politics has split the left-wing big parties, so they no longer hold anywhere close to parity against the dominant right-wing parties.  But in a multi-party proportional representation system this is not such a problem.   Conservatives may have primary power, but not in brute force of numbers, only by virtue of being the dominant party.  Numerically the combined left, green, progressive and centrist liberals dominant over most right-wing parties.  We see in the USA where the electoral college system results in a de facto two-party system that the left wing and right wing are roughly balanced.  And the USA is a very conservative country by in large, owing perhaps to it’s strong Christian puritanism cultural history.  If the USA was to become truly multi-party and electorally proportional then I suspect the Republicans would remain almost intact, the Democrats would lose a huge amount of their numerical force, but leftist and progressive centrist parties would spring up, preserving the rough left versus right balance.

These left-wing weaknesses are thus not fatal.  Indeed, the tolerance for diversity and the more fractious in-fighting nature of left-wing circle politics is a vital, and perhaps even necessary, character needed for a political movement that seeks more rapid change and innovation then the conservative right.  Change is dangerous, it requires minds that are less fearful of strife and more able to tolerate dissension.  The right-wing mindset by nature can never fully embrace such internal chaos and conflict necessary for the sound debate and research of new ideas and potentially disruptive innovations.

Libertarian Precipitation

Republicans want to be free from fear and doubt.  Socialist desire to be free from poverty and want.  It is no wonder these opposing camps in politics are at odds.  Those who feel more of a psychological need to be free from fear are those who are already wealthy enough to not have concerns about basic needs and shelter and immediate security, they tend to be conservatives. Those who cannot even afford to worry about national security, because they are struggling to survive, tend to be socialist or left-wing (although the USA populace seem to have major departures from this otherwise world-wide trend in political demographics, see “What’s the Matter with Kansas” by Thomas Frank).  In-between there are libertarians, who may be either wealthy or poor but who in any case value liberty and freedom to “do whatever the hell they please” above other worries like safety or accruing of personal wealth.  These are all heavily stereotyped descriptions, but I am justifiably making them for the sake of very general arguments.

The general argument is that when a country changes from a two-party to a multi-party style of election and/or governance, then the libertarians tend to divorce themselves from the parental support of their innately preferred branch of the left-right political spectrum, and they then crystallize out into their own political force fields. Usually extreme in free-market philosophy, they can also have elements of intellectual anarchism, which is not the popularly believed system without rules, but is a more benign philosophical idea that countries and communities should be run by egalitarian cooperative principles and not by a leadership hierarchy.  Everyone contributing, everyone who participates, is a leader in an anarchic system.  Far from leading logically to chaos, an anarchy can be a rather beautiful system.  But we are yet to see anarchy operate anywhere effectively on a  global governance scale.

But despite the flaws in implementing pure libertarian principles, libertarians still have many important principles that can be used to balance and guide other mainstream political ideologies.

There are even some highly effective and proven micro-implementations of libertarianism.  Not in politics, but in business.  The Free Software movement is the best example I know.  It is wildly successful and has shown itself to be a truly beautiful and efficient model for how an anarchic style of operation can be effective when the purpose is to create a complex system of products that no one person can maintain or oversee.   One exception might be the Linux kernel project.  The Linux kernel does have it’s leader, for sure, but the model (the Cathedral style of software development) is still basically a libertarian type of model, allowing many developers to contribute, without bias, provided they have the proven skill.  The Linux kernel is a type of meritocracy more than an anarchy, but it is heavily libertarian in flavour nonetheless.  But there are thousands of other free open-source software projects they basically prove that anarchy or libertarianism can be an effective system organizing a society, in fact a world-wide virtual society

The idea is that when they can free themselves from the shackles of a two-party system, libertarians have a stronger voice.  They are no longer beholden to any traditional stifling party power structure, they no longer need to tow any particular party-line, but can instead organize themselves along whatever style of libertarianism they espouse.  This clarity of political voice from an important sub-section of society is a wonderful advancement in world civilization.  There is little worse for idealism in politics than having good ideas that are drowned by noise and never heard.

