On Wednesday November 8th, 2017 I had the pleasure of attending a lecture presented by the SLA New York Diversity Committee. The lecture “Diversity Seen in Hollywood Costumes: Collecting, Curating, and Librarianship” featured guest lecturer John Davey. Not only is Mr. Davey the Library Manager at the law firm of Alston & Bird LLP, he is also an avid collector of vintage Hollywood costumes, vintage fashion, and Haute couture. After 18 years of collecting, Mr. Davey has become an expert in his genre of collecting and pieces from his collection have been exhibited throughout the U.S., France, Japan, and Korea. He displayed and discussed eight costumes from his personal collection:
Mr. Davey shared the curatorial aspects of his collection: how he acquires his costumes, how he determines the condition of each piece, how he verifies the authenticity of each item, and how he preserves the costumes. His lecture highlighted how each of the eight pieces represented diversity in Hollywood costumes. Mr. Davey selected Katharine Hepburn’s dress because it was featured in “Desk Set,” a film about an intelligent woman working in the library field. Since Katharine Hepburn was a Caucasian woman, her status as a librarian reflects the lack of diversity that we still see in the information field today. Rock Hudson’s jacket represents homosexuality, particularly because he was the first big star to die as a result of AIDS. His sexual orientation was hidden by Hollywood to uphold his image as a “heartthrob.” Ramon Navarro’s jacket represents diversity because he was Mexican and homosexual. His sexual orientation was also hidden by Hollywood in order to uphold the positive studio image as well as his image as a “heartthrob.” Salma Hayek’s dress represents Hispanic actresses and lesbians. The film “Frida” was about Frida Kahlo, who was married to Diego Rivera, but had lesbian interactions within the film and throughout her personal life. Penelope Cruz’s dress highlights race and age diversity. Not only is Cruz Hispanic, but in “Elegy” there was nearly a 40-year age difference between her character and her character’s boyfriend. Lana Turner’s dress was another piece from Mr. Davey’s collection that represented race diversity. Turner was a Caucasian woman, however the movie “Imitation of Life” highlighted difficult race relations. Turner’s character befriends an African American woman and audience witnesses the struggles of Black America in the 1950s. Halle Berry is an African American actress who portrayed Dorothy Dandridge. Dandridge was the first African American actress to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress and Berry was the first African American actress to actually win Best Actress. Eddie Murphy’s suit represents African American males and race relations. The film “Dreamgirls” was set during the Civil Rights Movement and expressed racial tensions during that period.
Using eight costumes, Mr. Davey represented a diverse group of actors, actresses, races, race-relations, age groups, time periods, and sexual orientations. He did an acceptable job including as much diversity as possible throughout his presentation. Unfortunately, two aspects of his presentation detracted from his efforts to highlight diversity. The first aspect was that all eight of the costumes, particularly those from actresses, represented “ideal” body types. For example, there were no costumes representing plus-size actresses. Each dress, with the exception of Salma Hayek’s dress, was designed to fit a petite hourglass figure. Hayek’s dress appeared to fit a bit more loosely, but in the film it fit her perfectly. I would have preferred to see more body types represented among the costumes. The second aspect of Mr. Davey’s costumes that detracted from the diversity was that there were no culturally diverse costumes. Although “Frida” was a culturally diverse film, the costume did not specifically highlight cultural diversity. I would have enjoyed viewing a costume from another culture, particularly since Hollywood produces a multitude of movies that focus upon other cultures.
