Monday, May 29, 2017

Fake Science and Aluminum Foil

When I saw a link to story with the ominous headline below, I clicked through.
How could I resist taking a look? I don’t want to die. Like many people, I have used aluminum foil with some frequency and I have some readily available in my kitchen.
In the blog post, I saw a couple of red flags immediately. First, there’s no named author. One would think that an article about a serious health issue might be by a doctor of some kind. However, since readers have no way to know who the author is, there’s really no way to discern whether he or she is even qualified to write authoritatively on the topic of the post.
Second, there’s no about page for the website. Websites take time and effort, and they are built for specific purposes. More often than not, they are published to promote an agenda of some sort. For example, my websites are intended to expose readers to my brilliant writings in the hope that they will click through to Amazon and buy some of the books.
In the case of Poliside, there are three items on the navigation bar: Health, Lifestyle, and Love. However, there’s no explanation of Poliside’s agenda or who the website owners are. Looking at the pages, there is no advertising, per se. However, at the top of every article page, there are nine links with provocative titles and photos. The website appears to have been designed to attract readers so that they will click on the links at the top and move on to other websites. Clickbait.
The second paragraph mentions an explanation of the problem by an unnamed “medical expert.” That’s like an anonymous source in the New York Times or The Washington Post. Also the title referred to warnings from doctors. However, no M.D.s are named in the article. That leads to the question, What doctors? Why didn’t the author, whoever he or she is, name any doctors or medical experts? Dr. Essam Zubaidy, the only authoritative voice quoted in the article, is a chemical engineer.
There are several reasons why the article is so popular. First, aluminum foil is ubiquitous. Most people have used it and most have some in their homes. If it’s actually dangerous, it’s something that people would want to be aware of.
Also, the second paragraph mentions Alzheimer’s Disease, another thing many people are very concerned about. The article is also short at a little over four hundred words and it’s well-written. People can read it in a minute or two and feel like they’ve learned something of value, something worth sharing with their circle of friends.
Similar articles to the Poliside piece are easy to find. The case against aluminum foils has also been made in the Huffington Post. Meanwhile, there are many articles which say that the dangers of aluminum foil have been overblown. One that I liked was posted by Snopes.
Here’s an excerpt. 
“At the moment the field remains mixed on the role of aluminum as a possible risk factor for Alzheimer’s. Both the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada and the international Alzheimer’s Association’s official stance is that aluminum is not a risk factor for the disease. … More recent studies have come to light that may end up reinvigorating the debate, but both the connection of aluminum to Alzheimer’s and its mechanism for causing the disease are far from settled science. That being said, it’s incredibly unlikely you are exposing your brain to high concentrations of aluminum by cooking with aluminum foil in the first place.” 
Most people realize that there’s lots of fake information on the internet. Still, many let their guards down and pass along information that’s not very reliable. The Poliside article about aluminum foil doesn’t appear to be very reliable. Nevertheless, people are passing it along: 403,000 shares in about five weeks and counting.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Trump's Raven

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I tweeted weak and weary,
Over many vain and various tweets galore,
While I tweeted nearly sleeping, suddenly there came a tweeting,
As of someone gently tweeting, tweeting my computer screen. 
'Tis some follower, I muttered, tweeting my computer screen.
Only this and nothing more.

I refreshed my browser screen, when with many a chirp and tweet,
Out there flew a tweeting birdie, from inside my browser screen.
The birdie perched upon my shoulder and in my ear began to tweet,
Perched, and tweeting, and nothing more. 

"Birdie," said I, "thou foul and demonic thing,
Take thyself from off my shoulder and take thy beak from out my heart.
Leave this place and fly back, back to my computer screen."
Quoth the birdie, "Nevermore."

And the birdie, never sleeping, 
Still is tweeting, still is tweeting, 
Tweeting till forevermore. 

Note: This piece borrows heavily from Edgar Allen Poe's poem The Raven, a literary masterpiece which is in the public domain. 

Check out Peggy Noonan's WSJ op-ed:
Democracy is not your plaything 

True Story! Alex Jones of Infowars apologizes for defaming Chobani, LLC. 

