Sunday, 6 September 2015

Entertainment stuff from the week 31/8 - 6/9/15

Hi Wikker people,

'Using Wikipedia as PR is a problem, but our lack of a critical eye is worse'

Ask someone for their opinion of Wikipedia, and you will generally get one of two sentiments winning the race for the first sentence to be said:

1) The free encyclopedia? Yeah, i use it all the time. Great, isn't it.

2) Oh, that. You can't trust anything on there. Anyone can edit it, right?

The reality lies somewhere in-between.

Wikipedia is actually better than any other online encyclopedia, because of the way it is made. It might be theoretically possible for anyone to edit articles on Wikipedia, but that isn't practically true.

If you show bad form, for editing - citing known falsehoods and other disreputable sources - you can be removed from the list of Wikipedia editors.

Wikipedia's requirement for citations (evidence) and open-source nature, makes it more scientific than any other encyclopedia, and more broad in subject coverage.

In the Rationalism movement, it's well known that assorted Quacks love to edit articles about themselves, so that they gleam with false credit. The nature of the way Wikipedia works, means that all of the lies will be found in the end. Rationalists jumping in to the fray merely accelerates this progress.

Because of the nature of society, and of basic physics, some subjects will be tended to more closely, and by more competent individuals, than will other subjects.

This is why the pages for celebrities can often be unrealistic, with all sorts of ridiculous rumours and deliberately-misleading edits finding their way into articles. Celebrities are many, and editors are few.

In contrast, the pages for scientific subjects can be so scientifically rigorous that Universities now accept them as references in students' submissions!

The only people capable/willing to edit pages for intense sciencey things, are people who work in those intense sciencey things - that means their editing is highly competently done, and meddled with by few inexpert cranks.

Pages for companies, however (including quackery-mongering companies) are far more likely to be biased in the company's favour, because they can employ dodgy PR companies like Bell Pottinger to fabricate pleasant citations, and erase inconvenient truths.

This is really no different to scientific academia, itself!

Pharmaceutical companies, being profit-motivated, deliberately fund the creation of entire journals, so that they can have their own editors, on their own payroll, who will obligingly present all of their own research in the most complimentary light they can manage.

They pay medical writers to compile studies, according to their wishes, and then they put the name of a prestigious researcher at the top of the list of authors. For whomever the names comes from, it's a free boost to their study output, but the poor medical writer gets no credit whatsover.

What's so brilliant about this, is that to a passing stranger (albeit one with an academic bent and money for a journal subscription) the papers contained within the journal, and the standards of editing, seem perfectly fine.

An entirely fraudulent research paper (or Wikipedia article) that's had enough time and money spent on its creation, is not noteable as a fake. The only catch, is that the results can't be replicated, because the evidence was never there, in the first place! Citation needed.

The same is true when it comes to Organics industry companies, that up-sell vegetables by the claim that it's 'just better' than something that 'isn't organic'. Even though that doesn't mean anything sensible.

And it's also true for fossil gas fracking companies, that are trying to 'green' their image, with totally-not-industry-funded studies showing popular beliefs to not be true. Incidentally, the groundwater-contamination element isn't even one of the big threats, from the industry; but because people believe it to be, they see it as worth their effort to dispel the notion.

In fact, this problem goes much further beyond academia than this, because it's true for a wide range of adverts that you might see on TV, on posters, on the Web, or hear over the Radio.

Skeptics with a K has a piece on it, just about every issue. But then, given that it's Marsh's area of expertise (PR) then that's not exactly surprising. Here's one recent 'fascinating' example:

'Water, Water, The Water Of... Profit (SwaK#154)' (my upload)

If you're a company looking to smear someone who's a critic of you, with profit-reducing effects, then you could even do what Merck got caught doing, in 2009 - personalized attacks on those who criticised them!

The criticism in that case, was of what i mentioned earlier - dodgy journals set up only to make Merck look good. They paid Scientific Journal publisher Elsevier huge amounts of money, to make six journals, for them to publish profit-complementary studies in. The studies printed therein were even ones that had been published before! Merck's excuses for deception went down like this:

"In a statement to The Scientist magazine, Elsevier initially said that the company “does not today consider a compilation of reprinted articles a ‘Journal’”. I would like to expand on this statement. It was a collection of academic journal articles, published by the academic journal publisher Elsevier, in an academic journal shaped package. Perhaps if it wasn’t an academic journal they could have made this clearer in the title which, I should have mentioned, was: The Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine"."

