Friday, June 08, 2012
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SCOTT SHANE: The question has sort of increasingly become why is this program classified, and, and there are quite a few intelligence officials who are wondering about that.
BOB GARFIELD: We all know about drones and targeted killings, so why does the government act like it’s a big secret? From WNYC in New York, this is NPR’s On the Media. I’m Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I’m Brooke Gladstone. Reporters know how to report on wars and natural disasters, but how to cover the biggest story of all time?
ANDREW FITZGERALD: When the aliens invade the first thing that you need to do is do some service journalism. Report where they’re moving, what they’re up to. You need to explain alien anatomy.
BOB GARFIELD: Also, an intrepid reporter uncovers a much bigger trove of misinformation, while debunking the five-second rule for dropped food.
DANIEL ENGBER: It took me fewer than five seconds to realize that this was not even a real science story.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It’s all coming up, after this.
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BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. I’m Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I’m Bob Garfield. The White House announced this week the death of Al Qaeda’s number two operative in Pakistan.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: The U.S. has eliminated another prominent terror figure.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: U.S. officials believe his death is so significant…
MALE CORRESPONDENT: Press Secretary Jay Carney would not confirm how al-Libi died.
BOB GARFIELD: Here’s a hint: The U.S. did not use secret border- crossing karate operatives. The government killed al-Libi the way it kills most enemies of the state in the Obama era, via targeted drone attack. New York Times reporter Scott Shane says that the administration calls the program classified but talks about it, coyly, all the time. He says it’s like a striptease, a striptease that looks increasingly absurd, as news stories about drone strikes proliferate seemingly everywhere.
SCOTT SHANE: Drone strikes are reported within minutes or hours by the Pakistani media, by wire services. President Obama went on YouTube and Google+ back in January and surprised people by talking about how precise the drone strikes against Al Qaeda were. Leon Panetta, the defense secretary, and a number other officials have often blurted something out about the program, so the question has sort of increasingly become why is this program classified. And, and there are quite a few intelligence officials who are wondering about that.
BOB GARFIELD: In that press conference, when Secretary Panetta did articulate something close to a new security doctrine, in justifying the strikes as protection of U.S. sovereignty, this, as opposed to violating Pakistani sovereignty, it struck me as some sort of Obama doctrine - we will bomb North Waziristan or Piccadilly Circus or you-name-it, if it means protecting American lives. And yet, we’re in this bizarre circumstance where members of Congress are not even able to debate the subject.
SCOTT SHANE: Well, of course, they would say that they do discuss it behind closed doors. What they haven’t been able to do is have a public discussion, a public debate. And the drone strikes, and certainly what appears to be the first major use of a cyber attack by the United States against the Iranian nuclear program, both of those are new kinds of weapons that raise extremely complex legal questions, moral questions, and are exactly the kind of thing that you would think Congress would want to debate publicly and make decisions about.
BOB GARFIELD: I’m glad you raised the cyber warfare issue. Its revelation by your colleague David Sanger resulted in Sanger feeling obliged to say that he had gotten this story himself and had been working on it for a year and himself approached the administration for comment, as opposed to being fed the story Scooter Libby style. How did we get to this place [LAUGHS] Scott, where a reporter feels compelled to reveal his unsource?
SCOTT SHANE: Well, I sort of sympathize with David because Joe Becker, my colleague, and I who wrote about Obama’s counterterrorism record, you know, sort of face similar snide comments along the lines of, “Well, why did the White House decide to put out this story at this time?” And it is somewhat insulting for folks to suggest that this was somehow handed to us on a silver platter.
As a reporter, you have a story idea, you go out and call different people, you talk to them, sometimes on the record, sometimes off the record, sometimes on background, and it is not as passive as sort of sitting by your phone and watching your email and waiting for leaks. And I think that with all the discussion of, of leaks, it sometimes gives people a completely false impression of what journalism is like.
