Future Conduct and the Limits of Class-Action Settlements – James G.
The coruscating James Grimmelmann recently published a crisp, clean exorcism of “future conduct” releases in class action suits, in the North Carolina Law Review. Using a number of recent class actions as motivation, including the Google Books case, he patiently and eloquently dissects the ideas behind such carte blanche releases, and the rare cases in which they might be called for.
This is a gem of a monograph – worth reading even if you are not a copyright geek.
From the opening salvo (emphasis mine):
This Article identifies a new and previously unrecognized trend in class-action settlements: releases for the defendant’s future conduct. Such releases, which hold the defendant harmless for wrongs it will commit in the future, are unusually dangerous to class members and to the public… [F]uture-conduct releases pose severe informational problems for class members and for courts… create moral hazard for the defendant, give it concentrated power, and thrust courts into a prospective planning role they are ill-equipped to handle.
Courts should guard against the dangers of future-conduct releases with a standard and a rule. The standard is heightened scrutiny for all settlements containing such releases; the Article describes the warning signs courts must be alert to and the safeguards courts should insist on. The rule is parity of preclusion: a class-action settlement may release future-conduct claims if and only if they could have been lost in litigation. [...] The Article concludes by applying its recommendations to seven actual future-conduct settlements, in each case yielding a better result or clearer explanation than the court was able to provide.
If you’re in a hurry and don’t have time to savor all 90 pages of finely referenced background and analysis, a handy comparative timeline is on p.410, the standard and rule start on p.431, and the 7 brief case studies start on p.458.
via the Laboratorium.
Better knowledge graphs fit for Star Trek computers coming to Google
Last year Google acquired Metaweb, providing a reliable future to their many projects, including Refine and Freebase.
From earlier this year, here’s a quote from Amit Singhal, Google’s SVP responsible for their Knowledge Graph:
We hope this added intelligence will give you a more complete picture of your interest, provide smarter search results, and pique your curiosity on new topics. We’re proud of our first baby step—the Knowledge Graph—which will enable us to make search more intelligent, moving us closer to the “Star Trek computer” that I’ve always dreamt of building. Enjoy your lifelong journey of discovery, made easier by Google Search, so you can spend less time searching and more time doing what you love.
In the near future, I expect both Google’s knowledge graph, and the increasing awareness of the usefulness of such graphs, to change the structure and scope of industrial-scale knowledge processing. Thanks to all those working on these tools and solutions; see you in 2013!
The Million Problems project: the world’s best problems in each discipline
This is a project I’ve had in mind for some time. From where do you draw your favorite problems? For a bit of inspiration, here is an excellent and insightful essay on why math education is so much stronger in Russia (for instance) than in the US and Brazil (for instance), focusing on the appreciation for and use of word problems.
Word Problems in Russia and America by Andrei Toom (↬ Jacob Rus)
Three Copyright Myths and Where to Start to Fix it – a policy brief
Tuesday November 20th 2012, 5:41 pm
Filed under: citation needed
,Glory, glory, glory
,Not so popular
,Rogue content editor
A lovely short policy brief on designing a better copyright regime was published on Friday – before being quickly taken offline again. I’ve reposted it here with light cleanup of its section headings.
If you care at all about copyright and its quirks, this is short and worth reading in full.
The Six Symptoms of Pathological Science, by Irving Langmuir
This overview of pattern-creation in the guise of science and its mob effect on whole fields must be read and relished.
The Six Symptoms of Pathological Science:
- The maximum effect observed is produced by an agent of barely detectable intensity. The magnitude of the effect is largely independent of the intensity of the cause.
- The effect is of a magnitude close to the limit of detectability, or many measurements are necessary because of low statistical significance of individual results.
- There are claims of great, even extraordinary, accuracy
- Fantastic theories contrary to experience are suggested (with enthusiasm)
- Criticisms are met by ad hoc excuses thought up on the spur of the moment (this may be contagious)
- The ratio of supporters to critics rises to somewhere near 50%, then falls gradually to zero.
Also, note that the “Allison effect” and mechanism is the most amazing example given, and may show something different than standard pathological science: it was considered good science for over a decade, and by hundreds of practitioners.
