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Tracking the Internet, Human Rights & Social Change


Seventeen Theses on DIY Science

Wed, 17 Jun 2015 05:29:48 +0000

An opening provocation to the 'DIY Science: the challenges of quality' at the European Commission Joint Research Centre, Ispra 16-5-15

  1. diy science doesn't happen inside walls with armed guards [note: this refers to the workshop venue]
  2. the question of quality is really a question of objectivity
  3. leaving the scientific hegemony doesn't mean pure relativism; that is scare tactics
  4. use donna haraway's situated knowledge: objectivity is about particular embodiment, not the god trick
  5. "only partial perspective promises objective vision" (haraway)
  6. the question of DIY science is a question of self-governance: learn from other struggles e.g. luddites
  7. 'open' alone won't save science;  learn from open data that does bad as well as good
  8. cultivate disrespect for scientific authority (not dismissal, based on historical contingency of knowledge)
  9. book proposal: "the joy of empirical discovery" modelled on alex comfort's 1972 book "the joy of sex"
  10. science is weak, so it's a good time to be pushing
  11. DIY science is based on social justice - DIY science should always 'punch up'
  12. beware recuperation: we don't do deconstruction to benefit the religious rightwing #1980s   
  13. the hack-fab complex could be an opening for neoliberalism c.f. squatting. beware assimilation!
  14. DIY science & repression: when you start to make a difference there will be arrests.   what are you willing to risk?
  15. DIY science should seek social movements
  16. DIY science is transformative: coming to know should change the knower. find affinity with indigenous communities
  17. the universe is a trickster. "Feminist objectivity makes room for ironies at the heart knowledge production"

The countercultural potential of citizen science

Thu, 20 Nov 2014 10:37:59 +0000

Abstract from a draft paper submitted for review to  M/C Journal - email me dan [AT] for a copy. 

In this paper I explore the countercultural potential of citizen science. I identify counterculture by drawing on the ideas of Theodore Roszak, who saw the carnivalesque youth movements of the 1960s as mobilising a vital critique of technocratic society. I characterise the emergence of citizen science as diverse activities that, by contrast, are mainly seeking validation from orthodox science. However I give examples of citizen science projects that open up all parts of the scientific method to participation and have a commitment to social justice.

This is set alongside the historical example of countercultural science, in the form of Science for the People. This loose organisation sprang from opposition to the Vietnam War and infused their science with the ideas from the civil rights and feminist movements. They constructed early critiques of nuclear power and genetic determinism and embodied (in the words of one of the founders) a 'shit kicking' approach. I follow with the claim that citizen science can become more countercultural if it is prepared to question the hegemony of science.

I draw on various sources to look at the weaknesses of that hegemony in terms of scientific practices, culture and epistemology. I also look at examples which have tried to carry some kind of critique of science in to forms of practice. Isabelle Stengers characterised scientific truth as that which has the ability to disqualify and exclude other truth claims. Taking a lead from Deleuze & Guattari, I propose that citizen science become more of a nomadic science. By acknowledging provisional knowledges, citizen science has the opportunity to build a strong complement to orthodox science rather than experiencing its own experiential and reflective aspects as a source of anxiety.

I sum up by setting the proposed shift in citizen science alongside other social movement trends. As in the 1960s there are other social movements who are questioning the hegemony of hegemony and, like Science for the People, these other movements can be a source of support for a nomadic citizen science that shares their affinity for bottom-up and community-led processes. By adding empirical methods to grassroots social movements, a nomadic science could also contribute to a wider cultural change.


Activism and the Internet of Things

Tue, 18 Nov 2014 10:06:15 +0000

Abstract from a draft paper submitted for review to The Fibreculture Journal - email me dan [AT] for a copy. 
In this paper I examine the entanglement of activism and the Internet of Things. The Internet of Things is one of several terms used to describe a world pervaded by embedded computational devices that are connected to the internet. I define the term and give examples of current Internet of Things devices, as well as the outlining the development of wearables (wearable computing devices). I consider activism to be forms of action aimed at making a direct social change as opposed to, for example, electoral politics. Drawing on Foucault I make the argument that activism and the Internet of Things are always already entangled at both a pragmatic and a philosophical level. From a surveillance point of view, it may be clear that some of this entanglement will inhibit activism. I frame further implications along those lines with regard to governmentality and algorithmic regulation. However, I also claim that the Internet of Things is an opportunity for activism as it as, and for additional forms of activism enabled by these technologies. The practice of an activist Internet of Things is mobilised through the philosophy of de Landa and the practical examples of hacktivism and hackerspaces. Beyond this, I suggest that the broader benefits of the Internet of Things to activism can come through a practical politics of infrastructures. I articulate this through the political philosophy of Gustav Landauer, in particular the notion of structural renewal. I conclude by connecting this structural renewal to the idea of the commons.


