Quotulatiousness

July 24, 2015

The long-term damage to scientific credibility

Filed under: Health,Media,Politics,Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Matt Ridley on the danger to all scientific fields when one field is willing to subordinate fact to political expediency:

For much of my life I have been a science writer. That means I eavesdrop on what’s going on in laboratories so I can tell interesting stories. It’s analogous to the way art critics write about art, but with a difference: we “science critics” rarely criticise. If we think a scientific paper is dumb, we just ignore it. There’s too much good stuff coming out of science to waste time knocking the bad stuff.

Sure, we occasionally take a swipe at pseudoscience — homeopathy, astrology, claims that genetically modified food causes cancer, and so on. But the great thing about science is that it’s self-correcting. The good drives out the bad, because experiments get replicated and hypotheses put to the test. So a really bad idea cannot survive long in science.

Or so I used to think. Now, thanks largely to climate science, I have changed my mind. It turns out bad ideas can persist in science for decades, and surrounded by myrmidons of furious defenders they can turn into intolerant dogmas.

This should have been obvious to me. Lysenkoism, a pseudo-biological theory that plants (and people) could be trained to change their heritable natures, helped starve millions and yet persisted for decades in the Soviet Union, reaching its zenith under Nikita Khrushchev. The theory that dietary fat causes obesity and heart disease, based on a couple of terrible studies in the 1950s, became unchallenged orthodoxy and is only now fading slowly.

What these two ideas have in common is that they had political support, which enabled them to monopolise debate. Scientists are just as prone as anybody else to “confirmation bias”, the tendency we all have to seek evidence that supports our favoured hypothesis and dismiss evidence that contradicts it—as if we were counsel for the defence. It’s tosh that scientists always try to disprove their own theories, as they sometimes claim, and nor should they. But they do try to disprove each other’s. Science has always been decentralised, so Professor Smith challenges Professor Jones’s claims, and that’s what keeps science honest.

What went wrong with Lysenko and dietary fat was that in each case a monopoly was established. Lysenko’s opponents were imprisoned or killed. Nina Teicholz’s book The Big Fat Surprise shows in devastating detail how opponents of Ancel Keys’s dietary fat hypothesis were starved of grants and frozen out of the debate by an intolerant consensus backed by vested interests, echoed and amplified by a docile press.

July 20, 2015

QotD: Good rioting weather

Filed under: Media,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I slept through the only riot I was ever sent to cover as a reporter. Having traveled a long way I was very tired, and by the time I woke the riot was almost over. Still, I was able to describe with some vividness the acrid smell of burning rubber in the streets and the smashed glass and emptied shelves of the storefronts, and I did see a few people adding fuel to the flames of a barricade not far from my hotel (I later saw one of the perpetrators in an expensive restaurant). Such was my description that no reader would have guessed that I had slept peacefully through the violent proceedings. Strangely enough, my experience of being a foreign correspondent, if that is what it was, has never caused me to doubt the veracity of what I read in the newspapers, which I swallow as a boa constrictor swallows a goat.

However, I have followed riots around the world vicariously ever since, and it seems to me that the principal precondition of such events in the modern world is clement weather. The association is much stronger than with, say, injustice, partly because there is complete agreement as to what constitutes clement weather, whereas what constitutes justice has been in dispute since at least the time of Plato. We all recognize good rioting weather when we see it, but injustice — well, we could go on arguing about it for days. Everyone can contain his anger in the rain.

Theodore Dalrymple, “Indulging in Destruction”, Taki’s Magazine, 2014-08-24.

July 15, 2015

The media and free speech coverage

Filed under: Liberty,Media,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At Popehat, Ken White explains what to look for in how the media subtly (or not-so-subtly) introduce pro-censorship memes when it covers free speech issues:

American journalists and pundits rely upon vigorous free speech, but are not reliable supporters of it. They both instruct and reflect their fickle audience.

