Posts Tagged ‘journalism’

Conspiracies — Termite and Otherwise

Friday, 29 March 2024

In the most general of the still living senses of the word conspire, it means

Combine in action or aim (with); cooperate by or as by intention (to do).
Shorter Oxford English Dictionary
to act in harmony toward a common end

The two dictionaries that I just cited also offer definitions that include aspects of secrecy or lack of acknowledgement and of wickedness,

Combine secretly (with) for an unlawful or reprehensible purpose, esp. treason, murder, or sedition; agree secretly. (Foll. by against, to do.)
Shorter Oxford English Dictionary
to join in a secret agreement to do an unlawful or wrongful act or an act which becomes unlawful as a result of the secret agreement

which aspects indeed most people usually associate with conspiracy, but these dictionaries are silent about a third aspect that most people usually imagine, central coördination. Centralization is not part of the definition. A conspiracy could be highly centralized, largely decentralized, or have no center at all.[1]

Decentralized processes of people working in harmony for a shared and unacknowledged purpose — and even more specifically for a shared, unacknowledged, and nefarious purpose — are abundant. Nearly every adult American is familiar with my favorite examples of decentralized conspiracies. Most American journalists fall into two camps, one camp favoring one of America's two largest political parties, and the other camp favoring the other party. Very often in each camp, when some news story is about criminality or other widely despised action by an official or political figure from the favored party, the story will not mention that person's political affiliation until well into the article, if at all; but if a news story is about such action by a person associated with the disfavored party, then the affiliation is swiftly and prominently mentioned, perhaps even in the headline.[2] No one had to tell journalists to behave in this manner for them to have done so. They merely observed other journalists, and joined one conspiracy or the other upon recognizing how readers' impressions of the favored and disfavored parties would be affected.

When referring to a process of people working with little or no central coördination but in harmony for a shared, unacknowledged, and reprehensible purpose, I call it a termite conspiracy, by analogy with behavior of termites that has been widely mistaken as requiring a high degree of central administration. Termites are not the only beasts that furnish examples; flocks of birds come immediately to mind. At one time, a great many educated people accepted or arrived at theories of telepathic hive-minds. But, as it turns-out, under examination and careful consideration, these behaviors can be explained without such centralization. And part of what led me to apply termite conspiracy to human beings was my having read The Human Termites, a classic science-fiction story by neuropsychiatrist David H[enry] Keller in Science Wonder Stories volume 1 #4, #5, and #6, in which story Keller proposed that human behavior like that of termites were under direction of hive-minds.[3] In fact, human behavior like that of termites needs no such thing to effect a shared purpose. I could use the term termite conspiracy more generally to include benign cases of people working without central coördination but in harmony for a shared purpose, but I haven't had much occasion to do so.

As a social scientist, I find termite conspiracies more interesting in the abstract than I find centralized conspiracies. And, because the plausibility of a datum remaining more generally secret decreases with each added person coming into possession of that secret, I tend to be rather doubtful of claims of large-scale, centralized, unacknowledged conspiracies. But such conspiracies are more prevalent than I once believed. In the case of UAPs, the choice is now between belief in a previous large-scale, centralized conspiracy by agents of the state to hide the truth, or belief that the present admission to past deceit is a product of large-scale, centralized conspiracy. (I very much incline to the latter belief.) Meanwhile, the only plausible reason that documents are still being withheld concerning the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy — more than sixty years ago — is that still-existing institutions would lose credibility if the truth were widely known.

Still, people with predisposition to believe in centralized and unacknowledged conspiracies need to give more thought and discussion to termite conspiracies. On the one hand, a termite conspiracy is even more readily mistaken for a centralized conspiracy than is an invisible-hand process. On the other hand, a conspiracy theorist can present a more persuasive case, by discussing the range of possibilities, running from conspiracies in the most general sense, through termite conspiracies (with which, again, nearly everyone is familiar), to increasingly centralized conspiracies. An audience compelled to see that explanation is in terms of something familiar, except perhaps in degree of centralization, is an audience more inclined to attend.

