Above, text message received today from Jeff Stamps at his favorite place to ski, Cannon Mountain. For those following the story, this is month 10, post-diagnosis. FYI, he drove up and back in one day, 300 miles round-trip.
Jorgen Fagerquist alerted me to a post on Sweden's clever English-language "The Local," with possibly the best headline of the week, maybe the year, or century, bearing a sentiment that taxpayers everywhere might agree with: "Swedish taxpayers organized by apes." I don't think it's a translation issue.
The article explains:
A reorganization of workers at the Swedish Tax Authority is partly shaped on studies of apes, according to a leaked internal report. Employees are not flattered by the comparison.
Who would be? It continues...
The tax authority is currently undergoing its largest reorganization for many years. One of the foundations of the restructuring plan is a report which says that studies of apes show that people work best in groups of 150.
The military, the Hutterite religious group and hunter-gatherer societies are also examples in which groups have tended to comprise around 150 people.
As does Gore, the company that, among other breakthrough products, brought us Gore-Tex. Its founder, W.L. Gore, made sure that no more than 150-200 people worked in the same building. After that, he said, people can't really know one another. But in that configuration, he believed, human achievement peaks. The company is still organized this way.
Turns out that there's a term for this, Dunbar's Number. It's named after anthropologist Robin Dunbar's work indicating that the number of people with whom one can maintain meaningful connection is in the same range. Take a look at the "simple" Wikipedia description, then twist your mind with this post on Psychology Today, which is a bit over my primitive head.
In any event, think about it. Or, if you have a lot of time on your hands (which is apparent from your reading this post), reflect on whether this rings true. And for the record, the title of this post is all wrong: it's not about your closest friends, which, according to other theories, can't number more than 25. This has to do with the far more serious issue of work. Forget friends. Get back to work.
Roland Merullo's meditation, which takes us back to his hometown strip of sand that was America's first public beach then across the world to Micronesia then deep into his own searching psyche, is out again. Revere Beach Elegy collects some of Merullo's essays, disarmingly honest while respecting the privacy that mutes some writers, always make me think and often cry. His ability to move fluidly across the page, funny here, sad there, ironic next, and sometimes purely observational, is remarkable. So glad to see this great writer with a second edition of this lovely volume, first published in 2001, one of his Revere trilogy that includes the heartbreaking novel, In Revere, In Those Days.
Andre Pannison, a network scientist at the University of Turin, hauled out some network tools (and some clever thinking) to map one hour of Twitter activity at the time of Mubarak's resignation on Feb 11. It's worth reading Andre's post describing what he did. And it's really required viewing for those interested in how networks evolve. Such beautiful patterns emerge from the simple act of messaging.
And here are a few paragraphs of his explanation:
This is a preliminary result of the network of retweets with the hashtag #jan25 at February 11 2011, at the time of the announcement of Mubarak’s resignation. If you retweeted someone, or has been retweeted, it is possible that your username is one of these tinny points (or maybe a bigger one?).
To collect the network data, I used the Gephi Graph Streaming plugin, connected it to a Python web server I made myself. This web server works like a bridge, it connects to the Twitter Streaming API using the statuses/filter service and converts the users and retweets to nodes and edges in a network format that can be read by the Gephi Graph Streaming plugin. Nodes are twitter users, and links appear between the nodes A and B when B retweeted a message of A containing the hashtag #jan25.
Excellent, detailed, and insightful reporting lays out the sequence by which, the online subhead reads*: "Two-year collaboration of dissidents gave birth to a new force — a pan-Arab youth movement dedicated to spreading democracy in a region without it."
I've been pondering this post for nearly two hours, trying to figure out a way to summarize the low-tech/high-tech amalgam that so fundamentally reshapes the chemistry of the future. I can't do better than to quote the first few paragraphs, though the whole thing is definitely click-worthy. In fact, I just read a bundle of grafs from one of the jump pages (there are two) to a traveling family member. It's remarkable, friends, right down to the people in Cairo (perhaps elsewhere) protecting themselves with "body armor," if you can call it that, made of "cardboard or plastic bottles...worn under their clothes to protect against riot police bullets."
Here's the beginning of David Kirpatrick and David Sanger's remarkable journalism:
"CAIRO — As protesters in Tahrir Square faced off against pro-government forces, they drew a lesson from their counterparts in Tunisia: 'Advice to the youth of Egypt: Put vinegar or onion under your scarf for tear gas.'
"The exchange on Facebook was part of a remarkable two-year collaboration that has given birth to a new force in the Arab world — a pan-Arab youth movement dedicated to spreading democracy in a region without it. Young Egyptian and Tunisian activists brainstormed on the use of technology to evade surveillance, commiserated about torture and traded practical tips on how to stand up to rubber bullets and organize barricades.
"They fused their secular expertise in social networks with a discipline culled from religious movements and combined the energy of soccer fans with the sophistication of surgeons. Breaking free from older veterans of the Arab political opposition, they relied on tactics of nonviolent resistance channeled from an American scholar through a Serbian youth brigade — but also on marketing tactics borrowed from Silicon Valley."