From a talk famously given by Langmuir (1932 Chemistry N’Laureate) in 1953, transcribed by Robert Hall, illustrated by Physics Today, republished and promoted by professors and authors.
UNHRC: Periodic Rights Review (US edition, part 2)
Earlier this year I wrote a bit about the latest UNHRC periodic rights review of the US, something that happens for every country once every four years. Norway offered the most excellent advice, making 7 solid apolitical recommendations.
They didn’t rehash international policy disputes or convention-signing, which can be nominal at best: and focused instead on essential changes that can be carried out now, and would be historically significant. If we implemented their 7 recs, our nation would be a better place. Here they are, consolidated (with the # of the rec, and our response):
- Consider a human rights institution at the federal level to ensure implementation of human rights in all states (74: yes, will consider, but no current plan)
- Take further measures in economic and social rights for women and minorities, including equal access to decent work and reducing the number of homeless people (113: yes)
- Take measures to eradicate all forms of torture and illtreatment of detainees by military or civilian personnel, in any territory of jurisdiction, and that any such acts be thoroughly investigated (139: yes)
- Take steps to set federal and state-level moratoria on executions with a view to abolish the death penalty nationwide (122: blanket no)
- Review federal and state legislation with a view to restricting the number of offences carrying the death penalty (132: blanket no)
- Apply the model legal framework of the Leahy Laws to all countries receiving US security assistance, with human rights records of all units receiving such assistance documented, evaluated, made available and followed up upon in cases of abuse (227: no more than now. ‘we already do this, but in secret’)
- Remove the blanket abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid covering medical care given to women and girls who are raped and impregnated in armed conflict (228: no, sorry. “due to currently applicable restrictions”)
The death penalty is increasingly considered outmoded and barbaric in most of the world, yet in our domestic discussions it is seen as a reasonable option – more a matter of regional preference than a fundamental moral matter. 35 states currently allow it.
And what’s up with the 7th point above? The US has imposed restrictions on its international aid funding over the past few decades to prevent aid recipients from using those funds to provide abortions or suggest them as an option for family planning. The most well-known example of this is the Mexico City Policy , instated by Reagan and since repealed or reinstated by each preseident in the first days of his term, along party lines. This affected roughly $100M of aid given to family planning programs; and is also called the “global gag rule” because it prohibited aid recipients from using any of their funds for abortion care.
Today, while the MCP stands repealed, there are other similar restrictions in force – including the one highlighted by Norway. They are reportedly the first country to bring the issue up in an international setting, as part of a campaign launched with the Global Justice Center.
Overall, I am fascinated at how unified and sane most of these recommendations are. It reminds me that peer review by a large group of peers tends toward the awesome, constructive side of the scale, even when the peer group includes some trolling and posturing.
“What Wroth Roth Wrought” by Virginia Hefferman and Oliver Keyes
We may have a national drought, but a bumper crop of brilliant essays of, by, and for Wikipedia are turning up this weekend.
Oliver Keyes / Ironholds turned out this gem of an essay deconstructing, line by line, how many claims and statements in the original New Yorker piece fell somewhere between confused and false. In particular, he highlights that Roth has already been cited in the article at the time as disputing the claims by many critics that Broyard’s life was an influence on his character.
And he points out how credulous our traditional media are, when dealing with respected authors: how few outlets made an effort to check statements Roth made before repeating them, and often assumed they were true in coming up with social and factual analyses.
But these are the institutions that we – Wikipedians an everyone else – look up to for fact-checking and peer review in the first place. How to make sense of this communication gap?
Enter Virginia Hefferman, stage right. She published an insightful piece, with stylish patter to match the subject matter, on how the Rothroversy illustrates a digital culture war. An excerpt:
At least two Americas, then. Each with its own civilizations, its own holy artifacts, its own shamans. For contrast: Wikipedia is an open-source encyclopedia, born in 2001; it has some 365 million readers in 265 languages. The New Yorker is an American general-interest weekly, born in 1925. It has a circulation of almost 1.05 million, in a single language. Wikipedia America and New Yorker America are so dug into their hierarchies of values that, really, they can only cultivate blindness about the other lest they implode in madness.
