This post may trigger some readers as it discusses a sensitive topic.

These days, I notice myself getting more caught up in news stories.  I think it might even be at the point where I annoy people- well, at least my partner who brought my, ahem, possibly obsessive, behavior to my attention.  As usual, I blame it on grad school- I just can’t stop thinking about things!  The story that happened most recently is a hot button topic or even a trigger for some people, but I want to talk around it, so bear with me.  As mentioned before, I live in Eugene.  Recently it has come out that there was an “alleged” sexual assault involving a young woman and three young men from the University of Oregon basketball team.  The story has been a bit sensationalized in the news and most of us probably know more details than we should about the story, but suffice it to say, it is very complicated, with a number of conflicting bits of information and the police decided there was not enough evidence to charge the males with any crime.  I do still read the local paper (yay for me! I live in a town that still has an independent daily paper!) and followed the story as it spun out. I have two college age daughters, I am female, I was involved in rape prevention programs when I was in college (and yes, we did just bluntly call it that in the early 90’s)- I am a human being who wants everyone to be treated with dignity and respect and for the world to be a safe place! Let’s just say- I care.

In my (maybe obsessive) thinking about this story, I had a couple of thoughts that I trace directly to my newer academic perspective.  A photo from the paper, with a young woman holding up a sign stating “I live in a rape culture” really struck me and I started to think about what that really means.  As I become more enmeshed in a socio-cultural perspective, I look at the world differently than I used to, and I wish there were spaces I had to really talk about things like “rape culture” in frank ways.  There is so much going on here- the ways our culture talks about sex and sexuality and the ways it portrays it.  The way bodies are displayed in advertising and how songs and television and movies show relationships seems to blur boundaries. What does personal responsibility look like for all parties (and how do we start that conversation without it sounding like victim blaming or slut shaming)?  The way our culture glorifies sports figures and seems to have a separate code of behavior for them is tied in to this particular scenario too.   And then there is the whole issue of rape and consensual sex.  One of my insights from this latest story is that I believe we need a better, expanded vocabulary around these concepts.  While most of us intellectually know that rape is not “just” a stranger forcing someone through violence or threat of violence to engage in sexual activity, I think that emotionally, that is how most of us think of it.  When you add in underage drinking, previous sexual relations between the individuals, and a sense that “this is what college parties are like”, the waters are muddied. This does not excuse wrong behavior, but I think it lets people feel that they have not committed a wrongful act.  The young men say they thought it was consensual- and the sad thing is, I believe them, they probably did think so.  They do not see themselves as rapists.  The messages they get from the culture they are surrounded by are confusing enough when you aren’t 19 and drunk. The story is just sad from start to finish, and 4 people’s lives (plus their families and friends too!) are forever changed by one night of lack of clear communication and awful choices.

So, the question becomes, how do we change this culture to one that is not a “rape culture”.  How do we have visions of equality and safety for all that are brought in to reality? How do we change the ways we talk about sex and sexuality, in the moment and out of it? How do we change our beliefs that if someone isn’t saying “yes” it means “no”? If the dominant image we hold of a rapist is someone holding a knife to their victim, the individuals at a party who are pressuring someone won’t take on that label and recognize the consequences of their actions.

I am ready to help bring that world into being!

When I posted this blog, embedded software automatically generated a tweet using the first hundred or so characters, added a link to this page, and publish it to our @FreeChoiceLab Twitter account. That tweet then enters numerous timelines of our fans and followers who are welcome to follow the link and read what I’ve written. If they should like what they read, they may be so inclined to share the original tweet with their fans and followers, who then have the opportunity to read, enjoy, and share the original tweet, or an officially retweeted version.

By “officially retweeted” I mean something very specific. The sharer can use the retweet function built into Twitter, causing the original tweet to appear in their timeline with “SharerName retweeted” added to the top. Alternately, the sharer may copy the tweet, paste it into new tweet under their own name, and add “RT @OriginalPoster:” to the beginning. Both of these methods attribute the original author of the tweet. To put it in academic language, the original author has been cited. However, when a person decides to share a tweet by copying the content and reposting it under their own name, with no attribution to the original author, that’s plagiarism. Or, more accurately, Twagiarism.

On the surface, it may seem that Twagiarism is kind of a non-issue. After all, Twitter is all about sharing, using the creativity-inspiring limit of 140 characters. If I tweet “I had a great week, procrastinated myself into super organization” what’s the harm if someone else who also procrastinated posts an identical tweet after reading mine? The problem is that while there is a lot of innocent, banal content shared on twitter, there is also more serious content, and it’s all considered intellectual property of the original writer. And because there’s no easy way to categorize whether something is frivolous, or perhaps the next famous quote, Twitter has a very specific policy regarding copyright infringement (fancy legalese for plagiarism). Item 9 of the Twitter terms of service states:

“Twitter respects the intellectual property rights of others and expects users of the Services to do the same.”