Irrepressible Progressive Movement

I have to confess I am not strong on knowledge of the differences between left-wing socialism and progressives.  My characterization would be that traditional left-wing parties tend to be more entrenched in their brand of socialism, whereas progressives are more like the amorphous apolitical class I will mention below in the Epilogue.  My thesis concerning progressives was merely that their collective stream of ideology seems to be where the world is heading.  Partly this is because Progressives borrow from intellectual popularism, using popular academic and scientific opinion to drive through parts of their agenda.  Partly it is because they can align with conservatives on fiscal responsibility and safety and defense matters, and partly because they can work with green movements who are concerned with environmental protection, and they can work with both libertarians and greens on political and social freedom.

It also seems that Progressive politics is almost by definition the style and content of politics that is a majority popular trend.   People are sick of the old, they want fresh and new ideas, and that almost defines what it is to be a Progressive in politics and society.  So I think it is almost vacuous to point out the the progressive political movement is advancing irrepressibly.  Because it advances by definition.  Whatever trend in politics is current, then that is virtually what we would call “progressive”.   This is probably a gross characterization and oversimplification, but I think it has enough of a kernel of truth to be all that I need to write on the topic.  My main summarizing point which links to progressive politics is in the Epilogue.

Epilogue: Rise of the Amorphous Apoliticals

Although not in my list of five observations above, I think another thread in world politics is the emergence of young people who are almost entirely apolitical.  They borrow an ideology from the left, from the right, from the central, from the anarchic, from the libertarian, as they see fit, to suit their needs or current thoughts.

This is a very healthy brand of millennial citizen.  There have always been people who are capable of sympathizing, or even empathizing, with either end or middle of the political spectrum.  These have, in the past, tended to be “free thinkers”, or outsiders, or academics who pursue truth and impartial judgment.  Such people would often be looked down upon as “having no principles”.  But this was the exact opposite.  Free thinkers have higher principles than any ideological allegiant party people.   Their allegiance was never to any political party of ideological brand, but to truth and justice and egalitarianism.  There are plenty of people within the political parties who are such free thinkers too, they are not always total outsiders. They have the ability to work with anyone who has a reasonable fact-based or rational opinion. That is because facts and rationality are open to debate and are immune from hard-line ideology.  The mistake of politically biased operators in thinking that free thinkers “have no principles” is a failure to note that their (the free thinker’s) principles are in fact blatant and far higher and nobler ones, devoted to truth and wisdom rather than any particular policy.

Also, I wrote above that in the bad-old days democratic governments were a farce, they served corporate and wealthy interests, not the people.  The thing is, most people will think this has never changed, and in fact may be even worse today than in the past.  So really we have bad-new days.  But I would disagree.  Today we have much greater transparency, the ills and sicknesses of political systems are more exposed to the light. So naturally we think it is getting worse.  But the more light gets shed on politics the more sick it will seem until we cross over a putative phase transition in politics, and politics becomes less corrupted by money and more driven by people who want to serve the community and who would rather not be in power.  They would be reluctantly elected.  There will be an end to commercial political advertising and campaigning because political parties will become irrelevant and people will be voting for individual representatives, using a person’s character and individual history to inform their vote, not a political party agenda.  This is not naïve Pollyannarism, since you can see the signs and trends for yourself.  Look at the power and influence of social media.  This is not controlled by governments or security institutions.  It is genuine power wielded by ordinary people.  But it is only a dim start.  There is a thousand-fold, maybe even a million-fold increase in political action and luminosity that the Internet and social media still could develop, and I think will inevitably develop.

In this new millennium I think the argumentative fractious nature of most party-political systems are making people psychological ill.  There is less tolerance for politics.  More and more youngsters get their news from shows like The Daily Show than from stolid ratings-driven mainstream news media.  And I think this is how world politics is trending, slowly, but surely.  I would not be surprised if in 50 to 70 years from now there is at least one major democracy that switches to a party-free political electioneering and governance system.  There is already one major world-wide community using a party-free electoral and governance system.  I wonder how long before this system is more widely known and catches on in the public sphere.

 

 

 

 

 

“You want me to grade ya? Well, you gotta’ ask yourself, do you feel lucky … well do ya punk?”

Semi-annual exam grading this week. I am trying to migrate more each semester to journal portfolio grading. This semester I managed to get approval for exams worth 0% of course grades. But I made them Pass/Fail, which is probably a bit rough on students. So I also had an “earned pass” criteria, which meant students had to complete weekly journals, forum discussions, and homework quiz sets, to “earn a pass” in case they failed both exams. This works quite well.