BOB GARFIELD: In the introduction, I referred to your use of the word “striptease” to describe the “show here, obscure there” approach to classified information. You could also have used harsher language, considering the administration’s extremely vigorous prosecutions of whistleblowers. This is a president who came to office vowing unprecedented levels of transparency. Is there a hypocrisy charge to be made here?
SCOTT SHANE: I think the dilemma that the Obama Administration, and any administration faces is, on the one hand, you know, they love to do all this stuff secretly. Sometimes that’s necessary, although I think most government officials would say not nearly as often as is claimed. But, at the same time, citizens have some right to know what their government’s doing with their money and in their name.
And so, the government – you know, for example, the Obama Administration officials have given half a dozen speeches sort of around the drone program, the targeted killing program. I think what’s happened is we’ve kind of reached a point where even inside the government perhaps the weight of opinion is tilting towards simply making the whole program unclassified.
BOB GARFIELD: Scott, thank you so much.
SCOTT SHANE: Thank you very much.
BOB GARFIELD: Scott Shane is a reporter for the New York Times.
When the political conventions are held this summer, some of those convening will not be candidates or delegates or media. They will be protesters availing themselves of their First Amendment right to speak their mind. But if the past is any guide, they will be speaking largely amongst themselves in penned off areas remote from any actual elected officials. Court decisions have upheld the sanctity to say what you wish but not necessarily where you wish to say it.
But Ronald Krotoszynski, a law professor at the University of Alabama, thinks that denying protesters proximity to the powerful is unconstitutional. The right to petition the government is protected speech, he says, that depends on physical access. Ron, welcome to the show.
RONALD KROTOSZYNSKI: Good to be with you.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, I’m confused about this. Does petitioning the government, as you suggest, really take the form of street protests at a nominating convention or anywhere else?
RONALD KROTOSZYNSKI: The original draft of the First Amendment that Madison presented to the House of Representatives linked assembly with speech, and there’s a good reason for this. Meetings, other than those called by the Crown or by the gentry were illegal in 17th-18th century Britain. And so, in order to petition, you have to gather signatures, you have to canvass support. But you can’t do that very easily if you can’t assemble. One is not really possible without the other.
BOB GARFIELD: Can you give me a concrete example of a - an important protest that was really fundamentally not speech but a petition to government?
RONALD KROTOSZYNSKI: I think perhaps the Selma to Montgomery march of March 1965. The original plan submitted to a federal district court in Montgomery, requiring Alabama to permit the march and to provide security for the march and the marchers, included, at the end of a rally in downtown Montgomery, the presentation of a petition to Governor Wallace. And that petition was taken from Selma to the Capitol. A group of 20 knocked on the door. They were admitted and Governor Wallace received the delegation, received the petition, and spoke with them for 90 minutes. Would the Selma march have had the same effect if Governor Wallace in Alabama could have said “Well, protesting in our State Capitol is dangerous. The governor is there, the Supreme Court is nearby. We’ll let you use the state fairgrounds six miles away. Now, enjoy yourselves.”
There’s something about ordinary people, citizens who can’t write $2500 campaign checks to, to go to fundraisers, to put ideas and concerns on the national agenda, through the mediation of journalists and national media who cover these confrontations.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, as a practical matter, what we’re discussing here is the right to gather and protest at a major political event, where security is an issue. And ‘til now political organizations like the Democratic Party and the RNC, with the full [LAUGHS] cooperation of municipalities, have seen fit to pen protesters, and sometimes media themselves, under the pretext of security, and the courts have pretty much said okay to all of this. Are you suggesting that if you consider the right to petition the government that it will change the court’s calculus about how well the police can segregate protesters?
RONALD KROTOSZYNSKI: That’s exactly my claim and my argument. I was talking to a friend recently in New Orleans and telling him about the book, and he said, “But I don’t have to listen to Occupy protesters or Tea Partiers.” And I said, “Well yes, that’s exactly true, but you're not the government.”
When it comes to the government, the petition clause suggests, and historical precedents support, guarantees the right to access and to engage the government. And the government, unlike a private person, has a duty to listen. And the courts have said that generally you have a right to use government property to engage in speech activity, but the courts have also said that you don’t have a right to access a particular audience under the Speech and Assembly Rights.
