Generation Boom

One of my most formative experiences was an upper school trip to the battlefields of France and Belgium. Amidst all the stories of carnage and destruction, and the unfathomable numbers of casualties involved, what struck me above all else was the sheer proximity of the respective front lines. In some places a mere hundred yards might separate the two groups of young European men, conscripted to throw grenades and fire rifles at each other across the small parcel of scorched earth between them.

Continue reading “Generation Boom”

Review: Darkness lurks in Hemingway’s island paradise

“Never meet your heroes” is the cardinal rule broken by reporter Ed Myers, the protagonist of Papa: Hemingway in Cuba, a largely true-to-life depiction of Ernest Hemingway’s sunset years. It’s 1957, and in the sepia-toned newsroom of the Miami Globe, Myers sweats over the latest draft of a fan letter to esteemed writer and recent Nobel laureate Ernest Hemingway. A short time later, Myers receives an unexpected phone call from Hemingway himself, warmly inviting him on a trip to Cuba, the writer’s adopted home …

Read more at MIT’s The Tech.

2016: year of the tactical takedown?

Cross-posted from MIT’s Center for Civic Media blog.

The present presidential election is a spectacle, in the truest sense of the word, like few before. Just as FDR’s weekly radio addresses and JFK’s success in the first televised presidential debate watermark the adoption and cooption of a particular communication medium for political ends, so the 2016 campaign may go down in history as marking a seismic shift in the landscape of political uses of media. The candidate leading the charge, this time round, is unquestionably Donald Trump, currently the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. Yet it’s a little more difficult to identify precisely which medium or platform Trump has coopted. The most readily available answer seems to be ‘all of the above’ – although in different ways.

Continue reading “2016: year of the tactical takedown?”

Review: WTF offers a unique perspective on life on the front line

Reviews often destroy movies, and only rarely, as in the case of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, do they create them. In 2011, a New York Times review of Kim Barker’s wartime memoir The Taliban Shuffle described Barker as “a sort of Tina Fey character, who unexpectedly finds herself addicted to the adrenaline rush of war.” This caught the eye of Fey herself, who began pulling strings to bring Barker’s story to movie audiences as Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. …

Read more at MIT’s The Tech.

Consider the Lawn Sign: elections as civic engagement

IMG_2188.JPG

Cross-posted from the Center for Civic Media blog.

Last week I had the chance to watch one of the world’s great electoral-political spectacles – the New Hampshire primary – up close. It wasn’t by any means my first dalliance with American politics: I’ve had at least a loose involvement in the fascinating and frequently Freudian process by which Americans elect their leaders for several cycles now. But this time I saw the process through a slightly different lens.

Continue reading “Consider the Lawn Sign: elections as civic engagement”

Review: Michael Moore’s war of hearts and minds

The title of Michael Moore’s latest documentary, Where to Invade Next, seems to reflect ambivalence on the part of its creator. It is after all no coincidence that Moore’s trio of breakout box office hits — Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11, and Sicko — appeared during the administration of his antagonist-in-chief, George W. Bush. Though no one would pretend that mass shootings have subsided since the release of Bowling for Columbine, the election of President Obama saw the formal end of the Iraq War and the passing of health care reform — the subjects of Fahrenheit 9/11 and Sicko, respectively. The working title of Moore’s latest project might as well have been, What To Tackle Next? …

Read more at MIT’s The Tech.

Causation, Correlation, and Big Data in Social Science Research

Cowls, Josh and Schroeder, Ralph (2015) Causation, Correlation, and Big Data in Social Science Research. Policy & Internet 7 (4), 447-472.

The emergence of big data offers not only a potential boon for social scientific inquiry, but also raises distinct epistemological issues for this new area of research. Drawing on interviews conducted with researchers at the forefront of big data research, we offer insight into questions of causal versus correlational research, the use of inductive methods, and the utility of theory in the big data age. While our interviewees acknowledge challenges posed by the emergence of big data approaches, they reassert the importance of fundamental tenets of social science research such as establishing causality and drawing on existing theory. They also discussed more pragmatic issues, such as collaboration between researchers from different fields, and the utility of mixed methods. We conclude by putting the themes emerging from our interviews into the broader context of the role of data in social scientific inquiry, and draw lessons about the future role of big data in research.

Fired Up, Dumbed Down? William F. Buckley and the Decline of Political Discourse

Published in MIT’s The Tech

“From Firing Line to The O’Reilly Factor” – Heather Hendershot, CMS/W Colloquium Series, October 22, 2015

Lamenting the state of American political discourse is a popular refrain at present, and it’s not hard to see why. At a time when offensive statements from the likes of Donald Trump and Ben Carson serve not as campaign-ending gaffes but as anabolic steroids for the presidential horse-race; when blowhard cable news anchors generate much heat but little light on the issues de l’heure; and when social media has opened up a whole new realm for shocking anger and abuse, the desire to tune out of political speech altogether and only pay attention biennially and briefly has never been stronger. MIT Professor Heather Hendershot’s forthcoming book, Open to Debate: How William F. Buckley Put Liberal America on the Firing Line — which she introduced at an Oct. 22 colloquium — could not be more timely, with its simple central question: how, exactly, did it come to this? Continue reading “Fired Up, Dumbed Down? William F. Buckley and the Decline of Political Discourse”

The Strange Death of Centrist England?

Art Television animated GIF

Politics is a capricious business. There’s a parallel universe somewhere in which the main political story of the day is prime minister David Miliband’s first 100 days, focussed on his surprisingly deft and humane handling of the migrant crisis. “Miliband is acting”, grumbles the Daily Mail, “like he’s head of the International Rescue Committee”. Continue reading “The Strange Death of Centrist England?”

Ex Oxon

After three years, last month marked my final days at the Oxford Internet Institute. Originally I came just for a 10 month masters degree, but subsequent appointment as a Research Assistant allowed for an even deeper exposure to and engagement with a wide range of Internet-related research. The work I did at Oxford is more formally listed elsewhere, but below are some summaries of my work on the various projects I was involved with, followed by some more general parting thoughts.
Continue reading “Ex Oxon”