MSc Web Science – Week 6

Hearsay: A New Way to Acquire Categories/Cangelosi & Harnad, 2002

On Wednesday Cognitive Scientist Professor Stevan Harnad, a major thinker and strategist of the Open Access (OA) movement (Harnad, 1995) spoke to us about the potential impact of the Web on Scholarly Research in the form of “Open Access” and the twists and turns of OA progress caused by commercial and political lobbying. I met him earlier in the day and recorded a video interview with him, which I hope to get online soon (time permitting!).

Stevan also had some potential dissertation projects for current MSc students. My initial interest was caught by his citation analysis project, but I was intrigued by his work on language analysis and categorisation. His description of “a foraging creature that depends on finding and eating mushrooms to survive” (Tijsseling, A., Pevtzow, R., & Harnad, no date) and a scenario where these mushrooms can be either edible/markable/returnable to, or the opposite indicated the possibility of designing a system that “forages” the web for educationally useful video.

I have no idea if this would work, but it may be worth investigating further.

Quantitative Research Methods

The theme for this week is “falling behind” (my excuse: having to work as well as do a full time course).

We had a test this week and I realised that I needed to develop a means of linking the language used in a question with the appropriate statistical analysis method (e.g. the word “change” would indicate a two-sided test).  I have a lot of revision to do on this subject.

Computational Thinking

One of our Public Engagement Lecture and 6th form student computing teaching activity team drop out of the course this week, but we have decided to stay with network security as the theme for our teaching activity. I have some work to do on finding ways to explain how public and private key encryption works.

Hypertext and Web Text for Masters

This week: early Open Hypermedia systems, including the influential NIST standardising hypertext systems agreement, 1990 which introduced the Dexter Hypertext Reference Model. This has 3 components:

  1. Run time layer – presentation; user interaction; dynamics
  2. Storage layer – database of nodes and links (Dexter Model mainly interested in this)
  3. Within-component layer – content/structure inside nodes

But, because all links resolve (link integrity) in this model there is no 404 error.

We also looked at Hyper-G and the University of Southampton’s own Microcosm hypermedia system.

Foundations of Web Science

This week was Actor Network Theory (ANT) week. This theory was developed as a response to the belief that social determinism had simply replaced technological determinism as the dominate way of exploring the development of science and technology. As established by Bruno Latour, Michel Callon and John Law, the essential ANT principles are:
1. Materialist perspective (neither technical nor social)
‘We are with chains which are associations of humans.. and non-humans’ – Latour
2. Heterogeneous networks
The world is put together by combination of human and non-human actions.
3. Radical symmetry
Human and non-human actors are equally important (one side may gain greater importance – but no pre-existing hierarchy).
4. Network evolution is a process of translation
Aims and intentions > identifying actors > getting actors on board > mobilising the network.
5. There is no action at a distance (everything results from local actions).
6. Nothing inevitable about networks
Entities in a network have relational ontologies – what we are comes about through our relationship with other human and non-human actors.

Criticisms of ANT
1. Practices and Cultures. P&C provide the context and structure for technoscientific opportunism. To account for even rational choices we need to invoke P&C – yet ANT is culturally flat.
2. Problems of Agency. To treat humans and non-humans symmetrically, ANT has to deny intentionality is necessary for action. In practice ANT downplays non-human agency.
3. Problems of Realism. ANT says what is, is constructed by networks of actors. Yet realists would argue that things have real and intrinsic properties beyond their location in networks.
4. Problems of the Stability of Objects and Actions.ANT “glides over” the provisional and challenging nature of laboratory work, and obscures “layers of expert judgement”.


Cangelosi, A.& Harnad, S., 2001. The adaptive advantage of symbolic theft over sensorimotor toil: Grounding language in perceptual categories. [Journal (Paginated)] Available at: (Accessed 10 November 2013).

Harnad, S., 1995. A Subversive Proposal. In, Okerson, A. and O’Donnell, J. (eds.) Scholarly Journals at the Crossroads: A Subversive Proposal for Electronic Publishing. Association of Research Libraries. Available at: (Accessed 10 November 2013).

Tijsseling, A., Pevtzow, R., & Harnad, S., no date. Dimensional Attention Effects in Humans and Neural Networks. Availble at: (Accessed 10 November 2013).

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