News, Misios, Rejoice: Aid Has Arrived

August 2, 2021

Misio? Strange word. It means “street person.”

Is it me, or does this feel like a PR move? CanIndia reports, “Google Launches AI Academy for Small Newsrooms.” “We from Google and we are here to help small news outfits.” Right. The brief write-up tells us about the project, dubbed JournalismAI:

“In a bid to help small media publishers reach new audiences and drive more traffic to their content, the Google News Initiative (GNI) has launched a training academy for 20 media professionals to learn how Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be used to support their journalism. Google is partnering with Polis, the London School of Economics and Political Science’s journalism think tank, to launch the training academy, it said in a statement on Thursday. The AI Academy for Small Newsrooms is a six-week long, free online programme taught by industry-leading journalists and researchers who work at the intersection of journalism and AI. It will start in September this year and will welcome journalists and developers from small news organisations in the Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) region.”

Wow, free to 20 professionals. Don’t be too generous, Google. We are told these lucky few will gain practical knowledge of AI technology’s challenges and opportunities like automating repetitive tasks and determining which content engages audiences. They will each emerge with an action plan for implementing AI projects. For journalists not fortunate enough to be enrolled in the course, the GNI has made its training modules available online. In fact, more than 110,000 folks have taken advantage of these materials. Then why bother with this “AI Academy?” I suspect because it reads better for PR purposes than “online learning module.” Just a hunch.

Cynthia Murrell, August 2, 2021

YouTube and News Corp: BBFs Forever? Ah, No.

August 2, 2021

I read “Murdochs’ Sky News Australia Suspended From YouTube Over COVID-19 Misinformation.” Wow. I thought the Google and Australian publishers were best friends forever. Both are refined, elegant, and estimable organizations. Okay, there are those allegations about monopolistic behavior and the deft handling of the Dr. Timnit Gebru matter. But, hey, Google is great. And there is the Mr. Murdoch empire. The phone tapping thing is a mere trifle.

The write up explains:

The video hosting site said in a statement Sunday that the suspension was dealt over videos allegedly denying the existence of COVID-19 and encouraging people to use untested experimental drugs like hydroxychloroquine to treat the virus. “We apply our policies equally for everyone and in accordance with these policies and our long-standing strikes system, removed videos from and issued a strike to Sky News Australia’s channel,” a YouTube spokesperson said in a statement to Reuters.

Equality is good. Are employees at Google treated equally? The cafeteria thing is small potatoes because real employees can work from their home or vans or whatever.

Pretty exciting stuff. I thought Google and Australian publishers were in a happy place. But Covid imposes stress on BFFs obviously.

Stephen E Arnold, August 2, 2021

Inhale Scholarly Journal Content Marketing

July 29, 2021

Dominant e-cigarette maker Juul demonstrates content marketing can be used to address even the thorniest of problems—just buy a lot of story opportunities. The American Prospect reports, “Juul: Taking Academic Corruption to a New Level.” After vaping was shown to cause illness in 2019, Juul’s previously lofty fortunes plummeted. Its blatant marketing to teens did not help its standing. Now the FDA is considering whether to ban the sale of e-cigarettes in the US altogether. Naturally, Juul is investing millions to help it decide. There are the traditional lobbying efforts of course. Then there is the wholesale buying out of an “academic” journal. Reporter David Dayen cites a recent New York Times article as he writes:

“Juul, the Times reports, ‘paid $51,000 to have the entire May/June issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior devoted to publishing 11 studies funded by the company offering evidence that Juul products help smokers quit.’ The corruption of academic research is not a new subject. Corporations fund third-party studies and benefit from ‘independent’ validation of their perspectives all the time. But this is a new wrinkle. Juul didn’t just front money for a couple of academic papers; it bought an entire edition of the American Journal of Health Behavior (AJHB), which it can then point to as “proof” that its product has a public-health benefit, the key question currently before the FDA. And the more you look at this story, the stranger it gets. The $51,000 fee included $6,500 to unlock the entire journal for public access—so you can read the entire special 219-page Juul issue here. It’s fascinating. There are 26 named co-authors on the 11 studies. According to the ‘Conflict of Interest’ statements associated with them, 18 of the co-authors are either current full-time employees of Juul, or were full-time employees at the time they conducted the research. Five others are consultants with Pinney Associates, working ‘on an exclusive basis to Juul Labs.’ And the final three, who co-authored one of the 11 studies, are employees of the Centre for Substance Use Research, an ‘independent’ consultancy that designed that study under a contract with … Juul Labs.”