The East Coast establishment, for its part, is still so sure of itself that when Roth, one of its most esteemed denizens, finds himself narcissistically bugged in the usual way with something on Wikipedia, he doesn’t do what the rest of us do when Wikipedia narcissistically bugs us: learn the supremely learnable procedures for submitting changes to that populist and infinitely flexible document.
Roth doesn’t read enough on the site to learn that at Wikipedia, nothing is left “on author” (as we used to say of the very rare uncheckable fact when I did my own time at The New Yorker). Everything must be sourced…
“The Human Stain,” as a novel, might rise or fall on its status as a fictionalization of the life of this or that obscure intellectual. But Wikipedia, as the near-miraculous open-source document that defines knowledge on the Web, lives or dies on the strength of its traditions of anonymity, proceduralism, humility and collaboration. Once it knuckles under to power—literary, political, any kind—it cracks. Wikipedia as it stands is chaotic and error-ridden, although anything but soulless: It breathes with the intelligence of the hundreds of millions of people, around the world, who use it and contribute to it and take pride in it and maintain it.
Hefferman was recruited away from the New York Times to the increasingly impressive Yahoo! News earlier this year.
Digitize it all: from law to code and standard, for public justice
If you haven’t visited law.resource.org recently, do so now. I’ll wait… you are in for a treat.
Carl Malamud and Friends (soon to be a show on CNN) have kept up the momentum of their early work to digitize and publish technical and other standards, many of which are now online in all their glory.
And there’s a lovely collection of introductions, from the 5-minute summary of why and how to free building codes, to a 20-minute showcase of what the resource.org team does. (via boingboing)
This is still rather top-down for my tastes — there’s no obvious way for me to help out, fund the digitization of a particular code, or run a digitizing party in my neighborhood library or FabLab. But I am inspired by the persistent work and vision of the people making this dream a reality.
They also have a lovely site devoted to a national scanning project for scanning all the archives: YesWeScan. Which gave rise to this excellent blog post and commentary from the Archivist of the US, David Ferriero*.
* Recently seen at Wikimania DC saying, in his beautiful closing speech, “If you have any trouble using Wikipedia… tell them, if it’s good enough for the Archivist of the US…”
Musical ethics: In defense of free music, Shaw and Masnick shine
A recent kerfuffle about music sharing, free culture, and direct support of artists began on NPR and ended on TechDirt.
Last month, Bob Boilen wrote “I Just Deleted All My Music” for NPR’s All Songs Considered blog; to which summer intern Emily White replied last week “I Never Owned Any Music To Begin With“. Trichordist’s David Lowery shot off a ranting Letter to Emily White that was a viral hit.
Finally, Zac Shaw of mediapocalypse wrote “In Defense of Free Music“, an eloquent explanation of Free Culture ideals and commitment to supporting artists. And culturist and summation genius Mike Masnick has the last word, wrapping up the discussion and aftermath.
Es Werde Lichtstrom! Germany runs on solar for 2 full hours
The German solar power grid is among the world’s densest and fastest-growing. They have doubled their capacity for each of the last 10 years, and currently average 25% of all their power from the sun.
This has so far led to a 10% drop in the average price of power on their electricity exchange, thanks to the institution of “merit order” power supply: in which the lowest marginal-cost power is used first at any given moment. However the tremendous growth and success of solar power means they will soon have to cope with an unusual problem for modern national energy grids: storing excess renewable power. (Spain and Portugal have faced similar surplusses thanks to their tremendous wind power grids.)
They recently hit a few milestones: they set the world record for national solar generation (22GW), meeting fully half of the national energy demand. And for two hours, around midday Saturday, their solar output exceeded the national energy demand for the first time, for two hours.
- National power data (GW): wind, solar, total demand
I’d like to see more detailed data on all of this. The annual doubling of solar generation is fantastic and must involve extensive retooling of many subsidiary systems and capacity networks. How centralized/localized are those solar sources? Some data sources say national power production in Germany averages close to 70GW year-round, others claim a peak power draw of 50GW in the winter.
I’d also like to hear more about the limits of pumped energy storage and other uses of excess generated power. We could certainly generate an annual energy surplus for the planet if we tried to; but where’s that market in energy futures, and how much of an energy reservoir could we build up? What are other denser, more robust long-term ways to store power?