(Last edited: Sunday, 18 December 2005, 2:19 PM)
A vida em Google
Miguel poiares maduro
DN 4 Dez 2005
E se de repente alguém o googalizasse? Quem encontraria? Quem seria você para o mundo. Googalizar está na voga e significa procurar no Google (o mais conhecido motor de busca na Internet) informação sobre alguém ou alguma coisa. Antes falava-se com os tios, os primos e os amigos para descobrir se uma certa pessoa era de confiança. Hoje confia-se no Google. O nosso mundo pessoal está mais próximo do tamanho do mundo e o Google é a forma de conhecer esse mundo.
A vida está hoje na Internet. A nossa profissão revelada no site da empresa, um artigo num jornal, a participação numa conferência, alguém que fala de nós num blogue ou site de discussão, o nome que escrevemos num abaixo-assinado. Não interessa se mudámos de ideia ou de profissão, se o que dizem de nós é falso ou verdadeiro ou até se se trata de um homónimo nosso. Com o Google, isso é o que nós somos para o mundo. Talvez antes isto do que ser "Google-excluído", a nova forma de morte. Uma amiga dizia-me, recentemente, que temia tentar contactar os pais de uma amiga a quem tinha perdido o rasto porque, não conseguindo encontrar uma única referência no Google, a presumia morta.
O Google é também o local onde hoje se encontra tudo namorada, onde passar a lua-de-mel, como arranjar amante ou descobrir o amante dela e onde comprar Prozac ou Viagra (dependendo da forma como decidir lidar com o anterior). É, igualmente, a medida do que é importante. O número de sites diz-nos da importância de um tema e o número de pesquisas do quanto algo ou alguém são procurados.
Mas como define o Google o que é importante sobre nós e sobre o mundo? Ao contrário das formas tradicionais de informação, como a comunicação social, a política ou a publicidade, o Google não edita a informação. Por outras palavras, não faz juízos valorativos para seleccionar o que é mais ou menos importante. Neste sentido, o Google procura evitar a manipulação e apresenta-se como mais democrático e seguramente pós-moderno. Tal como a Wikipedia (uma enciclopédia online, cujas entradas podem ser alteradas por qualquer de nós), o Google deixa a selecção da informação a um processo livre e quase anárquico. No entanto, como os sites são frequentemente milhões e o Google não os pode mostrar todos ao mesmo tempo, adoptou dois critérios "neutrais" para hierarquizar os resultados das pesquisas.
O primeiro critério é a autodefinição. Para o Google, um site é simplesmente o que diz que é. Os autores dos sites identificam-nos com palavras-chave que permitem ao Google relacioná-los mais facilmente com certos temas e buscas com eles relacionadas. Isto permite que eu crie um site sobre mim e o indexe a palavras como belo, inteligente e sedutor. Alguém que faça uma busca sobre estes temas terá assim mais probabilidade de encontrar o meu site Infelizmente, por vezes, as pessoas são conduzidas para sites que, ao contrário do exemplo anterior (!), podem não corresponder ao desejado para o Google, Deus é uma banda musical belga que dará um concerto na Aula Magna em Dezembro
O segundo critério é puramente quantitativo a importância de um site é medida pelo número de "visitas" (hits) que ele recebe. Quanto mais consultado for um site, maior a prioridade que ele obtém nos resultados do Google. Isto criou uma indústria dedicada exclusivamente a consultas artificiais para aumentar a visibilidade de um site.
Estes critérios do Google preferem o extraordinário à normalidade, não distinguem muito o antigo do novo e são "despersonalizados" (não são determinados pelas nossas preferências mas sim pelas preferências maioritárias entre os outros). Em consequência, produzem resultados interessantes e por vezes divertidos. Se fizerem uma busca da palavra Portugal, o Google envia-os para o portal do Sapo. Não sei se é uma metáfora do estado do país (somos um sapo que espera a princesa encantada?) ou da importância da PT na economia nacional.
Mais divertido ainda é conhecer o mundo através do Google, com base nos números de sites referentes a certos temas e nas pesquisas que são feitas. De acordo com o Google, actualmente, procura-se mais o divórcio (3 milhões de sites) que o casamento (2 milhões) e os filhos gostam mais das mães (7 milhões) que dos pais (2,5 milhões). O Benfica pode ter 6 milhões de adeptos, mas para o Google é bem menos importante que o Sporting e o Porto (este último é o claro vencedor, com referên- cias em mais de 600 mil sites). E, claro, há 14 milhões de sites com a palavra amor e pouco mais de 8 milhões com a palavra sexo. Só que, quando o critério muda para o número de pesquisas, se fazem mais relacionadas com o sexo. Conclusão as pessoas falam de amor mas procuram é o sexo. Para o Google há também mais de um milhão de homens apaixonados, mas apenas pouco mais de 500 mil mulheres: devem existir muitos homens infelizes ou então são os homens que, afinal, são mais abertos na expressão das suas emoções!
Para minha enorme desilusão, as mulheres mais "pesquisadas" no Google são Paris Hilton e Britney Spears. Como não as acho belas, só pode ser pela sua inteligência, que desconheço. Entre os homens, a minha desilusão foi ainda maior para além de não me encontrar entre os eleitos, descobri que as mulheres têm preferência por homens com nomes como "50 cent" e "Bob Esponja". Mas as estatísticas das pesquisas mais comuns permitem também caracterizar certos países: no Reino Unido estão obcecados com dietas e em encontrar amigos e namorados ou namoradas perdidos (será que perdem os amigos pela mesma razão por que têm de fazer dieta?); os franceses gostam é de viajar e de top models (não consegui apurar se viajam com as top models); já o passatempo dos russos parece ser agora a decoração de interiores, enquanto os chineses parecem preferir ficar em casa a ver televisão.
Eis aquilo a que o mundo atribui mais importância de acordo com o Google. Existirá mundo para além do Google? Vale a pena pesquisar.
(Last edited: Sunday, 18 December 2005, 2:18 PM)
Keats claimed physics destroyed beauty. Keats was being a prat
We are nearing the end of the "World Year of Physics", otherwise known as Einstein Year, as it is the centenary of his annus mirabilis in which he made three incredible breakthroughs, including special relativity. In fact, it was 100 years ago yesterday that he published the most famous equation in the history of physics: E=mc2.
But instead of celebrating, physicists are in mourning after a report showed a dramatic decline in the number of pupils studying physics at school. The number taking A-level physics has dropped by 38% over the past 15 years, a catastrophic meltdown that is set to continue over the next few years. The report warns that a shortage of physics teachers and a lack of interest from pupils could mean the end of physics in state schools. Thereafter, physics would be restricted to only those students who could afford to go to posh schools.
