Censorship not needed

when millions of people willingly watch this brainwashing TV-station every day (it’s a mash-up obviously)?

Watch the whole video, then sit back in your chair a minute and try and recall what the Republicans have called Ms. Clinton, Ms. Pelosi or Ms. Sotomayor. If you don’t recall, google it. Or use my new pet search engine Spezify. I was directed to the video from here – a link I found on Twitter, posted by @sharonKONE.

That censorship luckily becomes more and more difficult for the horrible regimes around the world is shown by this excellent article in the Washington Post.

For all the people out there who struggle to hear our voices and who struggle to make their own voices heard over the clatter of the propaganda machines and the short, short memory of the Western press, we really owe them to qualify the news we read/watch/hear and check our sources. We’re the ones who can!

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#Iranelection

What’s with the # (hash-tag) you ask (if you’re not on Twitter). The above is the key word for any tweet about the Iranian election and the ensuing unrest.

Just read someone saying “You can’t trust all tweets about Iran”. No! Did anybody really think so? Can you trust anything fully? I don’t think so and I find this Iran-twitter-revolution thing totally fascinating and a great leap forward WITHOUT necessarily believing every tweet I get about the goings on there.

There are a number of reasons why:

  1. The people inside Iran can’t always get news verified before they post. Each Iranian tweeter values his or her own sources and tweets what he/she finds credible. When things get very heated, they might tweet something that is exaggerated or will later turn out to be false. That doesn’t discredit these people entirely!
  2. People outside who’re trying to make sense of tweets from inside are well-meaning people (mostly). They want to support the people inside Iran by RT’ing (re-tweeting, means forwarding) their messages to their own group of followers. Also called viral power.
  3. Apparently there are (this is NOT verified) government officials in Iran trying to infiltrate Twitter by posing as Mousavi-supporters. One must have one’s bullsh.. guard up.
  4. And then of course there are all the people here in the West who loves a “good story” more than anything. And in this particular species’ view, a “good story” is one with lots of blood and misery. They will exaggerate anything they hear and in no time stories will be blown out of proportion. This is something which also happened before the web, if I may just remind the Luddites out there.

So no, you cannot believe anything you read on Twitter, on my blog, in the Daily Mail (particularly not…), in the Times, on BBC Online or anywhere else. You must apply your own critical sense. After a while you realise that it is more often true what you find on BBC Online than what you read in the Daily Mail. OK. Now you know this. It’s still not a reason to now believe everything that’s on the BBC website. What you do know now though, is that when it makes sense to check something you read in the Daily Mail against what’s on the same subject in the Times, the other way round will only rarely pay off.

If you want to join in, start by reading the always sensible but engaged Cory Doctorow’s advice on how to go about tweeting #iranelection. Another trustworthy source of news from Iran is Andrew Sullivan on The Atlantic. The most web-forward British paper is The Guardian, a journo there is live-blogging.

And – green is the colour of hope in Iran, so get out the greens!

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To eat meat or not, is that really the question?

Tech:

This is an absolutely brilliant post by a young PR wizard about technophobia. Particularly addressing privacy issues, something I often find myself discussing with people. This young man addresses it very well. It was Jesse Newhart who twittered about him.

Google seems to be headed towards semantic search. Well explained on Mashable.

Another PR guy who knows what he’s talking about is Brian Solis. Check out his blog. He’s come up with this model of how online conversation is taking place – if you look at the prism directly on Flickr you can see Solis’ notes by moving the cursor. Quite brilliantly done. Thanks  to Gabs for pointer.

Model from Brian Solis Flickr page.
Model from Brian Solis' Flickr page.

Politics:

I like watching 24 on the telly, it’s highly addictive. But I often think to myself that the show in almost every episode indicates that torture gives results, although all research shows that it doesn’t. People will say just about anything to be freed of the pain. This guy clearly hasn’t revealed anything of any interest to anyone, but that didn’t keep the US back from holding him imprisoned in Guantanamo for almost five years… it’s so embarrassing for the free world that we’re complicit in this!

