Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

Why so much fuss that Facebook “manipulated” emotions?

July 8, 2014

There has been a lot of fuss lately about an internal Facebook study which managed to be published in a scientific journal as I noted in passing about 3 weeks ago.

Emotional contagion by Facebook could be a new disease. A case of the medium creating the new disease! Heightened emotions can apparently be transmitted by Facebook. The researchers find that“emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness”. And emotional contagion is what turns a crowd into a mob. And as this work from MIT shows, “Good people can do bad things. Belonging to a group makes people more likely to harm others outside the group.”

The research consisted of manipulating Facebook feeds and seeing what happened. The paper, the journal, Facebook and Cornell University have been heavily criticised for their “lack of ethics” and many are back-tracking in CYA exercises. Retraction Watch writes:

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) is subjecting a much-criticized study involving Facebook that it published just two weeks ago to an Expression of Concern. …. Critics — and there were many online — said the study violated ethical norms because it did not alert participants that they were taking part.

…… Here’s the Expression of Concern, signed by editor-in-chief Inder Verma:

……. When the authors prepared their paper for publication in PNAS, they stated that: “Because this experiment was conducted by Facebook, Inc. for internal purposes, the Cornell University IRB [Institutional Review Board] determined that the project did not fall under Cornell’s Human Research Protection Program.” This statement has since been confirmed by Cornell University. ……

But I find all the fuss a little hypocritical. Manipulation of the behaviour of others is the norm and the bed-rock for all human social intercourse.

Politicians manipulate – or try to – their voters. Demagogues manipulate individuals to create a mob. Artists and authors try to arouse emotions. Scientists try to influence their grant panels. We manipulate our friends and our family members. A leader manipulates his followers. Followers try to influence their leaders. All human cooperation is built on manipulation of behaviour. We try to manipulate our enemies. When we call it “manipulation” we disapprove but when we call it “motivation” it is to be admired. Obama tries to motivate Netanyahu but Bibi usually manages to manipulate Barack. Manipulation of behaviour by persuasion is fine but manipulation by coercion is frowned upon. Any advertisement – by definition – plays with the emotions of its target audience and tries to manipulate their behaviour.

So what is wrong then when a Facebook or a Google or a Twitter  – whose business model depends on placing advertisements accurately and effectively – tries to employ “emotional contagion” to maximise their revenues? I closed my Facebook and Twitter accounts some time ago partly because I did not like their intrusive nature. But that was because I felt that my personal space was being encroached on – and beyond the level I felt comfortable with. But I certainly did not feel they were doing anything unethical. In this case I find the criticism confused and a little inane. Was it unethical for Facebook to have conducted an “internal” study. I don’t think so. Was it unethical for PNAS to have published the paper? Not really.

If it is unethical for internet sites or social media to target advertisements then it is unethical for any advertisement to be targeted towards anyone.

The onus I think lies with the individual.



A “right” to be remembered

July 6, 2014

We shall all die and we shall all be forgotten. And if our works have not been captured on tablets of stone or our images as cave paintings then the “forgetting” will not take very long. While stone tablets and cave walls have a life of tens of thousands of years, the life of parchment is at most about two thousand and paper is unlikely to survive more than a thousand years. Media for the storage of electronic data can live for probably no more than a few decades – at best. And with the internet the medium is getting ever more ephemeral.

History does not change. But the historical record depends on who recorded it and with how much bias, on what medium and who rewrote it before the medium died. Data corruption and plagiarism were not of great concern in the days of stone tablets. The ease of corrupting data has increased with the ease of recording data and the lifetime of the recording media have decreased.

David Mitchell writes in The Observer:

These days thousands are campaigning for “the right to die” and “the right to be forgotten as if they’re genuinely worried it might otherwise not happen.

What will our descendants think of it? “Bloody hell, those guys were a bit glass-half-empty! What else did they want? ‘The right to self-harm’? ‘The right to feel humiliated’? ‘The right to decompose’? ‘The right to have someone you hate turn up at your funeral and claim you liked them’?” Historians of future ages could be forgiven for concluding that this whole era was clinically depressed. ……… 

The only thing I ever liked about the internet was that I thought it would help historians – that, assuming there wasn’t an all-data-destroying power surge, millions of searchable written sources would be left to posterity. Without that, it’s all just grooming and bookshop closures and mind-blowing opportunities for fraud. So this news that Ozymandias can apply to have records of his works suppressed in case they invoke too much despair in the Mighty – ie prospective employers – is a real blow.

