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“Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have”*…

 

Dunning-Kruger

 

The American author and aphorist William Feather once wrote that being educated means “being able to differentiate between what you know and what you don’t.” As it turns out, this simple ideal is extremely hard to achieve. Although what we know is often perceptible to us, even the broad outlines of what we don’t know are all too often completely invisible. To a great degree, we fail to recognize the frequency and scope of our ignorance.

In 1999, in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, my then graduate student Justin Kruger and I published a paper that documented how, in many areas of life, incompetent people do not recognize—scratch that, cannot recognize—just how incompetent they are, a phenomenon that has come to be known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. Logic itself almost demands this lack of self-insight: For poor performers to recognize their ineptitude would require them to possess the very expertise they lack. To know how skilled or unskilled you are at using the rules of grammar, for instance, you must have a good working knowledge of those rules, an impossibility among the incompetent. Poor performers—and we are all poor performers at some things—fail to see the flaws in their thinking or the answers they lack…

The trouble with ignorance is that it feels so much like expertise. A leading researcher on the psychology of human wrongness– David Dunning himself– explains the Dunning-Kruger effect: “We are all confident idiots.”

* James Baldwin

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As we reconsider our confidence, we might recall that it was on this date in 1996 that the cable channel Fox News debuted.

fox-news-logo source

 

Written by LW

October 7, 2019 at 1:01 am

“…but no one was interested in the facts. They preferred the invention because this invention expressed and corroborated their hates and fears so perfectly”*…

 

fakenewsvacc

 

Most Americans (and indeed, many citizens of dozens of other countries around the world) agree that fake news is a problem…  even if they don’t always agree on which news is fake.

Lots of energy (and money) has gone into trying to stop the flow of of misinformation masquerading as legitimate journalism, and (as that’s proven effectively impossible) into trying to “tag” or label questionable pieces as a warning to readers– an approach that’s also showing little sign of working.

But researchers at the University of Cambridge have taken a cue from medicine and it’s fight against infectious diseases:  if you can’t eliminate the pathogen, make the population immune to it– invent a vaccine…

An online game in which people play the role of propaganda producers to help them identify real world disinformation has been shown to increase “psychological resistance” to fake news, according to a study of 15,000 participants.

In February 2018, University of Cambridge researchers helped launch the browser game Bad News. Thousands of people spent fifteen minutes completing it, with many allowing the data to be used for a study.

Players stoke anger and fear by manipulating news and social media within the simulation: deploying twitter bots, photo-shopping evidence, and inciting conspiracy theories to attract followers—all while maintaining a “credibility score” for persuasiveness.

“Research suggests that fake news spreads faster and deeper than the truth, so combating disinformation after-the-fact can be like fighting a losing battle,” said Dr. Sander van der Linden, Director of the Cambridge Social Decision-Making Lab.

“We wanted to see if we could pre-emptively debunk, or ‘pre-bunk’, fake news by exposing people to a weak dose of the methods used to create and spread disinformation, so they have a better understanding of how they might be deceived.

“This is a version of what psychologists call ‘inoculation theory’, with our game working like a psychological vaccination.”

To gauge the effects of the game, players were asked to rate the reliability of a series of different headlines and tweets before and after gameplay. They were randomly allocated a mixture of real (“control”) and fake news (“treatment”).

The study, published today in the journal Palgrave Communications, showed the perceived reliability of fake news before playing the game had reduced by an average of 21% after completing it. Yet the game made no difference to how users ranked real news.

The researchers also found that those who registered as most susceptible to fake news headlines at the outset benefited most from the “inoculation”…

Learn more at “Fake news ‘vaccine’ works: ‘Pre-bunking’ game reduces susceptibility to disinformation.”  Then play Bad News.

Readers might also find it instructive to consider the media analogues to the techniques demonstrated by pickpocket-extraordinaire Apollo Robbins in “The Art of Misdirection.”

* James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son

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As we contemplate credibility, we might send acerbic birthday greetings to journalist and author Hunter S. Thompson; he was born in Louisville on this date in 1929.  The author of Hell’s AngelsFear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, he is widely credited as the creator of the Gonzo school of journalism (an extreme form of New Journalism in which the reporter isn’t simply present, he/she is central), and widely remembered for his love of inebriates and guns, and for his hate of authoritarianism in general and Richard Nixon in particular.

…the massive, frustrated energies of a mainly young, disillusioned electorate that has long since abandoned the idea that we all have a duty to vote. This is like being told you have a duty to buy a new car, but you have to choose immediately between a Ford and a Chevy.
– Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72  (1973)

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Interestingly, it was also on this date– in 1870– that the First Vatican Council established the dogma of Papal Infallibility.