It’s easy to spot overt calls for censorship from the commentariat. Those have become more common in the wake of both tumultuous events (like the violence questionably attributed to the “Innocence of Muslims” video, or Pamela Geller’s “Draw Muhammad” contest) and mundane ones (like fraternity brothers recorded indulging in racist chants).

But it’s harder to detect the subtle pro-censorship assumptions and rhetorical devices that permeate media coverage of free speech controversies. In discussing our First Amendment rights, the media routinely begs the question — it adopts stock phrases and concepts that presume that censorship is desirable or constitutional, and then tries to pass the result off as neutral analysis. This promotes civic ignorance and empowers deliberate censors.

Fortunately, this ain’t rocket science. Americans can train themselves to detect and question the media’s pro-censorship tropes. I’ve collected some of the most pervasive and familiar ones. This post is designed as a resource, and I’ll add to it as people point out more examples and more tropes.

July 14, 2015

Restaurant reviews … with real teeth

Filed under: Britain,Business,Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In The Guardian, Jay Rayner provides the kind of review that you rarely see in your local newspaper (because it guarantees that the restaurant will never buy advertising from you again):

Cooking a steak well is tricky, because you cannot see inside the meat. It takes experience and knowledge. Cooking chips is easy: use the right potatoes, give them a couple of runs through the hot oil, make sure they’re the right colour, perhaps even taste a couple. The job is done. At Smith & Wollensky, the new London outpost of a well-known small American steakhouse chain, we sent back the chips because they were tepid and under-cooked. They returned to us hot and undercooked. And in that one example of carelessness and lack of attention to detail, you know all you need to.

But I had to sit through the whole damn meal so I don’t see why you shouldn’t, too. This US business has swaggered into London like it thinks it’s the bollocks. The description is almost right, if you remove the definite article before the reference to testicles. It is about as shoddy an operation in separating people from inexcusable amounts of their cash as I have seen in a very long time.

[…]

The menu also mentions a list of blackboard specials – T-bones and so on – all of which have run out by 8.20pm. We order the bone-in ribeye. The char is feeble and the overwhelming taste is of salt. Worse is the texture. It’s floppy. Part of this, I think, is a cultural difference; Americans like to celebrate steaks based on tenderness, as if being able to cut a piece of dead animal with a butter knife is an aspiration. I think that if you’re going to eat beef, you want to know it has come from an animal that has moved. This steak slips down like something that has spent its life chained to a radiator in the basement.

The sauces are dire. A béarnaise is an insult to the name, lacking any acidity or the anise burst of tarragon. An au poivre sauce is just a shot of hot demi-glace. A side salad is crisp and well dressed. We take comfort in it. Many other sides are priced for two which is a quick route to higher profit margins and greater food waste. The £9 battered onion rings are good; the £10 truffled mac and cheese is dry and tastes not at all of truffle. Those terrible chips come in the kind of mini-chip-fat-fryer-basket used at chain pubs.

Service is omnipresent. Twice we ask to keep our bread and side plates when they attempt to remove them. When a third waiter lunges in I finally admit defeat. Take them if you’re so bloody desperate. How hard is it to communicate a table’s wishes to the half dozen people working a corner of the floor, especially when a meal is going to cost more than £100 a head?

H/T to John McCluskey for the link.

Update: An earlier review from the same series is extra-flavourful…

You could easily respond to this week’s restaurant with furious, spittle- flecked rage. You could rant about the posing-pouch stupidity of the meat – hanging cabinet that greets you as the lift doors open, and the frothing tanks of monstrous live Norwegian king crabs next to it, each 4ft across. You could bang on about the bizarre pricing structure, and the vertiginous nature of those prices; about the rough-hewn communal tables that are so wide you can’t sit opposite your dining companion because you wouldn’t be able to hear each other, and the long benches which make wearing a skirt a dodgy idea unless you’re desperate to flash the rest of the heavily male clientele. You could shake your fists and roll your eyes and still not be done.