You may say that Ozymandias is dead – or rather fictional but, even in the fiction, dead – so couldn’t apply to have his virtual trunkless legs buried in the unsearchable sand (I will retain control of this metaphor). The internet can still be accurate about the deceased, you might think. I don’t. They’re the very people you can say anything about, true or false, because they cannot be libelled. Only the living have legal recourse to ensure accuracy, but why would anyone bother to get things corrected if they can effectively just delete anything written about them that they’re not keen on?

People’s right to suppress unpleasant lies which are publicly told is being extended to unpleasant truths – until they die when it’s suddenly open season on slander. The internet will become constructed entirely of two different sorts of untruth: contemporaneous unalloyed praise and posthumous defamatory hearsay.

We are 7 billion today and all the humans who ever lived (as Anatomically Modern Humans since about 200,000 years ago) probably number around 110 billion. Being forgotten is is the norm.

I want the “right” to be remembered – but not for those things I don’t want to be remembered for! But I will be long gone, long forgotten, and will have little interest in any “rights” by then.

Peer review as the erroneous comments of anonymous experts

May 28, 2014

There is a presumed halo around peer review which is quite unjustified. And when a publish or perish attitude prevails in academia it is inevitable that political correctness – as defined by the “peers” – colours whatever gets published. And “political correctness”  in science leads to a stamp of approval for what fits with the “consensus”. Nothing revolutionary can get through. Anything which smacks of being “heretical” has little chance of passing “peer review”.

 In 1936, Albert Einstein—who was used to people like Planck making decisions about his papers without outside opinions—was incensed when the American journal Physical Review sent his submission to another physicist for evaluation. In a terse note to the editor, Einstein wrote: “I see no reason to address the—in any case erroneous—comments of your anonymous expert. On the basis of this incident I prefer to publish the paper elsewhere.”

Melinda Baldwin considers the question “Did Isaac Newton need peer review

Peer review at scholarly journals involves recruiting experts to evaluate a paper before it is approved for publication. When a paper is submitted, the editors send it to two or three reviewers who are considered knowledgeable about the topic. The reviewers and the authors, in theory, do not know each others’ identities. If the reviewers raise objections to the methods or conclusions, the authors must revise the paper before it will be accepted for publication. If the objections are significant, the paper is rejected.

Most observers regard non-peer-reviewed results as, at best, preliminary. Instinctively, this makes sense. When a paper is printed in a scientific journal, it acquires the “imprimatur of scientific authenticity” (to quote the physicist John Ziman) and many observers consider its findings to be established scientific facts. It seems like a good idea to subject a paper to expert scrutiny before granting it that sort of status.

But it turns out that peer review is only the scientific community’s most recent method of providing this scrutiny—and it’s worth asking if science is, in fact, “real” only if it’s been approved by anonymous referees.

…. Nature published some papers without peer review up until 1973. In fact, many of the most influential texts in the history of science were never put through the peer review process, including Isaac Newton’s 1687 Principia Mathematica, Albert Einstein’s 1905 paper on relativity, and James Watson and Francis Crick’s 1953 Nature paper on the structure of DNA. ….

……… Peer review’s history is of particular interest now because there is an increasing sense in the scientific community that all is not well with the peer review process. In recent years, high-profile papers have passed peer review only to be heavily criticized after publication (such as the 2011 “arsenic DNA” paper in Science that claimed a particular bacterium could incorporate arsenic into its DNA—a finding most biologists have since rejected). Others have been retracted amid allegations of fraud (consider the now-infamous 1998 Lancet paper claiming a link between vaccines and autism). Many scientists worry that requiring approval from colleagues makes it less likely that new or controversial ideas will be published. Nature’s former editor John Maddox was fond of saying that the groundbreaking 1953 DNA paper would never have made it past modern peer review because it was too speculative. ….

“Peers” – and especially since they have to be knowledgeable in the field – always have some vested interest. It could be to defend their own work, or to publicise their own work, or to gain support for their own funding, to help young researchers get published, or to hinder others. Careers can be enhanced or destroyed by aiding or preventing publication. Anonymity also means that there is no accountability for the consequences of the reviewer’s views. Inevitably nothing revolutionary that may be attacked by an influential reviewer can even be submitted for publication. And therein lies the problem with “politically correct” science.

Now with the ease of on-line publication increasing, pre-publication, anonymous peer review is obsolete and has to give way to post-publication, attributable review.

Paid news and media extortion

May 18, 2014

The media like to portray themselves as a vital and necessary force for democracy. Attacks on the press – in any form – are considered fundamentally a strike against democracy and press freedom. If they break the law and get arrested they claim they were doing it for the greater good. They believe they are entitled to some form of press immunity.