Certainly, people have been strong conditioned not to attend rationally to discussions of conspiracy. Dictionaries not-withstanding, within my lifetime, the terms conspiracy and especially conspiracy theory and conspiracy theorist have come to be associated with irrational theorizing. The mere act of labelling a proposition with conspiracy theory is treated as-if a perfect refutation; indeed, the mindlessness here has grown so terrible that I have seen journalists using the label conspiracy as if it is synonymous with conspiracy theory, and labelling propositions conspiracy, as if this labelling falsifies these propositions. Journalists and other shapers of opinion must now avoid using conspiracy theory to refer to their own assertions that this or that group has secretly coöperated in some centrally coördinated, unacknowledged, wicked scheme. Notice how, for example, the mainstream of the media and Wikipedia do not used conspiracy theory or conspiracy theorist in reference to the Russiagate Narrative and to those who participated in its narration, though the mainstream of the media and Wikipedia freely apply these labels to various claims and to various persons in conflict with the mainstream narrative. I have even encountered journalists offering theories of conspiracies and insisting that these theories were not a conspiracy theory.

[1] A conspiracy is characterized by shared purpose, whereäs the results of an invisible hand process are not sought by participants from that process, and may not be purposes at all, let alone shared purposes. When a conspiracy, with or without centralized coördination, is somehow also an invisible hand process, the purposes behind the former are different from the results that make it the latter.

[2] In the days before wide access to the Internet, this pair of journalistic practices was even more pronounced; but when news sites sought to foster a sense of engagement amongst their readers, by providing fora in which readers could comment, many readers began highlighting instances of the first practice, and continue to highlight it.

[3] The theory in Keller's story entailed apparent invisible-hand processes as actually having intended results.

Long COVID as a Description and as a Name

Friday, 15 March 2024

In the case of what has been called long COVID, two opposing camps are lost in a confusion of name with description.

The idea that SarsCoV-2 would have peculiar long-term effects upon health was immediately popular in some circles for appalling reasons, and thus viewed in other circles with strong inclination to disbelief.

Eventually, a cluster of persistent symptoms came to be widely associated with SarsCoV-2. Some of these symptoms are clearly present in some people, and not psychosomatic. But a very reasonable question is that of whether these symptoms are actually caused by SarsCoV-2, or have some other cause or causes. For some months now, the evidence has strongly indicated that, no, these are, variously, not effects of SarsCoV-2, or are common to respiratory or viral illness more generally. As a description, long COVID has been falsified, but it has lingered as a name.

I continue to encounter recent articles in prestigious, allegedly scientific journals that simply treat as given that these symptoms are caused by SarsCoV-2. An established name is treated as if it were a description. Now some institutions are beginning to insist reasonably that the name long COVID be abandoned, as inapt. But I'm encountering journalists and pundits who thence infer and claim that long COVID does not exists.

That inference doesn't follow if by long COVID is meant a cluster of symptoms, which symptoms are exactly what have been investigated under the name. Only if long COVID is taken to be defined as these symptoms resulting from SarsCoV-2 could we say that nothing fits the concept corresponding to the name.

I doubt that any Briton defined the French disease as especially French. In any case, telling a typical Briton that what he called the French disease did not exist would be tantamount to telling him that syphilis did not exist. What he should instead have been told was that syphilis were not particularly French, and ought to be called something else.

Likewise, the declarations should not be that long COVID does not exist.

A New Projectionist

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

I am in the process of relocating video embedded in entries to this 'blog. (Only a few and rather old entries have such content.)

My experiences with YouTube have been unhappy. It routinely messed-up the synchronization of sound with image for my content. Without a ready appeal process, YouTube disabled videos that made fair use of copyrighted content. Although my content has not been affected by the political bias of Alphabet Inc. (the parent company of YouTube), it was grossly unethical for YouTube to get people to cluster at their site by representing itself as an honest broker, and then to bring a bias to bear. And, when YouTube disabled a video for one reason or for another, the embedding code responded inappropriately.