I think this would be a mistake. Instead you should accept Beast as the most unintentionally funny restaurant to open in London in a very long time. It’s hilariously silly. The most appropriate response is to point and laugh. I don’t even think I’d advise you not to go. As long as you go with someone else’s money, because God knows you’ll need a lot of it. Got any friends who are, say, international drug barons? Excellent. They may be able to afford dinner. It’s worth going to see what the unmitigated male ego looks like, when expressed as a restaurant.

[…]

The corn-fed, dry-aged Nebraskan rib-eye, with a carbon footprint big enough to make a climate-change denier horny, is bloody marvellous: rich, deep, earthy, with that dense tang that comes with proper hanging. And at £100 a kilo it bloody well should be. At that price they should lead the damn animal into the restaurant and install it under the table so it can pleasure me while I eat.

July 9, 2015

QotD: People trust Wikipedia “Because An Argument Is Better Than A Lecture”

Filed under: Media,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

That’s because, as I’ve been trying to scream at you people for the past three years, the corporate mass-media news industry sucks. More specifically, the once proud fourth branch of our government has been reduced to screaming-head opinionators formulating commentary on the basis of politicized ratings. In other words, Wikipedia and the news are in two different businesses: one is about facts and the other is about shock and spin. Argue with me all you like, you know it’s true.

But perhaps even more importantly, the general public trusts crowd-sourced Wikipedia articles more than the news because an argument is always more trust-worthy than a lecture. That’s the real difference. If you want to know how good a teacher in a school is, you gather up the best student, the worst student, the principal and the teacher and then analyze what they all say together. You don’t ask the school’s PR director. Wikipedia, even when it comes to contested or hotly-debated articles, does this extremely well, even concerning itself. The linked article above discussed a number of articles about how reliable Wikipedia is, some of which disagreed with others, and all were found on the Wikipedia page for itself.

    Regardless the disputes over individual studies and their methodologies, how I found them is almost as telling as their results. I came across them because Wikipedia provided external references, allowing me to corroborate the information. This is one of the site’s great merits: the aggregation of multiple sources, correctly linked, to build a more complete picture. As the results of the Yougov poll perhaps suggest, this surely seems more reliable than getting the coverage of an event from one newspaper.

The truest answer to a question can rarely be told by a single source, which is what makes the sources section of a Wikipedia page so valuable. What is the corollary in a news broadcast? Perhaps a single expert? Maybe once in a while they’ll have two sides of a debate spend five minutes with one another? They’re not even close. The argument itself can be instructive, but that argument never happens on most news shows.

This doesn’t mean you blindly read Wiki articles without questioning them. But a properly sourced article is simply more trustworthy than a talking head telling you how to think.

Timothy Geigner, “Why Do People Trust Wikipedia? Because An Argument Is Better Than A Lecture”, Techdirt, 2014-08-18.

April 3, 2015

Perhaps the New York Times needs to back away from science coverage

Filed under: Media,Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Alex B. Berezow makes a case for the venerable New York Times to not cover science stories:

What has gone so wrong for the NYT? Many things are to blame. The paper’s leftish editorial page is out of step with a large portion of the American public. A high-profile scandal, in which journalist Jayson Blair was caught fabricating articles, damaged its credibility. The biggest factor, however, is the rise of credible challengers — both print and digital — that simply do better journalism. There is little incentive to spend money to read the NYT when superior news coverage (and more sensible editorializing) can be found elsewhere.

The NYT‘s science coverage is particularly galling. While the paper does employ a staff of decent journalists (including several excellent writers, such as Carl Zimmer and John Tierney), its overall science coverage is trite. Other outlets cover the same stories (and many more), in ways that are both more in-depth and more interesting. (They are also usually free to read.) Worst of all, too much of NYT‘s science journalism is egregiously wrong.

