Towards a spatial epidemiology of hate

The relationship between airs, waters and spaces are connected to our individual and collective well-being, write Hippocrates, the ancient greek physician. However, the first clear use of disease diffusion mapping is not found until the cholera maps of John Snow, which were used to identify the source of the outbreak at the end of the 19th century.

What John Snow discovered was that locating infection data on a map could yield radically new understanding about a disease. Doing so in response to cholera started the research into microbes, previously inconceivably and invisible organisms, as sources for ill health. Rather than making visible that which was thought to exist, Snows maps also revealed that which was previously invisible, intellectually inconceivable and unknown. Visualizing data provided answers, but more importantly it changed the nature of the questions.

Since Snow’s map, both our mapping tools and data collection strategies have become increasingly more sophisticated and complex. Regrettably, the politics of how data is collected and where boundaries are drawn are now often used to create maps which do not change questions but rather verify dominant mythologies and ideologies, as “How to Lie with Maps” by Mark Monmonier shows so clearly.

Disturbed by the amount of vitriol and Islamophobia in the United States during the 10th anniversary of September 11, I was wondering what would happen if we were to map all the incidents of aggression against Muslims and those who were perceived to be Muslim in space and also in time.

BIASMAP, a spatial epidemiology of hate tracks bias and prejudice by crowdsourcing reports of perceived discrimination and overt expressions of hate directed against specific groups of people. With Biasmap we ask, what patterns emerge? What questions are created, when we see time periods and geographic areas where this aggression is more prominent? Do the clusters of aggression spread out over time?

Some research points to the fear of infection by outsiders as the basis for prejudicial behavior. Biasmap asks, Is hate and prejudice infectious and what are the means and methods of transmission of this disease? How does official hate speech of political candidates and public figures spread to the people around them?

It is now 2013 and we are about to launch a new phase of the project and we want you to be a part of it. We want everyone to be able to help out. Together we will map the aggression and prejudice against us and all of our brothers and sisters. Muslims, Jews, Black, Brown, Yellow and White, Lesbian , Gay, Transgendered, politically left and perhaps even politically conservative. If we logged this aggression, what questions will we are able to answer and more importantly what new questions would emerge?

BIASMAP.ORG, is a web-based mapping tool that allows everyone to report incidents of prejudice and hate via text messages, emails and even twitter.

The mapping is not limited to criminal activity, but includes the small almost imperceptible moments when you realize that something just happened that was unfair or unkind, because of who you are. We walk away from those moments all the time. Often we are made to think that we imagined not getting the job because of our gender, our race or our country of origin. While we may never know the answer, recording these moments is one of the motivations behind BIASMAP. Imagine that everyone that had one of those experiences mapped it. What patterns might we discover?

A coincidence is a one-time occurrence, a pattern is a collections of coincidence organized in time and or space.

BIASMAP’s goal is not to know, but instead to see and to discover.

Traditional and legal approaches to the problem of prejudice focus on the perpetrator, on the person committing the act against the victim. Adorno called this the authoritarian mind.

What happens if we collectively say, we believe you had this experience, regardless of who or what might have caused it? If you say this happened and this is how I felt. What happens, if we do not ask who did it and instead paid attention to how many people had similar experiences in the same place?

Bias is invisible and often unverifiable, but our experience of it is real. While we may not see the “microbes” of this “prejudice disease,” we see the effects on people and things. It is your experience; it causes changes in your body. Physical changes. Biopsychosocial models show stress related to ill health and detrimental to positions in work and society. What might happen when maps of prejudice experiences are overlaid over maps of city services, income, quality of education, and public health data?

Making these experiences visible might make us realize that we can no longer pretend that they do not exist or that the problem is not that bad.

People will say that this will create changes in behavior. People will stop going to those places. This is true, Egyptian women, informed of the high number of assaults in Tahrir Square, certainly changed their behaviors. Some men also changed theirs, setting up private patrols, organizing protests and interventions to reclaim these spaces.

The collection of harassment data in Egypt, has elevated the problem to the level of a national debate and for the first time people are openly talking about the problem in public media.

By logging the experiences of people and mapping them, these acts of aggression that thrive on secrecy are being made visible, allowing artists, educators and activists to respond with strategic and tactical actions.

Like John Snow in 1854, we are blind, and we are formulating questions based on blindness. How will our questions change, when we can see, perhaps for the first time, what is actually happening.