Kosovo Science for Change: launch

Wed, 16 Jul 2014 16:40:46 +0000

Kosovo Science for Change co-design event - Prishtina, 20-22nd June 2014 The Kosovo Science for Change project launched in June 2014 with a weekend co-design event at the Unicef Innovations Lab in Prishtina. Participants included young people from several parts of Kosova that are experiencing severe environmental issues, including Plementina (a community right under the polluting power stations), Prishtina (the capital city, downwind of the power stations and with heavy traffic pollution), Drenas (near the Ferronickel plant), Mitrovica (with the legacy of mining) and Hani Elezit (not far from the cement plant). There were also participants from UN Habitat, KEPA (Kosova Environmental Protection Agency), KOSID (the collaboration of environmental NGOs) and the Municipality of Obilic, which includes Plementina and the power plants. The core project team is made up of local partner, Unicef Innovations Lab (who also hosted the launch event), Transitions and Internet.Artizans. what is our kind of citizen science? The event began on Friday evening with an overview of citizen science and why citizen science has particular potential in Kosova. The Public Lab definition of 'civic science' was used to situate the Kosovo Science for Change project, and a series of examples and videos were shown to illustrate the potential, including the work of Mapping for Change and UCL's Extreme Citizen Science research group (ExCiteS) in London, grassroots balloon mapping, and the AirCasting project in New York. The work of Global Community Monitor and their bucket brigades was used to illustrate the role of citizen science in environmental justice. It was emphasised that citizen science can be important even when there is statutory monitoring by the authorities, for example when the community knows about hotspots that would be missed by orthodox surveys. The Safecast project was given as an example of the potential scale of citizen sensing, and also to show the usefulness of having a local hackerspace. The central role of mapping was highlighted with examples from Pennsylvania fracking map, the Louisville air map and the Arvin Bucket Brigade Map. The latter two maps were also used to introduce the idea of using qualitative data and citizens' observations alongside numerical data. The Kosovo Science for Change project will ask participating communities to reflect on the collected data in order to establish what it means for them. This is related to ideas of post-normal science which suggests the need for local knowledge and soft (qualitatve) data as part of a process of 'extended peer review'. The session concluded by looking at the ways open source software, open hardware, hackerspaces and sensor networks have lowered the barriers to citizen science and opened up new possibilities for bottom-up participation and DIY impact. why is citizen science right for kosova? The introductory evening session also looked at the specific relevance of citizen science for Kosova, especially the overlap of serious environmental threats with a motivated and mobilised youth population. The known health costs to Kosova from environmental issues, as documented in the World Bank's 2013 report "Kosovo - Country Environmental Analysis", come from air quality, lead exposure, water-borne infections and waste disposal. The power plants produce PM10 particulates, SO2 (sulphur dioxide) and NOx (nitrous oxides). In the north near Mitrovice, research shows that lead exposure is affecting the IQ of young children. Nonpower SO2 emissions are mainly attributed to Ferronikeli, and Sharrcem cement factory is also an important NOx generator. However, the most recent KEPA report says that current data on these issues is either not of a good quality or is incomplete, and that there is a lack of capacity for environmental protection at a local level. This contrasts with the importance placed on the environment in Kosova's consitution an[...]