Britain was the home of Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday and Paul Dirac, and Brits made world-class contributions to understanding gravity, quantum physics and electromagnetism - and yet the British physicist is now facing extinction. But so what? Physicists are not as cuddly as pandas, so who cares if we disappear?
You should care, and this is why. First, physicists reveal the beauty of the universe. E=mc2 provides us with an incredible insight into how the universe works, showing us that energy (E) and mass (m) can be converted into each other, so that a tiny amount of mass can be destroyed to create a vast amount of energy. That is how the Sun shines. Four million tonnes of the Sun literally vanishes every second, only to reappear in the form of sunshine - energy that lights up our lives.
John Keats talked of "unweaving the rainbow", suggesting that Newton destroyed the beauty of nature by analysing light with a prism and splitting it into different colours. Keats was being a prat. Physicists also smile when we see rainbows, but our emotional reaction is doubled by our understanding of the deep physics relating to the prismatic effects of raindrops. Similarly, physicists appreciate sunsets more than anybody else, because we can enjoy the myriad colours and at the same time grasp the nuclear physics that created the energy that created the photons that travelled for millions of years to the surface of the Sun, which then travelled eight minutes through space to Earth, which were then scattered by the atmosphere to create the colourful sunset. Understanding physics only enhances the beauty of nature.
If you want a concrete return, then physics can deliver that too. E=mc2 underpins the nuclear power industry, which could provide more energy in the future. If nuclear power replaced fossil fuels, we would pump less carbon into the atmosphere and thereby halt global warming. If, instead, you want clean energy via solar cells or wind turbines, then an understanding of solid state physics or the physics of fluids will get you several steps closer to an economically viable solution. Either way, physics provides the best hope of saving the planet.
Also, it should not be forgotten that A-level physicists have a direct impact on the economy, because some of us become the inventors, innovators and engineers that create high-quality jobs and major exports. The people behind Google and Microsoft and Apple did physics at high school, as opposed to majoring in psychology or media studies.
So, without British physicists, our country will not win any more Nobel prizes in physics, we will not do our part in fixing global warming - and UK plc will go down the drain. And yet nobody in power really cares. Physics in British schools has been going downhill for a couple of decades, but both Labour and Conservative governments seem to have taken no notice. After all, nobody is going to die because A-level physics is going out of fashion. There are no photo opportunities in being seen with a physicist.
Personally, the desperate state of British physics education was brought home to me when I reflected on why my parents migrated to this country in 1950. They came here so that their children had the guarantee of a good education. However, today India produces more mathematicians than the whole of the European Union.
A budding boffin in Bangalore probably stands more chance of having good mathematics and physics teachers than the equivalent bright young spark condemned to a British science education. A British politician in 1950 would have laughed at the thought of Indian schools ever being better than British schools, but last year's Physics Olympiad shows how things have changed. In this international competition for schools students, India won two gold medals, two silvers and a bronze, whereas Britain won only two bronzes.
With Britain's negligent attitude to physics education, we do not deserve to be celebrating the centenary of Einstein's annus mirabilis. Instead, perhaps we should be marking 2005 as the 50th anniversary of his death, which would be in keeping with the moribund status of A-level physics
· Simon Singh has a PhD in particle physics. He is the author of Big Bang, a history of cosmology.
Do you know your Newton from your neutrons?
1. A metal plate is heated to 200C with a bunsen burner. It subsequently cools by emitting what kind of radiation?
2. You're in the back of a stationary car with a helium balloon. When the car accelerates, which way does the balloon move?
3. What two properties of a particle does Heisenberg's uncertainty principle say you can't measure at the same time?
4. A skater is spinning on a spot with her arms outstretched. What happens when she pulls her arms in?
5. A big wooden ball and a small ball bearing sit at the top of a slope. When they are released, which reaches the bottom first?
6. If the Sun were to disappear right now, how long would it be before we noticed?
· Answers: 1c, 2a, 3b, 4d, 5c, 6b Alok Jha
(Last edited: Sunday, 18 December 2005, 2:16 PM)
An Unlikely Trendsetter Made Earphones a Way of Life
The Saturday Profile
An Unlikely Trendsetter Made Earphones a Way of Life
SÃO PAULO, Brazil
Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times
IN the late 1960's, Andreas Pavel and his friends gathered regularly at his house here to listen to records, from Bach to Janis Joplin, and talk politics and philosophy. In their flights of fancy, they wondered why it should not be possible to take their music with them wherever they went.
Inspired by those discussions, Mr. Pavel invented the device known today as the Walkman. But it took more than 25 years of battling the Sony Corporation and others in courts and patent offices around the world before he finally won the right to say it: Andreas Pavel invented the portable personal stereo player.
"I filed my first patent a complete innocent, thinking it would be a simple matter, 12 months or so, to establish my ownership and begin production," he said at the house where he first conceived of the device. "I never imagined that it would end up consuming so much time and taking me away from my real interests in life."
In person, Mr. Pavel seems an unlikely protagonist in such an epic struggle. He is an intellectual with a gentle, enthusiastic, earnest demeanor, more interested in ideas and the arts than in commerce, cosmopolitan by nature and upbringing.
Born in Germany, Mr. Pavel came to Brazil at age 6, when his father was recruited to work for the Matarazzo industrial group, at the time the most important one here. His mother, Ninca Bordano, an artist, had a house built for the family with a studio for her and an open-air salon with high-end audio equipment, meant for literary and musical gatherings.
Except for a period in the mid-1960's when he studied philosophy at a German university, Mr. Pavel, now 59, spent his childhood and early adulthood here in South America's largest city, "to my great advantage," he said. It was a time of creative and intellectual ferment, culminating in the Tropicalist movement, and he was delighted to be part of it.
When TV Cultura, a Brazilian station, was licensed to go on the air, Mr. Pavel was hired to be its director of educational programming. After he was forced to leave because of what he says was political pressure, he edited a "Great Thinkers" book series for Brazil's leading publishing house in another effort to "counterbalance the censorship and lack of information" then prevailing.
In the end, what drove Mr. Pavel back to Europe was his discontent with the military dictatorship then in power in Brazil. By that time, though, he had already invented the device he initially called the stereobelt, which he saw more as a means to "add a soundtrack to real life" than an item to be mass marketed.
"Oh, it was purely aesthetic," he said when asked his motivation in creating a portable personal stereo player. "It took years to discover that I had made a discovery and that I could file a patent."
MR. PAVEL still remembers when and where he was the first time he tested his invention and which piece of music he chose for his experiment.