What this means is that whatever a person posts is the intellectual property of the one who posted it, and Twitter expects its users to respect that. Users who violate this term are subject to having the content removed, and in extreme cases Twitter reserves the right to terminate a user’s account.

In academia, use of social media is on the rise. Institutions have official twitter accounts, managed by one person or a team, and the tweets represent the interests of the institution. The same goes for groups, labs, and individuals who have professionally linked Twitter accounts. What may not be immediately recognized is that every tweet is, technically, a publication. It might not be the peer reviewed kind typically associated with academic publications, but they have the same protection, and the authors have the same rights. There’s also more at stake if a person tweeting for an institution engages in twagiarism, because what the world sees is the institution they represent engaging in unethical practices. Isolated incidents of twagiarism can often be dealt with by educating the individual or group about proper retweeting practices. Repeat offenders are when having a specific, well-planned policy comes in handy.

Oregon State University currently does not have a policy regarding plagiarism specific to social media, but they do have a policy on more traditional forms of plagiarism. Only time will tell if this is sufficient protection, or if there needs to be a specific policy. Twitter is fundamentally social, and if hashtage trends are any indication, even the smallest, seeming inconsequential thing can suddenly be a global trend. Considering that the reputation of respected institutions is impacted by acts of Twagiarism, an in house policy may be an important line of defense against public castigation.

So please, if you’re going to share the tweet for this article, retweet it using the button Twitter provides, or adding RT manually when you share it.

“Never let your sense of morals get in the way of doing what is right” – Isaac Asimov

    Rachael Carlson’s Silent Spring drew attention to a sense of an environmental crisis in the 1960s.  During the same decade, Paul Ehrlich published The Population Bomb, warning the world about population growth and its potential threats to planetary life.  With the rising need for a basic change of values, a new field emerged as we can see in John Muir’s advocacy for “all things natural, wild and free”.  Furthermore, Aldo Leopold advocated for a much needed land ethics in his Sandy County Almanac. However, Leopold himself could not provide a systematic ethical theory or framework in support of his ethical concerns and ideas, but nonetheless he created an opportunistic challenge for moral theorists.

   Many environmental scientists and philosophers debate the need for a revolutionary environmental ethics to regulate the business of humankind with and within nature.  Conservation, sustainable development, deep ecology, social ecology, feminism, bioregionalism are all examples of fields where ethics is, to various degrees, a concerning component and a goal. However, thinking about ethics and morality drives all dimensions of the human enterprise, not only what is concerned with environmental issues, and they do not fall short of the old relativism, which in a way gives room to prospectively built moral discourses.

   The three major schools of thought on morality are, in a way, examples of such relativism: deontology, consequentialism, and virtue ethics. The later is fundamentally different from the first two in the sense that it is not worried about asking the question of “what is the right thing to do?” either because of the rules created (deontology) or because of perceived consequences (consequentialism); instead, it is concerned with the question of “how are we to live our lives?” At the end though, to think ethically is to think about what we do and why we do it, which has been fueled through many years of philosophical thoughts on morality and human nature. Philosopher Massimo Pigliucci put it quite precisely that, ultimately, it is still up to us to decide what to make of it all.

    A few blogs ago it was brought up that if we really are to promote change, the business of informal education should no longer avoid issues such as religion and spirituality, issues that address the whole person within learners. Here too it is imperative to look at the philosophical thoughts on morality while making moral decisions or weaving a morality system of our own. A wholesome environmental or land ethics has not yet solidified because society has yet to find the congruent points into moral theories in the face of practicalities and effective ways to foster an environmental ethics based on these congruent points. But finding those points and building dialogues among them is one of the only ways to avoid the relativist fallacy that seems to create a continuous meaningless relationship between human and non-human nature.

   Just as Lisa Roberts in her book From Knowledge to Narrative challenged museums to think of themselves less as stewards of culture and knowledge and more as forums for dialogues among multiple, sometimes competing narratives about events, objects, identities and ideas, it is interesting to think of environmental education in informal contexts as potential forums for moral dialogues about the relationships among human and non-human nature.  This, of course, also requires some paradigm shift in informal education from fear to engage moral and ethical questions to finding ways to put them front and center.

In the spirit of the New Year to come and the incredible need for change in the world as I see it, I have decided to blog about feelings. I know I know… not very objective here, but wanting to provoke a bit of thinking about the role of informal education in a world in crisis.

