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May the source be with you, but remember the KISS principle ;-)
Skepticism and critical thinking is not panacea, but can help to understand the world better
People keep on forgetting that public media is in the attention business ... it is in their economic interest to sensationalize news in order to flog those accompanying ads (a bit of a problem for CNN when there's no major wars going on). As such, manufactured fluff (i.e. press-releases) is easier to regurgitate than any in-depth research or second-hand opinions (syndicated columns).
Historically public media was part and parcel of the lecture circuit (aka rubber chicken show) where you would invite real authorities and experts to come in and air their thoughts in a proper interview. However, two general trends mitigate against this ... the increasing complexity of real-world issues (anyone who thinks Middle-East is a simple case of good-guys/bad-guys is in deep trouble) which limits the potential audiences interested in understanding the issues, and the move to tabloid style audience capture which tends to confuse celebrity with fame.
Why should sports-heroes and actresses (apart from the convenience of recycling pre-existing studio contracts) be ask to comment on areas way outside their domain? Why should TV shows get people from the entertainment field to present business news (and you wonder why the stock market is irrational). Unfortunately those with real know-how gained from the school of hard knocks tend to be people who charge for their services ... would you want a surgeon who has never practiced on patients before so why are we willing to listen to highly filtered news passed along by talking heads?
It's becoming nothing more than a massive Chinese whisper in a global cocktail party.
Fortunately we have some countervailing examples ... the /. ask XYZ is a particularly good way for the plebs to touch some of the people involved in the thick of things.
The economic models which are the equivalent of yelling "fire" as loudly as possible to rush people to newsfeeds are creating some really bad incentives ... ultimately people have to realise there is a cost in misleading/diluted information (e.g. did anyone notice that the bard-wire concentration camp story that helped sparked the Balkans intervention and sundry bombings was filmed on the inside looking out?).
Obedience to authority is a basic tenant of any human social organization. Virtually every society has developed some sort of hierarchy in which some individuals exercise a degree of authority over others. For example, teachers have authority over their students; police officers have authority over members of the public.
Basically, its hard to conceive of a society that could function without this type of arrangement. However, there are times when private belief and compliance with those in authority may come into conflict. The resolution of this type of conflict represents one of the oldest problems in philosophy and religion. Abraham, when commanded by God to kill his son, was torn between his love of his son and his obedience to God. Obedience to authority is a form of compliance and as such it has been studied in the laboratory's of social psychologists for 30 years.
Milgram's experiment doesn't begin in a laboratory, but rather a lecture theatre where a group of psychiatrists, university students and middle-class adults of various occupations and ages have gathered to listen to a lecture on obedience to authority. During the lecture, Milgram asks the audience to imagine the following situation:
In response to a newspaper add offering $4.50 for one hour's work, you turn up at Yale University to take part in a Psychology experiment investigating memory and learning. You are introduced to a stern looking experimenter in a white coat and a rather pleasant and friendly co-subject. The experimenter explains that the experiment will look into the role of punishment in learning, and that one of you will be the teacher and one will be the learner. You draw lots to determine roles, and it is decided that you become the teacher. The three of you then proceed to an adjacent room, where the "learner" is strapped into a chair. The experimenter explains that this is to prevent excessive movement during the experiment, but its pretty obvious to you that the learner could not escape from the chair if he wished. Then, an electrode is attached to the learners arm, and conductive gel as applied to the electrode. The experimenter explains that this is to prevent burning and blisters. Both you and the learner are told that the electrode is attached to a electric shock generator in the other room, and that electric shocks will serve as punishment for incorrect responses. The learner asks the experimenter if "the shocks will hurt" to which the experimenter replies: "although the shocks will be painful, they cause no permanent tissue damage"...
Private enterprise is much taken with education, especially the universities. In the United States the race to get hold of academic disciplines that bring in the money has already increased conflicts of interest between research and business. Under cover of a 'marketplace of ideas', the logic of the market could turn academics into entrepreneurs and endanger the unity of our universities.
In November 1998 the University of California at Berkeley signed a controversial agreement with Novartis, the Swiss pharmaceutical giant and producer of genetically engineered crops. In exchange for $25m to its Department of Plant and Microbial Biology (DPMB), the university would grant the firm first right to negotiate licenses on about one-third of the department's discoveries (including the results of research funded by state and federal sources). Novartis would also be represented on two out of five seats in the department's research committee, which determines how the money is spent.
About half of the faculty members of the College of Natural Resources, of which the DPMB is a part, expressed concern that the deal would erode Berkeley's commitment to "public good research", and 60% feared it would impede the free exchange of ideas among scientists (1). California state senator Tom Hayden declared that the deal "raises significant questions of whether biotechnology research primarily serves the interests of corporations and marginalises potential academic critics at the expense of free inquiry and unfettered research".