It was February 1972, he was in Switzerland with his girlfriend, and the cassette they heard playing on their headphones was "Push Push," a collaboration between the jazz flutist Herbie Mann and the blues-rock guitarist Duane Allman.
"I was in the woods in St. Moritz, in the mountains," he recalled. "The snow was falling down. I pressed the button, and suddenly we were floating. It was an incredible feeling, to realize that I now had the means to multiply the aesthetic potential of any situation."
Over the next few years, he took his invention to one audio company after another - Grundig, Philips, Yamaha and ITT among them - to see if there was interest in manufacturing his device. But everywhere he went, he said, he met with rejection or ridicule.
"They all said they didn't think people would be so crazy as to run around with headphones, that this is just a gadget, a useless gadget of a crazy nut," he said.
In New York, where he moved in 1974, and then in Milan, where he relocated in 1976, "people would look at me sometimes on a bus, and you could see they were asking themselves, why is this crazy man running around with headphones?"
Ignoring the doors slammed in his face, Mr. Pavel filed a patent in March 1977 in Milan. Over the next year and a half, he took the same step in the United States, Germany, England and Japan.Sony started selling the Walkman in 1979, and in 1980 began negotiating with Mr. Pavel, who was seeking a royalty fee. The company agreed in 1986 to a limited fee arrangement covering sales only in Germany, and then for only a few models.
So in 1989 he began new proceedings, this time in British courts, that dragged on and on, eating up his limited financial resources.
At one point, Mr. Pavel said, he owed his lawyer hundreds of thousands of dollars and was being followed by private detectives and countersued by Sony. "They had frozen all my assets, I couldn't use checks or credit cards," and the outlook for him was grim.
In 1996, the case was dismissed, leaving Mr. Pavel with more than $3 million in court costs to pay.
But he persisted, warning Sony that he would file new suits in every country where he had patented his invention, and in 2003, after another round of negotiations, the company agreed to settle out of court.
Mr. Pavel declined to say how much Sony was obliged to pay him, citing a confidentiality clause. But European press accounts said Mr. Pavel had received a cash settlement for damages in the low eight figures and was now also receiving royalties on some Walkman sales.
THESE days, Mr. Pavel divides his time between Italy and Brazil, and once again considers himself primarily a philosopher. But he is also using some of his money to develop an invention he calls a dreamkit, which he describes as a "hand-held, personal, multimedia, sense-extension device," and to indulge his unflagging interest in music.
Recently, he has been promoting the career of Altamiro Carrilho, a flutist whom he regards as the greatest living Brazilian musician. He is also financing a project that he describes as the complete discography of every record ever released in Brazil.
Some of his friends have suggested he might have a case against the manufacturers of MP3 players, reasoning that those devices are a direct descendant of the Walkman. Mr. Pavel said that while he saw a kinship, he was not eager to take on another long legal battle.
"I have known other inventors in similar predicaments and most of them become that story, which is the most tragic, sad and melancholic thing that can happen," he said. "Somebody becomes a lawsuit, he loses all interest in other things and deals only with the lawsuit. Nobody ever said I was obsessed. I kept my other interests alive, in philosophy and music and literature."
"I didn't have time to pursue them, but now I have reconquered my time," he continued. "So, no, I'm not interested anymore in patents or legal fights or anything like that. I don't want to be reduced to the label of being the inventor of the Walkman."
(Last edited: Friday, 16 December 2005, 11:23 PM)
Internet encyclopaedias go head to head
Nature 438, 900-901 (15 December 2005) | doi:10.1038/438900a
Special Report Internet encyclopaedias go head to head
Jimmy Wales' Wikipedia comes close to Britannica in terms of the accuracy of its science entries, a Nature investigation finds.
One of the extraordinary stories of the Internet age is that of Wikipedia, a free online encyclopaedia that anyone can edit. This radical and rapidly growing publication, which includes close to 4 million entries, is now a much-used resource. But it is also controversial: if anyone can edit entries, how do users know if Wikipedia is as accurate as established sources such as Encyclopaedia Britannica?
AP PHOTO/M. PROBST
Several recent cases have highlighted the potential problems. One article was revealed as falsely suggesting that a former assistant to US Senator Robert Kennedy may have been involved in his assassination. And podcasting pioneer Adam Curry has been accused of editing the entry on podcasting to remove references to competitors' work. Curry says he merely thought he was making the entry more accurate.
However, an expert-led investigation carried out by Nature the first to use peer review to compare Wikipedia and Britannica's coverage of science suggests that such high-profile examples are the exception rather than the rule.
The exercise revealed numerous errors in both encyclopaedias, but among 42 entries tested, the difference in accuracy was not particularly great: the average science entry in Wikipedia contained around four inaccuracies; Britannica, about three.
Considering how Wikipedia articles are written, that result might seem surprising. A solar physicist could, for example, work on the entry on the Sun, but would have the same status as a contributor without an academic background. Disputes about content are usually resolved by discussion among users.
But Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia and president of the encyclopaedia's parent organization, the Wikimedia Foundation of St Petersburg, Florida, says the finding shows the potential of Wikipedia. "I'm pleased," he says. "Our goal is to get to Britannica quality, or better."
Wikipedia is growing fast. The encyclopaedia has added 3.7 million articles in 200 languages since it was founded in 2001. The English version has more than 45,000 registered users, and added about 1,500 new articles every day of October 2005. Wikipedia has become the 37th most visited website, according to Alexa, a web ranking service.
But critics have raised concerns about the site's increasing influence, questioning whether multiple, unpaid editors can match paid professionals for accuracy. Writing in the online magazine TCS last year, former Britannica editor Robert McHenry declared one Wikipedia entry on US founding father Alexander Hamilton as "what might be expected of a high-school student". Opening up the editing process to all, regardless of expertise, means that reliability can never be ensured, he concluded.
Yet Nature's investigation suggests that Britannica's advantage may not be great, at least when it comes to science entries. In the study, entries were chosen from the websites of Wikipedia and Encyclopaedia Britannica on a broad range of scientific disciplines and sent to a relevant expert for peer review. Each reviewer examined the entry on a single subject from the two encyclopaedias; they were not told which article came from which encyclopaedia. A total of 42 usable reviews were returned out of 50 sent out, and were then examined by Nature's news team.
Only eight serious errors, such as misinterpretations of important concepts, were detected in the pairs of articles reviewed, four from each encyclopaedia. But reviewers also found many factual errors, omissions or misleading statements: 162 and 123 in Wikipedia and Britannica, respectively.
D. I. FRANKE/WIKIMEDIA FDN
Kurt Jansson (left), president of Wikimedia Deutschland, displays a list of 10,000 Wikipedia authors; Wikipedia's entry on global warming has been a source of contention for its contributors.