One of those Pinney Associates consultants also acted as the special issue’s internal editor and papers coordinator. “Independent” they say—I do not think that word means what they think it means. Readers will not be surprised the articles overwhelmingly support the notion e-cigarettes are a good thing because they shift smokers away from “combustible tobacco products,” providing an “aid to public health.” I suppose we are to accept all those vaping illnesses because they do not affect bystanders? The articles fail to mention their primary money maker: luring in a wealth of new nicotine addicts.

Daven also calls out the American Journal of Health Behavior for its part in the scheme. Though the journal touts its ethical guidelines, its practice of charging authors to publish would seem to encourage companies to buy up its pages to spread (mis)information. In the eyes of the law, all of this is just fine as long as the journal “adequately” discloses articles’ sponsorship. To Daven, though, pay-to-publish delivers a series of swindles. He writes:

“Academics are desperate to publish in journals to prove to their universities that they are working diligently. Corporations recognize the opportunity to underwrite research and produce independent validation of their goals. And they turn around and use that research to persuade policymakers, who presume themselves sophisticated about spotting fake research, but probably are not.”

And that is the why companies pursue these projects in the first place—too many decision makers are willing to take the word of what looks like an authority, no matter what disclosures are attached. The Juul issue appears to have been a bridge too far for at least some of the journal’s editorial board members, for the Times reports three of them resigned after the propaganda was produced. Let us hope they do not give these articles much weight as they make their decision.

Cynthia Murrell, July 29, 2021

NSO Group: Investigative Reporters Are Investigating

July 27, 2021

What happens when one puts a family of beavers (the furry animals once prized for hats) in what remains of the Chrysler Building in Midtown? Well, those beavers will try to build a dam. What do investigative reporters do from more than a dozen newspapers enthralled by the NSO Group intelware story? The answer, gentle reader, is investigate.

What’s been made public in the last few days?

There were a handful of data nuggets I found mildly interesting; for example:

  • The very wonderful UK Daily Mail reported that NSO Group “spent millions of dollars on Washington lobbyists, consultants, and lawyers, as it tried to sell its Pegasus spyware to the US government.” One name disclosed in the article was Tom Ridge, the first secretary of homeland security. The estimable Daily Mail notes that the Washington Post knew this factoid too. The Daily Mail added, that NSO Group retained “The Who’s Who of government figures runs through at least three administrations.” The money flowed from OSY Technologies and Francisco Partners, which once owned NSO Group.
  • Mashable published “QAnon Believers Don’t Know How to Handle Michael Flynn’s Ties to Spyware Firm Behind Pegasus.” In addition to the QAnon trigger word, the Mashable story noted, “Edward Snowden is call it [Pegasus] the story of the year.” Mashable reported: “Many QAnon followers still don’t exactly know what to make of the news. Some seemed to accept the idea that this “doesn’t look good” for Flynn.”
  • Axios (via Yahoo News) reported that Francisco Partners “…The firm finally exited NSO in early 2019, selling it back to the [NSO Group] company’s founders and London-based private equity firm Novalpina, which pledged “a new model for public transparency. Since then, NSO has become the pulsing heart of a dispute between the partners of Novalpina. And, in an ironic twist, it involves leaked WhatsApp messages and a lawsuit against one of the newspapers that later became part of the Pegasus consortium.”

My hunch is that the investigative reporters will continue just like the hypothetical beavers. Beavers were skinned by intrepid traders. Will the investigative reporters find themselves in a similar business process? Flipping stones with the NSO Group logo stenciled on them may reveal some surprises.

Stephen E Arnold, July 27, 2021

A Good Question and an Obvious Answer: Maybe Traffic and Money?

July 19, 2021

I read “Euro 2020: Why Is It So Difficult to Track Down Racist Trolls and Remove Hateful Messages on Social Media?” The write up expresses understandable concern about the use of social media to criticize athletes. Some athletes have magnetism and sponsors want to use that “pull” to sell products and services. I remember a technology conference which featured a former football quarterback who explained how to succeed. He did not reference the athletic expertise of a former high school science club member and officer.  As I recall, the pitch was working hard, fighting (!), and a overcoming a coach calling a certain athlete (me, for example) a “fat slug.” Relevant to innovating in online databases? Yes, truly inspirational and an anecdote from the mists of time.

The write up frames its concern this way about derogatory social media “posts”:

Over a quarter of the comments were sent from anonymous private accounts with no posts of their own. But identifying perpetrators of online hate is just one part of the problem.

And the real “problem”? The article states:

It’s impossible to discover through open-source techniques that an account is being operated from a particular country.

Maybe.

Referencing Instagram (a Facebook property), the Sky story notes:

Other users may anonymise their existing accounts so that the comments they post are not traceable to them in the offline world.

Okay, automated systems with smart software don’t do the job. Will another government bill in the UK help.

The write up does everything but comment about the obvious; for example, my view is that online accounts must be linked to a human and verified before posts are permitted.

The smart software thing, the government law thing, and the humans making decision thing, are not particularly efficacious. Why? The online systems permit — if not encourage — anonymity because money maybe? That’s a question for the Sky Data and Forensics team. It is:

a multi-skilled unit dedicated to providing transparent journalism from Sky News. We gather, analyse and visualise data to tell data-driven stories. We combine traditional reporting skills with advanced analysis of satellite images, social media and other open source information. Through multimedia storytelling we aim to better explain the world while also showing how our journalism is done.

Okay.

Stephen E Arnold, July 19, 2021

Commercial Accidental Censorship: Legal Blogs

July 12, 2021

Printed law journals are going the way of the printed newspaper, and legal blogs are taking their place. Kevin O’Keefe, LexBlog founder and host of Real Lawyers Have Blogs, is concerned that the ephemeral nature of blog posts poses a real problem for the law field. In his succinct post, “Where Will All the Legal Blogs Go?” he notes when a lawyer leaves a firm their posts are usually either deleted or recredited to the firm itself. We learn:

“Courts are more apt to cite blogs than a law review or law journal. As the New York Times has written on a couple occasions, law reviews are becoming largely irrelevant. Citations will lead to broken links. Legal blogs play a significant role in legal research. Lawyers looking for information on a subject turn to Google and find helpful blog posts. Law is for the long term. Lawyers use law from years ago. Law is advanced by dialogue and writing on the law. You eliminate the long term and a useable dialogue and writing on the law, and you have a problem.”

Yes, citations to nowhere are of no use to anyone, and posts credited to a firm rather than an individual become cannot be referenced, cited, or footnoted. The remedy, O’Keefe insists, is that legal blogs be aggregated, archived, and made accessible. Will his fellow legal bloggers listen?

Are Reed Elsevier and Thomson Reuters failing its legal users?

Cynthia Murrell, July 12, 2021

More Peer Review Excitement

July 2, 2021

Academics, researchers, and “experts” love the glory of ink in a peer reviewed publication. Hey, if you want tenure or a juicy grant, those “prestigious” journals and the peer review process is an Olympic medal of sorts.

Scientists Quit Journal Board, Protesting Grossly Irresponsible Study Claiming COVID-19 Vaccines Kill” summarizes allegedly uncomfortable information about  Covid related research report appearing in Vaccines, an open source journal. Another sci-tech outfit, Science Magazine (published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science) revealed what could be slick propaganda or search engine optimization of the peer review process itself.

In short, the original article made some experts uncomfortable. How uncomfortable?  AAAS Science Magazine says:

  • Six “experts” quit because a peer reviewed article appearing in Vaccine was incorrect.
  • The Vaccine article appeared to have misused of data. (Yeah, I know that rarely happens.)
  • The researchers who wrote the Vaccine article made flawed assumptions. (Another black swan for sure.)
  • “Experts” writing a peer reviewed article Vaccine were experts, just not in the Covid disciplines. (Is anyone listed in LinkedIn culpable of claiming expertise in a technical field whilst knowing little about that discipline? Of course not.)

If the AAAS Science Magazine write up about the Vaccine article is accurate, more than 300,000 Internet users (either human or bot) clicked on the Covid story. Eyeballs. Fame. Controversy.

I mention peer review dust up because if the Vaccine Covid centric research article is indexed, placed in a commercial online database, and sold at $30 a download, we may have identified one of the reasons Sci-Hub has become popular.

Observations/Hypotheses:

  1. Peer reviewed articles can be darned exciting, wrong, and/or guided by non scientific forces.
  2. Professional associations like the AAAS are mounting up like Don Quixote and charging at already constructed, reinforced, and operating windmills. Ineffectual? I think so.
  3. Individual “experts” are “into” some interesting types of information management activities.
  4. Online vendors who want to sell documents as super valuable even though the information is fabricated from recycled plastic Mountain Dew bottles.

This professional publishing and peer reviewing are more exciting than I thought possible.

Stephen E Arnold, July 2, 2021

Sci-Hub: Is It Evil Personified in Alexandra Elbakyan, a modern Abaddon?

July 1, 2021

If you are not familiar with professional publishing, you may find “Is the Pirate Queen Scientific Publishing in Real Trouble This Time?” particularly fascinating. Founded by Alexandra Elbakyan in 2011, Sci-Hub has become the go to source of academic or professional publishing materials. One key point: Unlike commercial services, Sci-Hub is a freebie. In the world of Disney infused copyright ideas, Mickey Mouse and research about children’s heart disease are not available without paying. Parking at DisneyLand is a bargain compared to the fees assessed for a single two-page document. The kid’s life? Not part of the copyright approach to government funded research.

If you have some experience with the business models of the big outfits running peer-reviewed publications, you will get a kick out of passages like this one:

According to the publishers who brought the case in India, quite a bit. Pirate sites like Sci-Hub “threaten the integrity of the scientific record, and the safety of university and personal data,” a joint statement reads. It goes on to say that sites like Sci-Hub “have no incentive to ensure the accuracy of scientific articles, no incentive to ensure published papers meet ethical standards, and no incentive to retract or correct articles if issues arise.”

My hunch is that most people who explain that “I am an online expert” cannot differentiate between a blog post, a paper on ArXiv, an IEEE pdf, and a full text document from Lexis. In my experience, few online wizards can answer these questions:

  1. Once a research paper is complete, does the author have to pay the publisher of the journal to which the write up is submitted?
  2. Are the “peer reviewers” paid to do the often very, very difficult work of checking that the information in the document is correct, the statistics accurate as far as the reviewers can determine, and the “value” of the document will result in learning, not in harm?
  3. Are the companies running professional publishing operations monopolies or oligopolies?
  4. Are documents in professional publishers’ span of control updated, are errors corrected, are cabals of friendly experts disabused from promoting a graduate student’s, friend’s, or colleague’s write up? Are exchanges of favors among reviewers ignored or denied?
  5. Are errors in online documents corrected after those original documents are posted online?
  6. Are online documents known to be fraudulent or containing non reproducible results removed from repositories?
  7. Are libraries subject to ever increasing fees because those institutions might lose accreditation if research content were not provided to students, researchers, and other staff?
  8. What is the explicit link between tenure at a university and publishing in journals operated by commercial professional publishing companies? Hint: Sword of Damocles and a horse hair.

Struggling with some of the answers? No surprise. Like the pharmaceutical industry and those engaged in SMS spam services, certain information about business methods are not disclosed. And if revealed, the business processes are denied. If you want example, just watch reruns of the investigations of some of the high profile high technology companies testifying before the US Congress.

This “information wants to be free” baloney is not the way “real” online works. Here’s an example. I was asked to submit a version of my law enforcement centric report about Amazon’s policeware. Some person contacted me via LinkedIn and said a draft was due in December 2019. I said, “My report is not for academics. I don’t care if you publish it, just leave me out of the professional publishing razzle dazzle.” I pointed out that I was not an academic; I was not changing anything in the manuscript; and I was not sure if the information in my report would make any sense whatsoever to the handful of people who might read the collection of essays.