[…]

Reliance on fringe, pseudoscientific sources has become something of a trend at the NYT. Its most deplorable reportage involves the science of food, particularly GMOs. Henry Miller, the former founding director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology, reprimands anti-GMO foodie Mark Bittman for “journalistic sloppiness” and “negligence” in his “[inability] to find reliable sources.”

Furthermore, in a damning exposé, Jon Entine reveals that Michael Pollan, a food activist and frequent NYT contributor, “has a history of promoting discredited studies and alarmist claims about GMOs.” Even worse, Mr. Entine writes that Mr. Pollan “candidly says he manipulated the credulous editors at the New York Times… by presenting only one side of food and agriculture stories.” Mr. Pollan was also chided by plant scientist Steve Savage for disseminating inaccurate information on potato agriculture and fearmongering about McDonald’s French fries.

On many matters concerning nutrition or health, the NYT endorses the unscientific side of the debate. For instance, The Atlantic criticized a New York Times Magazine essay on the supposed toxicity of sugar. At Science 2.0, Hank Campbell mocked an NYT writer’s endorsement of gluten-free diets, and chemist Josh Bloom dismantled a painfully inaccurate editorial on painkillers.

March 27, 2015

Adrian Peterson’s public image

Filed under: Football,Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:00

The fans still hold Adrian Peterson in high regard … but not as high as they did before September, 2014. His agent’s antics along with a steady drip of news through a few key media folks and rumours possibly originating with his family and friends are slowly corroding that public support. I think he’s probably still got more supporters than detractors among the Vikings fanbase, but it looks like he’s losing (or has already lost) the benefit of the doubt from the local Minneapolis-St. Paul media. For example, here’s Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan’s latest:

(more…)

March 22, 2015

QotD: Conveying useful information

Filed under: Britain,Humour,Media,Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I wish to be equally frank with the reader of this book. I wish here conscientiously to let forth its shortcomings. I wish no one to read this book under a misapprehension.

There will be no useful information in this book.

Anyone who should think that with the aid of this book he would be able to make a tour through Germany and the Black Forest would probably lose himself before he got to the Nore. That, at all events, would be the best thing that could happen to him. The farther away from home he got, the greater only would be his difficulties.

I do not regard the conveyance of useful information as my forte. This belief was not inborn with me; it has been driven home upon me by experience.

In my early journalistic days, I served upon a paper, the forerunner of many very popular periodicals of the present day. Our boast was that we combined instruction with amusement; as to what should be regarded as affording amusement and what instruction, the reader judged for himself. We gave advice to people about to marry — long, earnest advice that would, had they followed it, have made our circle of readers the envy of the whole married world. We told our subscribers how to make fortunes by keeping rabbits, giving facts and figures. The thing that must have surprised them was that we ourselves did not give up journalism and start rabbit-farming. Often and often have I proved conclusively from authoritative sources how a man starting a rabbit farm with twelve selected rabbits and a little judgment must, at the end of three years, be in receipt of an income of two thousand a year, rising rapidly; he simply could not help himself. He might not want the money. He might not know what to do with it when he had it. But there it was for him. I have never met a rabbit farmer myself worth two thousand a year, though I have known many start with the twelve necessary, assorted rabbits. Something has always gone wrong somewhere; maybe the continued atmosphere of a rabbit farm saps the judgment.

We told our readers how many bald-headed men there were in Iceland, and for all we knew our figures may have been correct; how many red herrings placed tail to mouth it would take to reach from London to Rome, which must have been useful to anyone desirous of laying down a line of red herrings from London to Rome, enabling him to order in the right quantity at the beginning; how many words the average woman spoke in a day; and other such like items of information calculated to make them wise and great beyond the readers of other journals.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

February 21, 2015

Ace unloads on the media over their “coverage” of the Ebola outbreak

Filed under: Health,Media,Science,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

At Ace of Spades H.Q., Ace is underwhelmed by the Washington Post‘s belated acknowledgement that they aided and abetted the CDC in downplaying the seriousness of the Ebola outbreak last year:

Scientists: “There Was Almost a Rush to Assure the Public That We Knew A Lot More Than We Did” About Ebola; Experts Now Concede Ebola May Be Transmitted by Purely Airborne Route

Incidentally, the Washington Post, which is itself an Expert at Writing to whom you should bow and scrape, reported his words as “there was a rush to ensure the public,” which is not what he said, because it’s stupid. And if he did say it, you throw a “(sic)” after it to indicate the error is in the quoted material, not in your own writing.

