Is Google Books as dangerous as Wikipedia? many academics, Wikipedia is a large sounding bell! It indicates poor researching techniques (similarly to using Encyclopaedia Britannica in the past) … although many of us would argue that it’s at least a good starting point, pointing to other materials. This week, there are concerns raised about the metadata used in Google books, and how that may be affecting researchers:

Two years ago, Google Books was becoming the world’s largest digital library and, with an effective monopoly, seemed “almost certain to be the last one”.

The tragedy for scholars was that Google Books’ metadata – which allow users to search the catalogue – were “a mishmash wrapped in a muddle wrapped in a mess”.

Such was the argument made in 2009 by Geoffrey Nunberg, adjunct full professor in the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley.

He went on to have a good deal of fun with the many strange anomalies: 115 hits for Greta Garbo and 325 for Woody Allen in books said to date from before they were born; editions of Jane Eyre classified under history or antiques and collectibles; Sigmund Freud listed as an author of a guide to an internet interface.

There was even a case of an 1890 guidebook assigned to 1774 because it happened to open with an advertisement for a shirt manufacturer founded in that year.

All this made Google Books’ search facility a very dangerous tool for serious researchers looking to track, for example, the way a particular word has changed its meaning over time.

In response to Professor Nunberg’s critique, Google offered to correct any errors that were brought to its attention. But while this process has ironed out specific glitches in the intervening years, Professor Nunberg does not believe it has made a fundamental difference.

Read full article.


Black and White and dead all over? @timeshighered

Newspaper ( those who care deeply about the future of journalism, the phone-hacking scandal could hardly have been less well timed. Professional journalism’s survival is threatened by the economic impact of digital technologies. The plurality and diversity of voice upon which representative democracy depends is in jeopardy. Needed urgently is debate about how well-resourced, professional news gathering can be sustained. Instead, tired 20th-century concerns about the ethics and ownership of popular newspapers are diverting attention from critical 21st-century realities.

The alleged hacking of Milly Dowler’s mobile telephone generated a moral panic that was seized upon instantly by a curious alliance of elite establishment and left-progressive opinion. At the same time, it diverted attention from a crucial debate that was beginning to gather momentum. That discussion, about whether professionally edited, fact-based journalism can continue to play the role of an estate, not just an industry, in the multimedia age will remain important after those responsible for phone hacking have been identified and punished.

There is a crisis in journalism that has nothing to do with hacking and relates directly to the conduct of public affairs. It started with recognition that the internet has weakened the authority of large-scale professional media organisations and progressed to predictions that the web will destroy it. Many thinkers in the field of journalism and media studies believe this and find the notion irresistible. They burble with delight at the possibility that the power of big media may be shattered by what laymen call blogging and they grace it with the oxymoronic title “citizen journalism”.

The essential difference between the two deserves definition. It is that much blogging is an amateur activity carried out by people with no understanding of journalism’s social purpose who operate with scant regard for facts. Like the activists who, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, published illegal newspapers seething with radical ideology and revolutionary zeal, they prefer opinion to evidence. Liberated by broadband from a free market in which their ideas have no traction because too few find them interesting, they bleat – and tweet – wild rumours, half-truths and conspiracies.

Read full story, which is largely an attack upon the ‘dumbing down’ of the press through the use of social networking… take this quote:

Citizens intrigued by events check in on Twitter and other social networking sites. But once alerted, many follow links to reliable news sites such as BBC News Online and newspaper sites.


Judging a book by it’s cover? @timeshighered

Jeremy Black is making a stand against the grandiose claims made by far too many blurbs on the back of academic books

Errors in students’ exam answers have attracted wry reflection on the pages of Times Higher Education recently. However, they are as nothing compared with the misleading character of all too many of the pithy commendations that appear on the back of academic books.

In the case of my subject, history, there is a particular problem as books are so often presented as “definitive” when, of course, the inherent nature of the subject denies such characterisation. As an academic discipline, history is an accretional subject in which we benefit from, and contribute to, the work of others, knowing that our own work will be absorbed, built on and superseded in the same process.

That, of course, will not do for the vanity of some authors, the exigencies of publicists and far too many blurb writers. If you say a book is good and builds ably on existing views, you are apt to find your blurb edited or dropped in favour of those who will say that the work is “definitive”, “outstanding” or “transformative”.

At every stage there is the argument by assertion in pushing works. Take, for example, an interesting and well-written recent biography of George II. This work is a competent and fluent contribution to a large body of literature by many scholars over the past four decades that has argued for the importance of the king. That, however, in the hands of blurb writers becomes “a groundbreaking study of a neglected monarch…a fundamental reappraisal…? the definitive biography…a watershed in our knowledge and understanding of Hanoverian England”.

Read full story…. and we should be thinking about what will be picked up by search engines, and the overflow of information… be ‘accurate’ about your work, and I’ll maybe come back for more…