For now, I am moving most or all of my video content to BitChute; I don't know that my content will remain there. But any host that does not apply an ideologic filter will attract a disproportionate share of content from those penalized by the biases of YouTube; the main-stream of the media (who share the ideologic bias of YouTube) will seize upon this disproportion to claim or to insinuate that the host and those who use it are sympathetic with the more repellent of those filtered-out by YouTube. The sophistry will be evident to all but the rather stupid, but a much larger share of people will rôle-play as if the argument were sound.

Sowing Pseudo-Scientific Seeds of Racism

Thursday, 2 August 2018

I have previously expressed great concern about journalists confusing the categorization of a people as H. sapiens with their being human. Bodies Keep Shrinking on this Island, and Scientists Aren't Sure Why, a story in the New York Times, offers yet another illustration of this confusion. Within it, Carl Zimmer writes:

The researchers found that a very small percentage of the villagers' DNA came from Neanderthals or Denisovans. A tiny portion could not be matched to humans, Neanderthals or Denisovans.

But these enigmatic pieces weren’t dramatically different from human DNA, as you’d expect if they had come from Homo floresiensis. Dr. Tucci concluded that the Rampasasa villagers have no Homo floresiensis ancestry.

Note that, once again, Neanderthals and Denisovans are distinguished by a journalist from humans, as are now those of H. floresiensis. No reason is given for classifying any of these people as not human; the journalist has simply inferred that they are not because they have been classified as of a different species; what that classification actually means is utterly unconsidered.

Further, in the article, modern populations are noted to have differing occurrences of presence of DNA from the supposedly inhuman populations — not dramatically inhuman, but supposedly inhuman none-the-less.

Let me make it very plain: Mr Zimmer and the New York Times are offering pseudo-science with racist implications. He probably doesn't intend those implications, but is simply thoughtless. However, his thoughtlessness and that of his editors are inexcusable. And, if he had any conversations with the scientists who conducted these studies, then I'd like to know why the Hell they failed to impress upon him that the taxonomy did not separate people into humans and non-humans. These scientists did not have the prerogative of unscientifically presuming that Mr Zimmer had more intelligence than has been actually demonstrated by the typical journalist.

Social Consequences of Speciation

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Sometimes, I don't know how to write about important matters. Please bear with me, because this subject is far more important than it might initially seem.

When most people encounter the word species, it is either in the context of a biological discussion, or the word is used as a metaphorical borrowing from discussion of that sort. It actually has more general meanings, the broadest simply being class of things of shared characteristics. But what concerns me here is indeed its biological sense.

Most people who have any notion at all of the word derive their understanding of the biological signification from a combination of observed use and whatever was told to them by middle- and high-school texts of alleged science. Many of them know that organisms are categorized hierarchically, and that species is a finer category than genus. But, if asked to describe the classification of animals as different, say, as are cats and dogs, far more people would descibe them as of different species than as of different family or as of different genus. There is an inferred sense that difference in species is rather fundamental.

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary gives the biological sense thus:

A taxonomic grouping ranking next below genus and subgenus, which contains organisms that are uniquely distinguished from others by certain shared characteristics and usu. by an inability to interbreed with members of other such groupings; such a grouping as denoted by a Latin binomial, and freq. subdivided into subspecies, races, varieties, etc.; the organisms of such a grouping.

That bit about inability to interbreed is a bit loose; for example, most biologists would classify horses and donkeys as of different species, though they can produce offspring. However, a striking characteristic of those offspring is that they cannot themselves produce further offspring. The infertility of those offspring is usually cited towards explaining the speciation.

In any case, The SOED hedged with that usu. because some biologists categorize animals as of different species though they can interbreed down through indefinitely many generations, as in the case of coyotes (C. latrans) with wolves (C. lupus).

