Glencora Borradaile






         Associate Professor & College of Engineering Dean's Professor, School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Oregon State University

October 16, 2015

Ignorance is bliss

written on March 21, 2014 and saved for publication until tenure

I like to think that I have become more socially conscious since the onset of my adult life. I like to think that when I hear of injustice, I at the very least make the adjustments to my own life in accordance to those injustices. I limit my carbon-footprint-intensive travel to a minimum, I support unions, I no longer shop on Amazon, and so on.

It’s a learning process. I am sometimes taken aback by my own ignorance when something it first pointed out to me. Such as the day a fellow 350Corvallisite told me that half of our city’s electricity bill goes to water treatment. Half! I have always known that water use is an issue, but I had thought it more of an issue in drought-prone California. I hadn’t thought of the energy-requirements and so carbon-footprint of water use. So, I’ve started looking into gray water and rainwater collection and use.

What does this have to do with work? Well, I was sitting in yet-another-job-talk that included yet-another-use of Amazon’s mechanical turk to generate and collect data for research. The question popped into my head: “how much do these people get paid? what are the labor issues of this machine?” Given Amazon’s (abysmal) track record in labor practices, I didn’t have high hopes. Turns out they pay 50c to $5 an hour. And please don’t get me started on “its okay for someone in India to be making 50c an hour”.

I don’t know how much my colleagues are offering for mechanical turk labor — perhaps, and I hope, they offer at least minimum wage. If not already, I would hope that NSF would demand minimum labor standards for research they fund.

addendum September 1, 2014:

Ironically, it is Labor Day and I am working. A colleague just shared this “Guidelines for Academic Requestors [of Amazon Turk Labor]” with our faculty email list much to my happiness. It includes guidelines on fair payment and includes information pointing to an at-least-minimum-wage payment is required for ethical treatment of Turkers and arguments to be paying much higher than the US minimum wage standards.

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2 Comments

  1.   Glencora Borradaile — October 16, 2015 @ 10:06 pm    

    It doesn’t seem Amazon is getting any better. In other news, we now have rain barrels and reuse some (light) gray water.

    Honestly, I’m not sure why I felt compelled to not post this at the time. It hardly seems controversial. Perhaps had I seen my colleague’s email earlier, I would have posted this at the time. I suppose I didn’t want to be seen as overly critical. But really, if we all stay quiet on ethical matters, how will things actually improve?

  2.   Aram — October 17, 2015 @ 6:05 pm    

    50c/hour seems low for India (once you account for costs of computer, electricity + internet), but if we only hired Indians at wages >= US minimum wage then I believe that this would increase overall inequality. I would rather see people add a “no-US” filter rather than raise their wages, although of course doing both would be even better.

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