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Pope Pius IX, during whose Office the dogma of infallibility was established– thus the first officially-infallible Pope

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“Our major obligation is not to mistake slogans for solutions”*…

 

luo-slownews

 

In 2008, the Columbia Journalism Review published an article with the headline “Overload!,” which examined news fatigue in “an age of too much information.” When “Overload!” was published, BlackBerrys still dominated the smartphone market, push notifications hadn’t yet to come to the iPhone, retweets weren’t built into Twitter, and BuzzFeed News did not exist. Looking back, the idea of suffering from information overload in 2008 seems almost quaint. Now, more than a decade later, a fresh reckoning seems to be upon us. Last year, Tim Cook, the chief executive officer of Apple, unveiled a new iPhone feature, Screen Time, which allows users to track their phone activity. During an interview at a Fortune conference, Cook said that he was monitoring his own usage and had “slashed” the number of notifications he receives. “I think it has become clear to all of us that some of us are spending too much time on our devices,” Cook said.

It is worth considering how news organizations have contributed to the problems Newport and Cook describe. Media outlets have been reduced to fighting over a shrinking share of our attention online; as Facebook, Google, and other tech platforms have come to monopolize our digital lives, news organizations have had to assume a subsidiary role, relying on those sites for traffic. That dependence exerts a powerful influence on which stories are pursued, how they’re presented, and the speed and volume at which they’re turned out…

A central purpose of journalism is the creation of an informed citizenry. And yet—especially in an environment of free-floating, ambient news—it’s not entirely clear what it means to be informed: “The Urgent Quest for Slower, Better News.”

* Edward R. Murrow

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As we break news, we might recall that it was on this date in 1704 that the first issue of The Boston News-Letter was published.  Heavily subsidized by the British government, with a limited circulation, it was the first continuously-published newspaper in North America.  The colonies’ first newspaper was (the rather more editorially-independent)  Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick, which published its first and only issue on September 25, 1690.)

440px-Boston_News-Letter_(first_issue)source

 

Written by LW

April 24, 2019 at 1:01 am

“The mob really believed that truth was whatever respectable society had hypocritically passed over, or covered up with corruption”*…

 

John Adams didn’t literally call the Philadelphia Aurora (also known as the Aurora General Adviser) “fake news,” but he was not pleased by the way he was often depicted in it

In the margins of his copy of Condorcet’s treatise Outlines of an Historical View of the Progress of the Human Mind, President John Adams scribbled a cutting note.

Writing in the section where the French philosopher predicted that a free press would advance knowledge and create a more informed public, Adams scoffed. “There has been more new error propagated by the press in the last ten years than in an hundred years before 1798,” he wrote at the time.

The charge feels shockingly modern. Were he to have written the sentiment in 2018, and not at the turn of the 19th century, it’s easy to imagine that at just 112 characters, he might have tweeted it, instead.

While Chinese monks were block printing the Diamond Sutra as early as 868 A.D. and German printer Johannes Gutenberg developed a method of movable metal type in the mid-1400s, it took until the Enlightenment for the free press as we know it today to be born.

Condorcet’s 1795 text expanded upon the belief that a press free from censorship would circulate an open debate of ideas, with rationality and truth winning out. Adams’ marginal response reminds us that when something like truth is up for debate, the door is open for bad-faith actors (the partisan press in his view) to promulgate falsehoods—something that a reader today might call “fake news.”…

Harrowing history at: “The Age-Old Problem of ‘Fake News’.”

* “Totalitarian propaganda perfects the techniques of mass propaganda, but it neither invents them nor originates their themes. These were prepared for them by fifty years of imperialism and disintegration of the nation-state, when the mob entered the scene of European politics. Like the earlier mob leaders, the spokesmen for totalitarian movements possessed an unerring instinct for anything that ordinary party propaganda or public opinion did not care or dare to touch. Everything hidden, everything passed over in silence, became of major significance, regardless of its own intrinsic importance. The mob really believed that truth was whatever respectable society had hypocritically passed over, or covered up with corruption.”
― Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

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As we ferret out the facts, we might recall that it was on this date in 1593 that Christopher Marlowe, the foremost Elizabethan tragedian of his day (and a powerful influence on Shakespeare), was indicted by the Privy Council for heresy on the basis of testimony (probably elicited by torture) from Marlowe’s roommate, fellow dramatist Thomas Kyd.  Marlowe (who was in fact an atheist and seems likely to have supplemented his income as a spy) was subsequently arrested, but was able to use his connections to arrange bail.  While out he became involved in a fight– ostensibly over a tavern bill, but believed by many to have been a set-up– and was stabbed to death.