Mr. Davey’s presentation was educational and entertaining, yet I felt that it could have included more facets of diversity. Although Hollywood’s image may be a far cry from the image of libraries, the presentation reminded me of Jennifer Vinopal’s article “The Quest for Diversity in Library Staffing: From Awareness to Action.” She invites readers to look critically at culture and suggests being aware of the impact of bias, privilege, and power differentials in the library field, a concept which I applied to Hollywood costumes. In Hollywood, the sexual orientations of Rock Hudson and Ramon Navarro were hidden in order to maintain their images as “heartthrobs.” This reflects the impact of bias, privilege, and power differentials in Hollywood because the studios utilized their power and privilege to present actors as heterosexual, despite being homosexual. The studios maintained this biased image since it was more profitable than featuring homosexual actors. Vinopal also asked, “How much ‘valuing diversity’ does the organization need to demonstrate in order for staff from the dominant culture to perceive it as sufficient?” (2016, Jan. 13) The “organization,” in this case Mr. Davey, felt that his representation of diversity was sufficient for his presentation. The “staff,” meaning the audience and myself in particular, felt that the diversity he presented was insufficient and could have been expanded upon. I would have enjoyed seeing more representation of body types and diverse cultures. I do not have the advantage of knowing the extent of Mr. Davey’s collection, but it is possible that he compiled the most diverse pieces that he owns. Since the presentation was created using his personal collection, the collection solely reflects Mr. Davey’s interests. If he is not interested in cultural diversity or body type diversity, logically they would not be included in his collection or presentation. Despite the two facets of diversity that appeared to be absent, Mr. Davey managed to include a wide range of diverse subjects using only eight costumes. Perhaps in his future presentations, Mr. Davey might consider including costumes which reflect more facets of diversity in Hollywood culture. All in all, attending his lecture and presentation was a pleasurable experience and exceptional opportunity to understand how others interpret diversity.
Vinopal, Jennifer. 2016. “The Quest for Diversity in Library Staffing: From Awareness to Action.” Lead Pipe. http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2016/quest-for-diversity.
Liberation Technology is a double-sided blade. We laud it for it’s ability to keep dissidents connected, to document and keep record of atrocities, but it can be turned against us so easily. Governments have the ability to use our reliance on ICTs for their own purposes. The same technology that frees us can be used to censor the Internet, create filters, track our Internet usages and criminalize us. Larry Diamond describes, “[l]iberation technology [as] any form of information and communication technology (ICT) that can expand political, social, and economic freedom” (70). Diamond focuses on the use of Liberation Technology in the “other-ed” part of the world, meaning the non-western world. His examples are rooted in the Middle East and Asia where, without a doubt, human right violations are far higher. But to imagine oppression and injustice as taking place only in places seen as “distant”, physically and politically, is damaging.
While we in the west have no issue imagining a Chinese dissident being hauled away to a detention center for posting an anti-authoritarian tweet, we are hard pressed to call up the image of our own government agencies serving subpoenas and summons to Twitter, “seeking records including the phone number, mailing addresses, and IP addresses associated” with dissident accounts (Wong). But why? We know the NSA keeps tabs on us. Every other week a new story breaks about the FBI demanding our social data. Most recently, the Department of Justice served DreamHost, a website-hosting company, with a search warrant, “for every piece of information it possessed that was related” to www.disruptj20.org, the website, “that was used to coordinate protests during Donald Trump’s inauguration” (Wong).
The J20 demonstrations are the perfect example of the duality of Liberation Technology within a Western Democratic country. J20 was the name given to the demonstration that took place to protest the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States. Before the demonstration, people used Facebook pages to organize smaller groups to meet and protest together under common banners, used its messenger service to coordinate transportation to and room, and their own personal pages to post general protest safety guides. During, people used Twitter to provide live updates about what was happening on the ground in real time and alerted people to first aid stations. After, hundreds of videos are uploaded to YouTube, photos posted to Instagram, and blog articles spread across the Internet providing factual accounts of the rampant police brutality and the systematic suppression of the protestor’s rights to assemble. This is seen as the positive side of liberation technology, ICTs bringing people together to, “enable citizens to report news, expose wrongdoings, express opinions, mobilize protest, monitor elections, scrutinize government, deepen participation, and expand the horizons of freedom” (Diamond 70).
The more daunting side of Liberation Technology that gets overlooked are the instances when it is used against us. For example, the D.C. police subpoenaing Facebook for, “the social data of several protesters” who participated in the J20 demonstration (Daileda). Or facial recognition software scanning Instagram photos of the protest to track down those in attendance, and tweet’s being used as evidence in court to convict protestors of felony charges of ‘conspiracy’ (Higgins). Law enforcement is already infiltrating Twitter and Facebook creating fake profiles, setting up traps, and generally using social media to gather intelligence to use against groups it deems a ‘terror-threat’ all in the name of keeping America safe. Just as authoritarian dictators are able to use ICTs to track down dissidents in their countries, so does the government of the United States.