Editors at Britannica would not discuss the findings, but say their own studies of Wikipedia have uncovered numerous flaws. "We have nothing against Wikipedia," says Tom Panelas, director of corporate communications at the company's headquarters in Chicago. "But it is not the case that errors creep in on an occasional basis or that a couple of articles are poorly written. There are lots of articles in that condition. They need a good editor."
Several Nature reviewers agreed with Panelas' point on readability, commenting that the Wikipedia article they reviewed was poorly structured and confusing. This criticism is common among information scientists, who also point to other problems with article quality, such as undue prominence given to controversial scientific theories. But Michael Twidale, an information scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says that Wikipedia's strongest suit is the speed at which it can updated, a factor not considered by Nature's reviewers.
"People will find it shocking to see how many errors there are in Britannica," Twidale adds. "Print encyclopaedias are often set up as the gold standards of information quality against which the failings of faster or cheaper resources can be compared. These findings remind us that we have an 18-carat standard, not a 24-carat one."
The most error-strewn article, that on Dmitry Mendeleev, co-creator of the periodic table, illustrates this. Michael Gordin, a science historian at Princeton University who wrote a 2004 book on Mendeleev, identified 19 errors in Wikipedia and 8 in Britannica. These range from minor mistakes, such as describing Mendeleev as the 14th child in his family when he was the 13th, to more significant inaccuracies. Wikipedia, for example, incorrectly describes how Mendeleev's work relates to that of British chemist John Dalton. "Who wrote this stuff?" asked another reviewer. "Do they bother to check with experts?"
But to improve Wikipedia, Wales is not so much interested in checking articles with experts as getting them to write the articles in the first place.
As well as comparing the two encyclopaedias, Nature surveyed more than 1,000 Nature authors and found that although more than 70% had heard of Wikipedia and 17% of those consulted it on a weekly basis, less than 10% help to update it. The steady trickle of scientists who have contributed to articles describe the experience as rewarding, if occasionally frustrating (see 'Challenges of being a Wikipedian').
Greater involvement by scientists would lead to a "multiplier effect", says Wales. Most entries are edited by enthusiasts, and the addition of a researcher can boost article quality hugely. "Experts can help write specifics in a nuanced way," he says.
Wales also plans to introduce a 'stable' version of each entry. Once an article reaches a specific quality threshold it will be tagged as stable. Further edits will be made to a separate 'live' version that would replace the stable version when deemed to be a significant improvement. One method for determining that threshold, where users rate article quality, will be trialled early next year.
Additional research by Declan Butler, Jenny Hogan, Michael Hopkin, Mark Peplow and Tom Simonite.
(Last edited: Tuesday, 13 December 2005, 12:04 PM)
Descoberto o autor de biografia falsa na enciclopédia on-line Wikipédia
Foi identificado o autor da biografia falsa na Wikipédia, uma enciclopédia on-line que, até este incidente, aceitava contribuições de qualquer cibernauta anónimo, mas que agora já só aceita entradas de colaboradores registados. O falsificador, Brian Chase, norte-americano do estado do Tennessee, apresentou desculpas formais, disse que tudo fez parte de uma brincadeira destinada a um colega seu e que não lhe passou pela cabeça que alguém levasse a sério a dita enciclopédia on-line.
A vítima da biografia falseada, Jonh Seigenthaler, de 78 anos,
que nos anos 60 foi assessor do procurador-geral dos EUA, Robert
Kennedy, descobriu que, durante 132 dias, constavam factos falsos na
entrada com o seu nome da Wikipédia. Nomeadamente, que estaria
envolvido nos assassinatos de Jonh e Robert Kennedy e que teria vivido
na União Soviética de 1971 a 1984. A denúncia rebentou com uma notícia
assinada pelo próprio a 29 de Novembro no diário USA Today, jornal em
que trabalhou como colunista e responsável da página de opinião.
(Last edited: Monday, 12 December 2005, 9:54 PM)
Quem nos liberta desta cruz?
Quem nos liberta desta cruz?
Expresso, 10 de Dezembro de 2005
DEPOIS de muito se discutir a famosa questão dos crucifixos nas salas de aula (onde apenas resistia em 20 escolas, por todo o país), talvez seja altura de discutir algo verdadeiramente importante para a educação dos nossos filhos. Porque é uma cruz bem mais pesada do que qualquer crucifixo o ataque sistemático que vem sendo feito ao conhecimento científico, ao saber e aos valores.
Vejamos um exemplo esclarecedor: está numa comunicação de João Filipe de Matos, um dos dirigentes do Centro de Investigação em Educação da Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa e director da sua «Revista de Educação». Este académico, responsável pela formação de professores, parte de um princípio claro, recorrendo a uma citação: «nas sociedades capitalistas, a escola justifica e produz desigualdades».
Por isso, defende que - e cito para que não restem dúvidas - «a disciplina de matemática deve ser urgentemente eliminada dos currículos do ensino básico». Matos prefere que se ensine - volto a citar - «educação matemática». Ou seja, o professor tem uma religião e quer impô-la. E o seu primeiro mandamento é que nada se deve ensinar, salvo ensinar a aprender.
O mesmo responsável dá exemplos delirantes. Se o casal Silva quer ir do Campo Grande ao Parque das Nações, com os seus dois filhos, e a viagem de autocarro custa um euro por bilhete, quanto irá pagar?
Ora a resposta normal seria quatro euros. Mas isso é matemática antiga, cheia de mitos a que Matos quer pôr um fim. Ao cabo de vários argumentos sociais, ecológicos e políticos, Matos acha que quatro é muito, porque deveria haver desconto.
EU SEI que para a maioria dos leitores o professor Matos parece fruto da minha imaginação. Mas não é. Existe e, como ele, existem inúmeros seguidores desta religião que, um pouco por todo o Ministério da Educação, alastra as suas influências. Não só em Portugal, mas à volta do mundo. Esta espécie de religião, baseada num incontrolável relativismo, assentou arraiais na política da educação e criou o seu próprio credo - o «eduquês».
Graças a ela, os nossos filhos sofrem com reformas atrás de reformas. Cada vez sabem menos e, paradoxalmente, cada vez gastam mais tempo na escola.
Graças a esta religião, de que o prof. João Filipe Matos é um dos mais distintos hierofantas, os valores, a sabedoria e o conhecimento são constantemente postos em causa, como se fosse possível educar sem regras, mas apenas com excepções. A viagem do casal Silva ao Campo Grande é esclarecedora do seu incontrolável relativismo: 4x1 nem sempre são quatro; a resposta certa depende do ponto de vista do observador. E qual é o ponto de vista do prof. Matos? Lembrem-se da citação inicial: nas sociedades capitalistas, a escola justifica e produz desigualdades. Ele quer-nos todos iguais, autómatos de um sistema comandado pelas suas ideias sobre o mundo e a vida. Do seu lugar da academia, o prof. Matos forma os professores dos nossos filhos. E todos nós acabamos a carregar a cruz que é a desgraça do seu ensino. Quem nos liberta desta cruz?
