Evidence Rebuts Chomsky's Theory of Language Learning

The research suggests a radically different view, in which learning of a child’s first language does not rely on an innate grammar module. Instead the new research shows that young children use various types of thinking that may not be specific to language at all—such as the ability to classify the world into categories (people or objects, for instance) and to understand the relations among things. These capabilities, coupled with a unique hu­­­man ability to grasp what others intend to communicate, allow language to happen. The new findings indicate that if researchers truly want to understand how children, and others, learn languages, they need to look outside of Chomsky’s theory for guidance.
From Evidence Rebuts Chomsky's Theory of Language Learning - Scientific American

Apple and the FBI: Why is this relevant to libraries?

Why is this relevant to libraries? I think it’s past time that we start paying very close attention to the details of our data in ways that we have, at best, hand-waved as a vendor responsibility in the past. There have been amazing strides lately in libraryland in regards to the security of our data connections via SSL (LetsEncrypt) as well as a resurgence in anonymization and privacy tools for our patrons (Tor and the like, thank you very much Library Freedom Project).

Data about our patrons and their interactions that isn’t encrypted at rest in either the local database or the vendor database hosted on their servers (and our electronic resource access, and our proxy logins, and, and, and…) is data that is subject to subpoena and could be accessed in ways that we would not want. It is the job of the librarian to protect the data about the information seeking process of their patrons. And while it’s been talked about before in library circles (Peter Murray’s 2011 article is a good example of past discussions) this court case brings into focus the lengths that some aspects of the law enforcement community will go to in order to have the power to collect data about individuals.

From Apple, the FBI, and Libraries | Pattern Recognition

A methodology for identifying library peers

Using IMLS 2013 data Levi Bowles, data science professional, applied a "nearest neighbor" methodology to find peer libraries for an example library system. The nearest neighbor method is widely used across many fields. The factors matched on were population served, branches, funding per capita, visits per population. For the full post visit

When was the age of information?

My principal connection to the field of history is through an undergraduate course I co-teach called “History of Information.” It’s a course that seeks to take students from Lascaux to WhatsApp and beyond in fifteen weeks: its key transitional phrase, as my colleague notes, is “moving right along.” The naivety of such an enterprise probably reveals to the audience of this blog that neither of the teachers is a historian.

From When was the age of information? | JHIBlog


Why science is so hard to believe

It’s their very detachment, what you might call the cold-bloodedness of science, that makes science the killer app. It’s the way science tells us the truth rather than what we’d like the truth to be. Scientists can be as dogmatic as anyone else — but their dogma is always wilting in the hot glare of new research. In science it’s not a sin to change your mind when the evidence demands it. For some people, the tribe is more important than the truth; for the best scientists, the truth is more important than the tribe.

From Why science is so hard to believe - The Washington Post


The digital is a place to hide

The worlds that went paperless first were not, it turns out, those designed to make a more open world. Rather, they were, without exception, communities deeply invested in the control of information. They wanted information to be under their control more than they cared about its circulation on your behalf. Amid all our optimism about what digitization can do, this seems like an origin story to remember.


The Stupidity of Computers

The Stupidity of Computers
The good news is that, because computers cannot and will not “understand” us the way we understand each other, they will not be able to take over the world and enslave us (at least not for a while). The bad news is that, because computers cannot come to us and meet us in our world, we must continue to adjust our world and bring ourselves to them. We will define and regiment our lives, including our social lives and our perceptions of our selves, in ways that are conducive to what a computer can “understand.” Their dumbness will become ours.

David Lankes on Nerd Absurd

This week’s episode is super cool. We got David Lankes, a professor of information studies at Syracuse University (also known as the world’s best public speaker), to talk to us about libraries. We thought we’d have a grand debate on the topic of libraries and electronic media, but what we actually had was a wide-ranging discussion about knowledge and access to knowledge. We’re wicked happy that we got such a great guy on our show, and we’ll happily have him back on any time his little heart desires!

Listen to full piece here.


Finding A "Grand Challenge" For Libraries

This grand challenge would require librarians, information scientists, telecommunication experts and specialists on space flight. The lessons learned could be applied to earth-bound libraries and could re-envision how libraries are connected to each other and to the resources that they use. It could also impact other industries and how they communicate or share information. The work could place libraries and librarians front and center in a number of communities because we would need to be involved in creating the solution.

The library in 2020...

The library in 2020 is the last bastion of truth. Sure, you can search yottabytes of free data by simply batting an eyelash. But it's dangerous to believe what you see through the iGlass lens. As you learned the hard way back in the Facebook era, if you're not paying for it, you are the product. That research study about the safety and efficacy of Lipitor Lollipops™ was sponsored by a subsidiary of a subsidiary of Pfizer. That consultant you almost hired wrote his own customer reviews. And while you can't tell for sure because the algorithms are opaque, it sure seems like the first page of web search is pay-to-play. You routinely skip past the top ten results.


Subscribe to Theory