[Humanist] 30.368 algorithmic bias? bibliographic specificity?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Sep 26 06:17:25 CEST 2016

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 30, No. 368.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>          (33)
        Subject: bibliographic specificity & googlism

  [2]   From:    "Patricia O'Neill" <poneill at hamilton.edu>                 (20)
        Subject: Bias in Machine Learning Algorithms

        Date: Sun, 25 Sep 2016 07:42:58 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: bibliographic specificity & googlism

When I cite sources, esp when writing a note like this one, I feel an inner
tug of war between the old compulsion to say explicitly everything necessary
to pinpoint a source unambiguously and the realisation that the source can
be found quite easily by googling. On the one hand the accusation of
laziness and carelesness looms, on the other the biting suspicion of
outmoded and quite obsessive bibliographic habits.

By far the most helpful course I took as an MA student -- and the only one I
remember -- was dedicated to research methods. The professor (who had done
his PhD before photocopiers) told us that whenever we had a book in our
hands we should write down everything bibliographic about it that we could,
as well as take very thorough notes, because we might never again be able to
obtain the book. He recounted spending some days in a library taking
exhaustive notes on Arthur Lovejoy's Great Chain of Being. 

That advice sustained me through doctoral work and beyond. But you can see,
I'd suppose, the tendency for the chosen works, necessarily rather few in
number, to become canonical in a way none would now.

Now I have many of the books I need on this very machine (including the
Lovejoy), a good scanner to get them there as well as access to helpful
online repositories. Sloppy brevity does catch me occasionally -- as it did
yesterday, when I mistook my own comments in a note on a book for the words
of the author. But quite often not even noting the page-number is

We (in the 'developed' world) speak about the ubiquity of computing. Perhaps
we should pay some attention to the ubiquity of sources? Are bibliographies
and related bibliographic habits diminishing in importance?


Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London; Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney

        Date: Sun, 25 Sep 2016 08:45:45 -0700
        From: "Patricia O'Neill" <poneill at hamilton.edu>
        Subject: Bias in Machine Learning Algorithms

Dear Humanists,

The following excerpt comes from a piece in Entrepreneur Magazine,

not a scholarly journal. But it raises a question about objectivity and the
problems inherent in science, even science that is mathematically oriented.

"Third, machine learning systems can discriminate by perpetuating existing
social biases. Biases run rampant in our society. We know that women are
heavily under-represented in the board room
and there are significant racial wealth gaps
If you train a machine learning algorithm on real data from the world we
live in, it will pick up on these biases. And to make matters worse, such
algorithms have the potential to perpetuate or even exacerbate these biases
when deployed."

I wonder if digital humanists worry about such problems in the design oftheir experiments?

Patricia O'Neill
Independent scholar

Sent from my iPad

More information about the Humanist mailing list