Measuring research impact – the metrics of grey collar labour

May 15, 2012

Academics in western higher education institutes are increasingly being assessed according to performance measures and metrics that resemble a Taylorist production line from early twentieth century capitalism.

The days when public intellectuals could luxuriate in ivory towers have long since faded into history. These days academic offices resemble open-plan public service pod-farms. There are no leather arm chairs or pipe-smoking professors in the refectory.

You are more likely to see us hunched over a pile of marking or filling in endless performance review and appraisal forms.

Higher education has become instrumentalised, commodified and regimented.

Students are no more. Instead we have customers and we must take them on an effortless journey from juvenile to adult while they continue to live at home well into their 20s and expect a steady diet of spoon-fed readers and easy marking.

Of course, this is a gross over-simplification and I know that many academics (myself included) continue to take pleasure in teaching and in mentoring students as they take hold of their own learning and see the light at the end of the assessment tunnel.

There’s increasingly less time for research, not to mention less hard-to-get dollars available. This is particularly true in the social sciences — often considered of lower value that attempts to cure cancer, make ‘clean’ coal, or map the human genome.

One metric that is used to sort “good” research from “ordinary” or “bad” is the notion of impact. Government departments have produced scads paperwork to grapple with this concept. Often it leads to nothing and after a few years the measures are scrapped or replaced with even more arcane forms of policing.

It’s gratifying then to see how impact is measured in less formal ways.

Take The Conversation, for example. On this collaborative and innovative site, impact is measured by social media tools.

The result is an instant and accurate picture of how the work of grey collar intellectuals is affecting the people around them.

Impact as measured by social media tools. If you ‘like’ my research just click.


Media a target for zealous police – not it’s not Russia

March 12, 2009

Thanks to Colleen for this tip.

The Guardian has an interesting story and video clip about police surveillance of reporters covering an environmental protest late last year.

Secret footage shot by two police surveillance officers during the protest, obtained by the Guardian and broadcast online over the weekend, confirmed officers have been monitoring journalists at protests. Senior officers had previously denied journalists had become the target of surveillance units.

The footage showed that while officers had been asked to monitor protesters against the Kingsnorth coal-fired power station, they showed particular interest in journalists.

An ITV news crew, a Sky News cameraman and several photographers were among members of the press placed under surveillance as they left the camp in August. Later in the day journalists were followed by another surveillance unit to a McDonald’s restaurant where police filmed them.[We wre wrong]

It’s interesting that the cops feel quite at ease following journos who are legitimately doing their jobs. It’s very worrying and clearly the informal extension of surveillance by the police is just a normal part of function creep.

It’s really just their creepy function to keep tabs on undesirables like journalists.

Read the rest of this entry »


Epic 2015 – what’s beyond the horizon?

September 13, 2008

I was fortunate today to meet and interview Matt Thompson. He’s a journalist, blogger and thinker. He’s also the guy behind the wildly successful viral flash videos Epic 2014 and Epic 2015.

The premise of these 8.5 minute creations is to predict the future of the media in our digital world. They were both created a few years ago now and they tried to look ahead 10 years from when they were produced.

Epic 2014 was made in 2004, but a year later Matt decided it needed updating.

While I was in Columbia, Missouri at the Missouri School of Journalism 100th anniversary celebrations I met Matt and heard him talk about a new project. He calls it “Wikipedia-ing the news”, but admits the name doesn’t really capture what he’s doing.

Matt is a visiting fellow this year at the Reynolds Journalism Institute at MU that was also launched today.

I was able to grab a few minutes with Matt between his break-out session and the official launch where he and the other RJI fellows were announced.

I asked Matt why he had changed some of the content from Epic 2014 in the second version, a year later.

Read the rest of this entry »


summer reading #3: not for faint-hearted

January 11, 2008



Is there something in the wind that might make 2008 an interesting year for progessive/left politics?
I don’t put much faith in the US election system, but the “change” mantra is catching on, there’s something to it.
Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton are fighting it out for the Democrat nomination, not that either of them will “change” anything fundamental about American capitalism, but the very core of politics seems to be shifting.
The neocon ascendency may be over.

I’ve just finished Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: the rise of disaster capitalism and Joe Bageant’s eriely amusing Deer Hunting with Jesus. I recommend both of these books to anyone who wants to understand American politics today.

Bageant’s book is an insider’s view of life in working class America today, in particular in the south. It’s not a pretty picture; but as Orwell said, “if there’s any hope at all, it lies with the proles”.
Bageant is a self-taught journalist, editor and blogger who writes at “The Smirking Chimp“,though when I checked on 11 Jan 08, he hadn’t posted anything since July 2007. [Ah good, I'm not the only blogger-slacker].
Bageant grew up in the south and he understands the people of his community; he knows why they’re obese and sick and smoke and die young and bitch about blacks etc. He pulls no punches, but he also makes the point that without these people, there will be no new American revolution. He’s right about that.

On the other hand Shock Doctrine is, in one sense a more academic book. Klein thanks a small army of researchers for helping with the detail in this massive and well-written book.

