Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Thou shalt be "Fair and Balanced"

One of the reasons I am utterly unimpressed by journalists is their strict adherence to the "present-both-sides-equally"-doctrine. They have convinced themselves that to be neutral, objective or whatever a "good reporter" is supposed to do, one should always give equal time to opposing voices. Especially, when there is no serious debate among experts. In short, if science says HIV causes AIDS your duty as a journalist is to include somebody asserting this is not true. Not only that, but to give both views equal weight. The same principle holds true for Holocaust denialists, Flat earthers, the infectious-disease-promotion-movement, et cetera.

Then, an article appeared in the Chicago Tribune that dismissed the validity of claims there is such a thing as Chronic Lyme Disease (CLD) by presenting the current scientific consensus which refutes that notion, and as such evades the "mislead-your-audience-at-all-costs"-doctrine. Because of the quality of their reporting PalMD notes:
It starts with a piece in the Chicago Tribune by Patricia Callahan and Trine Tsouderos.  The award winning pair have been among the few reporters to consistently “get it right” about alternative medicine. Tsouderos is well-respected among critics of quackery for her willingness to look at the science and report the truth, without resorting to false balance*.  Callahan and Tsouderos’ investigation into the dangerous and deceptive practices of alternative autism doctors, practices that include chemical castration, won cheers from those  screaming out against this unethical mistreatment of children.  These reporters have got the bona fides amongst both journalists and scientists.
Observing the article not using this doctrine, Orac writes:
One exception to this profoundly annoying pattern (if you're a skeptic) has been the journalism of Trine Tsouderos, who with Pat Callahan, has produced over the last year or two a number of excellent, science-based stories on the anti-vaccine and its associated "autism biomed" movements, including an expose of Boyd Haley's "rebranding" of an industrial chelator as an autism treatment. She's even taken on "America's doctor," Dr. Oz. As a result, she's been demonized by cranks, up to and including having her face crudely Photoshopped into a picture of a Thanksgiving feast in which she and various others whom the merry band of anti-vaccine loons at Age of Autism view as enemies were portrayed as sitting down to a meal of dead baby.
Astonishingly, this article is than attacked by Paul Raeburn, former senior editor for science at Business Week, former science editor at the Associated Press, author of three science books, and director of a university science journalism program, for ..... not adhering to the "Fair-and-Balanced"-principle. Quoth Orac:
Boiled down to its essence, Raeburn's complaint is the opposite of what we skeptics, scientists, and supporters of science-based medicine complain about all the time about journalists, namely that Callahan and Tsouderos did not fall into the trap of false balance, did not give undue credence to pseudoscience, and did not "tell both sides" as though they had equal or roughly equal credence.
An identical observation regarding the “lack of balance” can be found in PalMD's response:
When it comes to truth, it doesn’t matter how Paul Raeburn perceives the process.  A medical fact is a medical fact, and while he may not like the way they came to their conclusion, the truth remains. 
It does not matter which "controversy" you prefer, there will always be experts, and many more non-experts, that disagree with the consensus. However, a few lone wolves do not a scientific debate make! This is what any competent journalist should convey to his/her audience. As long as those journalists are insufficiently capable of drowning out the noise the general public can't help but be misinformed. At present it has become annoyingly clear that without this massive failure of journalism we would not have an organisation like Wikileaks.

Update: Corrected grammar in last sentence.

Update II: To prove my point Javier Moreno, for El Pais, observed:
As Simon Jenkins of The Guardian wrote earlier this month, power hates to see the truth exposed. I would add that above all, power fears the truth when the truth doesn't fit its needs. I knew immediately after I received the first call from Assange that Friday in late November that EL PAÍS had a great story on its hands, and that it was our duty to publish it.
But despite our concerns, there was something that all of us involved in the process never doubted for an instant: we had a responsibility to the democracies that we live in to publish the story. Revealing the truth is the touchstone of true journalism, and the reason we get out of bed in the morning.
And, as if he had read this blog, he denounces the meme I described before:
It is the prerogative of governments, not the press, to bury secrets for as long as they can, and I will not argue with this as long as it does not cover up deceitful acts against citizens. But a newspaper's main task is to publish news, and to seek out news where it can find it. As I said in a recent online chat with EL PAÍS readers, newspapers have many obligations in a democratic society: responsibility, truthfulness, balance and a commitment to citizens. Our obligations definitely do not, however, include protecting governments and the powerful in general from embarrassing revelations.
Update III: New post on our trustworthy media here.

