I looked through the Coburn report (hipsters pronounce it co-BURN re-PURN) that recommends eliminating the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences directorate of NSF. The report contains a section that gives examples of smart funding by NSF. First on the list: the Internet. Second: cloud computing (i.e., the Internet). The latter half of it are studies that Coburn uses to illustrate what sorts of things taxpayers shouldn’t be paying for. And what does it focus on? The Internet–studies of its use and social impact. I was too lazy to keep precise count, but social implications of the Internet seemed like over a third of the projects listed, on these topics:
- Does playing FarmVille on Facebook help people to make friends and keep them?
- Do online music videos such as “Money 4 Drugz,” increase our understanding of scientific concepts?
- Are people who post pictures on the Internet from the same place at the same time often socially connected?
- Do twitter users “tweet” in regional slang?
- What are the group dynamics like in the online video game EverQuest 2?
- Can twitter predict the stock market?
- What is the relationship between online virtual world users and their avatar?
- Can Members of Congress improve their approval ratings through internet town halls?
- Where is the line between work and play in online virtual worlds?
- How often do people lie in text messages and online messaging?
- How do people interact in digital worlds?
- How do political candidates use the World Wide Web?
- What was the impact of youtube.com on the 2008 elections?
- Can avatars in online virtual worlds become more social engaging?
What’s up? Presuming the folks working for Coburn know what they are doing public-relations-wise, what makes the technical aspects of the Internet the area that is easily championed and the social implications of the Internet the area that is easily derided?