These are big claims for a lede article in the paper of record. The reporters go on to substantiate the assertions in the next section, headlined "Bloggers Lead the Way:"
"The Egyptian revolt was years in the making. Ahmed Maher, a 30-year-old civil engineer and a leading organizer of the April 6 Youth Movement, first became engaged in a political movement known as Kefaya, or Enough, in about 2005. Mr. Maher and others organized their own brigade, Youth for Change. But they could not muster enough followers; arrests decimated their leadership ranks, and many of those left became mired in the timid, legally recognized opposition parties. “What destroyed the movement was the old parties,” said Mr. Maher, who has since been arrested four times.
"By 2008, many of the young organizers had retreated to their computer keyboards and turned into bloggers, attempting to raise support for a wave of isolated labor strikes set off by government privatizations and runaway inflation.
"After a strike that March in the city of Malhalla, Egypt, Mr. Maher and his friends called for a nationwide general strike for April 6. To promote it, they set up a Facebook group that became the nexus of their movement, which they were determined to keep independent from any of the established political groups...
"Just a few months later, after a strike in the Tunisian city of Hawd el-Mongamy, a group of young online organizers followed the same model, setting up what became the Progressive Youth of Tunisia. The organizers in both countries began exchanging their experiences over Facebook. The Tunisians faced a more pervasive police state than the Egyptians, with less latitude for blogging or press freedom, but their trade unions were stronger and more independent. 'We shared our experience with strikes and blogging,' Mr. Maher recalled."
And on it goes. I could continue excerpting but it's better for you to read it yourself. It is more than evident that those responsible for this miraculous transformation in the geopolitical scene simply used the tools of their time, just as the Committees of Correspondence used a nascent postal service to refine their strategy and tactics among a million or so people in a troublesome land that became the US of A.
Which brings me back to the title of this post: The naysayers around the importance of new media also disparage those who have had the courage to keep at it. Again, it's people who made the difference here. Thank heavens they had such powerful tools with which to communicate.
Last thing: the Times article says the protestors have been strongly influenced by "an American political thinker, Gene Sharp." I've never heard of him. Start following the links from here, which include the Serbian youth movement, Optor!'s, which helped bring down Milosevic.
And when you lose faith again that dictators can be deposed and retreat to thinking that the future looks terribly bleak even in places where there are no dictators, only zealots, turn your attention to the next generation. Perhaps one day "they" could become ideologues too but the best part of this story is that there is no monolithic "they" this time. Just a loosely structured network of energized activists whose architecture of revolution--and tools--are barely understood.
There is so much worthy of commenting on re: Egypt but this picture from today's NY Times requires no cutline other than it's from 1995 and apparently preceded signing of a West Bank agreement. Credit on NYT site says it from "The White House."
News from my alma mater (click for a bit of the history as posted here):
Antioch College is offering four-year, 100% tuition-free Horace Mann Fellowships to 25 students entering as freshmen this fall, 2011, when the college reopens
Background: A group of alumni formed a nonprofit and purchased the College from the University, its parent in 2009. The purchase includes the beautiful and historic 1200-acre campus in Yellow Springs, Ohio, one of the largest pieces of educational real estate in the country. Alumni came together to reopen the college, reinvent what a sustainable 4-year college education should be in the 21st century, and reinvest in our country’s and planet’s future.
Antioch is now ready to admit the first class in the fall of 2011. You might know a young person ready for college who would be interested. If so, please let us know. We expect to have an exemplary first class, and we are reaching out to interested parties to help us spread the word. Our application deadline is March 1, 2011. See this web site for more details:
If reaction to Malcolm Gladwell's latest dump of cold water on the flaming arc between social media and social change is any measure, The New Yorker very much needs this able writer to keep the links flying. He's got the neterati all up in their (our) nodes starting with the headline of his short Februrary 2, 2011, post, "Does Egypt Need Twitter?" Gladwell's two-letter answer: No.
For comprehensive deconstruction of Gladwell's 370 words, see David Weinberger's "Gladwell proves too much," where he takes down every syllable of Gladwell's argument. Argument, Gladwell's is, as he throws in provocation after poke ("Whoa. Did you see what Mao just tweeted?" or "Please. People protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented.)
Gladwell tries to refute the impact of social media on the Egyptian revolution to prove the central thesis of his New Yorker article from last fall: “'High risk' social activism requires deep roots and strong ties." Its subtitle encapsulates his surrounding hypothesis, "Why the revolution will not be tweeted." (My view/refutation of that article here.)
OK. In 2011, it's hard to resist saying things like "that's just dumb."
But more to the point, as a reporter, Gladwell badly needs a fact-checker. He clearly has not put together any kind of timeline, spoken with anyone in Egypt, or, frankly, observed a primary tenet of journalism: accuracy. Granted his post, which suffers from the blogger-weakness of "off-the-top-of-the-headism," is Gladwell's opinion but he is ignoring the well-documented way things have unfolded, beginning with the Facebook page with its background, We are all Khaled Said.
Even the demonstrators in Tahrir Square have been astonished at what "the youth" have wrought. I'm not going to run this all down--that's a long piece that someone (probably many someones) are working on right now--but a spark was lit and then social media made it very easy for word to spread. And to make plans. And to meetup, as it were.