[…]

I assume he is speaking here of a proper airborne transmission, and not the layman’s “airborne” transmission; either way, the experts who so ensuredly ensured us that there was no way to get ebola from the air were wrong.

Not just wrong. Arrogantly and loudly wrong.

See, the media is not particularly bright but they are Bossy and they like pretending they Love Science. So when they see an opportunity to Pretend to Be Scientists and Yell At Their Dumb Readers, they seize upon it, even if they don’t have any idea about what the fuck they are talking. (Note preposition smartly undangled, all expert-like.)

The media were always wrong on this, and the CDC was always deliberately deceptive. This new information about an actual airborne route of transmission is new (ish), but even before, the CDC was falsely suggesting that “no airborne transmission” meant that you could not catch ebola except by direct contact with an infected person or his fluids, like his blood and stool.

They sort of forgot that his “spit” and vapor in his breath counted as “liquids,” so you could in fact catch ebola by what the layman would call an airborne route. (Scientists do not call this path of transmission “airborne” transmission, but rather “spray” transmission or “droplet transmission.”)

The CDC deliberately lied to people, and the demented little Apple Polishers of the media rushed to scream at the rest of the class that you could not possibly get ebola by anything other than direct contact.

January 15, 2015

It’s a matter of faith

Filed under: Media,Politics,Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At Ace of Spades H.Q., Steven Den Beste has a guest editorial to explain why the most recent attacks by “extremists” create deep philosophical problems for our friends in the media:

The Press have created an ideology over the last fifty years or so that approaches the level of a secular religious dogma. They believe that the Press are like the referees in a football game, present everywhere but not involved in the action. Surrounded by violence, they themselves never contribute to the violence and are never the objects of violence. And they are strictly neutral, favoring no one but simply calling it all like they see it.

Except that they’ve also mixed in a big dollop of Marxist ideology: they aren’t, and shouldn’t be, strictly neutral. As good progressives they can and must work against global capitalism and everything associated with it. That means it’s OK to criticize Christianity and Judaism, for instance, because those religions are part of the Capitalist monolith. By working against all the things that Marxism says they should, this gives them credibility with the world’s proletariat, who will respond to that by leaving the press alone. Or so they think.

And violence by the world’s proletariat is a good thing because it may presage the global Socialist revolution prophesied by the sainted Marx. That includes, in particular, all the violence in the world being committed by Muslims.

Like a lot of religious dogma, this is subconscious in a lot of the press. They simply accept that it’s the way things are (or should be) and don’t worry about where it came from or whether it really makes any sense.

The lethal attack on Charlie Hebdo, and the firebombing of a tabloid in Germany, has brought out a major contradiction in the Religion of the Press, and a lot of members of the press are demonstrating their confusion in how they respond.

First, there is the fundamental dogma of press freedom: no matter what the press says or does, no one is supposed to harm them in return. They’re the referees, dammit, not players in the struggle!

Second, though, is the fact that Charlie and the Hamburg tabloid which was firebombed broke the compact by criticizing Islam. This was wrong! Not, surprisingly, because Muslim fanatics are dangerous (that is a good thing!), but because it is hoped that dangerous Muslim fanatics will fight against the Capitalist enemy which all good progressives are supposed to be working to undermine. Islam is a Third World religion, and criticizing it undermines the Press in trying to prove to the world Proletariat that the Press is on their side in the great Marxist struggle.