My claim, and my argument is that the rights of petition ought to secure a right of access to the government and its officials, even when that access doesn’t involved an email or a letter but a t-shirt or a placard.
BOB GARFIELD: The question of segregating protesters and the press from politicians is perhaps the only bipartisan effort going on in Washington. [LAUGHS]
RONALD KROTOSZYNSKI: Indeed. [LAUGHS]
BOB GARFIELD: Both parties seem to agree that it’s best to stay away from the ruffians.
RONALD KROTOSZYNSKI: I certainly don’t mean to suggest and don’t suggest that security concerns are not valid and important. Gabriel Giffords provides a tragic example of the dangers that politicians face when they interact in public with their constituents in unsecure environments.
But surely, whatever bona fide security interest exists isn’t a function of whether my t-shirt has an I heart Obama or a, you know, red slash mark anti-Obama t-shirt. And you said, you know, mentioned, well, they don’t like ruffians. Well, that’s true. They don’t want to be contradicted they don’t want the message of the day disrupted.
You know, LBJ, towards the end of his presidency, would only give speeches on military bases because if he went in public Walter Cronkite would lead with the antiwar demonstrators confronting President Johnson, rather than President Johnson’s Great Society proposal. That’s an example of how this kind of hybrid speech can have a powerful effect and, and actually help set our, our political agenda. That’s what petitioning is about.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay, let’s just say you're right. What do you have to do between now and the [LAUGHS] political conventions to bring about the change you're seeking?
RONALD KROTOSZYNSKI: The ideal from my perspective would be if practicing lawyers representing these groups that seek to protest proximate to these venues to reach that audience would include the petition clause in their complaint. If they do that, then the government is going to have to respond and district judges will have to decide whether these are, in fact, separate rights with independent meaning or, or whether they are, in fact, cut from the same cloth and essentially indistinguishable.
BOB GARFIELD: Professor Krotoszynski, thank you very much.
RONALD KROTOSZYNSKI: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Ronald J. Krotoszynski is a professor of law at the University of Alabama and author of “Reclaiming the Petition Clause, Seditious Libel, ‘Offensive’ Protest, and the Right to Petition the Government for Redress of Grievances.”
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BROOKE GLADSTONE: Coming up, a reporter sets out to debunk the five-second rule for dropped food and uncovers a rich vein of scientific piffle.
BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media.
END SEGMENT A
STATION BREAK ONE
PJ VOGT: Hi, I’m On the Media producer PJ Vogt.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: PJ?
PJ VOGT: Sorry, this is usually the part where Alex comes in.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Oh, Alex Goldman, your colleague and best frenemy. Well, he’s out this week, so you're going to have to do this by yourself.
PJ VOGT: [SIGHS] Okay. I’m here to tell people to check out the web site this week, which I’ve got to say is particularly good. Alex and I did this interview last week with Tim Schafer, the legendary video game designer.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hm. [AFFIRMATIVE]
PJ VOGT: And we had a lot of really good bonus material. He is just an incredibly creative guy. He’s done - video games about time traveling tentacles and travel agents in the land of the dead.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS]
PJ VOGT: And he walked us through how he comes up with his ideas and his stories. So we’ve got that on the web site. And the very talented Sarah Abdurrahman wrote a preview for our special hour on Mexico where you're going - tomorrow. How’d that sound?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Great, except maybe you should tell people where to go?
PJ VOGT: Oh, Alex always did that.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay, www.onthemedia.org.
PJ VOGT: Slash blog.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Slash blog. And if you haven’t yet, please review us on iTunes.
PJ VOGT: Great job, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Shucks. This is On the Media. I’m Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I’m Bob Garfield. Recently, Slate columnist Daniel Engber set out to debunk the idea of the five-second rule. A subject of Talmudic debate among clumsy kindergartners, the five-second rule holds that if you drop food on the floor and pick it up quickly, it’s still clean enough to eat. That’s not true but on the path to debunking the five-second rule, he stumbled onto a bigger story, a veritable wellspring of scientific misinformation. As for the five-second rule, he says solving that one was a snap.
