[...] here we have some people who've worked hard for years, and they've learned to get things *mostly* right, who've learned that if they get 80% of the questions right, they're doing well. If they can regurgitate what the textbook says, and make their answers look about right, they do well in school. They've been thoroughly trained and validated into doing things that look sort of right, but which aren't.
The problem is that in the real world, if you have the job of building something that actually works, as a computer programmer or as an engineer, or you need to do something very precise and important, like surgery, you can't get away with anything much less than 100% right. You might get away with 99.99% right, and the last 0.01% will still haunt you. But if you're several percent off, the bridge will fall down, the patient will die, and your software just won't run. You can't *almost* save an account record and still call it an accounting program. It doesn't matter if you made a good effort and that your notes look good if you amputated the wrong leg. [...] [Ming the Mechanic]
I used to think the W3C Semantic Web folks all had their heads in the clouds; I stand corrected since Phil found this in his referers.
Dave Reynolds, Steve Cayzer, Ian Dickinson, and Paul Shabajee are out to demonstrate the value of the Semantic Web by building real applications they call "demonstrators". Among the selection criteria for potential apps (in the analysis and selection document):
illustrate the overall semantic web vision, good mix of semi-structured data, webness and deeper semantics;
a good chance of impact and uptake across a large enough community to become a live application and not simply an artificial demonstration;
the semantic web aspects of the demonstrators should be visible and apparent to the end users and not hidden behind the scenes;
They have identified and explained a lot of concrete activities where the Semantic Web could be useful, including knowledge management, semantic indexing, personal information management, metadata for annotation and for discovery, and knowledge formation.
The two demonstrator applications that they have selected are semantic blogging and bibliographies and semantic community portals. This section briefly explains how they want to upgrade blogging to semantic blogging, focusing on the task of building bibliographies with blog tools (such as Charles Bailey does with the scholarly electronic publishing bibliography).
The requirements spec explains in more detail what this is all about, and guess what? They (rightfully) bring up the TopicExchange as a step towards the use of shared ontologies.
There is some movement in the blogging community to what we call semantic blogging. The Movable Type Trackback functionality [MT_TRACKBACK] allows two way linking between blog items. Some blog commentators envisage the next step, which is attaching semantics to these links [LINKING_DANGEROUSLY]. Richer (hierarchical) categories are facilitated by the RSS2.0 standard [RSS2.0]. The Topic Exchange activity [TOPIC_EXCHANGE] uses TrackBack as a step towards the use of shared ontologies. Further details on these and other activities can be found in the appendix on related work, but it is worth emphasising them here. These developments indicate that there is a real need for the capability that we are proposing. [...]
Trackback can been used to create community topics [TOPIC-EXCHANGE] and thus facilitate emergent ontology formation. XFML [XFML] offers a low cost way to define and link taxonomies, although as yet there is no RDF serialization of the specification. Nevertheless, the combination of the two is an attractive proposition.
And I believe it is indeed so because that's where the new and valuable interpersonal connections are being made, every day. Big bloggers can't track their readers and commenters; diary-like bloggers don't care to.
There are two exciting recent developments where people are organizing around blogs and wikis. The first is the "Emergent KM Research" collective, whose objective is to build a new research area in Knowledge Management.
The idea is to explore, to develop and to integrate perspectives on KM Research coming from the broad areas of human and social sciences - namely from Anthropology, History of Ideas, Philosophy of Science, Cultural Studies, Political Science and, finaly, Organisational Semiotics.
The second is the EdBlogging - blogs in education - community, which is taking shape thanks to Al Delgado and others' efforts. They've got a forum, an official-looking blog, and a wiki up and running. (Where's the front page?) And they'll be convening in San Francisco in November. Here are some of the members, and a few personal introductions.
This annual conference serves as a multi-disciplinary forum for the discussion and exchange of information on the research, development, and applications on all topics related to multimedia, hypermedia and telecommunications/distance education.
The PhD is the accepted apprenticeship into research and has become a prerequisite for academic jobs in most fields. But is it a good idea? The negative view is that studying for doctorates wastes vast amounts of time and effort, produces narrow-minded scholars and discourages recognition of good teaching. Far from promoting research, according to this critical view the doctorate is a serious brake on intellectual creativity.
I believe that the Ph.D. may globally be an institution that selects against originality, but there might be pockets of oxygen here and there with open minds where one could come up with a fresh approach and survive. However, things can get difficult afterwards, as Ph.D. hiring practices can also be conservative in most places. It's hard to be taken seriously when you stand out too much.
Martin also reviewed Jeff Schmidt's Disciplined Minds: A Critical Look at Salaried Professionals and the Soul-Battering System that Shapes Their Lives. Jeff Schmidt was an editor at Physics Today magazine for 19 years, until he was fired for writing this provocative book. From the review:
Jeff Schmidt argues that training professionals is a process of fostering political and intellectual subordination. On the surface, this is a startling claim, since the often-stated aim of educators is to promote independent thinking. [...]
There are two key ideological processes in professional education, according to Schmidt. One is favoring students who pick up the point of view of their superiors, behavior Schmidt calls "ideological discipline." The other is favoring students who direct their curiosity as requested by others, a trait Schmidt delightfully dubs "assignable curiosity."
Hm. If there's one thing I've been sorely lacking all my life, it is indeed assignable curiosity. Guess I'm an amateur professional.
Schmidt also draws an interesting parallel between indoctrination as practiced in cults and professional training. But I think there are cult-like aspects in almost all social structures, not just the professional ones. Perhaps they are more important where there is a lot of power to be gained by working one's way up, though.