And as a result of this Progressive sin, Charlie Hebdo et. al. have dragged all the rest of the press into the battle, on the front line, where they no longer seem to have their assumed immunity.

January 8, 2015

Media man of the year for 2014 – Ben Trovato

Filed under: Media,Politics,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At The Federalist Robert Tracinski nominates perhaps the most appropriate candidate for media man person of the year:

As the year winds to a close, it is traditional to pick a “man of the year,” or in our more enlightened age, a “person of the year.” I’ve never done that before, but this year there is one candidate who has left his mark so indelibly on 2014 that I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge his vast influence.

Thus, my own personal pick for 2014′s Person of the Year: Ben Trovato.

He has been everywhere and had a hand in just about every big story, from Ferguson to the University of Virginia. He has been most active in his usual fields, journalism and politics, but we can see his impact as far afield as espionage and even retail.

You’ve never heard of him? Maybe so, but you already know him very well.

For those who suspect that Ben Trovato is not a real, literal person, you’re right. But the whole point of old Ben’s influence is that it doesn’t matter whether he’s literally real. Or whether anything is literally real, for that matter.

I first heard of Ben Trovato while reading a curious little volume of unusual word origins. A number of these supposed etymologies, most of the really colorful ones, were attributed to “Ben Trovato.” The name is taken from an old Italian saying: se non è vero, è ben trovato. Roughly translated: if it’s not true, it’s a good story. These were the kind of word origins that you really wanted to be true, but for which there was no real evidence. In contemporary parlance, they are “too good to check.”

I think you can begin to see why 2014 has been the year of Ben Trovato. It has been a year full of things that were non vero, but which had really good narratives. Or at least really convenient narratives.

December 21, 2014

“Wicca is religion’s answer to the Liberal Democrats”

Filed under: Britain,Humour,Media,Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

All the British newspapers have apparently decided that it’s worth column-inches devoted to the random Twitter comments of J.K. Rowling:

Of the various insights into the diversity of Hogwarts culture JK Rowling has been sharing on Twitter lately, one in particular caught my eye. It wasn’t the revelation, reported by the Guardian, that the school had Jewish wizards. (So what?) Nor was it that Hogwarts probably had a few poofs in it. (We knew that already, didn’t we?)

No: what tickled me was her remark that the only group she never envisaged in the achingly multi-culti Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was Wiccans, those faux-druidic attention-seekers and drop-outs obsessed with black candles, lesbianism and velvet gowns.

Wiccans and those oddballs who dress up in bizarro costumes, redolent of cheap seasonal medieval re-enactment camps, who believe in magic (or, as they hilariously insist on spelling it, “magick”) and the mystical forces of mother nature.

[…]

What most fans will have taken from that, I’m guessing, is: “Come off it, even by the standards of my totally invented fantasy-land full of mystical creatures, boy wizards and horcruxes, those people are off their trolleys.”

You can tell rather a lot about those respective newspapers by which details they chose to lead their reports with. The Guardian, with its creepy Jewish obsession, leapt on Rowling’s confirmation that Anthony Goldstein of Ravenclaw was semitic, while the Independent ran with her statement that “of course” Hogwarts would have been an LGBT-friendly place to learn how to magic up enchanted water.

What neither of them saw fit to give due prominence to, though, was the fact that Wiccans, hilariously, are the only group in the Harry Potter universe incapable of performing magic. You’d need a heart of stone not to laugh.

November 2, 2014

It’s safe to just ignore the World Economic Forum’s report on pay gaps

Filed under: Economics,Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:37

In Forbes, Tim Worstall looks at how the World Economic Forum came up with their scary conclusions that the pay gap between men and women won’t disappear until 2095:

And that’s it: no, really, that is what they’re basing, in its entirety, their estimations of the gender pay gap upon. They asked a few people whether they thought that men and women got roughly the same pay for roughly the same sort of job or not and that’s it. This isn’t cutting edge data science to put it very kindly indeed.