DANIEL ENGBER: It took me fewer than five seconds to realize –
-that this was not even a real science story. I mean, this was something that was being presented on The Huffington Post and Gizmodo and a few other blogs in the U.S., and they referred back to a Daily Mail story, which said that this was a study that had been done at Manchester Metropolitan University. And when I have tried to get in touch with Manchester Metropolitan, they told me that this was just done by a lab tech there and no professors had been involved. And the lab tech didn’t want to talk to me, so I, I sort of struck out pretty quickly.
BOB GARFIELD: So okay, so within five seconds you had debunked the five-second rule, but in pursuing this you noticed a kind of – a trend, let’s say.
DANIEL ENGBER: Yeah, so I mean this wasn’t just a bad science story, of which there are plenty in newspapers all around in the world. This one fit into a pattern of stories that I’ve seen coming out of Britain.
BOB GARFIELD: What other examples did you come up with?
DANIEL ENGBER: So the five-second rule study made me think of something I covered as an intern at the Chronicle of Higher Education in the early 2000s, which was a study done by a high school student of the five-second rule. And then once I got to the Daily Mail and saw this original story, it reminded me of something else I had covered as an intern, which was a story from the British press about a formula for the perfect horror movie. And I just made one or two phone calls and discovered it was just a bunch of undergraduates who’d gotten drunk one night and come up with some meaningless numbers.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHING] Okay, but you got to hand it to British journalists, who are perhaps less rigorous than their American counterparts in passing along scientific results or junk science results, and that is they’re upfront about the junkiness of it, no?
DANIEL ENGBER: Oh yeah, these articles are completely upfront. I mean, both studies, the horror movie formula, the five-second rule study, both of these were sponsored by companies that had a real interest in, in getting newspapers and people talking about their products. So the five-second rule comes from a company called Vileda - maybe I shouldn’t say that on the air and, and give them the benefit – and the Daily Mail was obliging in saying, this study by, you know, this woman who turned out to be a lab tech at Manchester Metropolitan, was sponsored by this cleaning company, and a representative of this cleaning company points out that you should change your mop pad once a month.
BOB GARFIELD: Was there any evidence that these bogus junk science stories, such as the one that was planted by the, the mop company about the five-second rule, was actually corrupt, that it was an ad camouflaged as news?
DANIEL ENGBER: I don’t know of any evidence that they pay the newspapers, although it is transactional. I mean, the Daily Mail gets a, a story that people want to read and it’s entertaining. I mean, British journalists will tell you this is just entertainment. Even the journalists themselves know it’s fake, and, you know, they’re just having a laugh. Don’t worry about it, don’t be so serious. That’s the problem with American journalists - they’re always so serious about journalism.
BOB GARFIELD: Is it possible, Daniel, that the reason there’s a different standard in the UK for what constitutes sufficient science for a science story is that the, the author and the reader both understand that this isn’t journalism at all but it’s just entertainment?
DANIEL ENGBER: Sure, yeah. I mean, that sounds absolutely right. And then you get to that – the second question of okay, well now what happens when these entertainment stories, these pseudo-science stories start, you know, drifting across the Atlantic, and what do people think in the American news culture when they read them?
BOB GARFIELD: Daniel, thank you so much.
DANIEL ENGBER: Thank you, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: Daniel Engber is a columnist for slate.com.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: When a paper released by a scientific journal turns out to be wrong, either due to human error or intentional fraud, the journal’s editors often will issue a retraction. It turns out retractions are soaring. According to the Wall Street Journal, since 2001 the number of retractions issued by journals has increased 15-fold.
And in the March issue of Infection and Immunity – I can’t believe it took me two months to get to it – editors cried out for reform. A little while back, we asked science writer Jonah Lehrer what he thinks is going on.
