CSE 275: Social Aspects of Technolgy and Science -
- The due date of assignments has been advanced to Tuesdays.
- You should check this page frequently for updates.
- Your homework is due in class, but you may hand it in earlier. There
will be homework due every week, starting second week.
- Be sure to give the assignment set number and problem number for each
question; also be sure to include your name, and the date. Do NOT email me
your homework - homework must be in hardcopy form. Computer printed paper is
much preferred; if your handwriting is too hard to read, you will lose points.
Please include your email address, so you can be contacted in case of
- Do not place your answers in a public place (such as your website) until
after the due date.
- Most of the homework will be graded, but will not be returned; for
feedback on how you are doing, see me after class, or some other time.
- Homework grades will be strongly influenced by your ability to make use of
concepts introduced in the course notes, lectures and readings.
- Read critically: source material is not all of the same
quality; scholarly articles in well respected refereed technical journals are
much more likely to be accurate that allegedly scholarly articles found on
corporate websites, or in popular magazines and daily newspapers, let alone in
free weekly magazines, random websites, or product advertisements. However,
even a good scholarly paper may contain factural errors and sometimes even
deliberate distortions. Think about what you read, and make up your own mind!
Discussing issues with other students or friends can often help to clarify
your own thought.
- You must give a proper citation for any material you use from a book,
paper, or website in answering a question.
- You must use proper format for citations, including full names of authors,
full title, date of publication, page numbers, and publisher, whenever
applicable; do not just give a URL.
- Always be prepared to discuss your answers in class.
- Due 2 October:
- Give three examples of technological determinism in popular writing;
give specific quotes that clearly show the author is guilty of technological
determinism. Good examples can often be found in popular computer books,
e.g., by George Gilder, popular magazines, e.g., Wired, the local
computer freebees (e.g., for job placement), or in advertisements and even
news articles in newspapers. Be sure to include a photocopy or printout
highlighting the specific quote, and briefly explain why each one is an
- Write at least one page (about 400 words) on some example of politics
(in the sense of the definition in the class
notes) in an information technology workplace. Your own experience would
be best, but you can also interview someone and base your essay on their
experience. If all else fails, you can use a published article describing
the political aspects of some workplace, such as the one by Hales in Star
(ed), Cultures of Computing, or by Button and Sharrock in Jirotka and
Goguen (eds), Requirements Engineering: Social and Technical Issues.
Be specific; do not just give generalities.
- Due 9 October:
- Give and explain some actual cause/effect statement that oversimplifies
a complex social situation, but also helps to explain it. You may get a
quotation from a newspaper, magazine, website, a colleague at work, etc., but
you must not just make up a quotation. You must include the actual
quotation, say precisely where it came from, give an explanation of its
social context, and say how the statement relates to that context. You
should also include the larger text from which the quotation was taken.
- Counting is about the simplest scientific procedure that can be imagined,
so one might think it could not possibly be much entangled with the social
processes and ethical difficulties that so often appear in more complex
situations. Yet the ballot counting that occurred in Florida for the 2000
presidential election clearly demonstrates that not even the simplest
scientific procedures can be separated from their social and ethical context.
An amazingly complex dance went on between seemingly social and seemingly
technical issues, with an extremely high public visibility, against a
background of deeply ethical problems. The webpage Counting in Florida collects some
material that goes far beyond what appeared in local newspaper or TV. Use it
in writing an essay on some incident in the Florida recount that you think
illustrates the intertwining of technical, social, and ethical issues
particularly well; your comments need not be lengthy, but should pointedly
address the intertwining of social, technical and ethical issues. (Warnings:
Some of the URLs given there are probably dead by now, but you can still
search for other relevant data using Google. Also, some links may go into
the Fall 2000 website for CSE 275, not back to the website for this course.)
- (For extra credit) Find a short narrative and analyze it in the style of
the example in The Structure of
Narrative; in particular, describe its formal structure and the
values that it embodies; be sure to support your assertions about values with
precise arguments based on the text that you chose.
- (For extra credit) Discuss the metaphorical dimension of words and
phrases used in your examples of technological determinism. (Guidelines on
doing such analyses can be found in the book Metaphors we Live by by
Lakoff and Johnson. Two examples of loaded verbs are "push" and "drive.")
- Due 16 October: Write one paragraph answering each of the following
questions; you may have to do a little research to obtain information that is
not in the assigned readings.
If you are not already familiar with the history of Galileo, you may want to
look at St
Andrews website on Galileo and/or to skim Worlds without End from a book by James
Burke (no need to read it all, just search for Galileo, though parts seem a
bit unreliable and/or unreadable). You could also try to find Joseph Dauben's
multimedia Art of Renaissance Science, formerly at
bang.lanl.gov/video/stv/arshtml/galileo1.html (please let me know if you do
- How did Galileo's discoveries with his telescope contradict Aristotle's
view of the heavens?
- Why were Aristotle's views accepted for so long?
- Why did the Church put Galileo on trial? Why did his work seem so
- During what period and in what countries did Descartes live and work?
What was his profession (i.e., how did he earn money)?
- What was revolutionary about Descartes' philosophy and what was
- How did Descartes' philosophy challenge Aristotle?
- What is a (Kuhnian) paradigm? What is pre-paradigmatic science?
- What is a paradigm shift? How do paradigm shifts come about?
- Why is science justifiably reluctant to abandon paradigms?
- Due 23 October:
- Write a paragraph explaining how the burying of Newton's alchemy and his
unorthodox theology can be seen as part of a rational reconstruction; explain
what the paradigm shift involved here is, and how this loss of information
fits into it.