The downside is that with 15 weeks of journals to review and forum posts to read and send feedback on, for every student, the total hours I spend on assessment exceeds the time I am being paid for lecturing. (It is about 450 hours for a class of 60 students. And I estimate I am only paid for 60 hours of assessment work, because that is all the office time I am given to submit grades after final exams are over. And it seems to me most other lecturers work some magic to finish their grading in about 12 hours, I do not know how they do it.)

So I am going to request next semester for dropping exams altogether, and instead getting quality control through short weekly tests in lecture class where exam conditions will be simulated. This will force me to grade tests each week, so at the end of term the exam grading will not take so long. But it does not reduce the assessment hours, in fact I think it will increase my overall work burden. So I will also need to scale back journal portfolios to bi-weekly instead of weekly. I will also probably need to make the short tests bi-weekly too, since, with 120 students, grading tests each week will overload my hours.

The problem is not that I dislike being under-paid for my work, I could care less about money. What I do not like is wasting time and not being able to spend more time on research and course quality improvements and developing better educational software. Actually, I do not consider assessment a waste of time. But it is tedious and depressing work sometimes. So I really just think I personally need to be smarter about how I allocate my time, and overloading on assessment is decreasing the time I could be spending on course quality improvements, so ultimately I am hindering improving student learning by spending too much time on assessment.

That’s enough moaning!  What I really want to blog about today is the problem with tests and exams as assessments, and some of the issues of freedom in learning that are stifled by tests and exams, and how to do things better without abandoning the good uses for tests.

edu_FreedomToLearn_BertrandRussellSo ok, I think I have been subjected to enough education to exercise my opinion!

To get you warmed up, consider what you are doing as a teacher if you have a prescribed syllabus with prescribed materials and resources and no freedom of selection for students.  When students are not permitted to fire up Firefox or Chrome to search for their own learning resources, what is this?.  What you are doing then is called censorship.  And that is probably the most polite word for it.

edu_censorship_GeorgeBernardShawIn the past it was not censorship, it was in fact liberation!  But times have changed.  Teachers used to be the fountains of wisdom and guidance.  They would gather resources, or purchase textbooks, and thereby give students access to a wide world.  But now there is no need for that, and teachers who continue prescribing textbooks and using the same resources for all students, they are now ironically the censors.  They are limiting student freedom.  The Internet has changed the world this much!  It has turned liberators into censors overnight.  Amazing.

So please, if you are a teacher read this and share it. If you are studying to become a teacher then please do not become a censor.   Learn how to give your students freedom and structured guidance.  If you are already a teacher please do not continue being a censor.

Teaching to the Tests, “Hello-oh!?”

One interesting thing I have learned (or rather had confirmed) is that university teaching is far superior to high school teaching in a few ways.

  • You, the lecturer, get to structure the course however you want, provided you meet fairly minimal general university requirements.
  • Because of that structural freedom you can teach to the tests! This is a good thing!

“What’s that?” you say. How can teaching to the tests be a good thing? Hell, it is something I wrote dozens of paragraphs railing against when I was doing teacher training courses, and in later blogs. And despite not liking to admit it, it is what most high school teachers end up doing in New Zealand. It is a tragedy. But why? And why or when and how can teaching to the tests actually be a good thing?

The answer, and I think the only way teaching to tests is natural and good, is when the teacher has absolute control over both the test format and the classroom atmosphere and methods.

First of all, I like using tests or exams to get feedback about what basics students have learned. But I do not use these results to judge students. A three hour exam is only a snapshot. I can never fit in all the course content into such a short exam, so it would be unfair to use the exam to judge students who did well in learning topics in the course that will not appear in my exam papers. And students could be “having a bad day”, if I tested them another day their score could go up or down significantly. So I realise exams and tests are terrific for gathering course outcome quality information. But you are a bit evil, in my opinion, if you use exams and tests as summative assessments. Summative assessments should be feedback to students, but not used for grading or judgemental purposes. Instead, the only fair way to grade and judge students is by using quality weekly or “whole semester assessments.

Secondly, if a teacher is biased then “whole semester” assessments (like journal portfolios) can be terribly insecure and unreliable. So you need to try to anonymise work before you grade it, so as to eliminate overt bias. And you might think you are not biased, but believe me, the research will tell you that you are most certainly biased, you cannot help it, it is subconscious and therefore beyond your immediate conscious control. But you can proactively consciously control bias by eliminating it’s source, which is knowing which student’s work you are currently grading.