Over some decades, anthropologists disagreed over whether to classify Neanderthalers as a distinct species, H. neanderthalensis, or as a sub-species of H. sapiens. As there was no way to observe potential interbreeding, early disagreement turned on issues of overt morphology — the shapes of skulls, dentition, &c. But then interbreeding became, in a sense, potentially observable as it became possible to extract and analyze DNA from remains of Neanderthalers. Initial results (quite surprising to me) suggested no interbreeding, and it became more commonly accepted that they should be considered a distinct species. However, when later genetic evidence began to show the presence of Neanderthaler genes in some modern populations of H. sapiens, the practice of treating them as a distinct species was not universally abandoned. It is still common to classify Neanderthalers as a distinct species, though this implicitly means that species is not being used with the usu. signification. And when, far more recently, a similar archaïc population, the Denisovans, were distinguished, it became fairly common also to categorize them as a distinct species, though their genes are likewise found in some modern populations of H. sapiens.

But, again, when most lay-people hear or read the word species, they are imagining a quite significant distinction. And when they hear and read of Neanderthalers or of Denisovans as distinct species, they infer that these people were not human. Here are three example articles that I quickly found of journalists doing just that in the case of Neanderthalers or in that of Denisovans:

As these archaïc populations are extinct, there may not seem to be any more of a social issue here than there typically is with misunderstood science. But a problem is coming right at us. And it's associated with the point that the genes of archaïc populations are found in modern populations — in different distributions. Take, for example, this article:

The author or authors blithely refer to the Neanderthalers, to the Denisovans, and to an additional, hypothesized archaïc population as distinct species without explaining whatever is there meant by the term. A large share of readers will regard the archaïc populations as not fully human, and infer that different ethnic groups have more or less genetic material that is not fully human. It will be inappropriately inferred that some ethnic groups are thus less human or more human than are others.

Anthropologists and biologists who talk with lay-persons, and especially with journalists and with other informal educators, need to emphasize the arbitrariness in use of the word species, and these scientists need to impress upon their audiences that the word should be avoided or explained in all popular-science journalism that touches upon our relationships with archaïc populations.

Tearing off the Masks

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

I've read that Anonymous has found the names of about a thousand members of the Ku Klux Klan, and is preparing to release them.

I'm hoping that none of the 10 other people in this nation with the same first and last name as I are members, because it could be Hell for the rest of us. I'm also hoping that Anonymous doesn't add names of people whom it dislikes, especially as I might be amongst them.

A few years ago, I challenged their attack on Stratfor. Stratfor was a journalistic enterprise, focussing on issues of global politics (including military action) and security, and publishing both free content and content that required a paid subscription. Some at Anonymous were sure that Stratfor were, effectively, a criminal undertaking because

  • Stratfor communicated off-the-record with policy wonks and with state officials (as did and do almost every other major journalistic enterprise and many of the minor journalistic enterprises); and
  • Stratfor expressed opinions with which Anonymous vehemently disagreed.

So Anonymous stole e.mail, e.mail addresses, and credit-card information from the Stratfor servers. If one had so much as subscribed to a free newsletter from Stratfor, then one's e.mail address was made public, and one was subjected to hoax e.mail from Anonymous. Many who had simply paid for something from Stratfor had their credit card information used to make contributions to charitable organizations (each of which then had to spend resources on returning the stolen money, at a net loss).

The e.mail itself was given to WikiLeaks, which processed it with the help of other journalistic institutions. Some of these institutions shamelessly used the stolen information to their own advantage, though it didn't provide evidence of wrong-doing by Stratfor. Indeed, after almost four years, no evidence of criminal wrong-doing has ever been presented. Stratfor's greatest sin was gross incompetence in the field of security.

None of the major media outlets has drawn attention to the point that the supposed end that was to justify Anonymous's means was not met. They have been virtually silent about this attack on journalistic freedom. That's because, as I suggested in my entry of some years ago, these outlets are themselves afraid of being attacked by Anonymous.

Journalists are fond of seeing their profession as brave. Well, there truly are some brave journalists in this world, but they're in a minority, and the rest don't deserve to see themselves as heroes for keeping company with that minority.

