Tuesday, March 27, 2007

When not to connect the dots

Perhaps as a direct counterargument to previous NY Times-run network maps of government scandal, this week's Sunday NY Times Magazine cover features a set of unconnected dots in a story about Washington's black market in information as traded between self-interested gossipers from the highest ranks of government and journalism.
Author Max Frankel, former executive editor of the NY Times, argues that this devious information underworld is ugly but also an essential pillar of our democracy. Frankel explains what happens when prosecutors would have judges and grand juries (and eventually the rest of us) know exactly who told whom what, and when. More often than not, Frankel concludes, our country would be better off if more prosecutors would just "butt out" and leave the information-sharing unmapped.

In the less powerful but no less political worlds of business and community networks, this story speaks to the dangers of damaging an organization by putting too much stock in measuring it. Such measurements surely do have a place, but we must be careful not to take them too far, especially outside the safely double-blinded protocols of academic research.

As someone who spends a lot more sharing results with clients than anonymizing results into publishable research papers, I appreciate such a clear embrace of the inherently healthy messy squishiness of information sharing.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License and is copyrighted (c) 2007 by Connective Associates except where otherwise noted.

No comments: