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Harvard: Does the University Sell What the Customer Wants?

September 22, 2016

I know that online facilitates many functions. One can look up information. One can make up information and disseminate it so the information becomes “accurate.” One can take money and combine many functions in one glorious paean to academic integrity and scholarly research.

Consider fat and sugar. The Harvard crowd prefers kale and spring water, but for the moment consider these two essential components of many university commissaries.

Why am I linking online and the complements of chocolate and salt? The answer is my reaction to “Sugar Industry Secretly Paid for Favorable Harvard Research.” For the moment, let’s assume that this article is spot on. Hey, if something is online, that something is accurate, factual, and dead right. Well, that is what Jasper and Olli, along with the rest of the Beyond Search barn yard crew believe.

The write up informed me:

As nutrition debates raged in the 1960s, prominent Harvard nutritionists published two reviews in a top medical journal downplaying the role of sugar in coronary heart disease. Newly unearthed documents reveal what they didn’t say: A sugar industry trade group initiated and paid for the studies, examined drafts, and laid out a clear objective to protect sugar’s reputation in the public eye.

Hmmm. “Paid for” means content marketing. Search engine optimization undermines precision and recall. The mobile crowd is not into either of these yardsticks. But folks who like Twinkies can relate to sugar and fat. Now it seems that fat may be slightly less problematic for the waistline than sugar.

The write up told me:

Kearns [an expert who found the pay for brains’ play] said the papers, which the trade group later cited in pamphlets provided to policymakers, aided the industry’s plan to increase sugar’s market share by convincing Americans to eat a low-fat diet.

Yep, death. I suppose that if a few people die because of flawed research data that’s okay. Harvard has many initiatives to help those who have issues. However, Harvard does like to take care of itself and its available cash and assorted reserves.

Another maven’s comment received the fatty yellow highlight for this passage:

Marion Nestle, a nutrition expert at New York University who was not involved in the paper, said she’s still not convinced by those who argue that “sugar is poison” — a person’s total calorie consumption could matter more. But she called the UCSF findings a “smoking gun” — rare, hard evidence of the food industry meddling in science. “Science is not supposed to work this way,” she wrote in an accompanying commentary. “Is it really true that food companies deliberately set out to manipulate research in their favor? Yes, it is, and the practice continues,” Nestle added, noting that Coca-Cola and candy makers have both tried recently to influence nutrition research.

I am confident that Harvard can explain its venturing into the esteemed field of content marketing. I love that Harvard athletic program too. But I am even more fond of Harvard research than I was before learning about pay to play. I need a kale sandwich and a bottle of spring water. 23 skidoo to integrity in academe.

Stephen E Arnold, September 22, 2016

Making Elsevier, Springer, and Wolters Kluwer Nervous: The Free Scientific Paper Ploy

September 15, 2016

I read “Europe Announces That All Scientific Papers Should Be Free by 2020.” Sounds exciting for the major STEM publishers operating in the business-friendly European Community. The problem is the “should be”. Quite parental.

The write up calls attention to an outfit called the Competitiveness Council. The idea is that STEM content funded by the government I presume but one never knows in EC land.

I noted this passage:

Indeed, at the present time, the council has provided scarce details related to how countries can expect to make the full transition to open access and meet the deadline, which is less than four years away. That’s not too surprising, as the announcement was only just made a few days ago. But given the current state of scientific literacy, and the sad state of science communication, well, the sciences need all the help they can get. So this commitment is almost unanimously welcomed by those working in STEM and associated careers.

Google may want to commiserate with some of the publishers likely to be impinged upon if this adult idea becomes a reality. No, hold that thought. Some European publishers don’t like Google and would use a meet up with the Googlers as an opportunity to talk about getting compensated for their content.

Stephen E Arnold, September 15, 2016

Dark Web: Was Hillary Clinton a Phishing Target?

September 9, 2016

I am not too sure about the information is some British newspapers. Nevertheless, I find some of the stories amusing. A good example of an online frolic is a write up designed to suck in clicks and output blogger and podcast commentaries. Case in point: Beyond Search just helped out the Daily Mail’s traffic. Wikipedia, another always-spot on source of information points to a statement about the newspaper’s “institutional racism.”

The headline which caught my attention was “Hacking Fears over Clinton server: FBI reveal Hillary Was Sent ‘Phishing’ Email with Porn Links and ‘Dark Web Browser’ Was Used to Access Another Account.” I am frightened I guess.

The write up asserts:

An unknown individual used an anonymous web browsing tool often used to access the dark web to get into an email account on the Clinton family server, the FBI revealed [on September 2, 2016].

The Daily Mail explains the bad stuff about the Dark Web. Then there is a leap:

In another incident that raised hacking fears, Clinton received a phishing email, purportedly sent from the personal email account of a State official. She responded to the email: ‘Is this really from you? I was worried about opening it!’.

And for a third cartwheel, the estimable newspaper stated:

In a separate incident, Abedin sent an email to an unidentified person saying that Clinton was worried ‘someone [was] was hacking into her email’. She had apparently received an email from a known associate ‘containing a link to a website with pornographic material’ at the time, but there is no additional information as to why she would believe she had been hacked.

