On the Creation of a Documentary Record

Because someone asked to see it, below is the prompt and my response to the question of data security on our local IRB form.

First, here is the prompt:

> g. Describe your procedures and safeguards for insuring confidentiality or anonymity of the research subjects. (See Guidelines, pgs. 5 and 6) Include how data will be secured, reported, and when identifiable raw data will be destroyed.

And then my response:

> There is no confidentiality or anonymity given to research subjects: those not willing to be a part of the research project are not included. Individuals are made fully aware that the research is intended to lead to a book —they are, in fact, promised a copy of the book. (And they are often shown drafts of sections and/or chapters.)

> Digital data is secured by being downloaded from the relevant media onto a computer secured in the researcher’s office as well as backed up to a drive kept in a separate, and secure, location. The goal here is to avoid destruction of data, not guarantee it. No data is secured without the knowledge and consent of the participating individuals. In some cases, especially in the case of photographs and some audio recordings, participating individuals ask for, and receive, copies that they are in turn free to share with others. This mutual creation of a documentary record is an important part of the ethnographic process as practiced by folklorists.

> Informed consent is given orally, and is usually present in an audio recording at the beginning of a recording, but the value of informed consent relies, in folkloristic ethnographic research, in the relationship between the researcher and the individuals involved. Written, legal-like, documents are perhaps significant in one-off research programs in which the researcher never returns to the community, but the goal of folkloristic research in general, and in this project in particular, is to support the local community.

> As the American Folklore Society notes in its Position Statement on Research With Human Subjects: “Folklorists inform their consultants about the aims and methods of research. The nature of the relationships that folklorists build with their consultants, however, is such that a written, signed, legally effective document would be inimical to the relationship upon which folklore research is based. Folklorists cannot go as guests into people’s homes, build trust and friendships, and then present a legal document for signature.” (See http://www.afsnet.org/?page=HumanSubjects for the complete statement.)

It’s not the best possible response or methodology, but it’s the beginning of something that I think is appropriately framed.

Socio-PLT

[Why does one language succeed and another one fail?][1] To answer questions like this, Leo Meyerovich and Ari Rabkin are examining sociological aspects of programming language theory: what they call *socio-PLT*.

[1]: http://www.eecs.berkeley.edu/~lmeyerov/projects/socioplt/viz/index.html

[The opportunities afforded by the American Research Institute in Turkey](http://www.afsnet.org/networking/opening.asp?id=124331) look very interesting. Perhaps my next project will look there, to the relationship between agriculture and culture in a non-U.S. setting.

Morrill Act

This will perhaps interest no one other than me, but there are two acts of Congress that play a role in my current research: the one which established vocational, especially vocational agriculture, programs in high schools and the Morrill Act, which established land grant universities, and later cooperative extensions.

Syntax Highlighting in Word

I am working on my paper for the computational folkloristics panel at AFS this year. My goal is to apply some of the network theory and visualization methods I learned at the NEH Institute on Networks and Networking in the Humanities do the intellectual history of folklore studies. I thought an interesting phenemonenon to tackle would be the emergence of performance studies as a paradigm. That is, what does a paradigm shift look like from the point of view of a network? What did it look like in folklore studies?

To do this work I am interacting with JSTOR’s *Data for Research* program, and I am trying to keep notes as I go. Because this will eventually be something I want to share with others, I am keeping my notes in Word — if only because I can control the presentation much more readily. For the XML with which I am working to be more readable, it could use some syntax highlighting, a feature I count on in my text editor, Textmate, but which is not available in Word … unless, of course, you happen upon on-line sites which will do the work for you.

One such site is [ToHTML](http://tohtml.com/). [PlanetB](http://www.planetb.ca/2008/11/syntax-highlight-code-in-word-documents/) will also do some syntax highlighting.

Computers and Robots of Old

In the process of wondering in a recent issue of [Asimov’s][1] about what kinds of litigation robots will spawn in the near future, Robert Silverberg provides a terrific, [brief history of fictional robots][2], from Gelula’s “Automaton” of 1931 to AT&T’s Zippy. I began looking around for more histories of robots, and of computers, too, and came across two great lists:

* Joshua Glenn’s [The Coolest Robots of Pre-Golden Age SF](http://io9.com/5126907/the-coolest-robots-of-pre+golden-age-sf), and
* Bruce Franklin’s [Computers in Fiction](http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~hbf/compulit.htm).

I know that Willard McCarty has begun a history of computers and computing in more serious forms of discourse, but his survey may have already encompassed these examples. If not, then there is something to be done here.

[1]: http://www.asimovs.com/
[2]: http://www.asimovs.com/2010_09/ref.shtml

Why Most Published Research Findings Are False

_PLoS Medicine_ has a fascinating article by John P. A. Ioannidis that argues that in an era where all research must establish, almost *a priori*, its “significance,” that we in fact have ended up with research that is insignificant. The problem, as I understand it from my reading, is that too many scientists — and the window onto the scholarly world is open here, I think — are required to be productive in ways that bureaucracies can “measure.” Thus, the race is on *toward* smaller studies that are easily commoditized into publications and *away* from larger studies which either require years to produce results or have too many collaborators for credit to be pieced out in ways that institutions like.

> There is increasing concern that most current published research findings are false. The probability that a research claim is true may depend on study power and bias, the number of other studies on the same question, and, importantly, the ratio of true to no relationships among the relationships probed in each scientific field. In this framework, a research finding is less likely to be true when the studies conducted in a field are smaller; when effect sizes are smaller; when there is a greater number and lesser preselection of tested relationships; where there is greater flexibility in designs, definitions, outcomes, and analytical modes; when there is greater financial and other interest and prejudice; and when more teams are involved in a scientific field in chase of statistical significance. Simulations show that for most study designs and settings, it is more likely for a research claim to be false than true. Moreover, for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias. In this essay, I discuss the implications of these problems for the conduct and interpretation of research.

Here’s the official citation:

Ioannidis JPA (2005) Why Most Published Research Findings Are False. PLoS Med 2(8): e124. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0020124

Analyzing Video Game Sequels

[Arthur Kabrick’s post at GamrFeed](http://gamrfeed.vgchartz.com/story/83289/how-to-make-a-good-sequel/) is an interesting exercise in data mining. I think it would be interesting to take his idea further and analyze the prose of the reviews as well.