Diamond makes the statement, “[t]here is now a technological race underway between democrats seeking to circumvent Internet censorship and dictatorships that want to extend and refine it” (81). Which is immediately followed up by the contradictory statement that Iran has made “significant gains in repression” because western companies have happened because, “Western companies like Nokia-Siemens are willing to sell them advanced surveillance and filtering technologies” (81). Diamond even concludes his article with ways Western countries can support those citizens in Authoritarian countries. He even concludes his paper with a quote from then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton supporting free access to the Internet.
The atrocities that occur in other parts of the world are horrific by comparison, but minimizing the violations perpetrated by our own government puts us all at risk for it’s continuation and escalation. We cannot continue to delude ourselves that our democracy is above surveillance. We cannot be so naïve to think these companies are only selling to “other-ed” countries, that they’re not using these technologies on their own citizens. Especially, because we do know that they are. We have proof that our civilized western democracy is spying on us, collecting data, and using our Internet use as a means to sustain their version of a civilized western democracy. We must remember, when she was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered for more intensive surveillance of American Citizens in the name of safety and freedom.
The good and bad side of Liberation Technology exists here in America and other Anglo countries and it must be recognized. Human right’s violations and oppression don’t happen solely “over-there” in those “uncivilized” and “un-democratic” regions of the world that most American’s can’t point out on the map. Turning injustice into a solely ‘other-worldly’ occurrence makes it easier to gloss over it when happens here, in our civilized western democracy.
Diamond, Larry. “Liberation Technology.” Journal of Democracy, vol. 21, no. 3, July 2010, pp. 69–83.
Levin, Sam. “FBI terrorism unit says ‘black identity extremists’ pose a violent threat.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 7 Oct. 2017, www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/oct/06/fbi-black-identity-extremists-racial-profiling.
Daileda, Colin. “D.C. police demand Facebook hand over data on Trump protesters.” Mashable, Mashable, 6 Feb. 2017, mashable.com/2017/02/06/dc-police-subpoena-facebook-inauguration-protests/#k_Vkiy6miaq1.
Wong, Julia Carrie. “US government demands details on all visitors to anti-Trump protest website.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 15 Aug. 2017, www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/14/donald-trump-inauguration-protest-website-search-warrant-dreamhost.
Higgins, Eoin. “Hundreds Face Conspiracy Charges For Actions Of A Few During Inauguration Day Protests.” The Intercept, 25 Oct. 2017, theintercept.com/2017/10/25/trump-inauguration-protest-j20-trial/. https://theintercept.com/2017/10/25/trump-inauguration-protest-j20-trial/
“We must have an endless commitment to finding, showing, and telling the truth”- Edward Tufte
Edward Tufte is a professor emeritus of political science, statistics, and computer science at Yale University. He is also the closest thing we’ve got to a household name in the field of information design, devoted equally to the data and its display, its function and its form. His beautiful, self-published books are loaded with rich visuals covering all sorts of graphs, charts, and maps, many historic and some new. He has worked as a consultant to NASA and The United States government, among many others. He is also an artist and has developed a sculpture park of 234 acres in Woodbury, Connecticut. He periodically gives a one-day seminar course on “Presenting Data and Information” which, though the title sounds impossibly dry, draws attendees from around the globe.
A ripple ran through the crowd as Edward Tufte, “The Leonardo da Vinci of data,” (Shapley, 1998) “The Galileo of Graphics,” (Aston, 2009) took the stage to introduce a music visualization as the opener to his seminar in Washington DC on November 6, 2017. The lights went out completely and I could no longer even see the note paper in front of me. Color bars pass on a screen, pulsing in coordination with the musical notes of a recording of Chopin, part of the Music Animation Machine by Stephen Malinowski.