Fascinating. I did not see anyone in the pictures accompanying the write wearing a baseball cap with the phrase:

Make journalism great again.

Everything I read online is accurate. Plus, I believe absolutely everything I read on my computing device’s screen. We try to remain informed about online here in rural Kentucky.

Stephen E Arnold, September 9, 2016

Facebook Ad Targeting Revealed

August 29, 2016

A scoop maybe. Navigate to “98 Personal Data Points That Facebook Uses to Target Ads to You.” The list-tickle becomes news because real newspapers report real news. For the full list, visit the estimable Washington Bezos. Sorry, Washington Post.

Here are some signals I found amusing:

  • How much money user is likely to spend on next car. Doesn’t that depend on fashion, the deal, or what my spouse wants to drive?
  • Users who have created a Facebook event. I don’t know what a Facebook “event” is.
  • Users who investor (divided by investment type). For a real journalism outfit, I am puzzled by the phrase “who investor”.
  • Types of clothing user’s household buys. Another grammatical gem.
  • Users who are “heavy” buyers of beer, wine or spirits. I assume “heavy” means obese. Perhaps I am incorrect.
  • Users who are interested in the Olympics, fall football, cricket or Ramadan. What about other sports like Ramadan?

All in all, a fine list. An ever more better finest scrumptious article from a real journalistic outfit, the Washington Bezos. Darn, there I go again. I mean the Washington Post.

Stephen E Arnold, August 29, 2016

Publishers and Facebook: Any Bets on Which Will Win?

July 9, 2016

I read another of those digitally informed grousing write ups from the London Guardian newspaper. This essay, which is not what I would call news from my vantage point in Harrod’s Creek, is titled “Few News Providers Will Now Be Liking Facebook.” I thought the title I thought up was more accurate; to wit: Few print centric news providers will be liking Facebook. But, hey, I live in rural Kentucky where print means the replacement for cursive. I noted this passage:

In her recent Humanitas lecture at Cambridge, for example, Columbia University’s Emily Bell pointed out that, for the first time in history, major news organizations had lost control of how their content was distributed. And George Brock, of City University, spotted that in becoming a major distributor of journalistic content, Facebook was implicitly acquiring editorial responsibilities, responsibilities that it neither acknowledged nor welcomed. But to desperate editors, faced with declining circulations and ad revenues, these seemed like theoretical considerations: however much they might dislike or fear Facebook, they had to deal with it because it was where their audiences were increasingly to be found.

Okay, Facebook with its billion plus users is more powerful than real “journalism” outfits. I would wager that Facebook is not likely to toss out its publishing system and embrace MarkLogic type technology either. How is that slicing and dicing working out?

I highlight in red ink red these sentences as well:

Social media are powerful engines for creating digital echo chambers, which is one reason why our politics is becoming so partisan. Brexiters speak only unto Brexiters. And Remainers ditto… We all inhabit echo chambers now and all Facebook has done is to increase the level of insulation on those inhabited by its users.

I think the Guardian missed the TED talk about “filter bubbles” and discovered the notion of an echo chamber itself.

My thought is that the flow of online data has washed away the foundations of the traditional approach to print on paper publishing. The white shoes are wet and muddy. The arbiters of taste and thought now have to recognize Facebook as the big dog.

Since the digital revolution is decades old now, I am delighted that real journalists are realizing that the clay tablets of ore are losing favor among some folks. You know. The young folks who do the mobile phone thing for affection, acceptance, and news.

Stephen E Arnold, July 9, 2016

CloudFlare Claims Most Activity from Tor Is Malicious

June 28, 2016

Different sources suggest varying levels of malicious activity on Tor. Tech Insider shared an article responding to recent claims about Tor made by CloudFlare. The article, entitled, Google Search has a secret feature that shouts animal noises at you, offers information about CloudFlare’s perspective and that of the Tor Project. CloudFlare reports most requests from Tor, 94 percent, are “malicious” and the Tor Project has responded by requesting evidence to justify the claim. Those involved in the Tor Project have a hunch the 94 percent figure stems from CloudFlare attributing the label of “malicious” to any IP address that has ever sent spam. The article continues,

“We’re interested in hearing CloudFlare’s explanation of how they arrived at the 94% figure and why they choose to block so much legitimate Tor traffic. While we wait to hear from CloudFlare, here’s what we know: 1) CloudFlare uses an IP reputation system to assign scores to IP addresses that generate malicious traffic. In their blog post, they mentioned obtaining data from Project Honey Pot, in addition to their own systems. Project Honey Pot has an IP reputation system that causes IP addresses to be labeled as “malicious” if they ever send spam to a select set of diagnostic machines that are not normally in use. CloudFlare has not described the nature of the IP reputation systems they use in any detail.”

This article raises some interesting points, but also alludes to more universal problems with making sense of any information published online. An epistemology about technology, and many areas of study, is like chasing a moving target. Knowledge about technology is complicated by the relationship between technology and information dissemination. The important questions are what does one know about Tor and how does one know about it?


Megan Feil, June 28, 2016

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

LinkedIn: The Thought Leader Misfire

June 2, 2016

I read “News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2016.” No big surprises, just confirmation of what our research has pegged. Almost two thirds in the Pew sample get their “news” from Facebook. You can read the summary and get a sense of the angst trigger the data make available to those in “real” news outfits.

What I noted is a different point. In the write up, LinkedIn users do not get their news from LinkedIn. On an upside note, the number of LinkedIn users who use the social networking service for news rose to 19 percent from 13 percent in 2013. That growth suggests that the effort to make LinkedIn a go to system for high value information is have modest impact.

Compared with Reddit and Facebook, LinkedIn ranks near YouTube and Vine in the must have information about compelling events.

LinkedIn seems to have trimmed back the volume of spam sent to me. I asked LinkedIn’s help desk this question:

What do I need to do to be notified of new  posts to the groups I follow?

After several days of waiting, I still don’t know the answer. My hunch is that LinkedIn’s interface twiddling and workflow massaging is more interested in upselling me. Too bad. Every once in a while, the groups I follow produce “real news.”

From my vantage point in Harrod’s Creek, I thought LinkedIn had a chance to become more important in the must have information business. Right now, LinkedIn which operates Slideshare, has flailed. Perhaps the effort will pay off. Right now, I see a missed easy lay up or even an own goal.

Stephen E Arnold, June 2, 2016

Quote to Note: What Silicon Valley Hates

June 1, 2016

I read the Gray Lady’s write up about the shoot out between some high profile people and outfits. You can get the details in “Tech Titans Raise Their Guard, Pushing Back Against News Media.” The addled goose is interested in the behavior of real journalists and the folks with money, influence, and legal eagles. Eagles have been known to snack on geese.

Here’s the quote I noted:

“The possibility that Gawker may have to post a bond for $50 million or more just to be able to pursue its right to appeal the jury’s verdict raises serious concerns about press freedom,” Lynn Oberlander, general counsel for First Look, said in a statement.

The Constitution thing again. Troublesome for sure. Paying for placement may be the answer. That’s journalism too I surmise.

Stephen E Arnold, June 1, 2016

Paid Posts and PageRank

May 27, 2016

Google users rely on the search engine’s quality-assurance algorithm, PageRank, to serve up the links most relevant to their query. Blogger and Google engineer Matt Cutts declares, reasonably enough, that “Paid Posts Should Not Affect Search Engines.” His employer, on the other hand, has long disagreed with this stance. Cutts concedes:

“We do take the subject of paid posts seriously and take action on them. In fact, we recently finished going through hundreds of ‘empty review’ reports — thank you for that feedback! That means that now is a great time to send us reports of link buyers or sellers that violate our guidelines. We use that information to improve our algorithms, but we also look through that feedback manually to find and follow leads.”

Well, that’s nice to know. However, Cutts emphasizes, no matter how rigorous the quality assurance, there is good reason users may not want paid posts to make it through PageRank at all. He explains:

“If you are searching for information about brain cancer or radiosurgery, you probably don’t want a company buying links in an attempt to show up higher in search engines. Other paid posts might not be as starkly life-or-death, but they can still pollute the ecology of the web. Marshall Kirkpatrick makes a similar point over at ReadWriteWeb. His argument is as simple as it is short: ‘Blogging is a beautiful thing. The prospect of this young media being overrun with “pay for play” pseudo-shilling is not an attractive one to us.’ I really can’t think of a better way to say it, so I’ll stop there.”


Cynthia Murrell, May 27, 2016

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

The Guardian Adheres to Principles

May 20, 2016

In the 1930s, Britain’s newspaper the Guardian was founded, through a generous family’s endowment, on the ideas of an unfettered press and free access to information. In continued pursuit of these goals, the publication has maintained a paywall-free online presence, despite declining online-advertising revenue. That choice has cost them, we learn from the piece, ”Guardian Bet Shows Digital Risks” at USA Today. Writer Michael Wolff explains:

“In order to underwrite the costs of this transformation, most of the trust’s income-producing investments have been liquidated in recent years in order to keep cash on hand — more than a billion dollars.

“In effect, the Guardian saw itself as departing the newspaper business and competing with new digital news providers like BuzzFeed and Vox and Vice Media, each raising ever-more capital from investors with which to finance their growth. The Guardian — unlike most other newspapers that are struggling to make it in the digital world without benefit of access to outside capital — could use the interest generated by its massive trust to indefinitely deficit-finance its growth. At a mere 4% return, that would mean it could lose more than $40 million a year and be no worse for wear.

“But … the cost of digital growth mounted as digital advertising revenue declined. And with zero interest rates, there has been, practically speaking, no return on cash. Hence, the Guardian’s never-run-out endowment has plunged by more than 12% since the summer and, suddenly looking at a finite life cycle, the Guardian will now have to implement another transition: shrinking rather than expanding.”

The Guardian’s troubles point to a larger issue, writes Wolff; no one has been able to figure out a sustainable business model for digital news. For its part, the Guardian still plans to avoid a paywall, but will try to coax assorted fees from its users. We shall see how that works out.


Cynthia Murrell, May 20, 2016

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph




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