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Apropos of nothing really, via Slashdot I see that a fascinating new product to route around country-wide internet filters, called Psiphon, has been released for public download.

NB: Amusingly, the actual Psiphon site is actually blocked by a number of corporate filtering programs. To learn about a few details, take a read through either this article, or the Wikipedia entry on it.

The idea really isn't new, as pointed out by the Slashdot posting, and Psiphon is just another in a line of proxy and filter avoidance technology. Just another step in the arms race between those looking to keep tight control over internet access and those who want to get around it. Now, if only there were a good, analytical way to study the process of interactions in arms races.

Kevin, any thoughts?

Learn from the England

In earlier post I commented that Brookings had suggested that State Department should follow DFID’s lead in the development aid. Now Posner suggests, “We Need Our Own MI5”;

“Intelligence succeeded in part because of the work of MI5, England's domestic intelligence agency. We do not have a counterpart to MI5. This is a serious gap in our defenses. Primary responsibility for national security intelligence has been given to the FBI. The bureau is a criminal investigation agency. Its orientation is toward arrest and prosecution rather than toward the patient gathering of intelligence with a view to understanding and penetrating a terrorist network….

The bureau's tendency, consistent with its culture of arrest and prosecution, is to continue an investigation into a terrorist plot just long enough to obtain enough evidence to arrest and prosecute a respectable number of plotters. The British tend to wait and watch longer so that they can learn more before moving against plotters.

The FBI's approach means that small fry are easily caught but that any big shots who might have been associated with them quickly scatter. The arrests and prosecutions warn terrorists concerning the methods and information of the FBI. Bureaucratic risk aversion also plays a part; prompt arrests ensure that members of the group won't escape the FBI's grasp and commit terrorist attacks. But without some risk-taking, the prospect of defeating terrorism is slight.

MI5, in contrast to the FBI (and to Scotland Yard's Special Branch, with which MI5 works), has no arrest powers and no responsibilities for criminal investigation, and it has none of the institutional hang-ups that go with such responsibilities. Had the British authorities proceeded in the FBI way -- rather than continuing the investigation until virtually the last minute, which enabled them to roll up (with Pakistan's help) more than 40 plotters -- most of the conspirators might still be at large, and the exact nature and danger of the plot might not have been discovered. We need our own MI5, not to supplant but to supplement the FBI…”

More at their weblog.

Two articles on the history of Wikipedia via Marginal Revolution; The Hive and Can Wikipedia conquer expertise?

Another explanation from The Economist;

“This success has made Wikipedia the most famous example of a wider wiki phenomenon. Wikis are web pages that allow anybody who is allowed to log into them to change them. In Wikipedia's case, that happens to be anybody at all. The word “wiki” comes from the Hawaiian word for “quick”, but also stands for “what I know is...”. Wikis are thus the purest form of participatory creativity and intellectual sharing, and represent “a socialisation of expertise”, as David Weinberger, who is currently writing a book on collaborative intelligence, puts it.

Among the new media, wikis are the perfect complement to blogs. Whereas blogs contain the unedited, opinionated voice of one person, wikis explicitly and literally allow groups of people to get on the proverbial “same page”. This is the main reason for the failure of a Los Angeles Times experiment with wikitorials, described in the previous article. Wikis are good at summarising debates, but they are ill-suited for biased opinion.”

Here’s Colbert’s attempt at explaining the Wikipedia; see also this video.

The major innovation I’m looking forward is when the Wikibooks gets a real take off- I don’t think it’s wikiality!

Did you see the broken light?

datalsurveydesign.gif“Three decades ago, a group of students were shown a short movie in which two cars were in an accident. Then the students were divided into two groups where the first group was asked "Did you see the broken light?" and the second was asked "Did you see a broken light?" Switching one single word, the or a, in the otherwise identical question changed responses by an astonishing 31 percent.

A body of literature has shown that there are many ways to influence respondents, too often too subtle to be recognized. You can probably guess that using the word "financial incentives" or "subsidies" will elicit different results. But would you think that the order in which different alternatives are presented to the respondent might influence his or her response? Probably not, but in reality it does.

Irrespective of how the question is worded, survey methods that could influence the data collected, such as using or not a public official as interviewer or reading the questions to the respondents instead of showing them written questions are known as survey fixed effects. Not taking such effects into account can bias the results, says Iarossi.”

- A review of the book, The Power of Survey Design: A User's Guide for Managing Surveys, Interpreting Results, and Influencing Respondents by by Giuseppe Iarossi

The book is a must read for anyone interested in anything to do with surveys.

Some other book reviews in the latest F&D.

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