Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Divided We Fall?

Photograph of Divided Highway Signpost
Divided Highway by Steve Snodgrass  (CC BY 2.0)
I’m often reminded about how lucky I am living in the UK. One reason being the thought provoking content that is frequently available on BBC Radio 4. Four Thought is one such programme. It consists of a series of 15 minutes talks where speakers introduce their thoughts about ideas and interests affecting society.

The speaker on one recent programme was Dr Mark Graham. He presented some insights into the geographical information divides that exist across the planet. For example, did you know that the USA and UK together publish more scientific journals than the rest of the world combined? Or that 80 percent of registered internet domains are to people in Europe and North America, with only two percent to people in Africa? Mark points out that 10 years ago only about 10 percent of the world’s population was online, whereas now something like three billion people or over 40 percent of the world’s population is online. Even so there is still vast information inequalities.

Mark gave examples from Wikipedia. He says that

“The vast majority of articles come from Europe and America and the vast majority of articles are about Europe and America.”

“There are more articles written about Antarctica … than most countries in Africa …”

With regard to languages

“More articles are written in Finnish (spoken by five million people) than Arabic (spoken by 280 million people).”

And with regard to gender, Mark says that the guess is that fewer than 15 percent of Wikipedia editors are female. This can lead to a gender bias in the discussion of subjects. [Aside: Only today research has emerged about the unconscious gender bias of hurricane names leading to increased fatalities. (Refer to http://time.com/2813381/hurricanes-female-names/ )]

Our digital tools are amplifying the already most visible, most prominent examples. As educators and students we need to be aware of this and try to remember these biases and also what has been left out. We particularly need to remember where information originates as the MOOC phenomenon takes hold.

To listen to the full BBC Radio 4 Four Thought visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0435j93
or watch Mark’s TEDx Talk http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33kIWwQZ5I0

See my set of Diigo links to Dr Mark Graham

The Four Thought website is available http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b010q0n0

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