I forget about the write up: I never filled out any online forms; I never sent a bill of $1.00 (because I have a policy of getting paid for some of my research); and I routed email from the person who asked me to submit a chapter and the assorted youthful folks at the European publishing company to the Junk folder on my systems.

And what did I receive a couple of days ago? I got an email addressed to “Dear Professor Arnold.” The email wanted me to promote my chapter and the book. Okay, this blog posts is promoting the chapter. Helpful, right? Some of these outfits cannot differentiate between a PhD program drop out and a real live PhD driving for Uber. Keen powers of discrimination for sure.

Net net: Alexandrea Elbakyan, who is a student in everyone’s favorite country, is the enemy. Courts in several countries have determined that Ms. Elbakyan is a threat to learning, knowledge sharing, and “way” research content is to be made available. Yep, Elsevier is waiting for its $15 million check from Ms. Abaddon. Oh, sorry. I meant Ms. Elbakyan.

Stephen E Arnold, July 1, 2021

Founders Forum: A Conference Report for Social Climbers, Foodies, and Auto Fans

June 21, 2021

This is a suggestion. Read “Inside the Elite UK Tech Event Attended by the Rich and Famous.” Gushing does not do justice to this news report. Here’s an example of the rock solid info you will ingest:

Branded as “something like the Davos of tech” by The Guardian newspaper, Founders Forum is put on by serial entrepreneur and investor Brent Hoberman. The former Eton and Oxford student, who co-founded Lastminute.com and the recently listed Made.com, is well-known for having one of the most impressive networks in the European tech scene. Many of his friends and investors are invited to Founders Forum each year.

What about a summary or the introductory remarks? Who gave presentations? What did the speakers say? What questions did the presenters dodge?

Zilch info.

I did learn that foods served included lobster and strawberries. Autos visible were Range Rovers (would they start?) and Teslas. Plus there was an error and a correction.

Outstanding, hard hitting, thumbtyper information. Personalities are what makes the world go round it seems. Yep, another Davos without the podcasts.

Stephen E Arnold, June 21, 2021

Financial Outfits As Publishers: News? Objectivity? You Have to Be Kidding

June 21, 2021

I read “Andreessen Horowitz and the Future of Media.” Intriguing. I noted this statement in the write up: (Note that I did not use the word essay, news, report, or analysis.)

First, here’s my view on Future. It’s a bunch of essays. They’re not competing with reporters.

Correct.

I noted this statement too:

I have another concern: non-cooperation makes it harder for the media to get the facts right and to follow the reporting.

I like the phrase “non cooperation.” Certain businesses thrive on non cooperation. There is a caveat; that is, unless one is an insider. Need an example? How about the intelware business? These are firms which you may struggle to figure out exactly what they do and for whom. Let me name one for you. How about Utimaco? I have a list of a number of these outfits. Non cooperation is a business precept.

Here’s the conclusion to the “Future of Media” write up:

While Andreessen’s new publication might have a more optimistic point of view, Future is pumping out a form of content that the internet is already chock-full of these days — takes.

I like the word “take.”

Now here’s what I think is going on:

First, financial outfits have been publishers for many, many years. Check out Investext. The purpose of these documents has been to facilitate churn in order to generate money. Sure, the wolf is wearing an MBA robe, and the truth has never been hidden. People just don’t think about the content pumped out by the money biz. Future is nothing new in my opinion.

Second, content marketing distorts perception. The outputs of financial institutions are designed to shape one’s viewpoint, the “frame” of a topic, product, service, etc. Thus, a financial institution generating content addresses two issues: Control of the message and generation of churn. (Moving money from one place to another with an intermediary or market maker in the middle.)

Third, the excitement a Silicon Valley outfit is generating by packaging its outputs for others than high net worth individuals, institutional investors, and insiders is like Clubhouse. This is a PR, marketing, and attention play.

Madison Avenue meets Silicon Valley in a world of reformation, information, disinformation, and misinformation. I would use the phrase “green journalism” to describe these financial media efforts, but instead of greenbacks, the word evokes wind turbines and solar panels.

I am going to go with content marketing and move on.

Stephen E Arnold, June 21, 2021

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