From the BBC:
A study, based on millions of articles, charted deteriorating national sentiment ahead of the recent revolutions in Libya and Egypt.
While the analysis was carried out retrospectively, scientists say the same processes could be used to anticipate upcoming conflict.
The system also picked up early clues about Osama Bin Laden’s location.
First I thought this story would be hackneyed, another dose of technophilia. However, if you read the actual research report, there’s a lot to be interested in. By digesting 100 million news articles and parsing the data different ways, it appears the researchers are able to identify patterns of discontent that lead to revolution. As well as discontent that does not. It’s also true, of course, that all media outlets have different biases beyond cultural. Reporters and editors might discount sentiments, or be blissfully unaware of stories, that don’t fit their pre-conceived ideas of what is news. The research also captures some of these biases, especially cultural ones.
Of course, the thought also occurs to me: what if they looked at US news stories about US politics since 1945? Are we set for revolution? Or, how low can we go? It’s also likely Big Brother also would be interested, although any government facing massive discontent would be hard pressed to turn sentiment around, except by the usual means of distraction, war, and the like.
Around the world, TruePosition markets something it calls “location intelligence,” or LOCINT, to intelligence and law enforcement agencies. As a homeland security tool, it’s enticing. Imagine an “invisible barrier around sensitive sites like critical infrastructure,” such as oil refineries or power plants, TruePosition’s director of marketing, Brian Varano, tells Danger Room. The barrier contains a list of known phones belonging to people who work there, allowing them to pass freely through the covered radius. “If any phone enters that is not on the authorized list, [authorities] are immediately notified.”
TruePosition calls that “geofencing.” As a company white paper explains, its location tech “collects, analyzes, stores and displays real-time and historical wireless events and locations of targeted mobile users.”
‘The capability of doing mass tracking is possible.’
It can also work other ways: pinging authorities when a phone used by a suspected terrorist or criminal enters an airport terminal, bus station or other potential target. And it works just as well in monitoring the locations of phones the suspect’s phone calls — and who they call and text, and so on.
For the past four years, TruePosition has quietly taken that tracking technology global. In the U.S., Varano says, TruePosition sells to mobile carriers — though it’s cagey about whether the U.S. government uses its products. But abroad, it sells to governments, which it won’t name. Ever since it came out with LOCINT in 2008, he says, “Ministries of Defense and Interior from around the world began beating down our door.”
This is what happens when government refuses to referee between competing interests: corporations go crazy chasing the dollar even if violates clear Constitutional rights to privacy. Never mind the right for individuals in a society to be free of unwarranted spying and the right to assemble.
It’s also the perfect example of the conservative aristocratic approach to fear (aka “Kill them all and let God decide”) and the comparatively more nuanced liberal progressive response to fear. Both groups experience fear. Both groups try to mitigate the worst results in vastly different ways. Conservatives think TruePosition is doing God’s work. They want Mommy to save them. They torture mostly because it makes them feel good: it’s a combination of revenge and definitely doing something. They’ll gladly trade liberty for security. Liberals prefer law and order for the most part, working through solutions to reduce risk. Liberals realize you can’t eliminate failure no matter how hard you try. Conservatives love the Maginot Line and believe it will save them. Liberals realize someone some day will find a way around any Maginot Line.
These are generalities, of course, but the risk to civil liberties is obvious. And the failure of the US government to rein in this kind of corporate behavior is unfortunate.
From Amy Gahran at Contentious, from a journalist’s point of view:
It sucks when you work really hard to do the fairest, most systematic investigation of a topic that deeply affects many people’s lives — but the very people who are suffering most from the topic of your research refuse to believe what you have to say, or accuse you of being part of some conspiracy to hoodwink them. And meanwhile, your less skilled or less ethical colleagues are producing their own research and reports designed to foster fear, uncertainty, and doubt.
That generates considerable friction, controversy, and conflict. And worse, it delays the discovery and implementation of real solutions.
Why does this happen — and what can journalists and scientists do about it?…
Panic Virus isn’t a great book (I found most of it tiresomely redundant, like a heavily padded feature article), but the 2nd half of ch. 16 on cognitive biases is relevant here.
There (starting at about location 3100 in the Kindle edition), Mnookin explains psychological phenomena such as pattern recognition, the clustering illusion, cognitive dissonance, and availability cascades. They’re just part of how our brains work, and the practices of science and journalism often act as counterbalances to these innate tendencies. That’s why science and journalism are fundamentally uncomfortable and controversial professions.