For when we go off and look at the messy details of the gender pay gap we find that we’ve not really got one, not in the industrialised countries. Once we correct for the obvious things like hours at work, years in the workforce, educational background and so on we find that the mythical gender pay gap (that “women earn 77 cents to every $ men do”) simply disappears. There might be a small residual, a few percent, left in there but not enough that we can really notice. And quite apart from anything else it’s actually illegal to pay men and women different amounts for doing the same job (if on the basis that the different pay is purely as a result of their being men or women that is).

So, no, we shouldn’t be taking this report or finding seriously. And there’s more than just the fact that they’re using a survey to measure that gap. For of course the printing of this report will lead to, as the other incorrect claims about the gender pay gap do, a certain circularity of reasoning.

Ask someone: “Are men and women paid equally?” And they’ll start thinking about whoever it was that said that 77 cents line, recall that last year the WEF said that gender pay inequality was very bad indeed. So, now we come to asking them the same question for the next WEF survey and their answer will be influenced by the cacophony of voices that have been telling them how bad the gender pay disparity is. Including, obviously, last year’s WEF report that said so. It’s entirely circular and self-reinforcing.

Really, we shouldn’t be taking this stuff seriously.

October 28, 2014

QotD: The media’s ability to “shape” the news

Filed under: Cancon,Media,Politics,Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

It is interesting to observe — in oneself — the power of media to implant false impressions on a lazy mind. I noticed this from listening to a television speech by Stephen Harper, after the terrorist event in Ottawa, yesterday. (Harper has now been Canada’s prime minister for almost nine years.) He was described as “shaken” by several of the websites I had consulted for news, and in quickly reviewing the tape of his short talk, I formed that impression myself. It was only when an American correspondent, who had perhaps missed this Canadian media prep, told me Harper did not look shaken to him, that I went back and watched the video again, this time paying close attention to his delivery in both English and French. I realized he was not shaken at all; that his pauses and swallows were characteristic, and would not have been noticed by anyone had he been speaking on any other subject.

[…]

What impressed me, was how easily I fell for the “media narrative” on Harper’s speech, simply by paying insufficient attention. At the back of my mind I was assuming there must be some truth in it, when I ought to be aware that the media specialize in analyses which contain no truth at all. When I am paying attention, with the benefit of my own long experience within the media, I am able to identify the game, and understand what the players are up to.

David Warren, “Ottawa in the news”, Essays in Idleness, 2014-10-23.

October 7, 2014

When the “right to be forgotten” encounters the Streisand Effect

Filed under: Europe,Law,Liberty,Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:58

At Techdirt, Mike Masnick reports on the first New York Times articles to be removed from Google‘s search indices under the European “right to be forgotten” regulations:

Over the weekend, the NY Times revealed that it is the latest publication to receive notification from Google that some of its results will no longer show up for searches on certain people’s names, under the whole “right to be forgotten” nuttiness going on in Europe these days. As people in our comments have pointed out in the past, it’s important to note that the stories themselves aren’t erased from Google‘s index entirely — they just won’t show up when someone searches on the particular name of the person who complained. Still, the whole effort is creating a bit of a Streisand Effect in calling new attention to the impacted articles.

In this case, the NY Times was notified of five articles that were caught up in the right to be forgotten process. Three of the five involved semi-personal stuff, so the Times decided not to reveal what those stories were (even as it gently mocks Europe for not believing in free speech):

    Of the five articles that Google informed The Times about, three are intensely personal — two wedding announcements from years ago and a brief paid death notice from 2001. Presumably, the people involved had privacy reasons for asking for the material to be hidden.

I can understand the Times‘ decision not to reveal those articles, but it still does seem odd. You can understand why people might not want their wedding announcements findable, but they were accurate at the time, so it seems bizarre to have them no longer associated with your name.

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