Tag Archives: npr

On the quest for Fake-News

A few days before the election, an extraordinary story popped up in hundreds of thousands of people’s Facebook feeds. This story was salacious. It was vivid, filled with intriguing details. There was a photo of a burning house, firemen rushing in. The headline read, “FBI Agent Suspected In Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead In Apparent Murder-Suicide.”

It was all fake. There was no FBI agent. There was no shooting. The site it was published on, The Denver Guardian, isn’t a real news source. It was one of many fake stories that play into conspiracy theories about the Clintons and it worked. There is one part of the article that was real: the ads. Someone was making money off this phony news article and dozens of others like it. Someone was making profit off a fake story that suggested a presidential candidate was a killer. Today on the show, we take this single fake news story and follow the clues all the way back. We follow the digital breadcrumbs until we find ourselves on a suburban doorstep, face to face with the man behind a bogus news empire run. Then he tells us his secrets.

Source: Episode 739: Finding The Fake-News King : Planet Money : NPR

It’s 25 minutes and worth your time.

The core challenge is there is a giant demand for “fake news”. People so wanted to believe these terrible things about Clinton that they sought them out. Any debunking just fed the conspiracy arc further.

Planet Money T-Shirt Project

If you haven’t been following along: Planet Money has been making a t-shirt, and working to follow it’s creation throughout the global supply chain. This has led to a ton of podcast episodes that trace that path, cradle to grave.

They also have this really great mixed media summary of the whole story, which includes a look at everything from the raw cotton, to the process of getting the shirt to you. Including great video of the machines used along the way.

 

On this Christmas Eve take a minute to follow something as simple as a t-shirt through the global economy, and realize how connected we are, even through seemingly everyday things.

Ruining the Curve

New research points that the bell curve isn’t really a natural distribution, but what happens when you put humans under constraints:

Human performance, by this account, does not often fit the bell curve or what scientists call a normal distribution. Rather, it is more likely to fit what scientists call a power distribution.

Aguinis said the bell curve may describe human performance in the presence of some external constraint — such as an assembly line that moved at a certain speed.

“If you had a superstar performer working at your factory, well, that person could not do [a] better job than the assembly line would allow,” Aguinis said. “If you unconstrain the situation and allow people to perform as best as they can, you will see the emergence of a small minority of superstars who contribute a disproportionate amount of the output.”

As someone that has often “ruined the curve”, this doesn’t really surprise me. The curve is so easy to ruin, because it was entirely artificial in the first place.

Open Source Tractor

NPR did a piece this morning on the Open Source Ecology project:

Jakubowski moved to Missouri, where he eventually bought 30 acres in the town of Maysville. He grew wheat, raised goats and tended a fruit orchard. But then one day, his tractor broke.

“I came from an institution of higher learning, so I had no practical skills,” he says. “I picked up a welder and a torch and started using it.”

Jakubowski actually made a tractor from scratch, using square steel tubing that he bolted together.

“A tractor is basically a solid box with wheels, each with a hydraulic motor,” he says. “So, conceptually, it’s actually very simple. And when I first did it, it was like, ‘Wow, a tractor’ … I was amazed to find this actually works.”

It’s a pretty amazing effort to identify the 50 most critical machines to modern existence, and create open source versions of them that can be built from raw materials.

Mozart Effect, Schmozart Effect

The newest issue of the journal Intelligence has the largest review ever of research on the so-called Mozart Effect, the popular idea that listening to classical music can enhance the intelligence of people in general and babies in particular.

The review is titled “Mozart Effect, Schmozart Effect,” which should give you some idea of its conclusion: there ain’t no such thing.

But even if listening to Beethoven won’t make us smarter, the history of how the Mozart Effect ultimately became fashionable does have something to teach us. It’s a story about careful science, less careful journalism, and of course, death threats.

And so kicked off a decade of people believing that Mozart makes them smarter because people jumped far too early to broad conclusions based on a very simple very specific investigation.

iTunes will not be the savior of the news media

I was listening to Fresh Air last night on the author of new book on google.  It started with a nice lay person description of a lot of what Google has been working on, and how the company evolved into the worlds biggest advertising firm.  When the laundry list of Google properties got to Google News, the interviewy made the following statement:

On the other hand, there is evidence that it can be done, and
Apple’s iTunes is a classic piece of evidence in this regard. I mean,
the idea that music – I mean, just think about five years ago, the
music companies were suing their customers on college campuses for what
they called illegally downloading their music. And it was illegal, by
the way. You know, they were breaking the law to do that, but it was so
commonplace that no one thought it was against the law to do it.

Well,
Apple comes along and they said we’ll charge you only $.99 and you can
pick the music you want. You could listen to a little segment of it
before you buy it, and you could buy individual songs. You don’t have
to get stuck with buying an entire CD for X many more dollars. And it
took off like gangbusters, and it’s been a great success for Apple and
something the customers who were used to free music have accepted. So
there are some models that suggest it can be done, but it won’t be
easy.

When looking for a general purpose solution to the fall off of newspapers, there are 3 models that are always put out there which “prove” that paywalls will work: The Wall Street Journal, NPR, and iTunes.  And they are all wrong, and present an over simplification.  The issue is, none of these things apply generally to the local newspaper model.  Clay Shirky does a better job of explaining why than I, but I will take a stab at the iTunes front.

When you buy (if you buy) music, you are buying a durable good.  It’s something that in 2 years, you’ll still probably be listening to, and yes, in this disposable age, that’s considered durable :).  It’s something you listen to dozens if not hundreds of times.  For this pattern, $0.99 seems like a fair trade off.  But even for that low low price, studies show that the people that buy the most music, as the ones that download the most first.  You can charge for music because it’s not ephemeral.  News paper articles aren’t like this.  When was the last time you reread a news article from your local paper 10 times.

I heard a great statement recently when listening to The Media Project, which looked at the Titanic.  This issue with the Titanic wasn’t that it was too big, or going too fast, or not enough life boats.  The issue was that 15 years prior the wright brothers invented the airplane.  Even if the Titanic hadn’t sunk, the company would have gone out of business in a decade anyway, because they were in the wrong line of business.

What this means for local news is sort of scary, but as Clay Shirky is found of saying: “A revolution doesn’t go from point A to B… it goes from point A to chaos, then after a long time someone figures out what B is.”