You can later think about “correcting” such anonymised grades on a case-by-case basis by allowing for known student learning impairments. But you should not bias your grades a priori by knowing which student you are grading at the time. A’ight?! Biased teachers are well-documented. Teachers need to be close to students and form strong relationships, that is a proven good learning requirement. But it works against accurate and unbiased assessment. So you need to anonymise student work prior to grading. This could mean getting rid of hand-written work, favouring electronic submissions.

If you use tests wisely you can use them as both student and teacher assessment vehicles. Students should not feel too much stress with short weekly tests. They should not be swatting for them, the tests should naturally extend learning done in class or from previous weekly homework. If you control the format and content of tests then you can design your teaching to match. So if you like highly creative and cognitive learning styles you can administer cognitive testing with lots of imagination required. If you prefer a more kinesthetic learning style for another topic you can make the test kinesthetic. You can suit and tailor your teaching style to naturally match the topic and then also the follow-up tests.

This sort of total control is not possible in schools under present day state-wide run standards-based exams. That’s why such exam regimes are evil and inefficient and terrible for promoting good learning.

With teacher-run lessons + tests you get the best of all worlds. If one teacher is slack, their students get disadvantaged for sure, but they would anyway under a standards-based regime. The difference with teacher-run courses is that the teacher’s exams and course content can be examined, rather than the students getting examined, and so ultimate education quality control rests upon the administrator who should get to examine the teacher resources and test formats and content. That’s the way to run state-based exams. You examine the teachers, not the students.

There can even be a second tier of filtering and quality control. The school itself can assess the teacher quality. Then slack teachers can be sent to state-wide authorities of assessment. We need to remember the state employees are the teachers, not the students. So we should at least first worry about assessing teacher quality, not student quality. Our present schools systems, around the world, backwards all this have. 😉  I know educators mean well. But they need to listen to Sir Ken Robinson and Alfie Kohn a bit harder.

So in the foreseeable future, sadly, I will not be returning to secondary school teaching. Never under the present national standards regime anyway. It basically would make me an ordinary teacher. But I have extraordinary talents. The NZQA run system would effectively dull my talents and would mask them from expression. Under the current NZQA system which most schools are mandated to follow, I would be a really horrid teacher. I would not be teaching to the tests, and my students would likely not acquire grades that reflect their learning.

It is not impossible to teach students creatively and with fun and inspiration and still help them acquire good grades under NCEA. But it is really, really hard, and I am not that good a teacher. The real massive and obvious flaw in New Zealand is that teachers think they can all do this. But they cannot. They either end up teaching to the tests, and their students get reasonable grades, but average learning, or they buck the system and teach however they damn please and their students get poor grades. I would guess only about 1% or 3% of teachers have the genius and skill and long fought-for expertise to run a truly creative and imaginary learning experience and also get students who can ace the NCEA exams.

If, as a nation of people who love education, we cannot have all teachers be the geniuses who can do this, and if it requires exceptionally gifted teachers to do this, then why oh why are we forcing them to use the NCEA or similar exam regimes? If you do not have all teachers being such geniuses, then, I think, morally and ethically you are bound to not using a standards-based summative assessment system for judging students. You instead need to unleash the raw talent of all teachers by giving them freedom to teach in a style they enjoy, because this will naturally reflect in the brightness and happiness and learning of their students. And to check on the quality of your education system you must assess these teachers, not their students.

The tragedy is, for me, that I think I would enjoy secondary school teaching a lot more than university lecturing if the free-to-learn system I propose was in place. The younger children have a brightness and brilliance that is captivating.  So it is a real pleasure to teach them and guide them along their way.  These bright lights seem to become dulled when they become young adults.  Or maybe that’s just the effect that school has on them?

*      *       *

So, the thing is, I see no reason why high school teaching cannot be more like university teaching. Please give the teachers the control over both their course style and their assessments. This will make everyone happier and less stressed. Test the teacher quality ahead of student quality at the national level. Make education about empowering students to discover their interests, and not to follow by rote the content provided by the teachers. And definitely not content dictated and remanded by a state-run government institution. If the government desire accountability of schools, they should look at teacher quality, not student quality. With good teachers you can trust them to get the most from their students, right! That’s a statement not a question!

