In the Aspen Institute's 1997 report on "Journalism and Society," PBS NewsHour co-founder Jim Lehrer, who died last week at 85-years-old, contributed the following wisdom:
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I practice journalism in accordance with the following guidelines:
Do nothing I cannot defend.
Do not distort, lie, slant, or hype.
Do not falsify facts or make up quotes.
Cover, write, and present every story with the care I would want if the story were about me.
Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story.
Assume the viewer is as smart and caring and good a person as I am.
Assume the same about all people on whom I report.
Assume everyone is innocent until proven guilty.
Assume personal lives are a private matter until a legitimate turn in the story mandates otherwise.
Carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories and clearly label them as such.
Do not use anonymous sources or blind quotes except on rare and monumental occasions. No one should ever be allowed to attack another anonymously.
Do not broadcast profanity or the end result of violence unless it is an integral and necessary part of the story and/or crucial to understanding the story.
Acknowledge that objectivity may be impossible but fairness never is.
Journalists who are reckless with facts and reputations should be disciplined by their employers.
My viewers have a right to know what principles guide my work and the process I use in their practice.
I am not in the entertainment business.
Now seems like a fine time to read this Scientific American article titled The Art of Lying by Theodor Schaarschmidt. According to a study conducted by UC Santa Barbara psychologist Bella M. DePaulo and referenced in the article, people make up around two stories every day. Apparently, children "initially have difficulty formulating believable lies, but proficiency improves with age. Young adults between 18 and 29 do it best. After about the age of 45, we begin to lose this ability." From Scientific American:
Current thinking about the psychological processes involved in deception holds that people typically tell the truth more easily than they tell a lie and that lying requires far more cognitive resources. First, we must become aware of the truth; then we have to invent a plausible scenario that is consistent and does not contradict the observable facts. At the same time, we must suppress the truth so that we do not spill the beans—that is, we must engage in response inhibition. What is more, we must be able to assess accurately the reactions of the listener so that, if necessary, we can deftly produce adaptations to our original story line. And there is the ethical dimension, whereby we have to make a conscious decision to transgress a social norm. All this deciding and self-control implies that lying is managed by the prefrontal cortex—the region at the front of the brain responsible for executive control, which includes such processes as planning and regulating emotions and behavior.
"The Art of Lying" (Scientific American)
image: screenshot of Pinocchio film trailer, public domain
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I haven't read a novel in ages and the internet, in its succession of increasingly short content forms, reduced my attention span to the first sentence of a tweet. But what more do I need to read in order to know what I have felt? From beyond the semiotic grave claws Umberto Eco, offering (via a review of Pierre Bayard's How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read ) barbed comfort to those of us who suffer reference anxiety. On Unread Books.
... critical context is Bayard’s crucial point. He declares without shame that he has never read James Joyce’s Ulysses, but that he can talk about it by alluding to the fact that it’s a retelling of the Odyssey, which he also admits never having read in its entirety, that it is based on an internal monologue, that the action unfolds in Dublin during a single day, et cetera. “As a result,” he writes, “I often find myself alluding to Joyce without the slightest anxiety.” Knowing a book’s relationship to other books often means you know more about it than you do on actually reading it. ... An intriguing aspect of this book, which is less paradoxical than it might seem, is that we also forget a very large percentage of the books we have actually read, and indeed we build a sort of virtual picture of them that consists not so much of what they say but what they have conjured up in our mind.
And now we do this with the news, too. Read the rest
Few are scandalized by the BBC adding sound effects to documentary footage, as it's somewhat obvious and the intent is to bring the viewer to a truth that might otherwise be obscured. A lot of other storytelling magic is at hand, though, not all of it so ostentatious. Simon Cade illustrates some of the techniques, among which editing is among the most powerful. Read the rest
All lies lead to the truth. For over 20 years, Snopes.com has been the Web's primary bullshit detector and debunker, from death by Pop Rocks to political lies. We need Snopes more than ever. For a Webby Awards exclusive feature, I commissioned talented journalist Rob Walker to explore the history of Snopes and founder David Mikkelson's relentless obsession with, of all things, the truth. From the article:
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In the heat of the Republican presidential primary, Jerry Falwell Jr. appeared on The Sean Hannity Show to talk about the Donald Trump he has gotten to know—a man defined by “stuff the public never hears.” So he shared an anecdote about the time the billionaire’s limousine broke down, and a random passing couple stopped to help. Later, these Good Samaritans got some surprising news: As a gesture of thanks, Trump had paid off the their home mortgage. “Pretty impressive,” Hannity declared.
But wait a second. Who exactly were these people, and why couldn’t the limo driver just call AAA? Impressive as this anecdote sounds, is it true? Well, what does Snopes say? Founded more than two decades ago, Snopes.com was originally devoted to researching all manner of just-so tales and urban folklore sourced to a friend of a friend, or to no source at all. These days, when readers “submit a rumor” they’d like confirmed or debunked, it’s likely to be a tale tied to current events. And yes, Snopes founder David Mikkelson recognized that “impressive” Trump anecdote immediately.
“That same story had been told for years,” he says.
Three legendary synth musicians -- Morgio Zoroger, Xangelix and Carla Wendos -- competed in 1986 for the right to be anointed Lord of Synth. Read the rest
Shardcore, who gave us the programatically generated Hipsterbait
tees, had advanced the art of autonomous, self-perpetuating Internet memes.
We've talked here before about the crazy things you can find when you read the "Methods" section of a scientific research paper. (Ostensibly, that's the boring part.)
If you want a quick laugh this morning — or if you want to get a peek at how the sausages are made — check out the Twitter hashtag #overlyhonestmethods, where scientists are talking about the backstory behind seemingly dry statements like "A population of male rats was chosen for this study". Read the rest
A small Estonian study is offering some hints that our brains could be even weirder than we'd imagined. Researchers found that magnetic pulses directed at a certain part of the frontal cortex affected whether people were more willing to fib, or more likely to tell the truth. Only 16 people were involved in the study, so these results are more something potentially cool to follow up on than a definitive declaration about brain function. There's a good chance this could turn out to be a statistical fluke. But it is worth researching further. If the effect is real, it could have some really interesting ethical, legal, and neurobiological implications.
Say it with me now: "F***ing magnets, how do they work?" Mo Costandi explains:
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Inga Karton and Talis Bachmann of the University of Tartu adopted a different and novel approach, by examining the natural propensity to lie spontaneously during situations in which deception has no consequences. They recruited 16 volunteers, and showed them red and blue discs, which were presented randomly on a computer screen. The participants were asked to name the colour of each disc, and that they could do so correctly or incorrectly at their free will.
The researchers used a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to disrupt the participants' brain activity during the task. TMS is a non-invasive technique in which pulses of electromagnetic radiation are targeted to a specific brain region, inducing weak electrical currents that can either inhibit or enhance activity in that area.
They split the participants into two groups of eight for the experiment.