But these quirks of how brains work are why just presenting facts and information often has the opposite social effect that journalists hope for.
I think if our goal as journalists is to help people understand how things really are, how they got that way, what might happen next, and what people might do to steer the future or protect their interests, we need to think hard about how to accommodate — not deny — these psychological tendencies.
Aside from an excellent post, about an issue Paul Rosenberg explored for years at Open Left, the post has a great update. The question of how you deal with true believers, who believe despite their belief hurting their interests, how do you bring them to an awareness of reality, that’s a key question for progressives as well as journalists.
There is a core 15-25% in this country that consistently vote against their interests because they’re triggered by some larger group, usually by triggering racist fears (e.g. “Don’t give Medicare to people not like me”) but economic fears also can trigger a reaction (and a vote) against ones interests. This group, while small, is big enough to swing close elections and off elections. Which is one reason, of many, that we need to discuss and debate this issue of how people perceive reality and how to help people see reality more clearly.
According to some of the (dare I say) evidence discussed in this article from the Village Voice.
My own take: if people were so easily influenced by pop music lyrics and if the songs of the past decades were more about “us” than “me”, why didn’t we have a wave of unity at that time? Is it only negative behaviors that are stimulated by lyrics? Or maybe its just more dramatic to blame music for suicide than to discuss how many times people find the will to go on nestled in the lyrics?
The Dr. Kaku was a fine example of a theoretical physicist entranced with clever technologies and obsessed with Star Trek.
He talked about two ideas that sound very nice: 1) “Smart” wallpaper that can be programmed to change colors and might even provide a means to talk to a computerized physician (Yes, by talking to the wall) and get help for medical ailments. 2) “Smart” toilets for the home that can screen your families poop for DNA signatures that have been linked to human cancers.
So, in a world where even developed nations still have lead-based paint peeling off the walls in the low income part of town, this brainiac thinks we need smart wallpaper to watch over the rich assholes (literally). Socioeconomics aside, is it really a good idea to entrust your toilet bowl with life and death diagnoses? Especially when one’s only interaction with a medical professional is talking to the wallpaper? Where’s the counseling? Where’s the basic human compassion? (in the toilet!). Wouldn’t all of our great technological tricks be better used to find ways to provide clean potable water, sanitation and shelter to those who don’t have a toilet to up-grade, or walls to paper over?
Ivy league degree aside, this guy has a ridiculously skewed vision of the future.
It would seem that expecting people to be convinced by the facts flies in the face of, you know, the facts.
Chris Mooney offered up a veritable briar patch of stochastic possibilities with his recent article, The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science, at Mother Jones.
This is not a new topic for the Open Left crowd. Some topics, however, may benefit from being repeated. There’s a lot of “motivated reasoning”, I think, in the deference so many on the leftish end of the US political spectrum show toward Obama and the Democratic Party in general. This is not a novel idea. It has been hashed over by others.
There is much to be discussed about the motivations that beget the kind of rational use of the irrational that underlies this phenomenon. Or is it, the irrational use of rationality? Ivy League lawyer, Dan Kahan, sums it up:
The study subjects weren’t “anti-science”—not in their own minds, anyway. It’s just that “science” was whatever they wanted it to be.
I’m still on the Off Topic series.
The context of this diary is primarily cellular. We’ve moved up a level of biological scale from the previous diary, Transition. Some may suggest that the molecular and cellular scales also define the non-living/living divide (if such a thing actually exists). That topic is beyond the scope of this diary. [Besides, I tend to piss off the philosophers when I talk about the meaning of life, so let’s get better acquainted before we tear the lid off that one.]
One of the minor mysteries in biophysical chemistry is how cells manage to elicit sudden changes in various metabolic and physiologic characteristics, traits, or phenotypes. These changes are in response to signals of fuel availability and physiological exigencies pertaining to the multi-cellular individual as implied by homeostasis. The cohort of human beings pondering these mysteries as a matter of career define the word “manage” in terms of macromolecular conformational changes, enzyme catalysis, and a wide range of interactions between macromolecules and with smaller molecules. The shorthand jargon term for this is mechanism. These are not new questions. They have bugged us ever since the first moving cells were observed.
The question becomes: How do cells organize the molecules within them in order to accomplish the functions that these have been observed to fulfill?
This discussion is in context of all the caveats this community can conjure.