Do crucifixo à cruzada contra as ciências da educação
(Direito de resposta)
Os meios de comunicação social desempenham um papel fundamental na nossa sociedade informando, esclarecendo, questionando, perturbando. O sarcasmo é um recurso fundamental do jornalista e do comentador, que procura ironizar, estremar e até deformar uma situação, para a tornar cómica e objecto de desprezo dos respectivos leitores. No entanto, há um ponto para além do qual o exercício do humor deixa de ser saudável e passa a ser mistificador, ofensivo e socialmente inaceitável.
É o que se passa com a prosa de Henrique Monteiro, na sua coluna no Expresso de 10.Dez.2005. Esta coluna dedica-se a caricaturar as posições de João Filipe Matos, que, de resto, falsamente apresenta como um dos dirigentes do centro de investigação em educação, entidade em que este docente não assume qualquer cargo de responsabilidade. Interpretando a seu gosto a escrita académica marcada por uma linguagem própria e por categorias necessariamente diversas das do senso comum , não é difícil ao comentador encontrar múltiplos pontos de admiração e até de escândalo nas palavras deste docente, que é livre de ter as suas opiniões e perspectivas próprias sobre os problemas educativos e sociais.
Gostaria, no entanto, de deixar claro que no Departamento de Educação da Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa defende-se a importância de um ensino da Matemática de qualidade, alicerçado em programas e políticas educativas que valorizem esta disciplina como um elemento fundamental do património cultural de todos nós e numa formação de professores contemplando as vertentes científica, educacional e prática, preocupações que naturalmente estendemos a todas as disciplinas científicas. Defende-se e pratica-se igualmente um ensino e uma formação de professores marcada por valores de respeito pela verdade, pelo rigor, pela cultura, pela diferença, pela dignidade e pela atenção aos interesses e necessidades dos educandos.
Henrique Monteiro nem consegue ser original. Limita-se a repetir a lengalenga de uns tantos outros que, sem perceber grande coisa do que falam (o que sabe ele sobre o ensino da Matemática nas escolas?), se limitam a procurar nas instituições de formação de professores um bode expiatório para os problemas de que, reconhecidamente, padece a educação em Portugal. Não deixa de ser curioso vê-lo a esgrimir o fantasma da religião e seguir, ele próprio, a lógica de cruzada, procurando queimar o inimigo na praça pública com base num libelo acusatório sumário, que no fundo se resume ao estafado fantasma do eduquês.
Um Subdirector pode ter os acessos de mau humor que entender mas não deve ser confundido com o órgão de comunicação social onde escreve. Estamos, por isso, à disposição do Expresso, como temos estado de outros órgãos de comunicação social, para dar a conhecer o nosso trabalho, as nossas posições sobre a educação, as nossas preocupações e projectos. Os jornalistas e comentadores inteligentes percebem que os problemas da educação são sobretudo reflexo dos problemas da sociedade e das políticas educativas e não o resultado da aplicação das teorias dos investigadores cujo impacto na cena educativa é de resto muito desigual. Por isso mesmo, mais vale procurar contar com o contributo de quem estuda as questões da educação para compreender e enfrentar estes problemas do que prosseguir a campanha primária e inútil que só desvaloriza aqueles que nela se envolvem.
João Pedro da Ponte
Presidente do Departamento de Educação da Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa
Coordenador Científico do Centro de Investigação em Educação
A qualidade da formação dos professores, como a dos médicos, engenheiros ou jornalistas, é um problema sempre em aberto e a merecer questionamento. A Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa é uma das instituições que ao longo dos anos tem prestado esse serviço a um nível que reputamos de valor mas que caberá a outros reconhecer e qualificar.
Os maus resultados que observamos no Ensino em Portugal são inquestionáveis e alguma responsabilidade pode ser atribuída às instituições de formação de professores, como a muitos outros factores que recentemente temos visto discutidos publicamente. Não é abonatório de um jornal de referência a invocação primária de um Grande Satã como a causa única de um qualquer problema.
Mais grave do que a ligeireza do artigo parece ser a inconsciência por parte do autor da peça sobre o que é a Universidade. As palavras referenciadas são retiradas de um texto de cariz universitário onde, por definição de Universidade, o autor pôde exprimir livremente a sua teoria, por bizarra ou incompreensível que possa parecer.
O método do jornalista é o da crucificação das ideias na praça pública. O passo seguinte é queimar a publicação e se a fogueira for suficiente podemos incluir o autor. Esta percepção sobre a Universidade, tão tradicionalmente Inquisitorial e tão vivamente expressa pelo Subdirector do Expresso é uma das razões do persistente atraso cultural e intelectual de Portugal (mas não será decerto a única). O Expresso presta assim um serviço inestimável à atávica burrice nacional mas ainda assim mostra o cuidado que se deve ter quando se escreve sobre cruzes.
Nota : ao autor e leitores interessados posso recomendar a edição de 27 de Abril de 2000 do jornal New York Times, onde na primeira página se pode ler o artigo The New, Flexible Math meets Parental Rebellion. Facilmente se compreende que o problema não é local, não é novo, não é simples, e que se pode tratar jornalisticamente a um nível muito mais elevado.
Nuno M. Guimarães
Presidente do Conselho Científico e Directivo
Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa
(Last edited: Wednesday, 7 December 2005, 4:45 PM)
Oct. 17, 2005
Last weeks news that Blackboard was buying WebCT, its top competitor for course management systems, caught many academics by surprise. Now that they have had a little time to think about it, campus technology administrators and faculty members who use the systems (and alternatives) offer a variety of views on what the merger means.
Some analyze the combination from the perspective that some big company (or a few companies) will dominate the course management industry. Clearly now that company is Blackboard, which in its expanded form will be doing business with thousands of colleges. To the companys fans, the combination of forces will lead to improvements and allow for more innovation. Others fear the loss of competition will take away the pressure that has led Blackboard to improve its customer support in recent years (and encourage it to jack up prices).
And many are skeptical of Blackboards pledges to continue to offer and support WebCT products. Thats not because they necessarily distrust Blackboard, but because of a pattern in which such promises are frequently made by technology companies, post-merger, and abandoned a few months later. Many chief information officials, from different types of institutions, when asked privately about Blackboards promises to keep both companys services, said, Yeah, right or If you believe that one, I have a bridge to sell you, or variations on that theme. None had specific information that questioned Blackboards claims, but all felt that they had been burned in the past, and werent going to believe anything just now.
