When bombs explode in a crowded city street, individuals and governments naturally ask themselves, "Could we have prevented this if we had been paying better attention to people and things that were out of place?" Trouble is, that question leads to a whole cascade of other questions — covering everything from personal privacy to racism.
M. Neelika Jayawardane is associate professor of English at SUNY-Oswego. She's giving a talk this afternoon on "If you see something, say something" and other campaigns aimed at getting average people involved in public security. I happened to be here on campus for a separate speaking engagement and thought this was something that BoingBoing readers would be interested in "sitting in" on, given the recent tragedy in Boston.
I'll be liveblogging this, updating regularly with key points and ideas from Jayawardane's talk. It's worth noting that her perspective is not the only way to think about these issues. I'm posting this in hopes that it will present some interesting information and spark good conversations. If you're interested in engaging with Jayawardane afterwards, she said that you can reach her via Twitter. In the meantime, I'm looking forward to seeing what she has to say — and what you all have to say about that.
A couple weeks ago, I listened to Unfit for Work: The startling rise of disability in America an interesting program on the supposed rise in disability claims produced by Planet Money and aired on This American Life (where I heard it). The program raised some interesting points about the inaccessibility of certain kinds of less-physical jobs to large numbers of people, but it also aired a lot of supposed facts about the way that parents and teachers conspired to create and perpetuate disability classifications for kids.
FACT: Medical Evidence From Qualified Professionals Is Required To Determine Eligibility
Government Accountability Office: "Examiners Rely On A Combination Of Key Medical And Nonmedical Information Sources." A Government Accountability Office report found that disability determination services (DDS) examiners determined a child's medical eligibility for benefits based on a combination of school records and medical records, and that if medical records in particular were not available, they were able to order consultative exams to review medical evidence:
DDS examiners rely on a combination of key medical and nonmedical information sources -- such as medical records, effects of prescribed medications, school records, and teacher and parent assessments -- in determining a child's medical eligibility for benefits. Several DDS officials we interviewed said that when making a determination, they consider the totality of information related to the child's impairments, rather than one piece of information in isolation. Based on our case file review, we estimate that examiners generally cited four to five information sources as support for their decisions in fiscal year 2010 for the three most prevalent mental impairments.
If such evidence is not available or is inconclusive, DDS examiners may purchase a consultative exam to provide additional medical evidence and help them establish the severity of a child's impairment. [Government Accountability Office, 6/26/12]
The Media Matters report cites high-quality sources like the GAO throughout, and makes an excellent case for a general retraction of this report by NPR. I hope that they, and Glass, will reconsider their endorsement of this report.
From Backdrops R Us, a grid of Fox News talking heads alongside classic shots of scenes from Canadian comedy show Kids in the Hall (particularly members of the troupe in drag). The resemblances are uncanny.
Yesterday, I got to have a great conversation on Minnesota Public Radio's The Daily Circuit. Host Tom Webber and I spent a good 45 minutes talking about Hurricane Sandy, climate change, and why it's so hard to talk about the connections between the two in an easily digestible, sound-bite format. In the meantime, he might have gotten some good sound bites out of me.
Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson is leaving the magazine after 11 years to lead the robotics company he founded, 3D Robotics (blog).
He broke the news at an all-hands Wired staff meeting in San Francisco today. He’ll remain at in his leading role at Wired until parent company Conde Nast finds a new editor-in-chief.
3D Robotics has a Facebook page, Twitter account, and domain name (3drobotics.com), but currently no website. Currently, that URL redirects to DIY Drones, another company Anderson founded, which sells kits and parts for people making their own unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) — robotic aircraft, essentially. It appears that 3D Robotics is an outgrowth of that company.
The new company is billed as an "amateur UAV superstore," and is reported to have facilities in San Diego, California and Bangkok, Thailand.
Earlier today, I posted on the recent paper that claims to have found a link between eating genetically modified corn and the growth of tumors in rats. Short version: The research sucked. It's a terribly done study and it demonstrates why "peer reviewed" does not always mean "accurate".
But now, this story is getting worse. Turns out, the authors of the study (and their financial sponsor, The Sustainable Food Trust) manipulated the media to ensure that the first news stories published about the study would not be critical of its methods or results.
First, some background. When a journal is about to publish a study that they think will be big news, they usually offer the full study to reporters under an embargo system. The reporter gets to read the study, do their reporting, and write a story ... but they can't publish that story until a specific day at a specific time. If you're a daily or an online publication, there's a lot of pressure to have your story ready to go the moment the embargo lifts. Otherwise, you'll look like you weren't on the ball. There's a lot of problems with this system, but it's very common.
