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The Limits of Transparency

12/20/2009 9:38:40 PM

Tags: Politics, cultural criticism, U.S., Lawrence Lessig, transparency, government, data, media, The New Republic, Julie Hanus

data / transparency movement“How could anyone be against transparency?” Lawrence Lessig asks in The New Republic. “Its virtues and its utilities seem so crushingly obvious.” Yet the law and technology expert proposes one provocative downside—that “the naked transparency movement . . . will simply push any faith in our political system over the cliff.” While speaking positively about the majority of transparency initiatives, Lessig sees trouble brewing with those intended to reveal influence and corruption, on account of “the problem of attention-span”:

“To understand something—an essay, an argument, a proof of innocence—requires a certain amount of attention,” he writes. “But on many issues, the average, or even rational, amount of attention given to understand many of these correlations, and their defamatory implications, is almost always less than the amount of time required. The result is a systemic misunderstanding—at least if the story is reported in a context, or in a manner, that does not neutralize such misunderstanding. The listing and correlating of data hardly qualifies as such a context.”

In other words: Bits and pieces of data make insinuations: smudges that will stick whether or not they accurately reflect the whole story, whether or not they’re refuted down the line. The alternative, of course, is not a return to obfuscation—but the issue does present an intriguing challenge for transparency advocates.

Source: The New Republic

Image by altemark, licensed under Creative Commons.


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