Still other campus computing officials said that all the attention being given to the purchase of WebCT by Blackboard obscured the more significant trend in course management: the rise of open source competition. While open source advocates acknowledge that Blackboard is very much atop the market, they cite a number of leading colleges and universities that are going the open source route. And they think the merger may encourage others to follow suit.
The Blackboard Behemoth
Scott E. Siddall, assistant provost and director of instructional technology at Denison University, said that when he first heard about BlackCT, (as many are calling the growing Blackboard, even though it is keeping its name), I thought that things are not going to get any better. Since then, hes been trying to decide if that judgment was too harsh.
Denison is a Blackboard customer, and Siddall said that the concept of its products is good, and is popular with most faculty members. And Siddall said that he hoped the merger would allow for economies of scale and improvements on which Blackboard might now be able to focus. Siddall, who is a leader of the chief information officer group at Educause, said that the improvement he most wants to see is in customer support.
Right now, at this moment, I have a kid taking a test in Blackboard and he cant store, and we cant figure out the problem, and I know that if we call Blackboard, were not going to be able to help that student. We call and we dont get answers, Siddall said.
Tim Kaar, an instructor in Web design and multimedia at Elgin Community College, said he worried about the impact the merger would have on pricing. Kaar was on an Elgin committee that considered options for course management. He said that he liked Blackboard products, but not its prices. The college ended up going with Desire2Learn, a smaller Canadian company that is making some inroads in the American market.
Kaar said he worried about the impact of the merger on prices."The megaplayers in the software industry, when they dominate, their pricing model becomes: Lets pick the client up by their ankles and shake and see what comes out of their pockets, he said.
Other college officials are much more optimistic about the expanded Blackboard. Stephen G. Landry, chief information officer at Seton Hall University, said Blackboard did have real problems with customer service a few years ago. They were a small start-up company and they expanded their customer base much more rapidly than they were able to expand their support staff, he said. But Landry said that he considers Blackboard very responsive now and that there has been marked improvement in the last 18 months.
Landry, who recently applied to join a Blackboard advisory committee, said that he thought part of the skepticism among his colleagues was cultural and was unfair. Theres a lot of suspicion of corporations in higher education. We tend to be non-corporate in our world and to think that automatically something like this is going to be bad for everybody, he said. But corporations merge all the time, and products improve and prices drop and if they dont drop, someone else comes into the market.
Phyllis C. Self, special assistant for distance education at Virginia Commonwealth University, called herself a very satisfied customer of Blackboard. While there are problems from time to time, she said, What software product works perfectly? She said that the merger could be either positive or negative. She saw the potential for improved services and products and also the potential for worse service and higher costs.
She said it all depends on how the two companies are combined. Self cautioned against assuming that the merger would be either good or bad just because a giant is being created. Bigger is not always better, just as big does not need to be bad, she said.
In an interview Friday, Matthew Pittinsky, chairman of Blackboard, said that the combined company would indeed be better. He said that Blackboard was committed to taking the strengths of both companies for use in the future, and he cited service responsiveness as one of WebCTs strengths. (On the topic of Blackboards record in that area, he acknowledged past problems, but said that the company had made great improvements in customer support, and that he believed any lingering complaints were a legacy of a few years ago.")
Pittinsky was unequivocal in saying that WebCT customers should not fear that their services will disappear. We are absolutely committed, he said. It would make zero sense for us to do otherwise than to continue to market and support both products.
The Open Source Challenge
While many CIOs were focused on the fallout from Blackboards absorption of WebCT, other experts on technology in academe said that the real shift going on is away from corporate provided course management altogether.
While Blackboard may dwarf all the open source alternatives, two of them Moodle and Sakai have strong support, and Sakai is attracting the participation of a number of institutions that are influential in higher education generally and in technology specifically. In open source, all the course management software is available free and colleges can modify it and brand it however they want. Sakai was founded by Indiana University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and the University of Michigan. In less than two years, it has quickly expanded to reach 80 colleges and universities, including community colleges and institutions abroad. Today, Sakai will announce the creation of a foundation to give the project a permanent infrastructure.
When the University of California at Merced, the newest UC campus, started operations this fall, it was using only Sakai to support its courses. We didnt want to create a vendors system, said Richard M. Kogut, chief information officer at Merced.
Until open source came along, he said, institutions had a buy or build decision, but open source has advantages of both in that a college can start off with a good base, avoid paying high fees, and then customize it. The danger of an informal collaboration like open source, he said, is that it wont last. But Kogut said that the strong backing Sakai has from top universities convinced him of the projects stability, and that Sakai is speedier than established companies at dealing with problems.
Kogut was formerly at Georgetown University, which uses Blackboard, generally to good reviews, he said. But things happened on Blackboards schedule and bugs got fixed when they got fixed, he said. Sakais team members at various campuses, he said, have been incredible in quickly fixing any problems, even though there is not the traditional contractual relationship of vendor and customer.
The sense of community is very important to Sakai proponents. The Foothill-De Anza Community College District, generally considered a leader among community colleges, joined Sakai early, not only to use the technology, but to contribute software it has created. Vivian Sinou, dean of learning technology at Foothill College, said that when she first heard about Sakai, she was dubious that a bunch of research universities would focus on software from a teaching perspective. But she was quickly won over, is now on the board, and is helping other community colleges get involved.
The whole emphasis is on collaboration and learning environments, she said, so the tools being developed by the research universities have value for her college, and the tools being developed by Foothills development team are being used elsewhere. Sinou noted with pride that a Sakai learning tool Foothill had developed would soon be used at the University of South Africa, which recently joined Sakai.
At the same time, prominent research universities that were not initially involved in Sakai are now taking a look. Rice University, a WebCT client, is currently doing a pilot project with Sakai with the goal of shifting to open source soon.
One of the big drivers to look at Sakai was the fact that with an open source, you can take that product in the direction that is your interest, said Carlos Solis, manager of educational technologies at Rice. You dont need to rely on a commercial vendor to integrate things that arent offered. Solis said, for example, that WebCTs software has disappointed Rice faculty members with its multimedia capabilities, and they like being able to take Sakai software and just adapt it.
Joseph Hardin, chair of the Sakai board and director of the Collaborative Technologies Laboratory at the University of Michigan, said that flexibility is a big part of Sakais growth. Anybody can take it and use it and revise it and redistribute it any way that they want to, he said. So you get software that you can do whatever you want with.