Monday, 20 December 2010

The new troubling toy

After acquiring my new toy I soon discovered a major problem: I am unable to get iTunes to transfer a selection of my extensive music-collection. Despite iTunes being absolutely annoying, with the VLC-player app it does enable me to transfer video-files. Not sure watching films is so great, but I do use it for documentaries and episodes of Coupling, Blackadder, et cetera.

Still not content because I was unable to use the mp3 part more trouble was ahead. A few weeks ago my facebook-app refused to upload pictures. Then, last week the toy even refused to synchronise alltogether. The upstart started telling me it needed to be restored to factory settings. Not in the least planning to do that I asked Dah Google for advise.

Apparently I am not the first to encounter this nuisance. One of the solutions suggested was working around iTunes by installing CopyTrans™ (formerly CopyPod). Indeed, that worked. With some tweaking the toy finally wanted to synch with iTunes again. After securing my contacts I updated the firmware. Yes, iTunes wants to synchronise again.

Added benefit, for the first time I am now able to copy music without using iTunes. And yes, it sounds great. Part of the wishlist for Christmas is a new set of headphones so I can better enjoy the experience.

Update: If you need some apps for your toy, here are some suggestions.

Update II: Have now discovered how to "reboot" the iPhone, and am happy to announce it is updated to the latest firmware (july 2011).

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Pay no attention to the man behind the screen

One of the most frustrating things to me is the absolute inability, or is it unwillingness, of journalists to recognise what the story they report is about. This is the theme of this blog: I try to encourage people to seek out information and always question what is being told, i.e. "what basis is there for these claims?" Unfortunately people are easily misled, and information presented by journalists is inherently unreliable. The most recent example of what is wrong with our ability to ascertain the facts is the publication by Wikileaks of documents that are embarrasing to the US. As usual the incompetent and obfuscating characteristics of the media, that are supposed to adequately inform us, engage in their typical method of protecting those in power.

