A list of articles currently on Digipo

It’s a wiki, so it’s messy, with a lot of duds. But as we get towards the end of the semester/quarter, a number of classes are showing up and adding pages (often as group work, so one page = multiple users).

Here’s a list of articles in various states. Expect incomplete work when you click through — but if you want to make them better, sign up and edit! And if you really want to help, get your class to try it!




























































































Why I Use Reverse Image Searches to Teach

People wonder why I do so many reverse image searches as activities. The answer is bit complex, so hang with me a second.

The reason isn’t that reverse image searches are the most important thing or the easiest thing. They’re pretty rare stuff. The reason I use them is they are a powerfully clear example about how finding your way back to a source can clarify the truth of matters. They are an analogue of all the more boring stuff we do on the web, but the skills are the same — look for other sources, use date filters to move back to the original, compare the original with the newer version to see if it has been significantly altered.

When you do an image search you see how the flood of misinformation that somes at you in a search can often be filtered down to a higher quality trickle via smart filtering that gets you closer in time and space to the original source.

It’s also meant to be a bit Foggian (and sorry, I know that Fogg is a divisive figure). But in the spirit of tiny habits, if I can get you to right click on images — muscle memory for the initiated — then maybe I can slow you down enough to get you to do a couple other things.

But enough of that background theory. It’s 4/20 today. So with that in mind, what did this sign really say?


(For the record, we call this a “sign-holding exploitable”.)

Polarization and Expressive Responding

Something I’m fascinated with right now — expressive responding in polls. Consider this chart which recently made the rounds:

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That’s right, after the election, Republican confidence in the economy skyrocketed, from -46 to +27. Meanwhile, Democratic confidence moderately declined. But what does that mean, really? Does that mean that partisan identity is so strong that people literally change their opinion overnight?

The thing is it can’t mean that. Look at that steady level of economic despair among Republicans about the direction of the economy. That -47 score Republicans gave the economy in 2016 is equivalent to the level of confidence in the economy during the Great Recession. That’s really low. That’s world-is-going-to-end-tomorrow low.


A naive reading of this says that for the eight years of the Obama administration Republicans were just as suspicious of the economy’s stability as when the entire economy was on the brink of collapse in 2008/09. They were scared every day that they were going to lose their jobs and the economy was going to collapse around them.

But here’s U. S. car and light truck purchases over the past fifteen years.


From the EIA

As the chart shows, when you’re nervous about the economy, you don’t run out and buy a new car. Even with the Cash for Clunkers program in 2008/09, demand for new cars in those years collapsed. No one buys a car when they think they may be out of a job tomorrow.

As the economy came back, however, demand returned to normal. This was a direct expression of people’s confidence in the economy — their willingness to take out a five year loan to get a new car. We can see the purchase of cars as a proxy for not what people want to express, but what they actually believe.

Fine, that’s just U.S. autos. But you can see proxies of confidence wherever you look. They bottom out during the crash and slowly come back.

So was it just Democrats, with their confidence, buying all these cars and engaging in new mortgages? No, of course not. The truth is the Republicans in the poll are not truly pessimistic, at least not at the level of economic intuition. Rather, they are using the poll to express a feeling about (or prejudice against) the current administration.

How far do people take this? Well consider this: when Trump voters were shown these two pictures of the Trump (photo A) and Obama (photo B) inauguration and asked which picture showed a more people, 15% said photo A had more people.


As the researchers note:

 If there were no political controversy, any respondent who took the time to look at the photographs would see more people in the image on the right than the one on the left.

Clearly, some Trump supporters in our sample decided to use this question to express their support for Trump rather than to answer the survey question factually.

Polls, in other words, might slowly be becoming junk. We don’t actually know how many people believe Obama was a Muslim, or how many people believe the DNC rigged the election. The answer is surely some people believe each thing, but they are lumped together with people who use the question as a general proxy for expressing something else, as a way of advancing what is seen as a team agenda.

One thing to note, this seems to be more prominent on the Republican side (asymmetric, as they say). Aside from the consumer confidence pattern above there’s the Obama bombs Syria/Trump bombs Syria question.  Thirty-eight percent of Democrats supported Obama’s plan to bomb Syria in 2013, and a nearly identical number of Democrats supported Trump’s action. Republicans, however, were lopsided: 22 percent supported Obama’s plan, but over 86 percent supported Donald Trump.

And while race has something to do with that asymmetry, it’s not just race: Republican trust in government, for example, has been mostly dependent on which party controls the presidency, whereas Democratic trust in government has been stable since Carter came into office, with a dip during the years of the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina:

But again, I’m not quite sure how to read this. Is this really the level of trust? Or is it expressive responding? Or are the two things so intertwined it’s hard to tell?

Interestingly, you see that pattern emerge in the Carter administration. and of course the Carter administration is where partisanship begins to take off in the DW-NOMINATE scores as well, which are about voting patterns of legislators (and not generally considered expressive):

I’m aware of the many explanations of the DW-NOMINATE score increases, and also aware this is a big dig into a small signal, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about.