Join us on BIASMAP.org and help make the invisible – visible.

Huang, J. Y. et al. “Immunizing Against Prejudice: Effects of Disease Protection on Attitudes Toward Out-Groups.”

Racism as a stressor for African Americans. A biopsychosocial model. Clark R, Anderson NB, Clark VR, Williams DR.

Adorno, T. W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D.J., Sanford, R. N. (1950). The Authoritarian Personality. Norton: NY.

Perhaps the Postmaster General should go visit the Public Library

This year the post office will close over half of its mail centers, 3000 post offices and lay off 200.000 employees. Some people say that the post office has outlived its usefulness, that email and electronic subscriptions of magazines have eroded the traditional consumer services. The USPS themselves see their core business as first class business mail and is making the cuts accordingly.

The USPS, once the model many other countries aspired to copy, seems to be ungracefully and preparing to die. No doubt this is cheered on by those destructive elements in American society who would see this as one notch on their belt in the long battle to privatize the public sector. The post office has been systematically destroyed by allowing private business to gut its core function. So what are the possibilities?

In Germany and in Holland the post office also maintains one of the biggest banks. You can send wire transfers and cash checks, etc. Everyday people visit the post offices to do their banking and mail their letters. I imagine that they are in better shape than their American counterpart.

The USPS also thought about how they might grow, unfortunately this effort was led by some very uncreative thinking people – the result – some years back the post office made suggestions to tax email, in an effort to stay alive.

So the question is, do we shut down this public service and if not, then what are we willing to do to keep this massive institution alive?

Some time back the San Francisco Public Library looked at its mission and came to the conclusion that it was not about books, but rather information. Armed with this 21st century vision, the San Francisco Public Library now has a worker on staff to work with the homeless as an outreach worker, and maintains a great job center and banks of public access computers. I think this is a good example of an institution, which reflects on its role in a changing world and re-interprets its mission with criticality and creativity.

If the post office is not a place where you send mail, but a service, which creates a connection for the people with each other and their government, why not extend and consolidate services?

Sadly the post office is not in good shape on many levels and seemingly not willing to think outside the envelope. I am living in an artist building, the building has been receiving a single bag of mail since 1972, which has to be sorted by the people living here, because the post office continues to maintain that this is not a legal address and therefore not eligible to receive sorted mail for its tenants. Of course the 30 or so long term residents, the telephone company, the fire department, the city planners and even the mayor of the city and do not suffer from this cognitive dissonance.  So maybe the day has come to let the post office go and create a new public service to distribute information and provide access to government services. The Libraries seem like they might be able to do a better job. Maybe we can host our mailboxes in TR 700, where all the art books are kept.

Then again, maybe it is a question of creating services that the post office could perform. Imagine that you have a company that visits every American household 5-6 days a week, 365 days a year. What services might you be able to offer to private industry cheaper, better and more secure? How about flowers and organic produce boxes, what about the census? Voter registration? Meals on wheels? Social Work?  Perhaps the post office could extend its mission and reach by thinking about alternative uses for the post offices or the delivery people.  How about providing citywide Wi-Fi – a virtual post delivery system?

What would you do if you were the Postmaster General?


Frontpage Design or putting yourself out there

A collection of starting pages for web based services.  I am collecting these to see how well or how poorly the page explains what the service is, who it is for, and how to proceed. The frontpage a quite a challenge in most cases since it will typically try to compel the user to surrender personal information before proceeding.  Not only this, but a frontpage for a new service must also educate the user as to what the service is, and why one should bother at all.  Looking at the average frontpage certain design patterns emerge.  There is the 1-2-3 steps page, the watch this short video tactic, the let’s get started  – give us your email strategy.  What did you think when you first saw facebook? linked in? What made you get your twitter account set up? And in case you are wondering, I am trying out  the Tell me i’d love to hear strategy. Continue reading

Hello world! no, strike that and make it “hello, world”

Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!

In 1972, Brian Kernighan wrote a small program.  When executed the program writes “hello, world” to the screen. This program was published in Tutorial Introduction to the Language B, and with it, Keringhan started a long tradition of  “hello world” programs written to demonstrate the grammar of each new computer language. WordPress, too,  followed this tradition using these words for each default post in every new blog that is installed.  With over 400 programs, and in more than 60 human languages the hello world collection continues to grow.

hello world - Tutorial Introduction to the Language B, 1972
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