But before we even got to the beautiful music, we had quiet reading time. Edward Tufte begins all of his presentations with “Study Hall” where he provides a devoted segment of silent time to read a written document, of 3-4 narrative pages, that describes the concepts and information of the materials that are about to be presented. He is known for his disdain of typical Powerpoint presentations and describes the study hall segment as the first step in a successful presentation by placing control (physically) in the hands of the audience. He is devoted to the user as the priority when setting out to provide education, evidence, and information. His position is that the viewer has the best capabilities to scan the materials for what interests them, skip what they don’t want, and have the option of holding onto the hard copy for future reference. In this way the presentation may be customized and personalized by the viewer and not just the presenter. The meeting begins by empowering the ones who are there to learn and makes them active participants right from the start, rather than passive observers. This “silent start” study hall strategy is also used by Jeff Bezos at Amazon for all company meetings as an efficiency measure that his team swears by. (Bariso, 2017) Attendees have time first to learn and time to think, and then to be more engaged in the meeting.
Tufte describes the Powerpoint presentation as “stacked in time.” The concepts and data are dribbled out over time and there is no way for the audience to gather the whole in a cohesive context. It may be the easiest to create and show, but it is not the best way to clearly and accurately inform the viewer. When a presenter subjects his/her viewers to the passive experience of sitting through the traditional Powerpoint slide deck, they are entirely at the mercy of the presenter’s pace and choices. “For all of the disruption we have seen from the tech industry, there is a complete lack of creativity.” (Tufekci, 2017) Powerpoint has enjoyed the default presentation position for years. Tufte compares it to voicemail menus where a listener must wait through a list of options to find out what to press–another interface that is stacked in time and inconvenient for the audience. A “focus on the person… a shift towards a ‘person-centred’ approach, rather than a ‘system-centred’ approach. This has been accompanied by a switch from quantitative methods to qualitative methods.” (Wilson, 2000) Tufte very decisively advocates for a human- and user-centered process, that addresses quantitative and qualitative measures, when sharing data and presenting information.
Besides the study hall beginning, Tufte describes the optimal way for users to consume information as “adjacent in space.” Using methods that allow the integration of different types of data–numbers, words, pictures, etc. in the same space creates context for a richer, comprehensive understanding. He shared Charles Joseph Minard’s data map tracking the French invasion of Russia in 1812. The visual creates a rich story by including numbers of troops lost, over time, as it relates to deployments, the terrain, and the weather. It provides lots of context to explain the devastating loss of life due to multiple factors. “Taking context seriously means finding oneself in the thick of the complexities of particular situations at particular times with particular individuals.” (Nardi, 1996, p35)
Tufte had plenty of jabs for 3-D pie charts, drop shadows, bright colors, and “datajunk.” His directive is to first consider the data that you must convey, leave as much information intact as possible, and present it in as clear and uncluttered a format as possible. Visual clutter is the signature of the designer, the coder, the editor, and will only impede the learning process for the viewer. Just as Lessig describes his concept of Open Evolution as it relates to coding: “Build a platform, or set of protocols, so that it can evolve in any number of ways; don’t play god; don’t hardwire any single path of development; don’t build into it a middle that can meddle with its use” (Lessig, 1999, p110), Tufte is a strong proponent of keeping as much of the data itself available for the audience to interpret for themselves. There is no such thing as information overload, only bad design.
“Evidence is evidence, whether words, numbers, images, diagrams, still or moving. It is all information after all. For readers and viewers, the intellectual task remains constant regardless of the particular mode of evidence: to understand and to reason about the materials at hand, and to appraise their quality, relevance, and integrity.” (Tufte, 2006, p83)
The more data that is there, the more accurate and believable it will be. He raises significant concern around integrity in data analysis. Specifically, in the process of selecting data, he recognizes the broad practice of “cherry picking and lemon dropping” data to suit one’s biases. Akin to James Moor’s Invisibility Factor in computer calculations: “Answers chosen will build certain values into the program…This becomes a significant ethical issue as the consequences grow in importance.” (Moor, 1985, p274) Gathering data appropriately and then showing it accurately takes skill and mindful discipline. Many data visualizations can skew the viewer’s understanding simply by using larger font sizes for some bullet points–and the more important the data, the higher the stakes. Tufte shared a presentation from his evaluation of the Space Shuttle Columbia flight that imparted information in a way that led to dangerous decisions and ultimately may have contributed to the loss of life for 7 crew members. The Powerpoint format was too simple, inappropriately edited, and did not show the important, complex data that needed to be considered. He argues the world is complex and multi-variate and we must display the data to encompass this. Don’t dumb it down–have faith in the viewer.
