Saturday, January 26, 2002

politics of search engines

Have you ever considered that the methods that search engines use to index the web may be based more upon political views than upon limitations based upon technology? Do search engines run counter to the architecture of the web? A couple of years old, but very well researched and thought provoking, the article Shaping the Web: Why the politics of search engines matters gives a detailed analysis of this subject, and comes up with the following as one of its authors' conclusions:
As a first step we would demand full and truthful disclosure of the underlying rules (or algorithms) governing indexing, searching, and prioritizing, stated in a way that is meaningful to the majority of Web users. Obviously, this might help spammers. However, we would argue that the impact of these unethical practices would be severely dampened if both seekers and those wishing to be found are aware of the particular biases inherent in any given search engine. We believe informing users, on the whole, will be better than the status quo, in spite of the difficulties.

women and the law

Law in the United States has historically been a profession predominantly represented by males. If you visit a law school, you might find that there is a very equal mix of male and female students on campus. That has not always been the case. The Women Lawyers Association of the Los Angeles County Bar Association has put together a site entitled Women's Legal History Biography Project, which is a great collection of articles and biographical material on women working in the legal field.

the socratic method

In law school, they taught us that the socratic method was a way of teaching that involved the law school professor standing in front of the class and grilling students on the facts, holdings of law, and meanings of cases. Lectures, and plain speech about legal methods, and analysis were the exception rather than the rule. Of course, that was
how many of the professors learned about teaching from their law school professors. Normally, the academic background required to teach law school involved a law degree, and experience as an attorney, and not a degree in education. What if they got it wrong?

An author who has previously written on serious scholarly subjects such as Shakespeare, has recently written a book called Gilligan Unbound: Pop Culture in the Age of Globalization. In an essay entitled The Art in the Popular, he explains why he would write about less serious subjects as Star Trek and Gilligan's Island. In doing so, he also explains how law schools have gotten the socratic method wrong.
The process of beginning with popular culture and attempting to ascend from it to higher levels of reflection has a name: the Socratic method. I am not talking about the parody of the Socratic method used by law professors and other academics, but the real thing--the philosophic procedure Plato shows Socrates pursuing in dialogue after dialogue. In the most philosophically autobiographical passage Plato ascribes to his teacher, Socrates explains in the Phaedo (96a-100a) that he became disillusioned with what we would call scientific attempts to understand the universe in terms of material causes. So he decided to turn from the study of the heavens to the study of human things, and that meant studying the accounts of the universe people give when they speak to each other in the city. For Socrates, what human beings say about their world is the best starting point for philosophy, and his aim, as Plato shows, is always to move in the direction of true knowledge from the confused and contradictory opinions people commonly express about the most important subjects, such as justice and the good.

educational resource guide to congress

CongressLink includes a great amount of historical information, and present day information about Congress. It also includes some truly great educational resources, like the Winning the Seat: A Congressional Election Simulation as a lesson plan for high school and college students. It looks like the type of classroom activity that could be a lot of fun.
- William Slawski