JONAH LEHRER: The explanation I’m most attracted to is simply that there’s been a norm change. In years past, they used to wait for serious evidence of scientific fraud, and often co-authors would have to insist on retraction. Now I think they’re much more willing to retract a paper if there’s simply an error.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Can you give me a couple of examples, so we can understand what’s at stake?
JONAH LEHRER: The kind of retractions that are most worrisome are retractions that very quickly become the basis for policy. So we’re talking here mostly about retractions in clinical trials.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So an example might be a kidney drug that everybody thinks works, and it turns out it actually leaves you open to so many other related diseases that it’s dangerous to take.
JONAH LEHRER: Yeah, it could be a kidney drug, it could be things like hormone replacement therapy. The list goes on and on and on. I mean, you know, I think people are now pushing back against antioxidants, against the beneficial effects of various vitamins. So there are lots and lots of clinical trials that have gotten lots of media attention, and then the retraction is published in the fine print.
I also want to make the point that I don’t think there’s anything necessarily bad about an increase in retraction. I think, if anything, this represents, you know, a new kind of transparency in peer review.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You weren’t that bothered by the retraction study but there was a related study that really did worry you.
JONAH LEHRER: Yes. This was a rather obscure paper published [LAUGHS] in a rather obscure journal called Ecosphere, which looked at a small subset of papers in the fishery sciences. It was done by researchers at the University of Washington, and they were interested in what happens after a paper is refuted or retracted. So let’s say a paper is published in Nature or Science and they looked at papers published in these two very prestigious journals, and then a few years go by and numerous papers have come out and they prove that this paper just isn’t true, that these researchers made a mistake. What happens next? What happens in the trail of scientific citations? Is this falsified paper, is it still cited, or do other scientists recognize the mistake?
And what they discovered is, I think, deeply depressing, if you believe in peer review, because they found that the number of citations for the falsified paper, for the paper which has been soundly refuted don’t decrease and, in fact, that they remain years and years after being refuted about 17 times higher than the refuting papers.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm.
JONAH LEHRER: So it’s as if the mistake has been demonstrated - it just still persists; it’s very tough to get rid of.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, we know that in the mainstream media, once an impression is made, it’s very hard to unmake. But you would hold fellow scientists to a higher standard. You would think that they would at least keep up with their own research.
JONAH LEHRER: You would certainly hope so. And, in fact, I think one of the most troubling parts of this paper is they show that even when these papers which are showing that the original paper is wrong are cited, about 10% of the time they’re cited as demonstrating affirmative proof.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS]
JONAH LEHRER: So scientists cite them in the wrong way.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So they don’t even read their own citations. Is this because –
- of an overreliance on grad students?
JONAH LEHRER: [LAUGHS] No. I think one thing that’s happening is just sheer laziness. I think lots of people use citations without fully reading the papers. They look at the title and maybe the abstract. I think one thing that’s happening is that it’s tough to let go of a beloved theory. These papers were very influential, often for up to a decade. They’re published in big name journals, so people took them very seriously. So the mind, for all sorts of reasons, struggles to let go of those ideas.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So what do we do about this?
JONAH LEHRER: One of the very simple fixes is simply when scientists call up a paper that’s been refuted in PubMed or Google Scholar, or one of these search engines that scientists all over the world use, that they should be automatically linked to the refuting papers.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm.
JONAH LEHRER: So, so if a study isn’t true, we should know that it’s not true and the papers that prove that it’s not true should be right there as well, so they’re easy to cite and the record is automatically corrected.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: On the other hand, you said that even when scientists are aware of the contradictory papers, they either don’t read them or misread them or use them to support the original wrong conclusions.
JONAH LEHRER: Well, I think we’d have to invent a new format to be some new kind of link, where you’d know that these were citations which weren’t supporting the original paper –
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS]
JONAH LEHRER: -but were actually contradicting it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Red font.
JONAH LEHRER: Exactly. In the scientific literature the vast majority of citations, of course, are positive. They’re showing that they’re building on these earlier discoveries. This would be the opposite kind of citations.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm.