Yet, by and large, the deal represents the new model of cooperation between corporations and universities. Since California's Proposition 13, which froze property tax and started a widespread "tax revolt" in 1978, state funding for education has started to decline. Changes were afoot at the federal level, too. In 1980 the US Congress, concerned about declining productivity and rising competition from Japan, passed the Bayh-Dole act, which for the first time allowed universities to patent the results of federally funded research. Subsequent legislation further encouraged corporations to fund academic research - through tax breaks among other things - and universities to licence their inventions to corporations.
Why Mainstream Media Won't Tell You the Truth
You don't have to be a genius or a conspiracy theorist to figure this one out. A few global media giants dominate the market; they have huge and growing holdings in virtually every means by which information is disseminated--films, books, TV channels, radio stations, newspapers, and magazines (Herman and McChesney, 1998). And they pressure, whether overtly or not, authors and reporters to put a slant on the news--specifically, a centrist to right-wing slant that favors the interests of the media's corporate owners. That's the reason you hear, over and over, why development matters more than preserving the environment, why free trade matters more than worker's rights, and why the U.S. has the right to impose its military power wherever it pleases.
Apart from the general pressure to slant the news to the center and right, industry associations overtly pressure media outlets to censor certain types of news reporting by threatening to withdraw advertising. For example, thanks to pressure from restaurant associations, newspapers are reluctant to specify local restaurants which violate health department regulations. Even so, overt pressure isn't often needed. When you're in the media business, you know darned well you'd better not run stories that businesses won't like. You tone it down. You run it by them. And if they're not comfortable and you're not comfortable, you don't run it.
In sum, you don't hear the truth because corporations don't want you to hear it and mainstream media are too cowardly to report it. Had you known the truth about Seattle (including substantive discussion of the specific issues concerning WTO policies), you might have thought more deeply about what's at stake. But that doesn't sell beer; why ask why, after all, when doing so is virtually unmarketable? Instead of providing the tools needed to think seriously about national policies, the media would much prefer to socialize viewers into becoming "neurotic in their need to buy advertised commodities", generating "mass spending on goods such as cosmetics, cigarettes, beer, soft drinks, and patent medicines completely out of proportion to the rational use of national income..." and diverting attention from "society's central needs, including public education, health care, [and] democratic economics" (Bagdikian, 1996:10).
In 1937, the Institute for Propaganda Analysis was created to educate the American public about the widespread nature of political propaganda. Composed of social scientists and journalists, the IPA published a series of books, including:
The Fine Art of Propaganda
Group Leader's Guide to Propaganda Analysis
Propaganda: How To Recognize and Deal With It
The IPA is best-known for identifying the seven basic propaganda devices: Name-Calling, Glittering Generality, Transfer, Testimonial, Plain Folks, Card Stacking, and Band Wagon. According to the authors of a recent book on propaganda, "these seven devices have been repeated so frequently in lectures, articles, and textbooks ever since that they have become
virtually synonymous with the practice and analysis of propaganda in all of its aspects." (Combs and Nimmo, 1993)
Some have argued that the IPA's approach is too simplistic because many messages fall into more than one category. The IPA techniques have also been criticized because they do not account for differences between members of the audience, and they do not discuss the credibility of the propagandist.
There is some validity to these criticisms, but few could quibble with the IPA's basic goal of promoting critical thought among citizens. In The Fine Art of Propaganda, the IPA stated that "It is essential in a democratic society that young people and adults learn how to think, learn how to make up their minds. They must learn how to think independently,
and they must learn how to think together. They must come to conclusions, but at the same time they must recognize the right of other men to come to opposite conclusions. So far as individuals are concerned, the art of democracy is the art of thinking and discussing independently together."
The trouble with enthusiasm
One trait of both Slashdot and FreeRepublic is that their populations contain a percentage of zealots. This fact attracts the attention of non-members and ensures the continued participation of long-standing ones. While allegiance to a specific viewpoint is in no way an exclusionary criterion on Slashdot or FreeRepublic, most users share a common opinion on a few controversial issues. This may reflect the fact that contentious topics generate the most passionate interest.
Regrettably, this bond introduces a capacity for bias. Most information processed on a trust graph will lie outside the emotional boundaries, allowing peer-review and peer-dilution to ensure honest news analysis. But when discussion touches on a 'hot button' topic, rampant uniformity of opinion eliminates these safeguards.
Computer science skeptic is
now a separate file
[March 20, 1999]
On the side of
angels -- FEED stance on the new anti-darvinism
Exploring the mystical impulses behind our obsession with information technology, TechGnosis presents an original perspective on technoculture. Religious impulses and magical dreams permeate the history of technology, and especially information technology. Ranging from the printing press to the telegraph, from radio to the Internet, the author reveals the mystical and millennialist fervor that attends each new communications breakthrough. As he unveils the history of technomysticism, Davis shows how the religious imagination continues to feed the utopian dreams, apocalyptic visions, digital phantasms, and alien obsessions that populate today's technological yellow press.
Deception links added
Computer Virus Paranoia
Survival Tips for Whistleblowers -- from
Project Whistleblower Support
SAFE SCIENCE! Whistleblowing on the Web.
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The Last but not Least Technology is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage and those who manage what they do not understand ~Archibald Putt. Ph.D
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