Marshalling the evidence

In Bird-dogging the web I responded to questions raised by Mike Caulfield about how annotation can help us fact-check the web. He’s now written a definition of the political technique, called bird-dogging, we discussed in those posts. It’s a method of recording candidates’ positions on issues, but it’s recently been mis-characterized as a way to incite violence. I’ve annotated a batch of articles that conflate bird-dogging with violence:


Each annotation links to Mike’s definition. Collectively they form a data set that can be used to trace the provenance of the bird-dogging = violence meme. A digital humanist could write an interesting paper on how the meme flows through a network of sources, and how it morphs along the way. But how will such evidence ever make a difference?

In Annotating the wild west of information flow I sketched an idea that weaves together annotation, a proposed standard for fact-checking called ClaimReview, and Google’s plan to use that standard to add Fact Check labels to news articles. These ingredients are necessary but not sufficient. The key missing ingredient? President Obama nailed it in his remarks at the White House Frontiers Conference: “We’re going to have to rebuild, within this wild west of information flow, some sort of curating function that people agree to.”

It can sometimes seem, in this polarized era, that we can agree on nothing. But we do agree, at least tacitly, on the science behind the technologies that sustain our civilization: energy, agriculture, medicine, construction, communication, transportation. When evidence proves that cigarettes can cause lung cancer, or that buildings in some places need to be earthquake-resistant, most of us accept it. Can we learn to honor evidence about more controversial issues? If that’s possible, annotation’s role will be to help us marshal that evidence.

3 thoughts on “Marshalling the evidence

  1. Admittedly, I only know what you’re talking about on a surface level, it’s been years since I coded – the technology passed me up a long time ago… but I have to say, that this is an extremely interesting topic. Thanks for posting these.

  2. Jon, I apologize for barging in here. You political stuff is really interesting. I will look more deeply. But I am reaching out to you about your EKO boiler posts. I have heard of some EKO boilers having a very short lifespan even when properly installed. Would you mind giving me an update on your system? I was planning to buy one before I ran into some bad reviews. Couldn’t figure out how to contact you. Thank you very much. I am including a website link to a political posting of mine in the details window.

    1. I owned the EKO from 2008 to 2014 then sold the house and moved, so I don’t know how the new owner is getting along with it. It’s an awfully solid piece of machinery, and mechanically quite simple, so I can envision it running a long time. I had to replace the gasket that seals the door once, and it’s not fun to clean the thing out, but I’m not sure how you’d kill the thing :-)

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