Tufte warns us all, as creators and as users, to question the data we see and to think carefully about the relationship between the evidence and the conclusion. Start with an open question and do the research. Taking data from one project and appropriating it to something else will often lead to inaccuracy. Every step, from how the data is collected (is the scientist paddling over to a cleaner area of the lake to gather his sample for water pollutants?) to how the designer lays it out (are they removing some data to make it fit nicely in their grid?) is suspect. “In the political and philosophical sense in which I use the term here, neutrality is impossible. In any situation, there exists a distribution of power.” (Jensen, 2006, p91) He also urges us to question our own biases and to cultivate self-awareness about what we see.
Tufte urges us to always assume equality across a room. Give every idea a chance. Meet the challenge to see things in a neutral way rather than through the lens of our own bias. Always source alternative and divergent views. Create the environment for truth to be sought and revealed.
The last visual of Tufte’s talk asked:
How do they know that?
How do you know that?
How do I know that?
“When we turn over the provision of knowledge to others, we are left vulnerable to their choices, methods, and subjectivities. Sometimes this is a positive, providing expertise, editorial acumen, refined taste. But we are also wary of the intervention, of human failings and vested interests, and find ourselves with only secondary mechanisms of social trust by which to vouch for what is true and relevant.” (Gillespie, 2014, p187)
In the field of data analysis and visualization we must be accurate with sources, provide more than less information, and show it in the most logical and digestible way to our viewers. Ultimately we are seeking the truth, which Edward Tufte proselytizes can be found through evidence. If the evidence is shown properly, the right conclusion will be found.
Aston, Adam (June 10, 2009) “Tufte’s Invisible Yet Ubiquitous Influence” Bloomberg.com https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2009-06-10/tuftes-invisible-yet-ubiquitous-influencebusinessweek-business-news-stock-market-and-financial-advice (retrieved on November 9, 2017)
Bariso, Justin (2017) “Silent Start: The Brilliant and Surprising Meeting Method I learned from Jeff Bezos,” Inc.com. https://www.inc.com/justin-bariso/amazons-jeff-bezos-uses-a-brilliant-and-surprising.html (retrieved on November 9, 2017)
Gillespie T. (2014), “The relevance of algorithms” in Media Technologies: Essays on Communication, Materiality, and Society, eds. T. Gillespie, P. Boczkowski, and K. Foot. Cambridge: MIT Press, 167–194. http://www.tarletongillespie.org/essays/ Gillespie%20-%20The%20Relevance%20of%20Algorithms.pdf with Shapin, Steven. 1995. “Trust, honesty, and the authority of science.” In Society’s Choices: Social and Ethical Decision Making in Biomedicine.
Jensen, R. (2006). “The myth of the neutral professional” in Questioning Library Neutrality, ed. A. Lewis. Library Juice, 89–96.
Lessig, L. (1999). “Open code and open societies: values of internet governance,” Chicago-Kent Law Review 74, 101–116. http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/works/lessig/ final.PDF.
Moor, J. H. (1985). “What is computer ethics?” Metaphilosophy 16(4): 266–275.
Nardi, B.A. (1996). “Studying context: a comparison of activity theory, situated action models and distributed cognition” in Nardi, B. (ed.) Context and Consciousness: Activity Theory and Human-Computer Interaction. MIT Press.
Shapley, Deborah (March 30, 1998) “The da Vinci of Data” The New York Times. (retrieved on November 11, 2017)
Tufekci, Zeynep (Nov 2, 2017) Confronting Surveillance Capitalism with Zeynep Tufekci, Civic Hall, New York City event.
Tufte, Edward (2006). Beautiful Evidence: 83-127.
Wilson, T. D. (2000). “Human information behavior.” Informing Science 3(2): 35.