Of course to do what you want with it, you need to have people who know how to customize software and then you need a staff to support that software, and that makes things tricky at some colleges. Kaar, of Elgin Community College, has worked with Moogle and likes it, but he said that when he was on the committee looking at course management options, one reality was knowing that the college didnt have the money to hire more people. We would have had to hire additional people, and getting new hires requires an act of God.
Or as EduBlogr put it, on behalf of those who are in the classroom and might like open source: We are not the customers. We are the users. The customers are our bosses and their bosses, the VPs who sign the POs. Relatively few institutions especially small and medium-sized institutions can afford open source. Pay $75,000 a year for software licenses, or hire 1.5 FTE system administration/programmer-analysts at $60,000 to support open source. Even I can do that math.
One possible outcome as a result is that more colleges may be using open source and Blackboard at the same time. Both Hardin of Sakai and Pittinsky of Blackboard said that they wanted to work together. Pittinsky said that it was too early to tell how significant [Sakai] is going to be, but he stressed that Blackboard and open source are not mutually exclusive, and that he anticipated that some colleges would want to use Blackboard campuswide, but have Sakai applications used in certain disciplinary areas, and Pittinsky said that he applauded such an approach.
But there are also clearly tensions between open source and big corporations. Pittinsky noted that Blackboard had applied and been rejected for membership in Sakais program for corporate partners. Hardin said that Blackboard never met the eligibility requirements of having systems that support Sakai services.
Other companies may also come into play for open source institutions. David Wiley, an assistant professor of instructional technology and director of the Center for Open and Sustainable Learning at Utah State University, said that he was concerned that the RFP process favors large companies like Blackboard. While smaller companies are starting to offer support for open source, colleges would need to compare an open source proposal and such a business proposal against a single plan from Blackboard.
Wiley thinks this is too bad because hes not a fan of mergers, which leave you with half the performance for twice the price.
But he also cautioned against believing that open source, Blackboard, or any software could improve teaching. A mediocre instructor can go on being mediocre in Sakai, he said. Where he sees the advantage of an open source approach is for the professor who wants to be creative with technology and for colleges that encourage faculty members to be creative in that way. In the Blackboard world, if you have an original idea, you can request that they do it, and wait and see, he said. In the Sakai world, if you have an original idea, you may well be able to hire a computer science undergraduate to do it for you right away.
(Last edited: Sunday, 4 December 2005, 4:26 PM)
Snared in the Web of a Wikipedia Liar
Snared in the Web of a Wikipedia Liar
Carl Mydans/Time Life Pictures -- Getty Images
ACCORDING to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, John Seigenthaler Sr. is 78 years old and the former editor of The Tennessean in Nashville. But is that information, or anything else in Mr. Seigenthaler's biography, true?
The question arises because Mr. Seigenthaler recently read about himself on Wikipedia and was shocked to learn that he "was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both John and his brother Bobby."
"Nothing was ever proven," the biography added.
Mr. Seigenthaler discovered that the false information had been on the site for several months and that an unknown number of people had read it, and possibly posted it on or linked it to other sites.
If any assassination was going on, Mr. Seigenthaler (who is 78 and did edit The Tennessean) wrote last week in an op-ed article in USA Today, it was of his character.
The case triggered extensive debate on the Internet over the value and reliability of Wikipedia, and more broadly, over the nature of online information.
Wikipedia is a kind of collective brain, a repository of knowledge, maintained on servers in various countries and built by anyone in the world with a computer and an Internet connection who wants to share knowledge about a subject. Literally hundreds of thousands of people have written Wikipedia entries.
Mistakes are expected to be caught and corrected by later contributors and users.
The whole nonprofit enterprise began in January 2001, the brainchild of Jimmy Wales, 39, a former futures and options trader who lives in St. Petersburg, Fla. He said he had hoped to advance the promise of the Internet as a place for sharing information.
It has, by most measures, been a spectacular success. Wikipedia is now the biggest encyclopedia in the history of the world. As of Friday, it was receiving 2.5 billion page views a month, and offering at least 1,000 articles in 82 languages. The number of articles, already close to two million, is growing by 7 percent a month. And Mr. Wales said that traffic doubles every four months.
Still, the question of Wikipedia, as of so much of what you find online, is: Can you trust it?
And beyond reliability, there is the question of accountability. Mr. Seigenthaler, after discovering that he had been defamed, found that his "biographer" was anonymous. He learned that the writer was a customer of BellSouth Internet, but that federal privacy laws shield the identity of Internet customers, even if they disseminate defamatory material. And the laws protect online corporations from libel suits.
He could have filed a lawsuit against BellSouth, he wrote, but only a subpoena would compel BellSouth to reveal the name.
In the end, Mr. Seigenthaler decided against going to court, instead alerting the public, through his article, "that Wikipedia is a flawed and irresponsible research tool."
Mr. Wales said in an interview that he was troubled by the Seigenthaler episode, and noted that Wikipedia was essentially in the same boat. "We have constant problems where we have people who are trying to repeatedly abuse our sites," he said.
Still, he said, he was trying to make Wikipedia less vulnerable to tampering. He said he was starting a review mechanism by which readers and experts could rate the value of various articles. The reviews, which he said he expected to start in January, would show the site's strengths and weaknesses and perhaps reveal patterns to help them address the problems.
In addition, he said, Wikipedia may start blocking unregistered users from creating new pages, though they would still be able to edit them.
The real problem, he said, was the volume of new material coming in; it is so overwhelming that screeners cannot keep up with it.
All of this struck close to
home for librarians and researchers. On an electronic mailing list for
them, J. Stephen Bolhafner, a news researcher at The St. Louis
Post-Dispatch, wrote, "The best defense of the Wikipedia, frankly, is
to point out how much bad information is available from supposedly
(Page 2 of 2)
Jessica Baumgart, a news researcher at Harvard University, wrote that there were librarians voluntarily working behind the scenes to check information on Wikipedia. "But, honestly," she added, "in some ways, we're just as fallible as everyone else in some areas because our own knowledge is limited and we can't possibly fact-check everything."
In an interview, she said that her rule of thumb was to double-check everything and to consider Wikipedia as only one source.
"Instead of figuring out how to 'fix' Wikipedia - something that cannot be done to our satisfaction," wrote Derek Willis, a research database manager at The Washington Post, who was speaking for himself and not The Post, "we should focus our energies on educating the Wikipedia users among our colleagues."
Some cyberexperts said Wikipedia already had a good system of checks and balances. Lawrence Lessig, a law professor at Stanford and an expert in the laws of cyberspace, said that contrary to popular belief, true defamation was easily pursued through the courts because almost everything on the Internet was traceable and subpoenas were not that hard to obtain. (For real anonymity, he advised, use a pay phone.)