Kosovo Science for Change: background

Tue, 24 Jun 2014 14:01:21 +0000

Kosovo Science for Change citizen science 'Science for Change' is a pilot citizen science project in Kosovo. It's now possible for people to make measurements of air quality and other forms of pollution in their own communities, and DIY digital measuring devices make it possible to map & share data in real time over the internet. In this project, the community is at the heart of the scientific inquiry; not just measuring data, but deciding what and where it is important to measure, and taking part in analysing the results. The participants will be able to use the data for advocacy to improve their situations, based on the enforcement of legal standards and environmental principles. In the process they will learn skills related to science & technology, increase their understanding of the impact of pollution on health and wellbeing, and feel in a stronger position to ask questions and take action. smart citizen kit data While citizen science doesn't solve problems by itself, it is part of a process that is important for the whole of Kosovo, where air quality degradation is estimated by the World Bank to cost the country at least 100 million Euros each year due to deaths, illnesses and time off work{1}. It is also vital for the future to know what is in the environment, as studies have shown that children are the most affected (with lead contamination affecting IQ levels). It is not acceptable for governments and corporations to ignore the issues, either by not monitoring the pollution or by keeping the information secret. One of the first communities the project will work with are people living near the Kosovo A and B power plants. The methods used to measure the air quality will be a mix of the Smart Citizen arduino-based digital sensor{2} and diffusion tubes which are analysed at the lab for measurements of nitrous oxides and sulphur dioxide{3}. There are also plans to test for heavy metal contamination (such as lead) and particulates - the small particles in the air (labelled PM2.5 and PM10) which are known to have serious health consequences. Data collection points will be decided by the communities, and measurements will be taken over four or five months. Data from the digital sensors will be live on the internet, and will be added to a map along with the lab measurements. The aim is to create open data and make it available online. Pepys Estate noisemap impact Different communities from around Kosovo will be invited to take part in the project launch, a weekend event where we will co-design the pilot project, learn how to use the tools and discuss the different ways to have an impact. The project partners include the Unicef Innovations Lab{4}, which has a track record of participatory work with young people in Kosovo, and the team that has delivered digital innovation by running a series of Social Innovation Camps. It has been advised and inspired by projects such as Excites at UCL{5}, Mapping for Change{6} and Global Community Monitor{7} and is following the model of 'civic science' set out by the innovative Public Lab{8}. If the pilot project is a success it can be extended to look at water quality and soil quality, as well as expanded with a range of techniques ranging from balloon mapping{9} to radiation {10}. The World Bank, 2013. Kosovo - Country Environmental Analysis (CEA), Available at: Smart Citizen. Available at: Gradko, 2012. Nitrogen Oxide Diffusion Tubes, Nitrogen Dioxide Diffusion Tubes. Available at: UNICEF, Innovations Lab Kosovo. Available at: UCL, Extreme Citizen Science (ExCiteS). Available at: Mapping for Change. Mapping for Change. Available at: Global Co[...]

Algorithmic States of Exception

Wed, 18 Jun 2014 20:09:51 +0000

REVISED Abstract for a paper submitted to the European Journal of Cultural Studies In this paper I argue that pervasive tracking and datamining is leading to a shift in governmentality that can be characterised as algorithmic states of exception.  The apparatus that performs this change owes as much to everyday business models as it does to mass surveillance. I look at technical changes at the level of data structures, such as the move to NoSQL databases, and how this combines with datamining and machine learning to accelerate the use of prediction as a form of governance.  The consequent confusion between correlation and causation leads, I assert, to the creation of states of exception. I set out what I mean by states of exception using the ideas of Giorgio Agamben, focusing on the aspects most relevant to algorithmic regulation such as force-of and topology. I argue that the effects of these state of exception escape legal constraints such as concepts of privacy. Having characterised this as a potentially totalising change and an erosion of civil liberties I ask in what way the states of exception can be opposed.  I follow Agamben by drawing on Walter Benjamin's concept of pure means as a tactic that is itself outside the frame of law-producing or law-preserving activity. However, the urgent need to respond requires more than a philosophical stance, and I examine two examples of historical resistance that satisfy Benjamin's criteria. For each in turn I draw connections to contemporary cases of digital dissent that exhibit some of the same characteristics. I conclude that it is possible both theoretically and practically to resist the coming states of exception. I end by warning what is at stake if we do not. If you would like to read a draft of the paper please drop me a line: dan AT internetartizans DOT co DOT uk   Original abstract  This paper follows the loose thread of the Snowden revelations back through the fog of big data to see what kind of apparatus emerges. Instead of Foucault's disciplinary model rooted in the specifics of relational databases, it finds that the operations of datamining produce a regime of predictions built on the substitution of correlation for causation, manifesting in the world as the emergence of algorithmic regulation. Abandoning relational databases for NoSQL has helped to open up a free field for preemptive prediction across the social field. The historical force of these developments is characterised through Giorgio Agamben's concept of the State of Exception; a state where law, rights and political meaning to life are suspended. The final part of the paper asks what can be done to contest an apparatus that produces algorithmic states of exception. Recognising that law & policy are a priori insufficient, it seeks guidance from historical social movements that have operated during earlier times of exception and their correlates in contemporary forms of digital disruption. It examines in detail the medieval Brethren of the Free Spirit and the contemporary antinomians of Anonymous, and also the moral economy of mid-eighteenth century English food riots and what that might teach us about initiatives like Cryptoparty. It concludes with a call to reverse the current mode of machine learning in order to start 'learning against the machine'. [...]