JONAH LEHRER: The more ambitious, I think, fixes focus on things like forcing scientists to declare in advance what their hypotheses might be.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm!
JONAH LEHRER: So, you know, in a lot of scientific fields, one of the problematic things has been that scientists, let’s say you’re doing some brain scan research and you're trying to find some significant correlation between people doing X and Y happening in some particular brain area, because of the standards of scientific publishing you’ll often have to get a result that passes the mystical test of significance, which shows that it’s very, very unlikely that these results were a byproduct of randomness.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm.
JONAH LEHRER: So scientists will often keep on searching, keep on replicating the experiments until they get to that result that passes the test of significance. And so, the hope of having this kind of database where scientists have to register their original hypotheses is that it’ll make that harder to do, that scientists will have to say in advance what they’re looking for, and if they can’t find that original relationship, then that’ll be part of the paper they eventually publish.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It’s a kind of transparency.
JONAH LEHRER: Exactly. I think the hope is that it would introduce a new kind of transparency to the scientific process. The larger point, of course, is that papers like this, you know, surge in retractions demonstrate and like this, you know, Ecosphere paper demonstrate, is that we can make the institutions of science a little bit better.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Jonah, thank you very much.
JONAH LEHRER: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Jonah Lehrer is a staff writer for the New Yorker.
Ivan Oransky is a doctor, the executive editor of Reuters Health, and founder, along with Adam Marcus, of Retraction Watch, a blog that scours scientific journals for retractions and investigates the stories behind them. When we spoke to Oransky last fall on the event of Retraction Watch’s first birthday, we asked him to share some of the year’s most noteworthy or outrageous retractions. He began with the story his co-founder broke, that of Joachim Boldt, an anesthesiologist who had dozens of his papers retracted all at once.
IVAN ORANSKY: There's a guy named Steve Shafer. He’s actually a Columbia anesthesiologist. If there are heroes in Retraction Watch, Steve Shafer is one of the heroes. And he has really led the charge to retract up to about 90 of Joachim Boldt’s papers. It may even be more. The reason why is that Boldt had not obtained the proper ethical approval to do his studies. There’s something called institutional review boards. They look at the protocol and say this is safe, it is reasonable, it is likely to produce a result. And Boldt had not obtained that approval.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Was he directing these studies to prove a point or just make some money or sell a product? I mean, what was his motivation?
IVAN ORANSKY: Sometimes it's as simple as glory. If you have grant funding, it is determined by how many times you publish. You get tenure, based on how often you publish. Sometimes companies are sponsoring your work and they will sponsor more of your work, if you publish more.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: In the case of Boldt, what was the direct impact on patients?
IVAN ORANSKY: There was a direct impact on patients who were having anesthetics delivered to them that they didn't know about, who were in trials that they didn't know about. Even if you sign up for trial, you are supposed to know what the risks are. If someone hasn't obtained ethical approval, there's no way to know whether they have actually delivered that information to patients. And it’s pretty clear he, he more than likely didn't.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: There’s this issue of opacity that you guys cover a lot on Retraction Watch. You'll call up somebody who retracted a paper and ask why, and they won’t tell you?
IVAN ORANSKY: That’s been our experience far too often. We had a sort of classic post with a, a cardiac surgeon in Philadelphia who edits a journal that had retracted a paper. And when Adam called him and said, we'd like to know more information about this retraction because the notice really doesn't say very much, what he chose to say instead of “I don't want to tell you” is “It’s none of your damn business.”
We think it is our damn business. Taxpayers, more than likely, pay for the research. We think it's patients’ business.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Let's move on to a journal called Applied Mathematics Letters, which published a paper by a professor named Granville Sewell, who suggested that the theory of evolution actually violates the second law of thermodynamics, which says the quality of energy deteriorates over time in a closed system, or something like that.
IVAN ORANSKY: More or less.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Entropy.
IVAN ORANSKY: Exactly. It, it involves entropy, and I will tell you that no matter how I describe it now someone will write in and say that we've gotten it wrong.