But the reality is that “press freedom” is far too often used as an excuse for justifying criminal behaviour and  bad journalism. Accountability is not of any great concern.

But the media (print and broadcast and on the internet) are not averse to being paid for presenting what is essentially advertising as “news”. And even being paid for not publishing negative stories!!

The Election Commission in India are basking in the soft glow of having successfully conducted the massive, 10 phase voting by 550 million of an electorate of over 800 million over a 6 week period. They have the task of maintaining a “free and fair” election and have not been slow to pull up politicians who are transgressing. They have detected nearly 700 cases of the media transgressing the bounds of propriety.

But they have no authority over the media and the media – in their own judgement – can do no wrong.


As many as 694 cases of paid news – or news for which the media organisations took money to publish or broadcast – were detected by the Election Commission in this election, official said.

By the time the 10 phases of the polls ended to form the 16th parliament on May 12, thousands of cases of paid news were reported, according to EC officials. In 3,053 cases, notice was issued by the EC suspecting a foul play, an official said. 

“We served 3,053 notices, 694 of which were found to be genuine cases of paid news by our Media Certification and Monitoring Committee,” EC Director General Akshay Rout told IANS. “We define paid news as those items which are published as news but are advertisement in nature,” he added.

“There is no accountability in the media. While some candidates willingly pay for positive coverage, in most other cases candidates have to pay to prevent negative coverage. The media is getting increasingly criminalised, and acting as extortionist,” noted columnist and commentator Swapan Das Gupta told IANS. He added that media is acting as a reckless body, violating every known tenet of ethics.

… The Election Commission …. said it was not obliged to act against the TV news channels or print media indulging in such practices. “The media houses or publications are beyond the EC’s purview. We simply forward the cases of paid news to the PCI and the News Broadcasting Standards Association,” Dhirendra Ojha, Director in the EC, told IANS.

The shape of ads to come

March 23, 2014

Using augmented reality in advertisements.

US technology giants were complicit in NSA’s data trawling

March 19, 2014

Microsoft, Google, Apple,Yahoo, Facebook and AOL all claimed they did not know that the access they provided led to the NSA trawling their clients’ and customers’ data. But while they may not have liked it, they certainly knew all about it according to the NSA’s chief legal counsel. It would seem that these large technology companies all cooperated – even if reluctantly – and were complicit in the NSA’s indiscriminate data gathering.

It seems they have all been protesting too much as they have tried to build up their facade of innocence.

The Guardian: 

The senior lawyer for the National Security Agency stated unequivocally on Wednesday that US technology companies were fully aware of the surveillance agency’s widespread collection of data, contradicting month of angry denials from the firms. 

Rajesh De, the NSA general counsel, said all communications content and associated metadata harvested by the NSA under a 2008 surveillance law occurred with the knowledge of the companies – both for the internet collection program known as Prism and for the so-called “upstream” collection of communications moving across the internet.

Asked during at a Wednesday hearing of the US government’s institutional privacy watchdog if collection under the law, known as Section 702 or the Fisa Amendments Act, occurred with the “full knowledge and assistance of any company from which information is obtained,” De replied: “Yes.”

……. The NSA’s Wednesday comments contradicting the tech companies about the firms’ knowledge of Prism risk entrenching tensions with the firms NSA relies on for an effort that Robert Litt, general counsel for the director of national intelligence, told the board was “one of the most valuable collection tools that we have.”

“All 702 collection is pursuant to court directives, so they have to know,” De reiterated to the Guardian.

The technology giants do not really believe in the privacy of their clients. They have been complicit all along in the NSA’s data trawling exercises and have put up – in reality – very little resistance. And all their protests of innocence and reluctance and resistance are merely a public relations exercise.

As the Jungle Drum reported in December last year:

Let’s start with Gates and MS, which allowed the NSA to access every 9x series OS via a backdoor tailored especially for the purpose — that much is verified. Then we have master data censor and exploiter Eric Schmidt of Google, who has been a regular attendee at Bilderberg meetings over the past few years — for those unaware, the shadowy Bilderberg group of mega wealthy business people, bankers, media magnates, monarchs and strategically placed people of influence, hold annual meetings where ‘they’ outline future directions for the world — and you thought your elected puppets represented you and made all the decisions!

The latest well publicised manoeuvres by tech giants are simply part of an overall damage control plan to convince the public that their data will not be compromised by the NSA when in fact these companies were willing and complicit partners to US agency spying. Schmidt, Gates and Zuckerberg are probably the worst pretenders/offenders.