And just to bring this whole thing full circle...

If you were trying to smear the reputation of someone who were criticising you for such immoral behaviour, then what better way to do it than by editing their Wikipedia entry?

Problems with Wikipedia pages are not peculiar, but the forces of good are at work, trying to suppress them.

When it comes to judging the reliability of a page on Wiki, think of what kind of page it is:

How competent will the people interested in improving this article be?
How much of their time might be devoted to this particular page?
What evidence do they have to work with, and what's been cited?
And what forces exist to corrupt the page you're looking at?

None of this works, however, without this key piece of advice:

Stay skeptical, people. Stay skeptical.


On the 4th of September, Mr. Bean turned 25. I suppose that makes him 50-something by now? :-D

In other news:

The JREF (James Randi Educational Foundation) has been undergoing some structural changes, over the last year or so. For decades, it has had $1 million set aside, for anyone who can demonstrate actual paranormal powers, under conditions where they could be found to be wrong. It's very telling that no-one has ever got close to winning the money, whether they intended it for themselves, or charitable use. In fact, the trend appears to be that the richer a charlatan is, nowadays, the less likely they are to consider it! It's almost as if they know they're faking, isn't it. Anyway, the JREF's still doing the Million Dollar Challenge, but it's testing has always been done by 'independents' (people who don't have a financial incentive to fake a fail) and now it seems that only the money has anything to do with the JREF. From next year, the JREF will be using interest on its donated millions, to give grants to Skeptical/Rationalist organisations, that they think would be benefitted by the funds.

The Brooks is back! Having been paid £13 million for not being scape-goated for the Murdoch-instrumented hacking scandal, (for which Andy Coulson and the News Of The World took the rap, got fired/closed, and then went to work for David Cameron, because the Conservative Party likes pleasant company) and taking a little time off, Rebekah Brooks is back at News Corp, as CEO of News UK. She was acquitted of phone hacking, bribing officials and obstructing police, in a case that has cost News Corp a paltry $500 million, paid out to its thousands of victims. Brooks has been the golden child of Rupert Murdoch's eyes, since 1989, so it's hardly surprising that he's welcomed her back into the fold. Like a Tory MP who's been caught doing something both bigoted and immensely unpopular, instead of being blackballed, she's just been given a 'cooling off' period, until people had forgotten what she'd done. Due to Brooks' reinstatement in the Murdoch Empire, it's unsurprising that prosecutors are considering a corporate challenge of News Corp. Good luck to them!

The Nazi Gold Train is... um, somewhere? Maybe? Two weeks ago, we had a rumour of a discovery of a train that might have had gems and guns in it, that might have been owned by the Nazis, possibly, maybe, possibly. This week, we've had the Polish deputy Culture Minister saying he's seen contours of the train on a geo-phys image, and the governor of the southwestern region of Lower Silesia saying “It’s impossible to claim that such a find actually exists at the location indicated based on the documents that have been submitted”. So basically, things are hotting up, but there's no further data to be had :-D

Back in 2010, the Justice Department of the USA started an antitrust investigation into a variety of Silicon Valley companies, for engaging in a no-poaching cartel. That wouldn't be a problem, if it were literal poaching, but in this case, it means recruiting people from other companies. This resolution covers Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe. A similar resolution, last year, covered Intuit, Pixar, and LucasFilm. Documents presented in the last 5 years of investigation, showed Steve Jobs to be the ringleader in the cartel, using secret agreements to suppress wages, by decreasing employees' awareness that their talents might be wanted at another company. A Federal Judge has awarded $415 million in damages, with $41 million going to the lawyers, and an average of $5800 prepared for each of the 64,000 workers affected by the cartel.

History enthusiasts are probably the happiest in Poland, right now, despite the ongoing drought. In fact, because of it. The Vistula River, which collects water in the south, through Warsaw, and out into the Baltic Sea, in the north. With water levels lower than ever before, on record, huge numbers of exhibits have been uncovered, along its length. From WWI patrol boats with guns and ammunition, to fragments of carved stones, that the Swedes tried to steal, when they invaded in 1656. Ironically, they only failed to export them, because the water levels were too low for their ships, at the time.