Klein’s thesis is simple, yet effective. global capitalism has, for the past 30 years, thrived on crisis. In fact, one of the key drivers of profit and sustaining the system is the use of shock tactics against entire nations and peoples.
It begins with psychological torture and physical torture of the body in the 1940s, and quickly moves on to show how Milton Friedman took these tactics into mainstream economics thanks to the “Chicago Boys”.
Latin America was their first laboratory — think Pinochet and the other dictators; then the shock doctrine was applied in Eastern Europe and China during the 1980s and early 1990s; but today it’s in Iraq and New Orleans where the shock doctors ply their evil trade.
What I really found interesting was the excellent economic analysis of capitalism, even though Klein is not an avowed Marxist.
I was also pleased to see her writing about surveillance. Her arguments about the hollowing-out of the state and the privatisation of government functions (everything from Blackwater to reconstruction in New Orleans) and the rise and importance of surveillance for both commercial and political means, echoes the arguments John Harrison and I make in Communication and New Media: From Broadcast to Narrowcast.

The surveillance economy and disaster capitalism are part of the same reordering of capital in order to maintain hegemony. You can read more about Klein and the shock doctrine at her website

However, back to the good news for 2008. It seems the class struggle has not gone away and Klein’s upbeat assessment of the resistance in Latin America was pretty convincing and I’m a real skeptic about the revolutionary potential of Hugo Chavez.


police lurking in chat rooms – no place to hide

September 25, 2007

This item from Radio New Zealand confirms that social networking sites are now being used in surveillance operations by police. No surprises really, such a move was inevitable, but it highlights that cultural resources that might be used by young people as a way of gaining some privacy from the prying eyes of adults are routinely hoovered up in a surveillance society.

Police to look for predators on internet chatrooms

Posted at 4:42pm on 25 Sep 2007

Police plan to search internet chatrooms and networking sites for predators or criminals.

Crime involving electronic evidence such as mobile phones, computers and CCTV cameras has increased tenfold in the past five years.

E-crime group manager Maarten Kleintjes says an electronic crime centre will enable officers to process evidence faster.

Mr Kleintjes says e-crime chiefly involves trading of illegal drugs, fraud or harrassment.

Within the next two years, officers will be treating the internet like a public space and looking for offenders in chatroomsm, he says.

Internet safety group Netsafe says not enough is being done to stop offenders and policing needs to show more initiative.

the source for this story was a news release issued a couple of hours earlier by New Zealand police public relations.

Police Electronic Crime Strategy released

2:29pm 25 September 2007

Police Commissioner Howard Broad released the New Zealand Police E-Crime Strategy to 2010, which outlines ways Police will address the use of technology by criminals and respond to new types of electronic crime (e-crime).

Presenting the strategy at the opening of the new Police e-crime laboratory in Wellington yesterday, the Commissioner said e-crime was of increasing concern worldwide.

“In New Zealand, e-crime includes traditional offending with an electronic component, such as fraud and paedophilia, and newer forms of offending such as attacks on computers, theft and software piracy.”

Over the next three years initiatives will include more resources and tools for the Police e-crime response team and will see frontline Police staff with a range of tools to help them investigate and resolve more e-crime without specialist assistance.

Significant progress has already been made. Development of the Environment for Virtualised Evidence (EVE) has started. Project EVE will significantly increase the volume and range of items from which electronic evidence can be recovered, and moves the ability to interrogate evidence from forensic specialists to frontline investigators.

Mobile phone booths will enable frontline staff to obtain information directly from seized mobile phones without specialist intervention. The booths are expected to be in all Police Districts by the end of the year.

The Commissioner said NZ Police aimed to complement the efforts of other organisations involved in keeping New Zealand’s electronic systems and their users safe and secure. “Police are just one interested party among Government, industry groups, and others playing a role in the security and safety of the electronic environment.”

The Electronic Crime Strategy to 2010 may be downloaded from http://www.police.govt.nz/resources/2007/e-crime-strategy/

On the same day, this item from Reuters is circulating, I picked it up from The Sydney Morning Herald

Facebook predators are ‘tip of the iceberg’

September 25, 2007 – 9:42AM

New York State Attorney-General Andrew Cuomo says his office has subpoenaed Facebook, accusing the social networking site of not keeping young users safe from sexual predators and not responding to user complaints.

In a letter accompanying a subpoena for documents, Mr Cuomo said a preliminary review revealed defects in Facebook’s safety controls and in its response to complaints. He said the shortcomings contrasted with assurances made by the company.

Meanwhile, it seems that Facebook is also going to be snapped up by a media giant. It seems that Microsoft is interested in buying a $300 million stake in Facebook which would value the company at close to $10 billion.

I guess these guys don’t really care what we do with our social networking, they realise that the law agencies will take care of any problems, and that they have a captive market of affluent teens to sell to.


Spies know who you talk to – surveillance society grows daily

September 20, 2007

Spy laws track mobile phones – Technology – smh.com.au

The Australian government is set to introduce new security laws that would allow the nation’s spy agencies to secretly track mobile phone and internet use without obtaining a warrant.