In April, Alex Jones of Infowars published a tweet and a video with the headline, “Idaho Yogurt Maker Caught Importing Migrant Rapists.” The company was Chobani. The story, which was shared widely, was not true. Chobani sued. Mr. Jones apologized.

“During the week of April 10, 2017, certain statements were made on the Infowars Twitter feed and YouTube channel regarding Chobani, LLC that I now understand to be wrong. The tweets and video have now been retracted and will not be reposted. On behalf of Infowars, I regret that we mischaracterized Chobani, its employees and the people of Twin Falls, Idaho the way we did.”
The video below features a rant from Mr. Jones followed by his apology.

I urge readers and viewers to think twice before sharing provocative “news” from outlets like Infowars.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Fake Hysteria, Orson Welles, and War of the Worlds

Like many writers, I sometimes do other work to make ends meet. One of the jobs I’ve had involved reviewing short written answers to test questions about a designated reading. The students were eleventh graders and one of the readings was about Orson Welles’ famous War of the Worlds broadcast on Mercury Theatre on the Air.
On his show, Orson Welles presented audiences with dramatizations of various novels. On October 30, 1938, the selection was War of the Worlds, an 1898 novel by H.G. Wells. The novel was adapted to depict a live invasion of Grover Mills, New Jersey, by hostile Martians. According to lore, the broadcast sent millions of Americans into a panic.
However, that lore has been debunked.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Fake News and Propaganda for War and Peace

"The first casualty when war comes is truth." Hiram W Johnson. This quote is also sometimes attributed to the Greek dramatist Aeschylus.
It’s not easy to get Americans to support war. In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson appointed journalist George Creel as Chairman of the new Committee for Public Information. In an article for The American Experience, Nicholas Cull wrote, “For two years, he rallied the American public to the cause of war and sold the globe a vision of America and President Wilson’s plans for a world order. He was a controversial figure in wartime Washington, but his efforts changed the ideological landscape at home and abroad, and many of the methods and approaches he pioneered became a standard part of U.S. statecraft.”
Near the beginning of the 21st century, George W. Bush and his team made the case for war in Iraq based primarily on intelligence reports that the regime in Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction. The war was undertaken and Saddam Hussein was captured. However, the evidence of WMDs was not as strong as the pre-war intelligence indicated.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Intelligence and Fake News

In the first week of March, 2017, President Trump authored a tweet asserting that the Obama team had “wiretapped” Trump Tower. No proof was provided at that time. Two weeks later, Judge Andrew Napolitano on Fox News reported that British intelligence had been employed by the Obama team to do the deed.

“Sources have told Fox News that the British foreign surveillance service, the Government Communications Headquarters, known as GCHQ, most likely provided Obama with transcripts of Trump's calls. The NSA has given GCHQ full 24/7 access to its computers, so GCHQ -- a foreign intelligence agency that, like the NSA, operates outside our constitutional norms -- has the digital versions of all electronic communications made in America in 2016, including Trump's. So by bypassing all American intelligence services, Obama would have had access to what he wanted with no Obama administration fingerprints.” From Judge Napolitano’s blog post of March 16, 2017.

This “news” found its way to Press Secretary Seam Spicer, and it was credible enough to him to refer to it during a press conference. President Trump also referred to it. Then a spokesperson from British intelligence denied the assertion.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Collusion between Team Trump and Putin to Speed Global Warming: Both have invested heavily in waterfront property futures.

According to a member of the House Intelligence Committee, one of the surprising things about the communications between Team Trump and associates of Vladimir Putin is that there were many conversations about global warming and how to speed it up.

There were also conversations about how global warming could affect property values. People who own property on the water will be the big losers when the water levels rise. Who will be the big winners? Investors who had the foresight to buy tracts that are likely to become waterfront in the near future.

Property records show that associates of Trump and Putin have been dumping waterfront properties and quietly snatching up properties projected to become waterfront over the past few months. The global warming land grab could make Trump and Putin two of the wealthiest men on the planet.

Note: This is fake news.