According to this research, emails can be more emotionally expressionate than voicemail messages. The researchers found that, regardless of the messager's sex, when using emails to communicate a romantic message, the sender put more effort into expressing romantic sentiment. This meant that, in practice, the recipient perceived it to be more romantic than the comparator voicemails. It's almost as if, when people want to communicate something, they will find a way of communicating it in whatever medium they happen to be using, at the time. Shocking!? Previous (older) studies have looked at this same subject, and found the opposite, so it probably just comes down to practice - the more you communicate in a medium, the better you will become, at conveying thoughts and intentions, within that medium.

Honest sunscreen lotion is anything but! Jessica Alba founded The Honest Co. four years ago, to rake in dosh as fast as she could bank it. But fraud doesn't seem to be something she would forego, in the interests of profiteering. At least, according to this plaintiff. They say the sunscreen is ineffective (reasonable, given that they've taken the zinc oxide out, but left shea butter and beeswax in) and also that it's not "natural" as described on the bottle. Well, the thing about 'natural' is that everything is natural, including fraud itself, and the sunburn you'll get if you wear Honest Sunscreen Lotion. The Honest Co. also claims the product to be "chemical free" even though, if this were true, the bottle would be empty entirely! It'll be interesting to see which of the points raised gain traction in the courts, where definitions of words and terms are often slightly, um... 'different'.

Ankylosaurids are well known as the dinosaurs built like tanks. Their name comes from the greek ankylo- meaning 'stiff/fused'. In medicine, 'ankylosis' refers to joints where bones have fused together. But although the ankylosaurids were always armour-plated, they didn't always have the tail clubs that Ankylosaurus itself had. Over ~80 million years, the physical infrastructure necessary to support such huge weapons developed bit-by-bit, with the stiffness of the tail developing first, and the tail club developing later, to enhance the scute and lump adorned tails' utility, as a weapon. The fusing of the tail evolved into the Early Cretaceous, but the huge tail club wasn't around until the Late Cretaceous, about 75 mya. Evolution is a continuous process, that can be very slow.

It's the end of the world again. LOL. This time, the subject of superstition is refraction of light onto the Moon, at sunclipse. Well, it's enough for Ray Comfort, so why not for a sane person? :-D

------------------------------------------------------ contemporary stuff

'Mr Bean's 25th Anniversary at Buckingham Palace - Rowan Atkinson'

'The Disappearing Sea of Ice'

'Hydrogen Alpha - Sixty Symbols'

'Motors and Generators'

'19th Century Technology at a Grist Mill'

'Science Bulletins: New Horizons Brings Pluto Into Focus'
In case you missed it, at the time.

'Australian desert captured by Copernicus Sentinel 2A'

'NASA image: Good night from space'

'Photographer captures an ISS transit of a solar prominence'

'Why do people laugh at creationists (part 43)'
Kent Hovind: The Return. He's had ten years to think things through; and how far has he got? Um... not very far :-D

'Dad³ Vlogs! Outside 3: THE FINALE!!!'

'The Singing Lift'

'God's Top 10 Life Hacks'

------------------------------------------------------ of the weeks

Word Of The Week: punctilious -- showing great attention to detail or correct behaviour

Fact Of The Week: Scrabble tournaments can be surprisingly intense. With ~10 games a day, they can mean playing (and concentrating for) seven hours a day, for five days straight - that's the cognitive equivalent of doing two/three long exams a day, every day, all week. Part of the motive for this, is to make it a grueling challenge, that distinguishes the strong from the weak, and thereby makes winning the tournament (and the thousands in prizemoney) more of an achievement.

------------------------------------------------------ non-contemporary stuff

'Chaucer' - Bill Bailey'

'Tattoo' - Bill Bailey'

'The Arthur Haynes Show barber sketch 1961'

'The 5 Most Horrific Deaths in Disney Movies'

'TINH: The Greatest (Stupidest) Hacking Scenes'


Ghostwatch was a spoof documentary, first broadcast on Hallowe'en 1992, presented as if it were going out live. Even though it clearly had a cast list, and there were people in it, who were known actors at the time, enough people believed that the programme could have been perceived as a real documentary, that complaints caused the BBC to ban it for 10 years!

The programme was blamed for the suicide of an 18-year-old with a mental age given as that of a 13-year-old, and cases of PTSD in two ten-year-old boys. Those two cases turned out just to be anxiety.

In case you were still wondering whether it was 'a bit scary' just bear in mind that it probably contributed to inspiring the Blair Witch Project, as well as real life events. It really does get quite scary, in the third part! I suggest watching it in a dark room, with thunder rumbling outside, the way i did :-D

'Ghost Watch pt 1'

'Ghost Watch pt 2'

'Ghost Watch pt3'

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