No News Is Bad News

Thursday, 16 February 2012

On 24 December, the Stratfor computer site was learned to be hacked; e.mail, e.mail addresses, and credit-card information were stolen. Initially, Anonymous couldn't agree within itself whether its members were responsible, but the deniers fell silent.

The credit-card information was used to make charitable donations, which subsequently had to be returned (at a net loss) by the charities. Those whose e.mail addresses were stolen had them publicly dumped (and thus made available to spammers), and were subjected to hoax mailings by Anonymous.

And we were told that the e.mail itself would be released, so that the world could see that Stratfor were really a malevolent force, which revelation would ostensibly justify the hacking.

After seven weeks, the e.mail that was supposed to expose the wickedness of Stratfor has not been released. There's more than one possible explanation. Perhaps the responsible members of Anonymous have obscure but compelling reasons to release the information all-at-once, and to organize it before doing so. Perhaps these members have been found and whisked-off to secret internment camps, along with anyone who might have reported their disappearances. Or perhaps the e.mail would reveal no more than that Stratfor communicates off-the-record with sources, some of whom could (reasonably or otherwise) be regarded as villains, and perhaps other members of Anonymous noted that almost any reporting and news-analysis service does the same thing, so that Anonymous would appear to subvert freedom of the press.

(I kinda favor that third explanation. Like many members of the Occupation Movement — who also like to claim the prerogatives but duck the responsibilities of association, and to wear Guy Fawkes masks and fantasize about being Vs — many members of Anonymous seem inclined to try to silence those whose views they find greatly disagreeable, but only so long as these members aren't made to recognize that they're engaged in censorship. [Up-Date (2012:02/27): It has now been announced that the e.mail is being released in coöperation with WikiLeaks.])

But, whatever may be the reason, the e.mail has not been released, and that failure or delay is itself a news story — which story you've not read in the Times (of London, of New York, or of Los Angeles) nor heard from the major broadcasters. Possibly that's because they're such lack-wits that it hasn't occurred to any of them that there's a story here. I rather suspect, however, that it's because they're scared. A group such as Anonymous could take-down pretty much any of these news services just as they did Stratfor.

Monkey Dancers

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

[This post was delayed from yester-day, as my hosting service had a technical failure, and it took me rather a long time to persuade them of such.]

I read

This past week it was reported that the hacktivist collective known as Anonymous claimed credit for taking offline over 40 websites used for sharing pedophilia — and for exposing the names and identifying information of more than 1500 alleged pedophiles that had been using the sites.

But the actual list is of user aliases, not of personal names.

Not only are pædophiles not being exposed here, but non-pædophiles who've had the misfortune of pædophiles' using the same aliases (by chance or from malice) are going to come under suspicion by those who think that they recognize them on this list.

Further, if agents of law enforcement were themselves working to track-down the actual legal identities of the pædophiles, their investigation has now been severely compromised, possibly fatally so.

Once again, Anonymous has done less good than they have led the gullible to believe, and have caused more damage than they have acknowledged.

Smoke Gets in My Eyes

Friday, 2 September 2011

If one wanted to know the solution to particular mathematical problem, and found that different groups gave different answers, then it might be interesting to hear or to read what each group said about the motives of rival groups, but one really ought to chose which answer or answers were correct based upon principles of mathematics, rather than based upon which groups seemed most noble. If one lacked the competence to decide the issue based upon principles of mathematics, then it would probably be best to resist coming to any decision if at all possible.

Likewise, if one wanted to know the solution to a particular problem of the natural sciences, but found that different groups gave different answers, then it might be interesting to hear or to read what each group said about the motives of rival groups, but one really ought to chose which answer or answers were correct based upon principles of science, rather than based upon which group seemed most noble. If one lacked the competence to decide the issue based upon principles of science, then it would probably be best to resist coming to any decision if at all possible.