“The world is disabling to people in a wheelchair only if the people building it are filling it with stairs.” – Marc Castellini, Pratt Institute student
The way we design our physical and digital worlds can promote social inclusion if done well, or social exclusion if done poorly. It may not always be a designer’s intent to purposefully exclude certain people, but even ignorance is a choice. If a designer doesn’t consider accessibility or universality to be a part of their approach, more often than not, the resultant products restrict people in unanticipated ways.
On Tuesday, November 7, the ASIS&T student organization at Pratt Institute sponsored a speakeasy on Assistive Learning Technologies. Three students in the Information Technologies core curriculum class –Marc Castellini, Arushi Jaiswal, and Hanyu Zhang— presented a research-based web guide on assistive learning technologies, geared towards universities. I think that much of what they discussed can be applied more broadly to libraries, and to UX design principles for any product.
Why LIS professionals need to care
First, let’s highlight the problem in more detail. As Library and Information Science students, we have a responsibility to promote equity and inclusion. Social exclusion, after all, is just another form of powerlessness. (Gehner 41) Compound this with the ALA’s official position: in December 2006, the ALA implemented the “Library Services for People with Disabilities Policy,” a policy that recognized that “many people with disabilities face economic inequity, illiteracy, cultural isolation, and discrimination in employment and the broad range of societal activities” (ALA 2006). As part of the policy, it recommends proactive integration of assistive technology in libraries. A wonderful sentiment, only, there are two issues afoot here:
It all begs the question: as a profession, how serious are we about providing services to people of all ages with all kinds of disabilities? How serious can we be when our own flagship organization offers this level of service?
How big is this problem, anyway?
I know, I know, in principle, it shouldn’t matter how many people this issue impacts, but it seems to matter nonetheless. ADA-PARC (ADA Participatory Action Research Consortium) made 2014 American Community Survey data available in interactive format. (ADA-PARC 2014) It shows us that 12.3% of the total U.S. population self-declares as having a disability of some kind. That equates to approximately 43.5 million people. I don’t know about you, but it’s hard for me to conceptualize a picture of how many people that figure truly represents. What if I told you that 43.5 million people is the number of people living in the entire country of Canada…. if it had 10 million more people! The level of social exclusion here is huge by any means – whether you’re measuring by numbers or principle.
Equalizing power through assistive technology tools
So, how can we escalate this issue to more LIS professionals’ attention? Here are a few things I’ve done so far, and a few thoughts of what else we might do:
Last but not least, look at the world around you with a critical eye. Sometimes all it takes to start moving things in the right direction is the different point of view.
ADA-PARC. (2014). “Percentage of Total Population with Disabilities.” Retrieved from http://centerondisability.org/ada_parc/utils/indicators.php?id=43&palette=3
American Library Association. (2006 December 4). “Library Services for People with Disabilities Policy.” Retrieved on November 8, 2017 from http://www.ala.org/ascla/resources/libraryservices
American Library Association. (2007 March 29). “Outreach Resources for Services to People with Disabilities.” Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/diversity/outreachtounderservedpopulations/servicespeopledisabilities
Castellini, M., Jaiswal, A., Zhang, Hanyu. (2017). “Assistive Learning Technologies.” Retrieved from http://mysite.pratt.edu/~ajaiswal/homepage.html
Gehner, John. (2010). “Libraries, Low-Income People, and Social Exclusion.” Public Library Quarterly, 29:1, 39-47
On September 24, 2017 Bloomberg hosted the fourth annual Data For Good Exchange. According to Bloomberg, the conference enables data scientists from academia, industry and public sector actors from government and NGOs to build relationships, share insights and progress, and encourages them to work together on applying modern machine learning and data science methods to challenges in the public and non-profit sectors (Data for Good Exchange 2017). The event held panels that addressed novel methods for collecting data; collaborations to address the global refugee crisis; utilizing data to aid vulnerable and youth populations; and the effects of big data and judicial bias in the criminal justice system. Throughout the different panels, major themes appeared regarding the ethics of data collection and research. Specifically, panelists touched upon the possible unintended consequences of research. Although various panels and papers discussed these effects, an organization called Wildbook presented the most concrete consequences.