There are many good references I should provide, but I will just give you one that hits most points I made above:

edu_FreedomToLearn_Rogers

That wasn’t an ad.  Here are the wordpress inserted ads …

“Nothing to Hide” Arguments and Generalisations

A good friend of mine re-posted a link on Google+ the other day: I’ve Got Nothing to Hide” and Other Misunderstandings of Privacy, by Daniel J. Solove. It’s not a bad read, so go check it out.

free_AaronSwartz_journals

A great cartoon of Aaron giving everyone access to JSTOR. Whoever drew this needs crediting, but I can only make out their last name “Pinn”. I grabbed this from Google image search. So thanks Mr or Ms Pinn.

So that this is not a large departure from my recent trend in blog topics, I wanted to share a few thoughts about similar “easy arguments” in quite different fields.

The “Nothing to Show” Argument Against Publishing

This is an argument I’ve used all my life to avoid publishing. I hate people criticising my work. So I normally tell supervisors or colleagues that I have nothing of interest to publish. This is an extraordinary self-destructive thing to do in academia, it basically kills one’s career. But there are a few reasons I do not worry.

Firstly, I truly do not like publishing for the sake of academic advancement. Secondly, I have a kind of inner repulsion against publishing anything I think is stupid or trivial or boring. Thirdly, I am quite lazy, and if I am going to fight to get something published it should be worth the fight, or should be such good quality work that it will not be difficult to publish somewhere. Fourth, I dislike being criticised so much I will sometimes avoid publishing just to avoid having to deal with reviewer critiques. That’s a pretty immature and childish sensitivity, and death for an academic career, but with a resigned sigh I have to admit that’s who I am, at least for now, a fairly childish immature old dude.

There might be a few other reasons. A fifth I can think of is that I wholeheartedly agree with Aaron Swartz’s Guerilla Open Access Manifesto, which proclaims the credo of free and open access to publicly funded research for all peoples of all nations. That’s not a trivial manifesto. You could argue that the public of the USA funds research that should then be free and open, but only to the public of the USA, and likewise for other countries. But Swartz was saying that the tax payers of the respective countries have already paid for the research, the researcher’s have been fully compensated, and scientists do not get any royalties from journal articles anyway, and therefore their research results should be free for all people of all nations to use. Why this is important is the democratising of knowledge, and perhaps more importantly the unleashing of human potential and creativity. If someone in Nigeria is denied access to journals in the USA then that person is denied the chance to potentially use that research and contribute to the sum total of human knowledge. We should not restrict anyone such rights.

OK, that was a bit of a diversion. The point is, I would prefer to publish my work in open-access journals. I forget why that’s related to my lack of publishing … I did have some reason in mind before I went on that rant.

I’ve read a lot of total rubbish in journals, and I swear to never inflict such excrement on other people’s eyes. So anything I publish would be either forced by a supervisor, or will be something I honestly think is worth publishing, something that will help to advance science. It is not out of pure altruism that I hesitate to publish my work, although that is part of it. The impulse against publishing is closer to a sense of aesthetics. Not wanting to release anything in my own name that is un-artful. I’m not an artist, but I have been born or raised with an artistic temperament, much to my detriment I believe. Artless people have a way of getting on much better in life. But there it is, somewhere in my genes and in my nurturing.

So I should resolve to never use the “Nothing to Show” argument. I have to get my research out in the open, let it be criticised, maybe some good will come of it.

The “Nothing to Fear” Argument Against Doing Stupid Stuff

Luckily I am not prone to this argument. If you truly have nothing to fear, then by all means … but often this sort of argument means you personally do not mind suffering whatever it is that’s in store, and that use of the argument can be fatal. So if you ever hear you inner or outer voice proclaiming “I have nothing to fear …” then take a breath and pause, make sure there truly is nothing to fear (but then, why would you be saying this out loud?). There is not much more to write about it. But feel free to add comments.

The “Nothing to Lose” Argument in Favour of Being Bold

This is normally a very good argument and perhaps the best use of the “Nothing to …” genre. If you truly have nothing to lose then you are not confounding this with the “Nothing to Fear” stupidity. So what more needs to be said?


CCL_BY-NC-SA(https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/legalcode)