There’s no doubt that this increases the amount and breadth of social surveillance that can be used against political opponents as well as potential criminal activity.

A report to the British Privacy Commissioner last year outlines the extent of a surveillance society and the development of ‘pre-emptive’ surveillance like that proposed in the Australian legislation.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the clock is ticking and we are now six minutes to midnight on the ‘doomsday clock’ to becoming a fully-fledged surveillance society.

This is confirmed by an announcement this week that Dubya wants to extend surveillance laws in the USA


Don’t fence me in – APEC security out of control

September 5, 2007

From today’s Sydney Morning Herald:

The Department of Education says it does not yet know how many students have skipped school to join APEC protests.

Police will be roaming trains, buses and the central business district as part of a crackdown on students who truant to join protests, the Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, has warned.

Mr Scipione again urged students to stay away from today’s protest for their own safety and warned that if they were playing truant there was a good chance the police would find them and report them to their school or parents.

The NSW police have also applied to have Saturday’s protest march declared “illegal”. This is a sure indication that they want to up the ante. As several leaders of the “Stop Bush Coalition” have been saying in radio interviews all week, this is about trying to intimidate people from joining the peaceful protests.

But it’s also worse than that, it’s part of a public relations “softening up” exercise. In my long experience it’s the cops who start the “violence” at protest marches. This forces those present to defend themselves or risk getting clubbed and doused with “pepper spray”. All this week the cops have been stopping people, including tourists, from taking photographs of the “rabble-proof fence”.

The NSW police seem to be spoiling for a fight on Saturday. By denouncing alleged “secret plots” to cause damage etc, they are preparing the general public to accept that “fact” that the cops will have a justification for thumping the bejeezus out of protestors.

The PR campaign is helped along by reports such as this one from Brisbane’s Courier-Mail outlining the expensive “security” blanket that’s been thrown around Dubya. Here’s a sample:

On board the planes were 50 White House political aides, 150 national security advisers, 200 specialists from other government departments and more than 250 Secret Service agents.

The president’s men were even believed to be bringing their own sniffer dogs.

Surely this is overkill. There’s been no public announcement of any threat to Bush, but his security detail will be heavily armed. There’s enough fire power here to topple a government…”hhhmmm”.

And, finally, a little bit more on who to blame for the disruption in Sydney. Do you need to ask? Well, the Prime Minister knows who’s responsible, and it ain’t him (again)

Mr Howard blamed the fencing through the central business district on protesters threatening violence.

“It’s not the fault of the guests in our country,” he said.

The fence stretches from King Street to Circular Quay and from George to Macquarie streets and will keep any protesters a long way from dignitaries.

He refused to say whether there was any intelligence warning of a major incident.

Backlinks to previous posts:

dignitary protection exercise
banning orders ozzie style
another brick in the wall


APEC Security – Dignitary Protection Exercise

September 4, 2007

I’ve embedded John Howard’s APEC messge for your edumakashun.
It’s fronted by former TV journalist Anne Fulwood, who’s now making money from corporate spruiking.

Most of this video is Howard droning on in a drab monotone.
But have a look from about 5 minutes in, there’s a great spread on security arrangements, or what Ms Fulwood calls the world’s largest “dignitary protection exercise”.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2tZNyD1_NRM">

If that’s too much, check out this anti-APEC video, it’s much shorter, but packs a punch.


School yard surveillance – another brick in the wall

September 3, 2007

Schools adopt swipe cards for toilet breaks – National – smh.com.au

Some schools in NSW (Australia) are adopting drastic measures to cut truancy and to stop students smoking between classes.

Swipe cards for toilet access and SMS alerts to parents of absent children are being trialled at some schools and there’s even talk that students will be fingerprinted for identity and movement purposes next year.

Ryde Secondary College students are required to run an identification card through a card reader if they are late, need to leave early, go to the sick bay, see the principal or visit the toilet during class time. A print-out is created – featuring a photo of the student and log in and out times.

Mr Reardon said problems with students smoking when they moved around the grounds during class times, using a toilet break as an excuse, had reduced dramatically. But, he acknowledged: “We’ve got to be sure it’s not a draconian thing.”

The school will trial a fingerprinting system next year.

The company behind the technology, Academy Attendance, is raking in the profits and pushing school surveillance systems. What would happen if a parent decided their kid shouldn’t be swiped in and out of the toilet during breaks, or objected to finger-printing?


How can we improve your school?
Discussions with schools has highlighted the need to improve efficiency and productivity. Academy IT Services can significantly improve existing systems.

Academy has focused its research and development towards providing a system to track student movements in and out of school. To achieve this outcome Academy IT Services is proud to provide the Academy Student Attendance System. This system is currently used by schools across Australia and interfaces with existing School Administration Systems.


Facebook – the new online surveillance tool?

August 27, 2007

Facebook Gets Personal With Ad Targeting Plan – WSJ.com

Social networking is really booming. Sites like Myspace and Facebook allow users to upload tons of information about themselves, photos, embarrasing admissions and all kinds of stuff.
Now Facebook has worked out a way to marketise this aspect of the clickstream.
I think we should all think carefully before posting anything about ourselves online.


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