- (Double credit) The questions below concern the paper How things (actor-net)work: Classification,
magic and the ubiquity of standards, by Geoffrey Bowker and Susan
Leigh Star. Write at least one short paragraph on each of the first five
questions, noting that the answers may not be explicit in the paper, and that
last question is optional and requires a longer answer.
- What does the phrase "as if by magic" mean when applied to technology in
the context of this paper?
- What work do classifications and standards do? Relate this to "magic".
- Who does that work?
- What happens to cases that don't fit? Why is this important?
- What criticisms does the paper make (usually stated quite mildly) of
- For extra credit: The word "paradigm" occurs 4 times in the paper.
Discuss each use of the word (the last 2 are really on the same topic),
noting whether it is strictly Kuhnian, somewhat metaphorical, or very
- Due 4 November
- Argue that high definition TV (HDTV) is, or is not, a paradigm shift for
TV. In particular, consider what is likely to change (if anything), and why,
and what is the scale of that change.
- Argue for or against the claim that Papadimitriou in his paper Database Metatheory: Asking the Big
Queries did not use the term "crisis" (in his Section 9) the same
sense that Kuhn uses that term. Also explain the relevance (if any) of his
Figures 2 and 3 to his claim that there is a crisis.
- Write a short essay giving your own views on ethical issues in the
"science wars." You should at least show that you understand what Sokal did,
the kind of thing that he and others said about it, and what its significance
is. Your views should be supported by some good reasoning.
- Draw a diagram of the major actors and their most important relations in
the Nicaragua briquette network (due to Madeleine Akrich) as described by
John Law in Traduction / Trahison - Notes
on ANT; explain your diagram. Michel Callon calls such diagrams
- Due 11 November: However, since 11 November is a
University Holiday, you may hand it in on 13 November.
- Write a title and abstract for your project; see the Project Guidelines page. Include your email address so
I can quickly give you feedback.
- Write a paragraph on the contradition in the notion of freedom discussed
Agre's paper The Market and the Net.
You may raise ethical or political issues, but must argue rigorously, using
ideas introduced in this class.
- State Douglass North's definition of "institution" and give an example
related to the internet. Now relate your example to actor-network theory,
and contrast the viewpoints of neo-classical economics and sociology of
- Write a brief essay on Richard Posner's "panopticon marketplace" (you
should look up "panopticon" unless you already know the definition);
rather than reading Posner in the original, you can rely on Agre's The Market and the Net; personal opinion is OK
but must be supported with rigorous arguments.
- Due 18 November:
- Discuss some limitations of the supply and demand model of market
equilibrium; make at least two specific points (do not merely repeat my
general critique of underlying assumptions of neo-classical economics).
- Write a brief essay on the use of supply and demand in the Interview on Quality of Service
with Andrew Odlyzko by Dan Tebbutt.
- Apply the analysis of security vs. risk in Geer's Risk Management is where the Money is to
the demise of DigiCash described in Agre's Editorial on Internet Businesses,
especially noting the sentence "If a particular licensee can find a legal
jurisdiction to offer utterly anonymous digital bearer instruments backed by
totally anonymous reserves, then, as long as the licensee pays up, god bless
'em." in the attached email by Robert Hettinga (you may assume that this
sentence reveals how the DigiCash protocols work).
- Contrast the views about the speed of technological change in Lewis's Preface
with Agre's view in his Editorial
on Internet Businesses.
- Name three myths discussed by Raymond in The Magic Cauldron. What is the
"tragedy of the commons," and how does it relate to open source software?
Discuss some of the economic principles that lie behind the myths that you
named, and behind the "tragedy of the commons."
- Due 25 November:
- Pick some aspect of student cheating, describe a clear example of it,
and give an argument for why it is wrong. Say what kind of ethical theory
(or theories) you draw upon in this argument, and mention some
presuppositions of that theory (or theories). This should in the form of an
essay about one page (400 words) in length. Do not simply say what you think
is right and wrong, or even just say why; the point of this exercise to is
for you to analyze your own ethical arguments.
- Pick two important technical issues in the design of the hospital
scheduling system discussed in Confronting ethical issues of systems
design in a web of social relationships, by Ina Wagner (in
Computerization and Controversy, ed. Rob Kling, pp. 889-902), and
discuss their ethical implications. Identify the ethical approaches that
your discussion draws upon.
- Try to use the categorical imperative either to justify or refute the
Old Testament principle of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," or
else the New Testament principle to "turn the other cheek" (or both if you
feel ambitious). Describe any particular difficulties that arise in your
- Answer the three questions at the top of page 904 of Power in systems
design, by Bo Dahlbom and Lars Mathiassen, in Computerization and
Controversy, ed. Rob Kling, pp. 903-906; justify your answers.
- Due 2 December:
- With the rapid advances in the computerisation of medical data, the
privacy of medical records becomes ever more important. Having large amounts
of sensitive information online could open the door to many different form of
"invasion of privacy". For the purpose of this exercise, consider the
hypothetical situation of registering at a major medical institution, where
your entire medical profile will be kept in their database. Now discuss the
- How private are my medical records?
- Who has access to your data?
- How could be the information on your record be used? (Use a hypothetical
situation in which some significant information is available.)
- What are some advantages of having such databases?
- What are some disadvantages?
- Contrast the techno-centric view of the Fraunhofer project with the ANT view of the Berg &
- List and briefly discuss three things you learned in the class that have
been the most interesting or important to you, and say why.
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Last modified: Tue Jan 6 21:08:54 PST 2004