Wildbook is an initiative that merges crowdsourcing, computer vision and data science for conservation efforts to combat animal extinction. It aggregates photographs and videos of animals to provide information regarding endangered animal populations across the world. Wild book’s technology merges algorithms and machine learning to identify animals through their physical characteristics such as cheetah spots or whale flukes. According to Wildbook, the organization combines vision and user interaction design to create a quick and accurate edge mapper to identify animals by their individual characteristics (Services).
According to a data scientist at Wildbook, the team launched the organization in order more accurately count populations of endangered species. Prior to Wildbook, scientists estimated animal populations throughout the world utilizing satellite imagery, a measurement practice that has proven to be imprecise and costly. Now through the usage of Wildbook’s technology, tourist photography and YouTube videos can be scraped according to their dates and geo-location. The blending of algorithms and machine learning can then detect the animal’s specific physical characteristics to collect information on the animal’s network, travel patterns and population size.
Although some benefits of Wildbook include the ability to more accurately gauge the number of certain endangered species, other benefits involve tracking mobility patterns, animal social networks, and individual animal wellbeing. Through the use of embedded geo-tagging properties in cameras and videography, scientists can track a population’s or an individual animal’s movement patterns. For example, the software allows scientists to research and track humpback whale travel patterns across the Atlantic and giraffe migrations in Africa. Although beneficial for animal behavior research, capturing movement patterns also allows scientists to observe the effects of severe weather conditions such as hurricanes and floods on animal populations.
Wildbook also allows scientists to observe an animal’s social network. It derives the information from photographs and videos where animals appear together, as well as through similar geo-tag location. Collecting information on an animal’s social network may be beneficial for studying animals’ behavioral patterns and species interactions. Scientists also benefit by tracking an animal at the individual level. For example, Wildbook can identify the exact animal depicted in a photograph by name and can present the animal’s history, including when they first appeared on Wildbook, what other animals comprise its network and where it was last seen. Providing information on an individual animal allows researchers to check into how the animal is living and examine its wellbeing.
Although Wildbook provides a collection of beneficial information that can influence scientist’s ability to study animal populations, the organization discovered impactful unintended consequence for the animals represented through the software. Wildbook’s population estimation, location and network capabilities facilitate the tracking of these animals, a feature poachers have began exploiting. Due to the software’s ease of use, location precision and it’s benefit of being up to date with scraping occurring daily, poachers can more easily find the geographical location of the animals they wish to hunt through the use of the software. According to the Program for Ethnographic Research & Community Studies (PERCS), a dilemma may arise in which the software pits the interests of the researcher against the interests of the community (Merz, 1998). In this case, the “interests of the community” lie in the wellbeing of the animals themselves, who most certainly don’t care about being assessed or tracked, but do suffer due to poaching activities.
During the conference, Wildbook researchers stated that they had not yet devised a solution to poachers exploiting the software. Although the organization pride’s itself on being accessible to everyone through open-access software, this makes it easier for poachers to obtain geo-location information on the animals. According to PERCS, careful consideration should also be given to publication and distribution channels when presenting research and data collection. They state that as we think about methods of reporting, we must also think about the locations of that reporting (Merz, 1998) as they may be impactful to subject of the research.
Overall, although scientists generally choose to perform research in order to raise awareness or solve problems facing individuals or populations, the research they perform carries weight and might sometimes have unpredictable effects. In the case of Wildbook, the benefit the software provides is important, but the consequences to wildlife are significantly impactful and might create greater repercussions for the populations being studied—endangered species throughout the world. Wildbook should weigh both the benefits and negative implications of their research as well as their information dissemination methods in order to ensure that their research subjects are not being disproportionately disadvantaged.
Data for Good Exchange 2017. (n.d.). http://www.bloomberg.com/company/d4gx/.
Services. (n.d.). http://www.wildme.org/services/
Merz, T. (1998). The Ethics of Fieldwork. http://www.elon.edu/docs/e-web/org/percs/EthicsModuleforWeb.pdf.