In the somewhat oversimplified sense, it is that in a closed system entropy increases. So he's saying that if you have evolution, that it’s violating that because you're having sort of more order.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It was roundly condemned.
IVAN ORANSKY: What happened with that [LAUGHS] paper was quite remarkable. It was published and then very quickly, almost the moment it was published, the editor ended up retracting this, but then Sewell sued. That’s someone unusual. Elsevier, a major publisher who publishes this journal, settled with Sewell for $10,000.
They also really lawyered the retraction notice which appeared. And what the retraction notice says is, “It wasn't about the quality, that’s not why we retracted this paper. We retracted this because it was inappropriate for our journal.” So they really gave the intelligent design community – it’s a pitch down the middle, because they could now say, “No, no one’s questioning the result. They’re just saying it was inappropriate for our journal.”
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This seems to be extremely worrisome for the scientific community. If you can defeat what you’re implying are facts by legal fiat, then we’re in big trouble.
IVAN ORANSKY: I would completely agree. One of the things to note here is that Applied Mathematics Letters was - you know, in law enforcement they talk about someone who is “known to law enforcement.” That’s a sort of polite way of saying that he’s probably been picked up for something before.
So [LAUGHS] Applied Mathematics Letters was known to Retraction Watch. They had published another bizarre paper that claimed that science and spirituality both came from space. We’re still not sure what that means.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] We’re made of stardust, Ivan.
IVAN ORANSKY: You know, we're not even sure what he meant by “space.” [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] Having covered the medical research business so closely and all of these retractions, what do you think about the state of scientific journals and the way that scientists communicate with each other, before all of that stuff gets communicated to the rest of us?
IVAN ORANSKY: When you look at a paper, there's a kind of finality to it. It’s - look, here it is. It's something you can almost frame and put on your wall or, in this case, on your CV. If you were to say, look, here's what we found so far and let us open up the data for you, let us show it to you, which would have probably prevented some really high profile cases from going as far as they did, if you treat that as a process and say this is how science works, nothing is final, we’re just getting there.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So papers are artificial endings to a process that doesn’t end.
IVAN ORANSKY: Absolutely. When you actually look at the process of how science works, there aren't that many eureka moments. And when you learn the most is when you’ve actually made a mistake or tried something that didn't work. And if we start using that narrative and don't have to end it –
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Stop gearing yourself towards the eureka moment?
IVAN ORANSKY: Stop gearing yourself toward the eureka moment. Stop gearing yourselves toward the study of the week.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Annals of Thoracic Surgery, Applied Mathematics Letters, it’s a world apart from the rest of us. It’s hard to understand the stakes for the rest of us.
IVAN ORANSKY: But some of these have really high stakes. Quite frankly, science almost always starts in some of these low register journals. And, in fact, a lot of the negative studies, it turns out, in other words, studies showing a lack of effect, are published in those journals. So we still need to pay attention to them.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is the ground floor of the process of sharing and developing scientific information.
IVAN ORANSKY: Absolutely. Some of these ideas will make it to the big time.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Ivan, thank you very much.
IVAN ORANSKY: Thanks very much for having me, Brooke. It was a great conversation.
[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Ivan Oransky is the founder, along with Adam Marcus, of Retraction Watch, which you can link to at onthemedia.org.
BOB GARFIELD: Coming up, the late Ray Bradbury’s love/hate relationship with the future.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media.
END SEGMENT B
STATION BREAK TWO
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media. I’m Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I’m Bob Garfield. This week, the Wall Street Journal reported Facebook’s plans to open up the social network to children under 13. As of now, preteens are not permitted to use the site, mainly because Facebook would have difficulty complying with COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, the federal law regulating how companies can collect and use information about kids. Reportedly, Facebook is investigating several mechanisms for getting around COPPA restrictions, but in that quest they are one step behind millions of parents.