Quite a few Twitterers have pointed to Newswipe, a new programme on the BBC, and – having just finished watching it on the Iplayer – I must say it’s just fantastic! The middle part about the power of the PR agencies over the oh-so-slack media is saddeningly sobering. Likewise the last bit about a tiny demonstration, which was blown completely out of proportion by the media.

News about one of my Most Hated Organisations. NRA. Obama, don’t let them get away with it!

Feminism:

Do you love or hate chick flicks? A rather learned article on the subject. Including some depressing figures about women in the film biz.

Food:

Oh, please give me something to do that doesn’t have a downside to it? The newest environmental fad, which I’m also following, is to eat less meat. An article on BBC News tells me that that’s not an altogether good thing to be promoting, since people in the developing world need the protein they get from their livestock. The article is sort of made to look like there are two conflicting views here, but I don’t really think there are! No doubt all of us in the West could benefit from eating less meat? Healthwise and environmentally? That doesn’t mean we’re aiming at stopping African herders from eating their cattle!? Come on!

Science:

How the brain tends to switch off completely when put in front of a so-called expert. Avoid them, I say!

Ever wondered what’s on the other side of the planet? Literally? Wonder no more. For me? Ocean. Pointer from Sheamus.

Scientists are getting closer to finding the cause(s) of the demise of the honey bee. Good news, eh? Then we just need to do something about it!

Environment:

An article in Newsweek has this question:

How do you keep people interested in green initiatives and saving the environment at a time when people are concerned about their jobs?

That seems like such a silly thing to ask, when the vast majority of things you can do yourself for the environment is about being frugal? The article is interesting enough though, since it tries to answer the overlying question, which is whether there’s political will in a time of recession to invest heavily in the environment.

Growing hemp could be one of the answers to Newsweek’s question.

Where not otherwise indicated the above links are found via my own RSS feeds or via the busy, busy Nerdnews on Twitter.

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More, yes MORE about youngsters and social networking

I’ve written a lot about this lately and now it’s a major media storm here. If you haven’t read my last entry on the subject, this one probably won’t make much sense, unless you instead read this excellent post from a blog I didn’t know existed, but am more than glad that I’ve now found. It’s called Bad Science and that’s just what it’s about. Much needed!

In the post you can see a video clip from BBC’s Newsnight from last night, where Ben Goldacre, who writes Bad Science discusses with a psychologist who claims that social networking makes you physically ill… It’s here:

On his blog he also points to this article about a scientific study from the University of Southern California and the University of California at Berkeley, which claims that social networking in fact empowers the young. The full study is here.

I warmly recommend reading the whole article in the Washington Times (not long), as it has some good down-to-earth tips about how to go about helping your child using social networking in a healthy and responsible way.

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How social networking must be corrupting our children…

because it’s not our fault, is it?

The British papers are all running after Baroness & neuroscientist Susan Greenfield today. She has a message that we can all use – it’s the Internet’s fault. Almost everything. Including Autism. Here’s in the Daily Mail. And – thank God – a less hysterical one in the Guardian.

The most interesting thing about this is that all of it is her opinion. In spite of being a highly respected scientist she apparently doesn’t need any kind of evidence for her claims.

As readers of this blog will know, I don’t really believe in this. I do, however, believe that we ARE changed by the web. Of course we are! It has totally changed the way we go about things, so in its turn, we are changed. But so did Gutenberg’s lovely invention, the industrial revolution and radio.

One of her claims is that after some years of exposure to the web, we can’t read longer passages any more and we can’t hold focus. I read more and longer articles than I ever have before, on line as well as off line – that’s a fact. I watch much less TV than I ever did. I e-mail with my friends and speak with them on the phone on the same level as I always have – maybe a bit more e-mail and a bit less telephone, but that’s more due to my friends being in Denmark than a change in behaviour. For me, nothing beats a café morning with good friends. And I know many young people who are the same – as much as they love staying in contact with their friends via Facebook, WOW, text messaging etc., they still gather IRL several times a week!