And if one wanted to know what sort of social policy ought to be applied to some case, but found that different groups gave one different answers, then it might be interesting to hear or to read what each group said about the motives of rival groups, but one really ought to chose which answer or answers were correct based upon principles of science in combination with rational criteria for evaluating ethical philosophies (if, indeed, those criteria are not themselves scientific). And if one lacked the competence to decide the issue based upon such principles, then it would probably be best to resist coming to any decision if at all possible.

Now, all of that ought to be obvious; but consider how much pundits and the major media focus on personalities and theories of motive when it comes both to policy and to science applicable to policy, and how little real science and how little careful dissection of philosophical case is presented. If one party wants one thing, and another wants something different, then we are given some tale of the nobility or at least the level-headedness of one group, and of the knavery or foolishness of the other; accompanying this narrative will be cartoon physics, cartoon biology, or cartoon economics. If ethics are relevant, then one might get cartoon philosophy of ethics, or some ethical philosophy might be implicitly imposed, as if no rival philosophy were conceivable. (If something is treated as good, there generally ought to be an explanation somewhere of what makes it good. If something is treated as bad, there likewise ought to be an explanation of what makes it bad.)

This practice is so prevalent because so many listeners and readers unthinkingly accept it. And I'm not just talking about low-brow or middle-brow people. The self-supposed high-brow folk, more educated and ostensibly more thoughtful, accept this practice. Most of the people who would, if they read them, say that the previous four paragraphs were trivially obvious accept this practice. I don't simply mean that they don't cancel subscriptions or write angry letters to the editor; I mean that they allow their own beliefs to be shaped by some group engaging in the practice. They fall into attending to one narration of this sort, and let it guide them until and unless some crisis causes them to turn their backs on it, at which point they almost always begin to be guided by a narration using the same basic practice to advance some different set of policies.

Sometimes, one must make a decision, with nothing upon which to go except the discernible motives of conflicting parties. In those cases, one should bear in mind that, except to the extent that they are reporting brute fact (rather than interpretation), one typically learns more about the narrators themselves from what they say (and avoid saying) of their opponents, than one learns about their opponents. (And one should not allow the emotional appeal of a narrative to lead one to pretend that one must make a decision that one can in fact defer.)

Weighty Matters

Sunday, 26 September 2010

The metric system has some points of genuine superiority to those of the English (aka American) system, but that superiority tends to be exaggerated. For example, the every-day English measures for volume tend to be implicitly binary, allowing easy halving or doubling. (If base 10 were everywhere superior to base 2, then our computers would be designed differently.)

One of the things that I was told as a child was that the metric system were superior because it measured in terms of mass, rather than weight, with the former being invariant while the latter would change in the face of a gravitational field. Well, actually, the English system has a unit of mass; it's the slug, 1 lb·sec2/ft, which is about 14.6 kg.

Meanwhile, I observe that, in countries where the metric system ostensibly prevails, people typically use its names of units of mass (gram and kilogram) for units of weight; they even refer to what is measured as a weight. Now, the real metric system does have a unit for weight, because weight is a force; weight can be measured by the newton (or by the dyne, which is a hundred-thousandth of a newton). But people aren't doing that; they're using kilogram as if it means about 9.807 N.

Much as it may be claimed that America is the only industrialized nation not on the metric system, really nobody's on it.

I notice that the Beeb most often wants to speak and write of weight, rather than of mass, but in the most ghastly unit of all, the stone (pronounced /stɛun/, with at least one pinkie extended). The stone is 14 pounds (divisible by 2 and, uh, 7). When weights don't divide into integer multiples of 14 pounds, tradition is to represent weight in terms of a combination of stone and pounds, as in Me mum weighs 19 stone and 12. Of course, if the Beeb were using pounds at all, there'd be the two obvious questions of

Why aren't you just using pounds for the whole lot?
Wait, now that I think of it, what happened to that metric stuff?
So the Beeb feels compelled just to round everything up or down to an integral number of stone, and somebody's mum either gains two pounds or loses twelve.