As always, the intrepid reporter notices those juicy bits about Julian Assange's life. Which, regardless of the topic, generate more stories than the initial disclosure of fraudulent, criminal or misleading behaviour by the powerful. Commenting on the media's interest in diverting attention with ad hominems Greenwald remarked:
... what I do know -- as John Cole notes -- is this:  as soon as Scott Ritter began telling the truth about Iraqi WMDs, he was publicly smeared with allegations of sexual improprieties.  As soon as Eliot Spitzer began posing a real threat to Wall Street criminals, a massive and strange federal investigation was launched over nothing more than routine acts of consensual adult prostitution, ending his career (and the threat he posed to oligarchs).  And now, the day after Julian Assange is responsible for one of the largest leaks in history, an arrest warrant issues that sharply curtails his movement and makes his detention highly likely.
While all this titellating stuff is unfolding The New York Times is still unable to call torture torture. As Greenwald reports that:
the NYT in its article on brutal detainee abuse steadfastly avoids using the word "torture" to describe what was done, consistent with its U.S.-Government-serving formal policy of refusing to use that word where U.S. policy is involved.  By stark contrast, virtually every other media account uses that term to describe the heinous abuse of detainees chronicled by this leak, the only term that accurately applies:  see The Guardian ("American military documents that detail torture, summary executions and war crimes"); BBC (US "ignored Iraq torture"); Politico ("a devastating portrait of apparent U.S. indifference to a pattern of murder and torture by the Iraqi army").  BoingBoing appropriately mocks the NYT's increasingly humiliating no-"torture" policy by creating a euphemism-generator.
The role of the media as defender of the powerful is evidenced by the reaction to these documents. Greenwald compares it to the response by Nixon to the Pentagon Papers and notes:
Predictably, just as happened with Ellsberg, there is now a major, coordinated effort underway to smear WikiLeaks' founder, Julian Assange, and to malign his mental health -- all as a means of distracting attention away from these highly disturbing revelations and to impede the ability of WikiLeaks to further expose government secrets and wrongdoing with its leaks.  But now, the smear campaign is led not by Executive Branch officials, but by members of the establishment media.  As the intelligence community reporter Tim Shorrock wrote today on Twitter:  "When Dan Ellsberg leaked [the] Pentagon Papers, Nixon's henchmen tried to destroy his reputation. Today w/Wikileaks & Assange, media does the job."
And commenting on statements by Howard Kurtz maligning Assange:
You will never, ever hear people like Kurtz, or John Burns, using these kinds of disparaging insults for any American political or military official with actual power -- not even (especially not) the ones whose "delusions" about Saddam's nuclear clouds and team of mad chemical scientists and alliances with Al Qaeda caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings, the displacement of millions more, and human suffering and misery on an unimaginable scale.  As Burns explained, with those people:  "You build up a kind of trust. It's not explicit, it's just there. And my feeling is that it’s the responsibility of the reporter to judge in those circumstances what is fairly reportable, and what is not, and to go beyond that, what it is necessary to report."
In what I consider a surreal reaction The Guardian reports that:
A Fox News contributor and former state department adviser has accused WikiLeaks of conducting "political warfare against the US" and called for those behind the whistleblowing website to be declared "enemy combatants" so they can be subjected to "non-judicial actions".
Apparently free speech applies only to those in power. Then there is the article The Washington Post and WikiLeaks, by Scott Horton, which details some significant revelations such as:
... the disclosure of a Fragmentary Order (“Frago”) authorizing soldiers not to investigate cases of torture that do not involve coalition forces is extremely important. It counts as evidence of high-level policy to countenance war crimes and violations of the prohibition on torture, which requires not only investigation but also intervention. Recall this astonishing exchange that occurred between Rumsfeld and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace at a DOD press conference in November 2005. Pace stated “it is absolutely the responsibility of every U.S. service member, if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene to stop it…” Rumsfeld interrupted and contradicted him, but Pace stood his ground. He was reciting well anchored military doctrine. He was also overruled by Rumsfeld.
Responding to the "blood on his hands"-meme, Horton said:
When pressed by the Senate Armed Services Committee, Secretary Gates was forced to admit that these claims were hyperbole—“the leak… did not disclose any sensitive intelligence sources or methods.” Gates went on to acknowledge that there was no evidence of any informant being killed or threatened or even requesting protection as a result of the WikiLeaks publications. Why then has the Post editorial page decided to ape agitprop that the Pentagon itself has all but retracted? Maybe they don’t read their own paper.
He continues:
After looking through the latest WikiLeaks document dump, she writes that she is now persuaded that “top American leaders lied, knowingly, to the American public, to American troops, and to the world.” Tellingly, her piece appears not in the Post but in the Daily Beast, and she’s supplemented it with a detailed review of the documents involved at Foreign Policy.
The possible benefits of what we have learned so far are summarised by Kevin Jon Heller, while Johann Hari stresses its importance. In light of that consider the response to evidence of possible war crimes, or the destruction of evidence regarding the torture regime. For some very important reason investigating, let alone prosecuting, those involved did not generate the amount of zeal we now experience towards Assange whose alleged crime constitutes of fascilitation of publishing information detrimental to those used to being beyond (judicial) scrutiny. Wikileaks has brought the ever present propaganda into the sunlight. That, of course, cannot stand. Hence the hysterical legal and rhetorical response. Interestingly, those opposing Wikileaks face the Gordian knot of how to prosecute Assange without criminalising journalism alltogether.

The game of politics, as evidenced above, is comparable to, and dependent on, the anti-science movement. For both accurate and factual information is anathema to their ideological and egocentric position. Once the spread of misinformation, if not lies, is exposed like magicians they lose their lure. It should therefore come as no surprise that both groups abhor transparancy and reject accountability. Since the main stream media no longer adhere to what Lord Northcliffe said:
"News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising."
any organisation exposing those that take advantage of us, by insisting we should stay uninformed and vehemently try to convince us we should ignore the man behind the curtain, has my support.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Guide to Christmas shopping

Its that time of the season when we are searching for the finer things in life. Well, at least I find myself in the midst of that that age-old conundrum: what do I buy? As I did in the past you will find I present some ideas for your shopping lists. You can start at The Times for a Christmas Gift Guide, or The Guardian for Unique Christmas gift ideas: Luxury gifts for men, which is part of their Christmas gift ideas. Nice stylish articles at The Sydney Morning Herald can be found in their Christmas gift guide 2010. Subsequently try The Observer which discusses the 10 best Christmas whiskies, as part of Observer Food Monthly's complete guide to Christmas, while The Independent offers us the 50 best winter reads. More luxurious stuff are suggested by The Age in their Christmas Gift Guide. In The Miami Herald you find Dave Barry’s Guide to Holiday Gifts. Also Esquire has Gifts to Give If You're Broke: The $25-and-Under Guide. Go to Film.com for a more cinematographic type of gift: Gift Guide: Film Memorabilia, DVDs, and Toys, and Gizmodo can help the more nerdy types with Gizmodo's Gift Guides.

Update: You might want to follow Santa on his journey this Christmas.