"People will be defamed," he said. "But that's the way free speech is. Think about the gossip world. It spreads. There's no way to correct it, period. Wikipedia is not immune from that kind of maliciousness, but it is, relative to other features of life, more easily corrected."
Indeed, Esther Dyson, editor of Release 1.0 and a longtime Internet analyst, said Wikipedia may, in that sense, be better than real life.
"The Internet has done a lot more for truth by making things easier to discuss," she said. "Transparency and sunlight are better than a single point of view that can't be questioned."
For Mr. Seigenthaler, whose biography on Wikipedia has since been corrected, the lesson is simple: "We live in a universe of new media with phenomenal opportunities for worldwide communications and research, but populated by volunteer vandals with poison-pen intellects."
(Last edited: Saturday, 3 December 2005, 10:34 PM)
Uma comissão de avaliação de manuais
Uma comissão de avaliação de manuais
Nessa altura eu estava a dar uma série de aulas de Iniciação de Física e, depois de uma delas, Tom Harvey, que me ajudava a preparar as demonstrações, disse: "Devia ver o que se passa com a Matemática nos livros escolares! A minha filha chega a casa com uma data de disparates!"
Não prestei muita atenção ao que ele disse.
Mas no dia seguinte recebi um telefonema de um advogado bastante famoso de Pasadena, o Sr. Norris, que nessa altura pertencia à Junta Estadual de Educação. Pediu-me que fizesse parte da Comissão Curricular Estadual, que devia escolher os novos manuais para o estado da Califórnia. Sabem, o estado tem uma lei segundo a qual todos os manuais usados por todos os miúdos em todas as escolas oficiais têm de ser escolhidos pela Junta Estadual de Educação, pelo que formam uma comissão para ver os livros e aconselhar que livros eles devem escolher.
[...] Por esta altura, eu devia ter um sentimento de culpa por não cooperar com o Governo, dado que aceitei fazer parte da Comissão.
Comecei imediatamente a receber cartas e telefonemas dos editores. Diziam coisas como: "Ficámos muito satisfeitos ao saber que o senhor pertence à comissão porque queríamos realmente um homem de ciência..." e "É maravilhoso ter um cientista na comissão, porque os nossos livros têm uma orientação científica...". Mas também diziam coisas como: "Gostaríamos de lhe explicar a intenção do nosso livro..." e "Teremos muito gosto em o ajudar no que pudermos a avaliar os nossos livros...". Aquilo afigurava-se-me um disparate. Sou um cientista objectivo e parecia-me que, como a única coisa que os miúdos iam receber na escola eram os livros (e os professores recebiam o manual do professor, que eu também receberia), qualquer explicação extra seria uma distorção. Por isso não quis falar com nenhum dos editores e respondi sempre: "Não precisam de explicar; estou certo de que os livros falarão por si".
[...] A Sr.ª Whitehouse começou por me falar nas coisas que iam debater na próxima reunião (já tinham tido uma reunião; eu fora nomeado mais tarde). "Vão falar sobre os números de contar". Eu não sabia o que aquilo era, mas afinal era o que eu costumo chamar números inteiros. Tinham nomes diferentes para tudo, pelo que tive imensos problemas logo de início.
Ela contou-me como os membros da Comissão avaliavam os novos livros escolares. Arranjavam um número relativamente grande de exemplares de cada livro e davam-nos a vários professores e administradores do seu distrito. Depois recebiam relatórios do que essas pessoas pensavam sobre os livros. Como não conheço uma data de professores ou administradores, e como achava que, lendo os livros sozinho, podia formar uma opinião sobre o que me pareciam, resolvi ler os livros todos sozinho.
[...] Então fui à primeira reunião. Os outros membros tinham atribuído uma espécie de pontuação a alguns livros e perguntaram-me quais eram as minhas pontuações. Muitas vezes a minha pontuação era diferente da deles e eles perguntavam: "Por que deu uma pontuação tão baixa a esse livro?"
Eu dizia que o problema daquele livro era isto e aquilo na página tal tinha os meus apontamentos.
Descobriram que eu era uma espécie de mina de ouro: dizia-lhes, em detalhe, o que havia de bom e de mau em todos os livros; tinha uma razão para cada pontuação.
Perguntava-lhes por que tinham dado uma pontuação tão alta a determinado livro e eles diziam: "Diga-nos o que pensou do livro tal". Eu nunca descobria porque é que eles tinham pontuado uma coisa de determinada maneira. Em vez disso, estavam sempre a perguntar-me o que eu pensava.
Chegámos a um certo livro que fazia parte de um conjunto de três livros suplementares publicados pela mesma editora e perguntaram-me o que pensava dele.
Eu disse: "O depósito de livros não me mandou esse livro, mas os outros dois eram bons".
Alguém tentou repetir a pergunta: "O que pensa do livro?"
"Já disse que não me mandaram esse, pelo que não tenho opinião sobre ele".
O homem do depósito de livros estava lá e disse: "Desculpem; posso explicar isso. Não lho mandei porque esse livro ainda não estava completo. Há uma regra segundo a qual as entradas têm de ser todas até uma certa altura e o editor atrasou-se uns dias. Por isso nos foi enviado apenas com as capas e o interior em branco. Da companhia mandaram-me uma nota pedindo desculpa e dizendo esperar que pudessem considerar o conjunto dos três livros, apesar de o terceiro vir atrasado".
Verificou-se que o livro em branco tinha pontuação de alguns dos outros membros! Não acreditavam que estivesse em branco porque tinham uma pontuação. Na realidade, a pontuação para o livro que faltava era um pouco mais alta do que para os outros dois. O facto de não haver nada no livro não tinha nada a ver com a pontuação.
Creio que a razão de tudo isto é o sistema funcionar deste modo: quando enchemos as pessoas de livros, elas ficam ocupadas, ficam descuidadas e pensam: "Bem, há muita gente a ler estes livros, pelo que não faz diferença". E põem um número qualquer algumas, pelo menos; não todas, mas algumas.
[...] Esta questão de tentar descobrir se um livro é bom ou mau lendo-o cuidadosamente ou recebendo os relatórios de uma quantidade de pessoas que o lêem descuidadamente é como este famoso problema antigo: ninguém podia ver o imperador da China e a pergunta era: qual o comprimento do nariz do imperador da China? Para o descobrir, percorremos todo o país, perguntando às pessoas que comprimento julgam ter o nariz do imperador da China e calculamos a média. E o cálculo seria muito "preciso" porque considerámos muitas pessoas. Mas esta não é a maneira de descobrir seja o que for.