December 10, 2023

Archives for April 2004

How Much Information Do Princeton Grades Convey?

One of the standard arguments against grade inflation is that inflated grades convey less information about students’ performaces to employers, graduate schools, and the students themselves.

In light of the grade inflation debate at Princeton, I decided to apply information theory, a branch of computer science theory, to the question of how much information is conveyed by students’ course grades. I report the results in a four-page memo, in which I conclude that Princeton grades convey 11% less information than they did thirty years ago, and that imposing a 35% quota on A-level grades, as Princeton is proposing doing, would increase the information content of grades by 10% at most.

I’m trying to convince the Dean of the Faculty to distribute my memo to the faculty before the Monday vote on the proposed A quota.

Today’s Daily Princetonian ran a story, by Alyson Zureick, about my study.

California Panel Recommends Decertifying One Diebold System

The State of California’s Voting Systems Panel has voted to recommend the decertification of Diebold’s TSx e-voting system, according to a release from The final decision will be made by Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, but he is expected to approve the recommendation within the next week.

The TSx is only one of the Diebold e-voting systems used in California, but this is still an important step.

Copyright and Cultural Policy

James Grimmelmann offers another nice conference report, this time from the Seton Hall symposium on “Peer to Peer at the Crossroads”. I had expressed concern earlier about the lack of technologists on the program at the symposium, but James reports that the lawyers did just fine on their own, steering well clear of the counterfactual technology assumptions one sometimes sees at lawyer conferences.

Among other interesting bits, James summarizes Tim Wu’s presentation, based on a recent paper arguing that much of what passes for copyright policy is really just communications policy in disguise.

We’re all familiar, by now, with the argument that expansive copyright is bad because it’s destructive to innovation and allows incumbent copyright industries to prevent the birth of new competitors. Content companies tied to old distribution models are, goes this argument, strangling new technologies in their crib. We’re also familiar, by now, with the argument that changes in technology are destroying old, profitable, and socially-useful business, without creating anything stable, profitable, or beneficial in their place. In this strain of argument, technological Boston Stranglers roam free, wrecking the enormous investments that incumbents have made and ruining the incentives for them to put the needed money into building the services and networks of the future.

Tim’s insight, to do it the injustice of a sound-bite summarization, is that these are not really arguments that are rooted in copyright policy. These are communications policy arguments; it just so happens that the relevant which happens to affect communications policy is copyright law. Where in the past we’d have argued about how far to turn the “antitrust exemption for ILECs” knob, or which “spectrum auction” buttons to push, now we’re arguing about where to set the “copyright” slider for optimal communications policy. That means debates about copyright are being phrased in terms of a traditional political axis in communications law: whether to favor vertically-integrated (possibly monopolist) incumbents who will invest heavily because they can capture the profits from their investments, or to favor evolutionary competition with open standards in which the pressure for investment is driven by the need to stay ahead of one’s competitors.

The punch line: right now, our official direction in communications policy is moving towards the latter model. The big 1996 act embraced these principles, and the FCC is talking them up big time. Copyright, to the extent that it is currently pushing towards the former model, is pushing us to a communications model that flourished in decades past but is now out of favor.

This is a very important point, because the failure to see copyright in the broader context of communications policy has been the root cause of many policy errors, such as the FCC’s Broadcast Flag ruling.

I would have liked to attend the Seton Hall symposium myself, but I was at the Harvard Speedbumps conference that day. And I would have produced a Grimmelmann-quality conference report – really I would – but the Harvard conference was officially off-the-record. I’ll have more to say in future posts about the ideas discussed at the speedbumps conference, but without attributing them to any particular people.

Another Form of Grade Inflation

You may recall Princeton’s proposal to fight grade inflation by putting a quota on the number of A’s that can be awarded. Joe Barillari made a brilliant followup proposal in yesterday’s Daily Princetonian, to fight the “problem” of inflation in students’ ratings of their professors’ teaching.

Diebold Misled Officials about Certification

Diebold Election Systems knowingly used uncertified software in California elections, despite warnings from its lawyers that doing so was illegal and might subject the company to criminal sanctions and decertification in California, according to Ian Hoffman’s story in the Oakland Tribune.

The story says that Diebold made false representations about certification to state officials:

The drafts [of letters to the state] show [Diebold’s lawyers] staked out a firm position that a critical piece of Diebold’s voting system – its voter-card encoders – didn’t need national or state approval because they were commercial-off-the-shelf products, never modified by Diebold.

But on the same day the letter was received, Diebold-hired techs were loading non-commercial Diebold software into voter-card encoders in a West Sacramento warehouse for shipment to Alameda and San Diego counties.

Many of these encoders failed on election day, causing voters to be turned away from the polls in San Diego and Alameda Counties.

This brings Diebold one step closer to being decertified in California:

“Diebold may suffer from gross incompetence, gross negligence. I don’t know whether there’s any malevolence involved,” said a senior California elections official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “I don’t know why they’ve acted the way they’ve acted and the way they’re continuing to act. Notwithstanding their rhetoric, they have not learned any lessons in terms of dealing with this secretary (of state).”

California voting officials will discuss Diebold’s behavior at a two-day hearing that starts today.

[link via Dan Gillmor]