A meter for the mortgage meltdown

July 9, 2008

Check out this article  by the NYTimes featuring an Implode-O-Meter set up by a former computer scientists and mathematician at Emory University.  The site is designed to measure and make visible the ‘misery in the housing market’.  According to the article: 

“The Implode-O-Meter is just the latest iteration of online death-watch lists. When the dot-com bubble burst, a slew of similar sites popped up, most notably one with an obscene name playing off the title of Fast Company, the magazine. That site and others like it faded when the technology company blowups were no longer front-page news.”

Is this an example of what Callon means when he says that all types of scientists (not just economists) can and do build tools that participate in the constitution of market events…?

5 Responses to “A meter for the mortgage meltdown”

  1. Andy Says:

    It’s just a counter of failed mortgage companies, doesn’t have anything to do with the guy’s status as a “scientist”… if anything, more like a journalist, and we already know that publishing an article that a company is in trouble can exacerbate that trouble…

  2. marthapoon Says:

    Because of this site it is now possible to say that 266 companies have imploded. That becomes a statement of a kind of fact (depending on how much it is debated) – it produces a point of knowledge.

    This statement is reported on by journalists who write articles like this one, but the work done to collect the data and build the platform for its display was done by someone with scientific credentials.

    The two interesting points raised here are:

    1) To what extent does it matter to the content of this statement that it has been produced by a former university researcher?

    2) Besides the number of hits, what are the empirically traceable (performative) effects of its existence?

  3. Andy Says:

    I am still not convinced, unless you want to incredibly broaden the definition of “scientist.” His putting up a web site doesn’t really seem like science — anyone can do that these days — nor does his compilation of a list of failed lenders. Journalists produce thousands of lists. How about the following list from Bloomberg on a related topic:
    http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=a7bIjIq1YbQw
    It is the creation of a “fact” — the number of banks that have raised capital and the total amount — is the journalist who compiled it a scientist? I’m not opposed to your saying yes in that case but it would certainly broaden the usual definition.

  4. Andy Says:

    PS – to directly address your question, I guess that I am arguing that Krowne’s being formerly employed by a university is irrelevant. And I’m sure that ml-implode played a role in the dissemination of knowledge about the crisis, I’d be interested to see a timeline of hits and trackbacks from blogs. Even better, a list of hits by domain — see when the media, government, public sector started paying attention…

  5. marthapoon Says:

    A big part of science to day is how the barriers of the nineteenth century vocations and professions are being eroded away.

    (In one obvious example, today, pharmaceutical companies market drugs directly to patients instead of going through doctors. Thus, patients in some ways are expected to become quite knowledgeable about their own treatment options.)

    In this environment of fuzzy boundaries, then, what is or is not a scientific action is not necessarily determined by whether they are executed by people bearing title of scientist. Likewise, what scientists do is not always the heart of science. What matters is specific outcomes.

    In this case I would consider the site more than journalism in the sense that it both makes the numerical fact AND puts it on display. Furthermore, part of getting hits may be in the way the author has designed the site so in addition to the data there are other informatic expertise involved. In the internet era, designing a ‘findable’ (googleable) website that garners huge traffic does require a certain expertise that not everyone has. In this regard it can not be totally irrelevant that he is a computer scientist although such skills are certainly not confined to academics in this field.

    If anything, this exchange reinforces that the demarcation question (what is or is not science) is thoroughly disinteresting. What matters perhaps much more is understanding how information is able to become shared and widely circulated, by whom, and through what means.


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