It might be true that our attention span has shortened. But I’m afraid my own attention span has always been short, so I really can’t judge that!

She also attributes Attention Deficit Disorders and the need for Instant Gratification to the web. I just don’t buy that! I find the need for Instant Gratification among the younger generations very disturbing and I constantly battle with my own children on this account. But my 7-year old has yet to take any interest in social networking or anything other than Googling answers to his eternal stream of questions. And he certainly suffers from a much too great need for instant gratification. But so do all his peers, including those whose conscientious parents keep them away from computer games and restrict their TV time!

I’m afraid that we – the parents – are to blame again. The last many, many years of total focus on material things has left us almost incapable of rewarding our children with none-tangible stuff. We reward them with chocolate, junk dinners, trinkets, toys, a trip to PLAYland etc etc. And I’d like to emphasize that I’m as guilty as anyone here! The trouble is, of course, that once you’ve started down that path, it’s so, so hard to reverse!

I would LOVE to discuss this on an informed level – with other parents, with anybody with a qualified opinion.

How do we teach our children the joy of anticipation?

As a little aside, here’s a story about how the Daily Mail and papers like it distort reality, so it fits in beautifully with the Public Opinion – or what it perceives it to be. It’s on the subject of poor little Christian children being bullied by Muslims at school.

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Wikipedia is cool

Lately I’ve been writing essays for a course I’m taking at Uni called “Source Reliability”. Readers of this blog will know that I’m rather keen on this subject. We get our essays accepted or not accepted – they aren’t graded. But the professor comments on them, and he liked my latest essay. It’s about Wikipedia and has a debacle between the science journal Nature and Encyclopaedia Britannica as its starting point. If you haven’t heard about the debacle, here’s what it says in Wikipedia (and it’s in fact quite a correct description):

On 14 December 2005, the scientific journal Nature reported that, within 42 randomly selected general science articles, there were 162 mistakes in Wikipedia versus 123 in Britannica. In its detailed 20-page rebuttal, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. characterized Nature’s study as flawed and misleading and called for a “prompt” retraction. It noted that two of the articles in the study were taken from a Britannica year book, and not the encyclopedia; another two were from Compton’s Encyclopedia (called the Britannica Student Encyclopedia on the company’s web site). The rebuttal went on to mention that some of the articles presented to reviewers were combinations of several articles, and that other articles were merely excerpts but were penalized for factual omissions. The company also noted that several facts classified as errors by Nature were minor spelling variations, and that several of its alleged errors were matters of interpretation. Nature defended its story and declined to retract, stating that, as it was comparing Wikipedia with the web version of Britannica, it used whatever relevant material was available on Britannica’s website.

Below find my essay – only edited slightly for use here (no footnotes etc.). If you can’t be bothered to read the whole thing – about a 1000 words – then scroll down to the bottom. There’s my tips for what to think about before you delve into a Wikipedia article.

The battle between Encyclopedia Britannica (hereafter EB) and Nature was intriguing – not least because it, in my view, is somewhat beside the point. Nature’s intentions were honourable, I believe, in letting their very informed readers know if it can be considered worthwhile – not safe – to use Wikipedia for anything. And they seemed to be rather baffled themselves at the result, that yes, it is worthwhile, also for the informed user, to consult Wikipedia. In my view the article did not try to put EB down.

One of the more interesting facts the investigation revealed was that the learned test persons were more sceptical towards the random articles than towards the articles within their fields of expertise. For reasons that I can’t quite understand, many teachers at all levels of the schooling system tell their pupils to NEVER use Wikipedia. Many times I’ve heard well educated and academically trained people say that they never use Wikipedia, because it’s completely untrustworthy. But upon inspection, they have never used it, so how is it that they know? Probably this is why the test persons were so sceptical towards the articles about subjects outside their intellectual comfort zone.