The 1585 portrait discovered at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, in 1953, believed to be of the 21-year-old Christopher Marlowe.  The inscribed motto is “QVOD ME NVTRIT ME DESTRVIT,” “that which nourishes me destroys me.”  Indeed.

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Written by LW

May 18, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The great use of a life is to spend it for something that outlasts it”*…

 

When an online news outlet goes out of business, its archives can disappear as well.  A new front in the battle over journalism is the digital legacy of the press.

For years, our most important records have been committed to specialized materials and technologies. For archivists, 1870 is the year everything begins to turn to dust. That was the year American newspaper mills began phasing out rag-based paper with wood pulp, ensuring that newspapers printed after would be known to future generations as delicate things, brittle at the edges, yellowing with the slightest exposure to air. In the late 1920s, the Kodak company suggested microfilm was the solution, neatly compacting an entire newspaper onto a few inches of thin, flexible film. In the second half of the century, entire libraries were transferred to microform, spun on microfilm reels, or served on tiny microfiche platters, while the crumbling originals were thrown away or pulped. To save newspapers, we first had to destroy them.

Then came digital media, which is even more compact than microfilm, giving way, initially at least, to fantasies of whole libraries preserved on the head of a pin. In the event, the new digital records degraded even more quickly than did newsprint. Information’s most consistent quality is its evanescence. Information is fugitive in its very nature.

“People are good at guessing what will be important in the future, but we are terrible at guessing what won’t be,” says Clay Shirky, media scholar and author, who in the early 2000s worked at the Library of Congress on the National Digital Information Infrastructure Preservation Project. After the obvious — presidential inaugurations or live footage of world historical events, say — we have to choose what to save. But we can’t save everything, and we can’t know that what we’re saving will last long. “Much of the modern dance of the 1970s and 1980s is lost precisely because choreographers assumed the VHS tapes they made would preserve it,” he says. He points to Rothenberg’s Law: “Digital data lasts forever, or five years, whichever comes first,” which was coined by the RAND Corporation computer scientist Jeff Rothenberg in a 1995 Scientific American article. “Our digital documents are far more fragile than paper,” he argued. “In fact, the record of the entire present period of history is in jeopardy.”…

Our records are the raw material of history; the shelter of our memories for the future. We must develop ironclad security for our digital archives, and put them entirely out of the reach of hostile hands. The good news is that this is still possible.  Maria Bustillos on what can be done, including a well-deserved shout-out to the Internet Archive: “The Internet Isn’t Forever.”

* William James

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As we ponder preservation, we might spare a thought for Fred W. Friendly (born Ferdinand Friendly Wachenheimer); he died on this date in 1998.  A journalist and producer, he was a driving force behind the rise of CBS News, where he was responsible for See It Now (with Edward R. Murrow) and CBS Reports.  Friendly became President of CBS News in 1964, but resigned in 1966, when the network ran a scheduled episode of The Lucy Show instead of broadcasting live coverage of the first United States Senate hearings questioning American involvement in Vietnam.

After CBS, Friendly became a consultant on broadcast to the Ford Foundation, where he was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the American public broadcasting system.  As head of the New York City Cable TV and Communications Commission, he originated the idea of the public access channel.

Later, he took a position at Columbia School of Journalism, where he strengthened the school’s broadcast curriculum and authored a number of books.

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“But I’m ravenous for news, any kind of news; even if it’s false news, it must mean something.”*…

 

A French print, published in the New York Sun newspaper, in 1835, purported to show all manner of plants and life on the moon’s surface.

… Most subsequent accounts of the Moon hoax fail to mention the Vale dwellers, that superior, lighter race—perhaps because those beings make clear that race and racialism have plenty to do with the hoax and its success. Whether [New York Sun editor Richard Adams] Locke meant to have these creatures taken as symbolic whites, or just as remarkable discoveries—or as things barely to be believed at all—the Moon Hoax’s popularity certainly owed much to its re-creating on the moon what many white readers believed could be found at home: there, on the other end of a telescope, wasn’t just life but order, not just extinct craters but vibrant temples, not just sustenance but subordination, not just humanoids but hierarchies.

Even many white abolitionists didn’t seek to eliminate racial hierarchy altogether, just slavery. In the Moon Hoax, Locke had married the fanciful travelogue to the outright travel lie, but also to the issues of the day. Not bound by facts, the hoax is free to fabricate feelings, and it is this artfulness and ambiguity that help explain the Moon Hoax’s popularity.

