Enlightened Newspaper Deletes Info

September 21, 2021

News media outlets usually post a retraction or correction if they delete something. The Daily Dot tattles on a popular British nets outlet when it deleted content: “ ‘This Is Astonishing’: The Guardian Removed A TERF-Critical Passage From An Article.” What is even more upsetting is that the Guardian removed the passage a few hours after it was posted.

The article in question was an interview with gender theorist Judith Butler, who also wrote the book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity that includes information about a partnership between fascists and trans exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) or anti-trans feminists. The Guardian did post an editorial note saying the piece was changed on September 7, 2021. The deleted portion was mistakenly associated with an incident at Wi Spa in Los Angeles, where a purported trans-woman was in the women’s only nude section. The exposed trans-women was charged with indecent exposure in front of women and children the past.

Jules Gleeson, the article’s author, asked a question that referenced the Wi Spa incident, but Butler’s response was a general answer and did not mention the spa. Gleeson offered to rewrite the article, but The Guardian declined. The entire interview has fallen victim to the Streisand effect, it has become popular because the Guardian tried to cover it up:

“In an email to the Daily Dot, Gleeson confirmed that she offered to revise the question. ‘Unfortunately, the Guardian editors decided to go ahead with their decision to censor Judith Butler,’ she said. ‘I can only hope that the overall point Judith Butler was making can receive some wider circulation, in light of this controversy,’ she continued. ‘The Heritage Foundation and Proud Boys (and those who collaborate with them) are threats to us that deserve more than online intrigue and editorial backpedalling.’”

The British media leans towards an anti-trans opinion, so the deleted passage upset readers. Gleeson’s note is correct, it does draw more attention to trans-people’s struggles and approaching the trans-rights discussion with intellectual curiosity.

Whitney Grace, September 21, 2021

A Tiny Idea: Is a New Governmental Thought Shaper Emerging?

August 11, 2021

I read “China’s Top Propaganda Agencies Want to Limit the Role of Algorithms in Distributing Online Content.” What an interesting idea. De-algorithm certain Fancy Dan smart software. Make a human or humanoids responsible for what gets distributed online. Laws apparently are not getting throiugh to the smart software used for certain technology publishing functions. The fix, according to the article, is:

China’s top state propaganda organs, which decide what people can read and watch in the country, have jointly urged better “culture and art reviews” in China partly by limiting the role of algorithms in content distribution, a policy move that could translate into higher compliance costs for online content providers such as ByteDance and Tencent Holdings. The policy guidelines from the Central Propaganda Department of the Communist Party, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the State Administration of Radio and Television as well as the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles and Chinese Writers Association, the two state-backed bodies for state-approved artists and authors, mark the latest effort by Beijing to align online content with the state’s agenda and to rein in the role of capital and technology in shaping the country’s minds and mainstream views.

The value of putting a human or humanoids in the target zone is an explicit acknowledgement that “gee, I’m sorry” and “our algorithms are just so advanced my team does not know what those numerical recipes are doing” will not fly or get to the airport.

I am not too interested in the impact of these rules in the Middle Kingdom. What I want to track is how these rules diffuse to nation states which are counting on a big time rail link or money to fund Chinese partners’ projects.

Net net: Chinese government agencies, where monitoring and internal checks and balances are an art form, possibly will make use of interesting algorithms. Commercial enterprises and organizations grousing about China’s rules and regulations will have fewer degrees of freeedom. Maybe no freedom at all. Ideas may not be moving from the US East Coast and the West Coast. Big ideas like clipping algorithmic wings are building in China and heading out. Will the idea catch on?

Stephen E Arnold, August 11, 2021

Who Phoned Home Those Research Results?

August 9, 2021

A routine at universities with grant hungry tenure surfers works like this: Recruit smart grad students, gin up a magnetic research project, chase grants, and publish in a “respected” peer reviewed journal. A bonus is a TED Talk. Winner, right?

I read “A Tweet Cost Him His Doctorate: The Extent of China’s Influence on Swiss Universities.” The write up points out as allegedly really true:

Education is a key aspect of China’s global power strategy. The Chinese government wants to control the country’s image throughout the world. To this end, it exerts influence abroad, and has no compunction about engaging in repressive actions.

I am not affiliated with any university. I don’t do academic anything. I do pay attention, however, to what probably are irrelevant and minor factoids; for example:

ITEM: The participation of Chinese nationals in assorted University of Tennessee activities; for example, research associated with fission and fusion with field trips to interesting places

ITEM: The number of Chinese professionals’ names appearing on papers related to smart software with possible relevance to autonomous systems

ITEM: The confluence of a research center and a PhD student writing tweets someone in the Middle Kingdom does not appreciate.

Important items or not, the fate of a student in a Swiss university is sealed. The write up states:

Only a few people in Switzerland have sought to disclose and criticize Chinese attempts to influence universities here… Cooperation between Chinese and Swiss universities has expanded in recent years. The University of St. Gallen has 15 such agreements, almost twice as many as ETH Zurich. For the last eight years, St. Gallen has also been home to a «China Competence Center,» the aim of which is to «strengthen and deepen productive relations with China». 

The article points out:

Today, Gerber says starting to tweet was a mistake. The fact that he could lose three years of research work because of this still leaves him stunned. Yes, he was publicly critical of China, and once shared a cartoon that he would not share today. «But I didn’t do anything wrong,» he said. Gerber has now given up pursuit of his doctorate. «I don’t want to have to censor myself, certainly not in Switzerland,» he said. In the meantime, he has found a job that has nothing to do with China.

One question: What about American universities or a tour of ORNL?

Stephen E Arnold, August 9, 2021

Netflixing Textbooks

August 5, 2021

I read an interesting statement in the Financial Times’s article “Pearson Bets On Direct to Student Subscription Shift.” The idea is that students subscribe to textbooks just as one would subscribe to Tesla self driving or to the Netflix movie service.

Here is the statement I circled:

Thomas Singlehurst, an analyst at Citi, … remained cautious about Pearson’s ability to become a Netflix of education.

Pearson has been flexible over the years. It shifted from building stuff to renting textbooks. Now the company is “netflixing”. Well, that’s the plan. Many people love Netflix. Will that love transfer to Pearson?

Stephen E Arnold, August 5, 2021

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.


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.


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

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