What Snowden’s revelations have done is make the public aware of a well known fact in digital underground circles, that privacy is a myth, in fact it was Eric ‘Google’ Schmidt who stated publicly that people have to fight to maintain privacy today. So let’s cut the crap and just admit that large tech companies are complicit in attacks on the public and follow the globalist agenda.

……. Do not be deceived by the pretence of mega tech companies, they voluntarily entered into partnerships with the NSA and in Google’s and Facebook’s case, the CIA. Private mail services are already being offered on the net and its only a matter of time before other companies, not related to the above nefarious data corporations, make huge inroads in the digital world.

Let down by the Oscars

March 13, 2014

Our local cinema tried to cash in after the Oscars were awarded. They offered a package ticket for four Oscar winning movies to be screened this week and next. On Monday night we saw “12 Years a Slave” and on Tuesday we saw “Gravity”. We see two more next week.

But so far it has been an immense disappointment. I feel let down by the Oscars. Being awarded an Oscar clearly has very little to do with quality – of any kind. Our little 300 seat cinema (fully digital and with Dolby sound) was not particularly stretched. We had 10 viewers for “Slave” and 8 for “Gravity”!!!!

After the first I was just disappointed. Wooden acting, pedestrian directing by Steve McQueen, long camera shots of motionless faces evoking nothing. Cotton picking scenes which carried no credibility (and I have seen it done in real life in India). The cane cutting scenes were even less convincing (and I have seen real sugar cane plantations in Asia and in S. America). The scenes of gratuitous violence (slaves being whipped) were artificial – at best. The book would no doubt have been a lot better. If this got the best movie award it does not say much for the rest. Lupita Nyong’o got the award for best female supporting actress but I thought there was more make-up than acting involved in her role. I am not sure what the critics saw, but it couldn’t have been the same movie I saw. The critics were probably paid out of the promotion budgets. Oh Dear!

After the second, “Gravity”, disappointment turned to irritation. I can’t criticise the acting because there wasn’t any. I can’t criticise the script because it clearly didn’t have one. It had two big stars who had almost nothing to do. Alfonso Cuarón won the best director award – for what I wonder? The much vaunted special effects were tame and entirely forgettable. No plot. Anyway Sandra Bullock managed to destroy the Shuttle, the International Space Station and a Chinese Space Station all in one go and survived to tell the tale. Why George Clooney was there was a mystery. He does more acting in the Nespresso commercials than he was required to do here. (I could add that the Nespresso commercials are far better directed than this Oscar winner). Oh double Dear!!

We have “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Blue Jasmine” left to see next week.

But my expectations of Oscar winners have been drastically lowered – so perhaps they won’t do too badly.

Nils Horner RIP

March 11, 2014

I tend to listen a great deal to radio – mainly Swedish Radio and the BBC. One of the high points every morning was listening to Nils Horner’s reports on Swedish radio from South Asia. Just yesterday I listened to his report on Fukushima 3 years after the great earthquake and Tsunami. Swedish Radio cannot afford too many overseas correspondents and Nils Horner covered all of South Asia. And this he did with great insight while still maintaining an admirable objectivity. He never found the need or gave in to the temptation to sensationalise his reports  – and in this day and age that was quite remarkable.

Nils Georg Anthony Horner was of dual British and Swedish nationality and had been Swedish Radio’s Middle East and later South Asia correspondent since 2001. He was a radio journalist and reporter of the old school and while he did not have the reach that they had through the BBC, I would put him in the same league as Alistair Cooke and Mark Tully. Like them he had the uncanny ability to evoke the mood and colour and smell of his locations. I always felt I was learning something new when listening to his reports. He was a sympathetic interviewer with a wonderful knack of drawing out his subjects without having to interrupt or harangue or talk down to them. He tried always to get the story and not just to score cheap brownie points.

He was shot and killed in Afghanistan today. He was working on a report on the upcoming Afghan election and especially the views of women.He was talking to his translator outside a restaurant in an affluent and well guarded area of Kabul when approached by 2 men. He was shot in the head with a silenced weapon.

Nils Horner  1962 - 2014

Nils Horner 1962 – 2014 photo AP

He was just 51 and I shall miss his reports.


Armed David

March 10, 2014


David holding an AR-50A1 rifle Photo via The Guardian -: Franco Visintainer/ANSA

David holding an AR-50A1 rifle Photo via The Guardian -: Franco Visintainer/ANSA

“Peer review is a regression to the mean. ….. a completely corrupt system” – Sydney Brenner

March 2, 2014
Sydney Brenner

Sydney Brenner, CH FRS (born 13 January 1927) is a biologist and a 2002 Nobel prize laureate, shared with H. Robert Horvitz and John Sulston. Brenner made significant contributions to work on the genetic code, and other areas of molecular biology at the Medical Research Council Unit in Cambridge, England.