That popularity cannot be overstated. The Sun’s circulation soared to almost twenty thousand—a remarkable leap for the young paper, and for the new penny-press model it exemplified. Before the eighteen-thirties, newspapers cost six cents and were chiefly sponsored by political parties. By relying on advertising and circulation, the Sun and other penny papers helped invent a new reading public.

Within months, Locke’s Moon Hoax not only created the most popular newspaper in the world, and practically the very industry of the modern press itself, it also helped galvanize a new, national popular culture. “Moonshine,” a play inspired by the hoax, was performed mere weeks after the articles appeared, at the renowned, newly rebuilt Bowery Theatre, a venue known for doing topical plays and satires. Elsewhere, a life-size cyclorama of the moonscape drew many New Yorkers, including Locke himself.

The Moon Hoax also provided an outlet for the era’s shifting sense of truth. As Ormond Seavey puts it, in an introduction to the hoax’s nineteen-seventies reprint, with the Moon Hoax the Sun “had stumbled across an unexpected fact about American society. The New Yorkers of Andrew Jackson’s second term did not especially care to read the news. Political life bubbled and fizzed around them constantly anyhow; they had no need of being further informed.” And when they did read the paper, Seavey writes, “people did not expect to believe everything they read.” He goes on: “It is impossible to say how widely or how much they did believe the supposed Supplement. When one examines the contemporary newspaper reaction, one can never separate clearly the believers in the hoax from those who knowingly joined in the deception. . . . Both the deadpan teller of the tale and his impassive listeners were conspirators against reality.” Readers and newspapermen found in even the Moon Hoax’s falseness a metaphor for the times—one that echoes our own…

* Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

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As we affirm that there is no alternative (to) fact, we might recall that it was on this date in 1959 that CBS first broadcast CBS Reports.

CBS Reports was a documentary program series inaugurated on October 27, 1959, in the aftermath of the quiz show scandals. Executive producer Fred Friendly (Edward R. Murrow’s colleague on the ‘See It Now’ series) once suggested that the program was an attempt by CBS to undo the damage caused by the quiz show scandals and the resulting investigations. Friendly, who was executive producer for the new program later became the president of CBS News.

“’CBS Reports’ continued as a regular series for seven years, producing 146 hour-long investigative documentaries….Some shows caused controversy; many achieved critical acclaim.”

– “Encyclopedia of Television News

While many of the series’ entries were impactful, probably none were more so than “Harvest of Shame,” a 1960 entry in which Edward R. Murrow exposed the plight of America’s farm workers.

 

Written by LW

October 27, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Photography always acknowledged there were cameras before photography”*…

 

Bernardo Bellotto’s “The Demolition of the Ruins of the Kreuzkirche,” 1765

In an era when photographs are the de facto language of record keeping, memories of modern history before the camera can sometimes feel a tad distant. But people and places did exist before 1839. And in 18th century Europe, the need to produce visual accounts of events large and small was becoming increasingly important. Social and technological developments in the early modern era were buttressing a new sense of global connectivity heralded by the rise of mercantilism and early colonial contact with the New World. It was a period defined by travel and trade, and the lords of Europe must have seen their situation as pivotal enough to commemorate with oil on canvas. The urge to self document is a modern one. A contemporary recognition of history as something worth immortalizing on one’s own terms. In keeping with the technological progress of the time, less than a century later a new medium would be invented to supersede painting’s documentary role.

“Eyewitness Views: Making History in Eighteenth Century Europe,” now on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, gathers a series of such canvases by Italian-trained artists of the early modern era—painterly predecessors of breaking news photography. As a response to the increasing awareness of time as a commodity—an ephemeral something worth remembering—painters were commissioned to record the day’s most important spectacles and events. From political rallies and papal visits to public festivals and natural disasters, the images offer an expansive view of life at a time when the boundaries of time and space were opening up enormously—a sentiment reflected in their size and scope. Documentary paintings were one way for those in power to formalize the narrative, “making history” on their own terms and based on their own hierarchy of importance.

More at: “These 18th century painters made eyewitness news images at the dawn of globalization“; see the exhibition at the Getty through July 30.

* David Hockney

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As we believe our eyes, we might send sharply-focused birthday greetings to Jennie Boddington; she was born on this date in 1922.  After a successful career as a filmmaker, she became the first full-time curator of photography for the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia.  She was the first such curator in Australia, and perhaps only the third in the world.

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Written by LW

June 7, 2017 at 1:01 am

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