It is also interesting to notice the aggression and fervour with which EB responded to the article. A lot of their response may be correct in a narrow sense, but entirely beside the point, because the Wikipedia articles had had the exact same treatment. And the Nature article is actually quite critical about some things in Wikipedia – like the occasional rather poorly constructed articles and poor readability. This fervour may be related to the sad fact that academia frowns upon academics who choose to put their skills to use for the general public. Nature surveyed 1000 scientists, of which only 10% had ever helped updating Wikipedia. It probably doesn’t improve your academic career to invest time enlightening the public on your speciality.

And then there are all the things you can get from Wikipedia, which EB doesn’t give you. There are articles about every little town or village in the Western World, every politician, every pop group, every artist, every historical person, every technical term or gadget known to man – almost. And then there’s the freshness – the articles updated at the speed of light when events develop. Apart from the way they are created, these two factors are what really separates Wikipedia from EB. And why to some extent comparing them is a bit like comparing apples and pears. And access to EB is on subscription basis. In Denmark and here in the UK you can gain free access to EB via your local library. But unfortunately, most people don’t know this – or just can’t be bothered. In EB you cannot see when an article has been created or updated – or at least I can’t find it. And there are very few outside links and no references.

When I was a child we had two encyclopedias in the house: Lademanns and Gyldendals. I quickly discovered that Lademanns was best for looking up things to do with nature, science and geography because of the many, good colour photographs and illustrations. Whereas Gyldendal was best on history and literature, because the entries were better and longer. But, and this is the point, it never occurred to me to doubt the authenticity of any of the articles. And I wasn’t taught that at school either. I didn’t hear about source criticism (kildekritik) before high school (gymnasiet), where I had a history teacher (an elderly gentleman) who made it an issue. It was the first time I had ever heard of anyone questioning a source. Every time he gave us something to read, he asked us to consider who had written it, why he had written it and who we thought were the intended audience. This simple wisdom has stayed with me always and I try to remember to apply it to all things I read or hear.

The thing about Wikipedia, which could maybe teach many more Internet users source criticism, is exactly the knowledge of how it is written and (not) edited. One must always consider the fact that the article one’s looking at might just have been tampered with by some idiot or a person with malicious intent. Or that it’s written by somebody who has an overblown perception of her own knowledge. This is not a thought that automatically comes to mind when looking up something in EB or another “trusted source”. So I believe that the way Wikipedia is constructed actually encourages its users to be source critical. And that scepticism could even follow the user when she ventures outside Wikipedia and looks at other sources.

Quite often Wikipedia is an excellent starting point for research on a subject. Usually it becomes clear very quickly what kind of person or persons are responsible for a Wikipedia article. Some of them are clearly written by scholars or by extremely knowledgeable amateurs and their sources are often gold, when the goal is to move on to primary sources. Other articles are not so well written or edited and one instantly gets wary. That very often reflects on the sources, which will be few and erratic. And I believe this wariness and alertness to be very healthy for the users.

Setting aside the times I use Wikipedia to look up the full name of a pop star or the use of a technical gadget, I try to ask myself these questions while reading a Wikipedia article:

What kind of person wrote this?
Syntax, writing style, approach to subject. Is the faulty English because the writer doesn’t have English as her mother tongue or is it a warning sign?
Why did the person write this? Out of pride, to boast, for political/religious reasons or because the person honestly feels it is her duty to share her knowledge?
Does the article have the feel of having been worked over many times? If so, I check the history and debate pages.
What are the sources like? Are there many? Are they online, off line or a mix? How many of them are readily accessible (not necessarily online, but from a library)?
How sensitive is the subject? Can I maybe believe some parts of the article, but not other parts? This may be the case for quite a few historical articles, where basic facts are agreed on by everybody, but where historians disagree on the interpretation of certain incidents or documents. This is also the case for articles on pharmaceutical compounds.
Am I looking at a subject where recent events have led the article to be expanded or changed? The article about Sarah Palin is an obvious example. One can go back to the version of the article a couple of weeks before she was chosen as running mate for McCain and get an impression from that.

The above rules of thumb could very well be applied to most other sources as well. But with most other sources you can’t check the previous versions…

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