Second OK: Gladwell's other huge factual error is his view of social activism (as per above, "[it] requires deep roots and strong ties"). True but incomplete. Scores of studies, books, re-studies, and more books have proved that social activism depends both on strong ties AND weak ones.
Mark Granovetter's elegant title to his 1973 groundbreaker, "The Strength of Weak Ties," whom, by the by, Gladwell misinterprets in his original screed, lays the early network science foundation for why social activism depends on both kinds of ties.
The hundreds of thousands, if not millions when you count up all the cities, of people in Egypt don't all have strong ties, Malcolm. Smaller pods of them have very strong links; between/among the pods are weak ties--and the occasional strong ones. The whole thing hangs together--and people keep turning out--because of these loose and strong connections. That's a movement. And it spreads at lightning speed thanks to social media networks, where again the ties are both iron and gossamer.
We have a dear colleague, whom we worked closely with for several years on some innovative ideas, who's stationed in Egypt. Last Tuesday, on the day that things erupted there, we received, somewhat out of the blue, a warm and connected email about how his work was going, how his family was doing, and about what he was learning. His family was safer, he said, than they had been in some of the other countries they'd lived in over the years, for which he was grateful.
I responded quickly, telling him our latest news, which he didn't know. Within a few hours came the news from Egypt and I've, of course, been worried about them since. This morning, I received another email, which I guess means that some Internet access is available again:
Dear J & J,
As I read your email, tears filled my eyes, and sorrow filled my heart...[redacted as too personal for the blog...]
A couple of days ago, I drafted the above reply and pushed the "send" button. Nothing happened. That's how I found out that we were cut-off from the internet. It has been a roller-coaster ever since. There were some tense moments as we relocated [people], and we secured food and water for [our] workers... With good progress on all fronts, I'm pleased to tell you that all are safe and unharmed...
I'll save the rest for another post as it involves the work we've done together and how he was able to use it in a real-time emergency. Just wanted you to see the words of someone on the ground in the midst of a revolution.
While we're on the subject of cancer, an unfortunately "popular" topic of late in my world, thanks to Patrick McGovern at Lybba (check it out, another great resource for good health and better medicine, especially for the little ones), I've learned about Cancer Commons, which is taking the next step in solving the cancer koan. This cutline carries the gist: "What if the thousands of "N of 1" experiments conducted daily by 30,000 oncologists could be coordinated into a giant adaptive search for better, individualized treatments?"
The move to aggregate data is very popular in medicine these days -- and difficult given the legacy systems of different institutions and the addiction to paper records that leaves the medical field woefully behind industry in its database interoperability.
There are many efforts to address this, e.g. I recently learned about Improve Care Now, which links pediatric GI docs and their data, thus providing them with access to greater research pools than their practices alone can provide. (If you know a child or teen with Crohn's or colitis, check it out--I'm oversimplifying their groundbreaking work here.) And there are the "translational science" awards from NIH that are attempting to accelerate the time between "bench and bedside," typically an astonishing 17 years, this according to a Principal Investigator working on one of these grants.
Comes news now of another approach being tried out in cancer that incorporates data, individualized treatment, and networking. Here's a pull from Cancer Commons' white paper. Having spent so much time online in the past nine months, reading listservs, trying to fathom what clinical trial protocols really hold promise, and whether "our" patient might be a candidate...and feeling, regardless of a very committed circle of friends, alone with the disease nonetheless, I appreciate any effort to pool information and link up researchers, clinicians, and patients. Take a look:
Modern molecular biology supports the hypothesis that cancer is actually hundreds or thousands of rare diseases, and that every patient’s tumor is, to some extent, unique. Although there is a rapidly growing arsenal of targeted cancer therapies that can be highly effective in specific subpopulations, especially when used in rational combinations to block complementary pathways, the pharmaceutical industry continues to rely on large-scale randomized clinical trials that test drugs individually in heterogeneous populations. Such trials are an extremely inefficient strategy for searching the combinational treatment space, and capture only a small portion of the data needed to predict individual treatment responses. On the other hand, an estimated 70% of all cancer drugs are used off-label in cocktails based on each individual physician’s experience, as if the nation's 30,000 oncologists are engaged in a gigantic uncontrolled and unobserved experiment, involving hundreds of thousands of patients suffering from an undetermined number of diseases. These informal experiments could provide the basis for what amounts to a giant adaptive search for better treatments, if only the genomic and outcomes data could be captured and analyzed, and the findings integrated and disseminated.
Toward this end, we are developing Cancer Commons, a family of web-based open-science communities in which physicians, patients, and scientists collaborate on models of cancer subtypes to more accurately predict individual responses to therapy. The goals are to: 1) give each patient the best possible outcome by individualizing their treatment based on their tumor’s genomic subtype; 2) learn as much as possible from each patient’s response, and 3) rapidly disseminate what is learned. The key innovation is to run this adaptive search strategy in "realtime", continuously updating disease and treatment models so that the knowledge learned from one patient is disseminated in time to help the next.
Cancer Commons is being developed one cancer at a time, beginning with melanoma.