Cyber War Crimes: speculations on their inevitability

Tue, 22 Oct 2013 13:29:25 +0000

The British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has announced that the UK is “developing a full-spectrum military cyber capability, including strike capability”. In doing so, has become the first Western politician to publicly acknowledge offensive operations in cyberspace as a state priority, although a few months earlier the head of the NSA spoke of creating cyberwarfare divisions.  The context of the British revelation was a Dr. Strangelove style interview in a nuclear bunker beneath Whitehall. The narrative was of “clinical cyber strikes” and claimed that “in contrast with bloody, dangerous and inaccurate bombing raids, entire cities could be conquered without a single loss of life, helping Britain to avoid a military war – and a public relations battle”.  The reality of cyberwar is likely to be dirty; more like a messy proxy-war than a disciplined confrontation between national armies. What is more, cyberwar arrives draped in the vestments of future war crimes. A closer reading of current evidence suggests it will generate activity across three areas that are definitely unethical and potentially illegal; namely funding dangerous militias, increasing the number of children enrolled in conflict, and poisoning public spaces.  Firstly, the threat of militias. Despite being a top-end engineering project, Stuxnet seems to have depended on shady private sector engagements. The zero day exploits used to deliver the payload were almost certainly a product of the growing black-market in vulnerabilities. Companies like French firm VUPEN are the Blackwaters of cyberwar, and even civilian law-enforcement agencies are willing to pay for exploits so they can slip spyware onto suspects' mobile phones according to Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union. As a case in point, the Syrian conflict has spawned several digital militias with dubious affiliations, from the established pro-regime Syrian Electronic Army to the spray of opposition splinter groups like the Jabhat Al Nusra Electronic Army. There's a murky nexus of mafia, malware and militias at the core of cyberwar which can only swell as the military ramps up it's budget for offensive capabilities. It's not hard to see what kind of mess can be created by mixing global demand with a militia and proxy wars; just look an the unending strife in Congo where various interests fight for, among other things, control of the mineral coltan which is used in mobile phones & laptops. Moreover, nothing about cyberwar can be separated from the surveillance systems exposed Edward Snowden. As Thomas Rid, Reader in War Studies at King’s College London says in the FT; “Building cyber weapons requires attacking first. You can’t build a cyber weapon without first knowing the target. This requires penetrating the target first, through aggressive probing for intelligence. The effect is escalation, not deterrence.” Cyberwar needs Prism, Bullrun and the rest.   The second disturbing trend is the focus on enrolling youth and children. The tabloid article interview with Hammond in which he revealed the switch to a cyber offensive stance also contained references to a new Cyber National Guard of part-time reservists which will be “open to computer whizzkids who cannot pass the current Territorial Army fitness tests, on the basis that press-ups do not aid computer skills. ‘A TA for computer geniuses’, as Mr Hammond called it”. While this may be rhetorical chaff to divert attention from other cuts in the defence budget, cyberwar raises a substantive issue about age and conflict. Hackers start young, and some will be behind those exploits that fetch high prices in the global black markets. We can also ask what part of existing cyber militias consist of kids too young to take up a Kalashni[...]

The fruit of the Vine?

Fri, 29 Mar 2013 22:14:50 +0000

Why are micro video blogging sites like Vine so popular? TechCrunch's DIY analysis back in March showed a trend in Vine's early growth that's still going strong, although the big media story right now is the battle between Vine and the newer Instagram video offering (fifteen seconds of video instead of six! Filters!!). Sure, social media trends can be as shallow as you like: but can a closer reading of Vine tell us anything more interesting about our times?

The BBC was off the blocks in January with a decent stab at listing 'six things people have learned about six-second video in a week'. Although all social media sites can seem superficial they are also cultural spaces; and people can participate in creating these cultures instead of choosing from cultural forms approved by mainstream taste-makers. Six seconds of video can be banal; but it can also be poetic or political. An aggregation of Vine videos recalls the the Mass Observation social research project of the 1930s. You're seeing the ordinary stuff of people's lives unfold in front of you: in this case, a few dizzying seconds at a time.

What's more, there's something meme-ish about the micro video format. As other people have pointed out, you can see the lineage to animated gifs. Vine videos can have that funny-or-disturbing payload that lends itself to sharing and adaptation. Memes are the DNA of online culture (complete with junk DNA) and they're way we share a common feeling or outlook about everything from cats to the overthrow of Mubarak.

Twitter was dismissed as trivial at the start, it's now a strategic component of politics, business and social uprisings. Imagine a six second looping video of Mohamed Bouazizi setting himself on fire. And if you think Vine and it's ilk are simply the waste pipe of public consciousness, you missed the significance of 4chan's /b/ board.  The images there are like a teenager's toilet humour on Tourette steroids, but the shared grammar of jokes and memes was an important petri dish for the sub-culture that became Anonymous

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