Friday, May 24, 2013

Info Age Fail 7: Accountability

(This is part 7, read part 1 here).

This issue has it's roots in the excessive level of anonymity. I gave several links on that subject in the post on anonymity, but here's one more, on a study of the behavior of masked trick-o-treaters, and the increase in bad behavior associated with anonymity. People say all kinds of awful things online, under the cloak of anonymity, with virtually no fear of consequences.

But the accountability issue goes far beyond that. Watch the news coverage of any major story. The "Facts" are all over the place. Here are a few links regarding a couple of recent events...

Many of these fallacies did not come from random bloggers or anonymous attention seekers. These came from the "Hallowed halls of Journalism". The people we are supposed to be able to trust to get the story correct.

There is a certain irony in that last link. Walter Cronkite was considered the most trusted man in America at one point. He was thorough, meticulous, fair, impartial, and accurate in his reporting. It is said he personally required three solid sources to verify a fact.

No longer is this the case. And why would it be? There is really no consequence for getting it wrong. It is more important to get it first, than to get it right. In a few months, these crimes of inaccuracy will be forgotten. And those who perpetrated them will have moved on to the next great misadventure.

And thus we, the citizens of 21st century earth find ourselves swimming in a morass of misinformation, disinformation. and non-information.

Is it fixable? Yes, I believe it is. Not easily though.  I suspect it will take something rather drastic, something approaching a "new world order".

<< To Part 8>>

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Info Age Fail 6: Transparency

(This is part 6. See Part 1 here.)

In 1975, the last US troops in Vietnam withdrew, more or less signifying the end of the Vietnam war for the United States. For the Vietnamese, the war continued until 1975.

But what we didn't know until quite recently is that the war should have ended in 1968. It seems the the North and South were very close to a peace deal at that point, until Richard Nixon leveraged his contacts to get South Vietnam to pull out of the talks. He convinced them that they would get a 'better deal' when he was president. Nixon then used President Lyndon Johnson's "Failure to end the war" as one of his key talking points.

We know this now, because President Lyndon Johnson had tapes of bugged telephone conversations. Johnson didn't bring this information to light of course, because doing so would mean admitting that he was illegally wiretapping foreign dignitaries.

How many lives were lost because of this game of political subterfuge?


In 2009, a hacker released a series of emails showing that climate scientist had intentionally omitted some data related to global warming. Specifically data from tree-ring analysis was omitted. The data was a problem for the global warming argument, because it indicated that since roughly the year 2000, the warming trend was slowing.

Now of course there are plenty of rebuttals for this "climategate" scandal, explaining why the tree-ring data is no longer trustworthy and so forth. Well and good. The problem is so called scientists made a decision to hide this information from the general public, based on the premise the the general population wouldn't understand (i.e. the general population is too stupid).


In both of these cases, the problem is a lack of transparency. Science should be 100% transparent. The scientific method demands that an experiment be repeatable. Not just by your cohorts, but also by your skeptics.

And the United States Government, a government of, by and for the people, how is it the the people didn't know about this until decades after the fact?

Of course many will argue that the government has to have secrets. Most everyone loves a good spy flick. Loves the idea of a super-secret, super-stealthy black-ops group sneaking around the globe identifying and neutralizing threats in the shadows. Doing dark deeds "for the greater good".

There are a few serious problems with this. First of all, let me refer you to "The Case for a King". Once you have set up a powerful, secret organization, that operates outside the law, how do you ensure that they remain "champions of good"? (hint: you can't).

The next issue is that whole "greater good" thing. Osama Bin Laden operated under that motto too. Most terrorists do. Quite often, the factor that distinguishes a hero from a villain, is the author that wrote the story.

If you want to be the "Good guy" you need to act the part. Every time. All the time. Don't buy into the myth that you have to cheat to beat a cheater, that "To catch a fox you have to think like a fox.". If you are at the table with a cheater, leave the table, or make the cheater leave, if he remains disagreeable, punch his lights out. As for the fox, send out the hounds, grab your thermal goggles, track him, corner him, and shoot him.

You don't need to be sneaky, you need to be committed. You don't need stealth, you need conviction. You don't need shadows, you need all the cards on the table.

<<Part 7>>

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Info Age Fail 5: Privacy

This is Part Five: See Part One here

The main problem with privacy is the misuse of the word. It frequently gets tangled up with anonymity (doing something in public without anyone knowing it is you. I talked about this on in the previous post), and secrecy(retaining information within a subset of the public, this subset can be as small as one: yourself. The smaller the group, the more likely the secret is to remain secret. There is very little legal protection for secrecy, apart from what you may have established via contractual obligation with the secret keepers).

Privacy is neither of those. Privacy is freedom from intrusion. For the most part, privacy is an illusion. The constitution provides some protections. The Third amendment says Soldiers can't be placed in your home during peacetime (wartime can be allowed in circumstances "prescribed by law"). The Fourth amendments protects your person, house, papers and personal effects from unlawful search and/or seizure without specific court approval via a lawfully obtained warrant (probable cause). That is the extent of it. The confines of your home and your person are the extent of your privacy (This does bring in to question the legality of airport searches though, that is pretty personal, and without a warrant...). Nowhere else can you expect any. As a society, we generally recognize and choose to honor privacy in a few additional places. Bathrooms typically afford some privacy. Public phones often have a booth that provides a degree of privacy.

If you are on the street, in a store, at a restaurant, or public sporting event and pick your nose, be prepared for it to end up on YouTube. If you post it on your facebook wall, or tweet it or blog it, don't be shocked when your employer, family, significant other, etc... finds out about it (think of the internet as the worlds largest street corner, there are Billions of people standing there at any one time).

<< Part 6>>

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Info age fail 4: Anonymous overdose

<This is part 4 in a series. Part 1 is here>

Let's start with anonymity. We are obsessed with it. discussion boards abound with posts under the name of anonymous, or strange pseudonyms which are nearly as anonymous. Look in the comments of virtually any YouTube video. You'll see what I mean.

The primary arguments in favor of anonymity are protection for 'whistleblowers', and protection from retribution, and these are both sensible arguments. It makes sense that how you voted be anonymous, to prevent people from the other side of the vote doing something stupid. It makes sense that there be ways for those who notice criminal or harmful behavior to have a safe way to 'blow the whistle'.

But neither of those things happen on you Tube, or really any other internet forum, or in most other places that we go on about needing anonymity

There have also been quite a few studies on the negative effects that anonymity has on our behavior. The results are not good, from increased levels of violence, to increased likelihood of theft.  (starting on page 6)

So a first good step to improving information quality if to stop the abuse of anonymity. This inherently increases accountability (more on that later). What about the retribution concern? This can be mainly resolved by fixing privacy (coming up next).

<to Part 5>