In case you missed this excellent story from Popular Science, a whodunit involving (one hears) Mr. Cheney vs Mr. Gore:
It all began so hopefully. Al Gore proposed the satellite in 1998, at the National Innovation Summit at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Gazing skyward from the podium, the vice president described a spacecraft that would travel a full million miles from Earth to a gravity-neutral spot known as the L1 Lagrangian point, where it would remain fixed in place, facing the sunlit half of our planet. It would stream back to NASA video of our spherical home, and the footage would be broadcast continuously over the Web.
Not only would the satellite provide “a clearer view of our world,” Gore promised, but it would also offer “tremendous scientific value” by carrying into space two instruments built to study climate change: EPIC, a polychromatic imaging camera made to measure cloud reflectivity and atmospheric levels of aerosols, ozone and water vapor; and NISTAR, a radiometer. NISTAR was especially important: Out in deep space, it would do something that scientists are still unable to do today directly and continuously monitor the Earth’s albedo, or the amount of solar energy that our planet reflects into space versus the amount it absorbs.
We know some things about the Earth’s albedo. We know that solar radiation is both absorbed and reflected everywhere on Earth, by granite mountaintops in New Hampshire and desert dunes in Saudi Arabia. We know that cloud cover also reflects some of it. We also know that increased concentrations of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases are currently causing the planet to retain more solar energy than it once did. But there is much we don’t know, because we don’t have a way to directly and constantly monitor albedo on a global scale—that is, to directly observe a key indicator of global warming.
Bonus: now you know two new words, Lagrangian point and albedo. More seriously, the DSCOVR project even if launched, could not be guaranteed to be launched, as happened recently with another climate satellite that crashed during launch.
A few weeks ago a good friend turned me on to this series by Errol Morris, “The Ashtray”. I’ve collated the 5 parts here: 1) The Ultimatum, 2) Shifting Paradigms, 3) Hippasus of Metapontum, 4) The Author of the “Quixote”, and 5) This Contest of Interpretation. The same Errol Morris who made The Fog of War and Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control.
It’s a good read. Morris approaches the essays with a documentarian’s eye for the drama of the mundane and snippets of dialog with an array of pertinent personages. Morris cuts right to the chase, explaining the obscure title of the series in the first paragraph.
It was April, 1972. The Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N. J. The home in the 1950s of Albert Einstein and Kurt Gödel. Thomas Kuhn, the author of “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” and the father of the paradigm shift, threw an ashtray at my head.
Apparently, Kuhn was a bit peeved that his student (Morris) would dare attend a lecture by Saul Kripke. Morris reworks the incident throughout The Ashtray, weaving it through Pythagorean myth and legend concerning an alleged murder of Hippasus of Metapontum to illuminate his interpretation of why Kuhn became so stuck on his own notion of incommensurable paradigms in science. All the while tempting the reader to consider whether Kuhn really meant what we have come to believe his words mean, or whether Kuhn ended up defending the interpretation of others.
Maybe you’ve already seen the story, or maybe you’ll get caught up in the hype tomorrow.
Sounds pretty cool, huh? Microfossils of cyanobacteria in very rare meteorites that “prove” life exists “somewhere else” in the universe than on this planet.
Not so fast, says PZ Meyers and David Dobbs. But the lesson here is deeper than understanding that this is a controversial finding. Pay attention to the reasons why Meyers and Dobbs doubt the validity of the claim. Then think back to my running dispute with metamars about the “science” behind climate change denial.
At this moment at the dawn of 2011 a rare alignment of instabilities is occurring. The analogy surfing through my brainpan is one of dams breaking upstream in many rivers. While each river has filled (and is filling) its “natural” flood plain, these have yet to flow together; to roil in unison. Maybe they will never find the watersheds that would push them toward each other, or maybe the connections between rivers are not found only in water flowing over rocks and dirt. After all, these connections extend through the atmosphere and are found where the climate meets the weather. For that reason, my recent posts have highlighted those of M. Stoller. because I think his analyses are an apt description of a “watershed” in the analogy that I’m currently beating to death. That labor rights and human dignity are the common foundation of the Jasmine Revolutions, the protests in Europe, and the growing movement centered in Wisconsin, USA is clear. The burst of hand-made content by those now posting here was sparked by Travis and it actively feeds forward as I post.
Travis was exactly correct, these are truly stories from the Front Lines. John has started us toward a bit longer event horizon by putting impending elections in the context of on-going events, so we have begun to gain some traction, perhaps. Even as we discuss (im)possible names for The Site to be Named Later, the steadfast dignity of the union members/supporters in WI has clearly gone viral.
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