I was following this morning at iConference in Berlin an interesting panel on failure in information and technology. Patrick Keilty, Lilly Nguyen Nguyen, Leah Lievrouw and Colin Doty were discussing failures and their origins and to whom there are ascribed. Leah Lievrouw started the panel by discussing Big Data and its posited outcomes and their relation to reductionism and systems theory. The pecha-kucha talk gave a lot of food for thought, not prexisely for Big Data scepticism (for those who were looking for it I guess), but for understanding both the limits and opportunities to explain things with huge amounts of data.
Colin Doty discussed how misinformation emerges drawing examples from pro and anti child vaccination discussions. Misinformation emerges both from failures to create correct information and to interpret and evaluate information by its consumers. My reading of his presentation was that the mechanisms how different types of information and misinformation emerge have a lot of similarities in how people use authorities and claims of what they did to get the information, and from a bit of a relativist point of view, the actual difference between information and misinformation is on how the making of information is related to measures of correct/incorrect information. When it comes to vaccination, precisely this is the difficult part - of seeing the difference of individual cases and population level effects. There is hard evidence of the complications of vaccinations, but similarly, if we as a collective would not take vaccinations seriously, we can just compare figures from both historical and current examples of non-vaccinated populations and count how many of us would have survived (and not been awfully ill) or not.
Patrick Keilty and Lilly Nguyen Nguyen presented slightly different, but equally interesting perspectives to information and computer failures and how they are ascribed to gender (Keilty, using an example from the 1957 film Desk Set) and to culture/society (Nguyen, example from Vietnam).