… the idea that there are hundreds of thousands of “niche experts” blogging away (or ready and willing to blog) lacks empirical evidence. I’m very impressed with scienceblogs.com – read the surgeon/scientist “respectful insolence” and you get a real sense of how the mainstream need to upgrade their medical reporting.
And yet at the same time, I see scienceblogs.com as a sort of rearguard action against a blitzkrieg of rubbish on the net rather than the vanguard of an expert army. The “collective intelligence” of the blogosphere is nothing more than a virtual Maginot Line against bad information, which often begins in the mainstream press and, thanks to the immediate parasitical nature of blogging, invades and permanently occupies the Internet.
Consider the furor over vaccination and autism. Last year, the mainstream press (Rolling Stone and Salon) published an extraordinarily flawed story by Robert F. Kennedy on how the American government was supposedly covering up data linking a mercury-based preservative in vaccines to an “epidemic” of autism. This was picked up the Huffington Post, which, inter alia, damned ABC news for radically changing a story based on Kennedy’s claims. It was a big bad corporate pharma pile on.
Yes, the original story was negligent journalism of the highest order, but the frontlines of blogging simply amplified it. Bloggers such as Skeptico and Respectful Insolence did a terrific job of analysing and pointing out why Kennedy’s claims had no merit, but they lacked the impact of the Huffington Post or Salon or Rolling Stone. And given that the elite blogging circles are dominated by journalists, established pundits and their dauphins, I don’t see how this kind of expert network can leverage its intelligence to inoculate the public against bad information.
The moral of this story is that mainstream news organisations need to look at this kind of event, and figure out what is best for the public interest. Co-opt science and medical expert bloggers into their news model? Maybe. Do a better job of covering this kind of story? Definitely. Re-evaluate what constitutes news and how it should be presented? Absolutely. It’s no good patting yourself on the back because your organisation knew better than to swallow Kennedy’s anti-vaccine Kool Aid if a rival publication ends up propagating misleading and potentially deadly information.
(My bold, shamelessly added.)
Good to know not everyone in the mainstream media swallowed Kennedy’s anti-vaccine Kool Aid.
Comedy Central were supposed to be showing the infamous South Park Scientology episode last week but pulled it at the last minute. As I wrote before, the episode has not shown in the UK and it is rumored Tom Cruise used his influence to keep it off the air both there and apparently now in the US too. His representatives have denied this.
As well as pulling the Scientology episode, Comedy Central also pulled the “bleeding statue” episode because that was offensive to Catholics. I guess we shouldn’t expect to see any more episodes involving Muhammad!
Also I learn of Andrew Sullivan’s campaign to protest the censorship the South Park cartoons. For example you can Email the parent company Viacom and make your feelings known. Also you can use this page to register a protest.
Sullivan is taking it a step further:
Finally, make sure you don't go see Paramount's "Mission Impossible: 3," Cruise's upcoming movie. I know you weren't going to see it anyway. But now any money you spend on this movie is a blow against freedom of speech. Boycott it. Tell your friends to boycott it.
Pretty funny – I wasn’t going to see it anyway. Not sure if I would boycott a movie as a protest, but it’s an option if you want to. I do encourage everyone write protest emails to them though. The TV companies should be encouraged not to self-censor, especially when it comes to offending the religious, and protest emails can’t hurt.
I noticed this advertisement in this week’s Economist, repeated on Shell’s “Global Technical Careers” website:
"You only use 10% of your brain"? I find it surprising that a high tech company advertising for technical people should propagate this old myth.
...attempts to map out the cerebral cortex, the center of the higher mental functions, have not found large areas that don't do anything. The general view is that the brain is too small (just three pounds), uses too many resources (20 percent of body oxygen utilization though it accounts for just 2 percent of weight), and has too much to do for 90 percent of it to be completely comatose.
Funny – I’d have thought that a firm like Shell would want people who could use all their brains. Or perhaps it’s just the people in recruiting who only use 10% of their brains. Still, it’s good news for engineers with 90% less brain than their peers – a career awaits you at Shell. As the ad says – “make a difference”. Indeed.
readers may have noticed I’ve not been posting much recently. Well, I’ve been pretty busy with both my
business and a planned home move. With
those things (and dealing with the inevitable persistentidiotcommenters that this blog seems to attract),
I have taken a break from regular blogging for a while. But that doesn’t mean there is no skeptical
blogging to read, oh no. For example,
today you can read the 30thSkeptics' Circle which has just
been posted at Paige’s
Via Terra Sigillata I just learned that Isaac Hayes has quit South Park, due to:
the show's "inappropriate ridicule" of religion
One of the show’s creators, Matt Stone, nailed Hayes real reason for leaving:
In ten years and over 150 episodes of 'South Park,' Isaac never had a problem with the show making fun of Christians, Muslim, Mormons or Jews… He got a sudden case of religious sensitivity when it was his religion featured on the show
As I wrote here, the November 16th episode made fun of Scientology, and Hayes is a Scientologist. And a hypocrite, apparently.
And as I wrote here, religious beliefs are the ones not backed by any reliable evidence, and so should be first in line for ridicule. Scientology is based on the musings of just one person: L. Ron Hubbard. Hubbard’s claims have not been independently verified, and in some cases there is evidence they are wrong. No one in Scientology is allowed to challenge the teachings of Hubbard, and since Hubbard is now dead no progress can be made, no errors can be corrected. Ridicule is the appropriate response.