Also, I’m thinking that these poll responses — going back to the 1970s — show a lightweight, non-digital form of participatory propaganda. You get the call from the pollster, and you see this as an opportunity to further the interests of your party by ever-so-slightly affecting the poll results, bringing them in line with the party talking points (the economy is strong, the government is trustworthy, the crowd was huge). It’s like an early form of online reposting, trying to amplify the signal of the message you want to advocate, even if you may have some reservations about the truthfulness of the claims.

UMW Talk, Condensed

My University of Mary Washington talk was exciting because it was new territory, but a tad less concise than I generally like. It was about an hour.

That’s too bad about the length, because the talk was a really great introduction to the subject, and I need an intro I can link to for beginners.

So I cut the text down to 35 minutes, and then I filmed me giving it and put it up on YouTube. Is that weird?

It’s weird, isn’t it? Whatever, I’m weird.

I think it makes an intro into the issue that I might be able to reuse. I also got to use a better balance of examples. Anyway I wanted to thank UMW for having me and supporting this work, both through the invitation and the incredible work their students are doing in this space.

(I suppose I could have just said this is a new presentation, instead of an edit. Would that be less weird?)

It’s still a bit of a long video for use in a class, but who knows, maybe I’ll get it down to 15 minutes in a month or so.

Creating a Wikipedia for Fact-checking

There are many ways in which wiki is the perfect vehicle for a fact-checking site.

  • First, the nature of the wiki consensus helps guarantee a fair treatment of issues from multiple perspectives.
  • Second, the nature of wiki (when a particular scale is met) is that it is quick to respond to new information — much quicker than more institutional processes.
  • Finally, wiki is iterative — which means as new information comes to light, fact-checking articles can be kept up-to-date, even years after the fact.

Unfortunately, there are many ways in which it is not a good fit.

  • First, Wikipedia civility often falls down around contentious issues. In fact-checking, EVERY issue is contentious.
  • Second, Wikipedia is prone to vandalism. It gets corrected quickly, but maybe not enough for a fact-checking site.
  • Third, Wikipedia grew organically over time — culture got set before the stakes were high. Can culture develop when it’s high-stakes from day one?

Do the pros outweigh the cons? I’m not sure. But it seems to me a promising idea worth exploring. We’re trying this idea with student authors across multiple schools at digipo.io. And so far it’s kind of sort of working:


How Wiki for Fact-Checking Is Different than Wikipedia

People will ask (as they always do) “Isn’t Wikipedia a fact-checking site already? What would be the difference?”

The difference is that Wikipedia structures knowledge topically. You can have an article on “Buffalo” or “The Pentagon Papers” or “The 2012 Benghazi Attack”. What you can’t have is a page on a claim, which is how fact-checking sites are structured.

So, for instance, in our student project above, one of the students submitted a claim “Women coders considered better than men, but only if they hide their gender.” That’s a great claim for a fact-checking page, but there is no corollary in Wikipedia.

Our fact-checking wiki has two major parts to every article. The first is the origin of the claim. This claim comes from a headline that references a study that may or may not support that conclusion. But the author does the work of tracking the claim to source.

Here’s an example of what that looks like on another claim about the Fukushima thyroid cancer rate.


Origin and Prevalence demonstrates the claim originated from a video put out by an anti-nuclear advocacy group, called Fairewinds Energy Education, and has been widely covered in both right-wing and left-wing media.

Even if we find a study that does support the headline,  a good article on the claim would place that result in the context of previous and subsequent work, noting the strengths and limits of the study. Does the study confirm previous work, or buck against it? Is it more rigorous than previous work? Less rigorous? Structured somewhat differently? In our wiki we use the Issues and Analysis section to do this:


Screenshot showing the Issues and Analysis section of a DigiPo wiki page on the Fukushima thyroid cancer rate.  A study is found that supports a lesser conclusion, but placed into context of subsequent work it appears that study was flawed.

There are similarities here to Wikipedia, but the focus of the article is to eventually get to that short summary of the truth at the top, not to cover a topic. In this particular article that summary turns out to be

Summary: The larger claims come from a misreading of statistics. Most experts, looking at the same data, believe that Fukushima has had little to no effect on thyroid cancer prevalence.

The rest of the page leads to the creation of that short snippet that an average reader can understand. It’s not about coverage, it’s about analysis. This is a piece of what people do on Wikipedia as they adjudicate the validity of various statements, but here it is the structuring principle.

Now, should this claim be rated “false”? Or is it better termed “Highly Unlikely”? That’s a great dicussion to have. Wouldn’t it be great to work it out through wiki?

Someone Else Should Build This Instead of Me

We are currently running DigiPo on a Dokuwiki install on Reclaim Hosting. It works for what we are doing. And I think it’s an interesting experiment in the use of wiki in education. I plan to support it as long as I can.

But I’m not a great developer or system admin. I’m an instructional designer and a community builder with a theoretical bent.

What I would love to do eventually is partner with someone on the software side, and just push students there to post. In my dreams, someone wants to spin off a specific sort of wiki site, the way that Jimmy Wales took his Wikipedia background and created Wikia around the culture of fandom. I know a fact-checking community is not as hip as the latest pages on Yuri on Ice, but we could give it a try.

If someone has the site, we have the pedagogy, and an army of teachers and students who would just love to engage with a site like this. We can focus on the pedagogy and community-building.

Is anyone out there with the resources to build and promote a major site like this feeling this? Want to talk?