What's not common: Forcing journalists to sign non-disclosure agreements promising to not show the study they're reporting on to any independent researchers or outside experts. If you're trying to make sure your publication runs a story on the study right when the embargo lifts, but you can't show the study to any third-party experts before the embargo lifts, then the story you run is going to (inevitably) contain only information the authors of the study want you to talk about. It ceases being journalism and becomes PR.
This is what the authors of the GM corn/rat tumor study did.
If you've read anything in the past week about ENCODE—a group of laboratories that recently published their latest work on the human genome—then you need to read John Timmer's excellent piece over at Ars Technica.
What ENCODE has actually done, and why it matters, has been widely misrepresented in the mainstream press—largely because of misleading press releases put out by ENCODE, itself. Timmer sets the record straight. It's a long read, but a fascinating one. Highly recommended.
This week, the ENCODE project released the results of its latest attempt to catalog all the activities associated with the human genome. Although we've had the sequence of bases that comprise the genome for over a decade, there were still many questions about what a lot of those bases do when inside a cell. ENCODE is a large consortium of labs dedicated to helping sort that out by identifying everything they can about the genome: what proteins stick to it and where, which pieces interact, what bases pick up chemical modifications, and so on. What the studies can't generally do, however, is figure out the biological consequences of these activities, which will require additional work.
Yet the third sentence of the lead ENCODE paper contains an eye-catching figure that ended up being reported widely: "These data enabled us to assign biochemical functions for 80 percent of the genome." Unfortunately, the significance of that statement hinged on a much less widely reported item: the definition of "biochemical function" used by the authors.
This was more than a matter of semantics. Many press reports that resulted painted an entirely fictitious history of biology's past, along with a misleading picture of its present. As a result, the public that relied on those press reports now has a completely mistaken view of our current state of knowledge (this happens to be the exact opposite of what journalism is intended to accomplish). But you can't entirely blame the press in this case. They were egged on by the journals and university press offices that promoted the work—and, in some cases, the scientists themselves.
Moran Cerf, the Israeli military hacker turned good-guy bank-robber turned neuroscientist, tells the hilarious stories about how the best day of his scientific career -- when he got the cover of Nature -- was ruined by press sensationalism. He and his colleagues invented a machine that let him show people pictures of what they were thinking about. A BBC news producer misconstrued this as meaning that he'd invented a machine that could record dreams. They ran with it, and the story spread all over the world, morphing into an account of how scientists could record your dreams and soon there will be product on the market that does this. When he stopped talking to the press, they ganked photos of him in a Freud Hallowe'en costume and dubbed him "the new Sigmund Freud." He continued to be the top news story on Google News, only slipping to number two when the US midterms results were published. He got calls from Apple asking to buy the dream recorder; from Inception's producer asking to go on tour with him, and so on. The story's pretty amazing, and a great commentary on how science stories spin out of control.
Dan "Mediactive" Gillmor sends us his latest Guardian column, a thoughtful and fascinating manifesto for what the role newspaper ombudsmen could morph into, in order to maximize the relevance and centrality of newspapers and news organizations on the Internet:
• Aggregate (quote and link to) every thoughtful critique of the organization's work that I could find, and invite readers to analyze and comment on those critiques. I would ask permission to crosspost some of these on the blog. When I thought a critic was wrong, I'd say so. I'd also note when they were, in my view, making fair points. I'd deal with disrespectful critiques on a case-by-case basis, recognizing that sometimes a nasty person can make a good point.
• Create a robust, open forum about the newspaper's work. This would most likely take the form of a traditional bulletin board system where readers could create their own topics, using moderation software that would minimize staff costs while still filtering out the worst trolls.
• Strongly encourage newsroom staff to participate in these conversations. The discussions would still work to some degree without the staff, but with them, the conversations would be vastly better. Of course, some newsroom folks – Nicholas Kristof is a prime example – are already engaging with readers in terrific ways; I'd point to those interactions. But my main goal here would be, whenever possible, to have the newsroom explain how it operates and why it does what it does. Serious journalism is hard work, and I don't think readers understand how hard. As I wrote in my most recent book, greater transparency in an honorable news organization will lead your audience to trust you more even if they may believe you less.
• Use the Sunday column mostly as a guide to (with highlights from) the online conversations.
There's more -- be sure and click through to read the whole thing.