A fascinating interview with Professor Sydney Brenner by Elizabeth Dzeng in the Kings Review.

I find his comments on Academia and publishing and peer review  particularly apposite. Peer review – especially where cliques of “peers” determine “correct thinking” – can not provide sufficient room for the dissenting view, for the challenging of orthodoxy. Orthodox but incorrect views thus persist for much longer than they should. Completely new avenues are effectively blocked and ideas are still-born.

Some extracts here but the whole conversation is well worth a read.

How Academia and Publishing are Destroying Scientific Innovation: A Conversation with Sydney Brenner

by Elizabeth Dzeng, February 24th

I recently had the privilege of speaking with Professor Sydney Brenner, a professor of Genetic medicine at the University of Cambridge and Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine in 2002. ….

SB: Today the Americans have developed a new culture in science based on the slavery of graduate students. Now graduate students of American institutions are afraid. He just performs. He’s got to perform. The post-doc is an indentured labourer. We now have labs that don’t work in the same way as the early labs where people were independent, where they could have their own ideas and could pursue them.

The most important thing today is for young people to take responsibility, to actually know how to formulate an idea and how to work on it. Not to buy into the so-called apprenticeship. I think you can only foster that by having sort of deviant studies. ……..

…… I think I’ve often divided people into two classes: Catholics and Methodists. Catholics are people who sit on committees and devise huge schemes in order to try to change things, but nothing’s happened. Nothing happens because the committee is a regression to the mean, and the mean is mediocre. Now what you’ve got to do is good works in your own parish. That’s a Methodist. 

ED: …….. It is alarming that so many Nobel Prize recipients have lamented that they would never have survived this current academic environment. What is the implication of this on the discovery of future scientific paradigm shifts and scientific inquiry in general? I asked Professor Brenner to elaborate.

SB: He wouldn’t have survived. It is just the fact that he wouldn’t get a grant today because somebody on the committee would say, oh those were very interesting experiments, but they’ve never been repeated. And then someone else would say, yes and he did it a long time ago, what’s he done recently?  And a third would say, to top it all, he published it all in an un-refereed journal.

So you know we now have these performance criteria, which I think are just ridiculous in many ways. But of course this money has to be apportioned, and our administrators love having numbers like impact factors or scores. ….

……. And of course all the academics say we’ve got to have peer review. But I don’t believe in peer review because I think it’s very distorted and as I’ve said, it’s simply a regression to the mean.

I think peer review is hindering science. In fact, I think it has become a completely corrupt system. It’s corrupt in many ways, in that scientists and academics have handed over to the editors of these journals the ability to make judgment on science and scientists. There are universities in America, and I’ve heard from many committees, that we won’t consider people’s publications in low impact factor journals.

Now I mean, people are trying to do something, but I think it’s not publish or perish, it’s publish in the okay places [or perish]. And this has assembled a most ridiculous group of people.

…….. I think there was a time, and I’m trying to trace the history when the rights to publish, the copyright, was owned jointly by the authors and the journal. Somehow that’s why the journals insist they will not publish your paper unless you sign that copyright over. It is never stated in the invitation, but that’s what you sell in order to publish. And everybody works for these journals for nothing. There’s no compensation. There’s nothing. They get everything free. They just have to employ a lot of failed scientists, editors who are just like the people at Homeland Security, little power grabbers in their own sphere.

If you send a PDF of your own paper to a friend, then you are committing an infringement. Of course they can’t police it, and many of my colleagues just slap all their papers online. I think you’re only allowed to make a few copies for your own purposes. It seems to me to be absolutely criminal. When I write for these papers, I don’t give them the copyright. I keep it myself. That’s another point of publishing, don’t sign any copyright agreement. That’s my advice. I think it’s now become such a giant operation. I think it is impossible to try to get control over it back again. …….. Recently there has been an open access movement and it’s beginning to change. I think that even NatureScience and Cell are going to have to begin to bow. I mean in America we’ve got old George Bush who made an executive order that everybody in America is entitled to read anything printed with federal funds, tax payers’ money, so they have to allow access to this. But they don’t allow you access to the published paper. They allow you I think what looks like a proof, which you can then display.

Elizabeth Dzeng is a PhD candidate conducting research at the intersection of medical sociology, clinical medicine and medical ethics at the University of Cambridge. She is also a practising doctor and a fellow in General Internal Medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.


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