Earth is feverish fighting human disturbance. The education landscape is a force to help change such condition. Many authors in the environmental movement talk about cultural, economical, political and social forces as conditional modes to influence patterns of natural resource use and development. With that in mind, it is my opinion that our environmental education programs need to go beyond teaching about the natural systems to incorporate teaching about these other forces as well. It is time to venture a bit out of the objective fence of empiricism, to pay a little attention to the socio-cultural-economical parameters that influence our land use.

The cosmopolitan bioregionalism really spoke to me as a possible way to move in this direction by being a framework for governance representing a “profound cultural vision, addressing moral, aesthetic and spiritual concerns” in an attempt to change the contemporary political economy. In many different ways, we all are knowledgeable, moral, aesthetic and spiritual beings, and the dynamics of our cultural and ecological diasporas have much to say about our sense of place. If we want to give others the tools to develop a sense of place, we have to give the first steps towards a new culture of education, with multiple voices and interpretations, where the end goal is not just reaching desirable learning outcomes based on a preset of standards, but do more than that and more than entertain. Building a sense of place needs more than instruction, it needs provocation.

Is our education system ready for this? Are science museums ready to embrace a shift this big? One can think it would be impossible to do for many political and economical reasons, but if there is anything I learned in my academic endeavors as I learn more and more about environmental sciences and social movements, is that change is possible, it may take a long time, but it happens. I think that a new culture of nature is on the making now in many forms of empathy and manifest. We are in transitory times, fighting controversial views, when environmental movements and initiatives abound. It is the worse of times given the catastrophic environmental problems we may be facing, but it can also be the best of times if marked by the beginning of a new cultural and ecological era. Can the museum really act as a cultural broker in this sense?

Consider the following scenario.

You go to your gym, where membership is free. You start lifting, and you gradually work your way up to 100 pounds.

Then, one day, you come in to find that the next available weight increment is 300 pounds. You can’t work up to it from where you are, BUT—for a mere $5—you can actually have 10 pounds temporarily removed from your usual 100. In return, the chalkboard on the wall will announce that you, [Your Name Here], have lifted 300 pounds. Insert another $5 to repeat the process and mark yourself down for 350 pounds, etc. What will this do to your muscle tone and progress as a lifter?

This is sort of how popular “free-to-play” games work, and virtual economist Ramin Shokrizade outlines their tactics in a Machiavelli-style indictment-as-instruction-guide here.

In traditional non-monetary games, we put skill in to get more skill out. When we gamble, we put money in and hope to get more money out (Pro Tip: We usually don’t). In a free-to-play game, we generally don’t ever expect to get money out, and money is used as an input in place of skill—or to “supplement” skill. Less skill in means less skill out—less learning. And these games are extremely popular and profitable.

So here’s my question: What are players getting out of these games? Discuss.

Yes, we failed to change the default password on the cameras we installed. Someone managed to get ahold of the IP addresses, and guess the login and password. We escaped with only minor headaches, as all that happened was that they uploaded a few “overlay” images that appeared on some of the camera feeds, and a few text messages that seemed to be mostly warning messages to us about cybersecurity.

The hacker did change a few of our passwords for the cameras, so there were some from which we could not just delete the images. This has meant various levels of hassle to reset the cameras to default. For the white brick cameras, 30 seconds of holding a control button while the power cycles was sufficient. I didn’t even have to reset the IP address. For the dome cameras, it’s a bit more complex, as the IP address has to be reset, and I wasn’t around for that part originally so I’ll have to consult IT.

However, it makes us wonder about the wisdom of having even the camera views available without a password on the web, which we hadn’t considered was available before. You’d have to have the IP address to go to the view, but once you were there, our IP addresses are mostly sequential (depending on the day and which cameras are installed), so you could go visit each of them if you liked. There seems to be an option to turn this off, however, which I have also gone through and switched so that now you need not only the IP address, but the username and password in order to even view the feed.

Moral of this part of the story? Explore the default settings and consider what they truly mean. Be a Nervous Nellie and a bit of a cynic, assume the worst so you can plan for it.

UPDATE 5/16/13: I couldn’t get the 3301 dome cameras reset despite following the unplug, hold control button, re-plug power sequence. Our IT specialist thinks the hacker may have actually reset the default password via the firmware, since they should have automatically reset themselves to the same IP addresses using DHCP. So those two cameras have been pulled and replaced while the hacked ones are off to the IT hospital for some sleuthing and probably a firmware reset as well. I’ll let you know what the resolution is.