Last fall, we spoke to media researcher Danah Boyd about the ultimate circumvention, parents just plain lying. I asked her back in November when we first aired this interview, to explain the origins of COPPA, and here’s what she had to say.
DANAH BOYD: The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act was created in 1998 to protect young people's privacy, both with targeted marketing and also with physical safety, so the law was extremely well intended. But a decade later things have changed radically, and the social media sites that we see and the communication platforms, part of participation involves sharing content.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay, so the terms of service for Facebook, for example, or Gmail say you have to be 13 because they don't want to be involved in the morass of qualifying underage users. And that's where it ends, right? Parents say, “Oops, sorry, [LAUGHS] no, you're too young. You can’t be on Facebook.”
DANAH BOYD: No. Unfortunately, one of the things that we learned in this study was that parents, not only do they know that their under-13 children are on these sites, but they’re also helping them create their accounts. And they’re doing so en masse.
What was most surprising to me was the fact that almost three-quarters of parents, regardless of whether their kid was on Facebook or not, thought that it was perfectly acceptable for their child to violate minimum age restrictions.
I think that one of the things that we’re seeing from this data is that parents are interpreting these age restrictions as a general recommendation.
They're saying, “Hey okay, this is probably only appropriate for kids 13 or above but my child, you know, is perfectly mature” or “My child is in an environment where I can support him or her and make certain she understands, you know, how to interact in these spaces.” And they don't want the government, they don't want companies to step in and tell them how to be a parent.
In fact, one of the things that was very clear in our data, 93 percent of parents said that they should have the final say about what happens with their kids online.
BOB GARFIELD: But I’ll bet you if you said to the parents who had lied to get the kids online, “How would you feel if the web site were tracking your child's traffic all across the Internet,” they would say, “Oh, it would be horrible. No, no, don't let him do that.”
DANAH BOYD: Not only did we ask them if they're concerned about targeted marketing, we asked them how frequently they thought their kids were on the receiving end of targeted marketing. And, while parents were actually quite concerned, a huge number of them reported that their kids were not being [LAUGHS] exposed to targeted marketing, which is most likely to be completely inaccurate. By and large, participation in online environments means that you are actually on the receiving end of targeted marketing.
BOB GARFIELD: So let's say my 10-year-old says to me, “Daddy, I – I want to be on Facebook” and I, for whatever reason, say, “Sure,” and she says, “Well, you know, I, I - it says you have to be 13.” And I say, “Oh, we’ll fix that,” how do I fix that? What do I have to do to violate these terms of service?
DANAH BOYD: To get past Facebook's process, you actually have to make her birth date so that she is now currently over the age of 13. And you may have to actually erase the cache, open it up in a new browser, because Facebook does try to make it difficult for you to just keep changing your age in order to get access.
Over half of parents of 12-year-olds report that their kid has a Facebook account. This is, by no means, something that just a few people are doing. And, you know, not only that, 76% of those actually assisted in creating those accounts.
BOB GARFIELD: So, in addition to whatever my child may be exposed to in terms of data tracking or content, we are also having this nice parent-child exercise in learning how to, you know, lie.
DANAH BOYD: One of the things about these violations is that they've completely normalized lying. Lying has become status quo. It's not just happening in the home. I was, you know, aghast to watch how often law enforcement comes in during assemblies and tells kids that in order to be safe online, they should actually lie about their location.
One of the funny things you will find on these sites is that a huge number of kids actually say that they're from Afghanistan or Zimbabwe, which are the countries alphabetically at the top and the bottom of the possible countries you could be from.
So based on the stats of Facebook and, and MySpace, there are more people online in Afghanistan and Zimbabwe than there are living there.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHING] Danah, thank you very much.
DANAH BOYD: Thank you so much for having me.
BOB GARFIELD: Danah Boyd is a media researcher and co-author of the study, “Why Parents Help Their Children Lie to Facebook About Age: Unintended Consequences of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.”
Reporting from Afghanistan and Zimbabwe, I’m Bob Garfield.
[MUSIC/UP AND UNDER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Some predict that at the end of the year, on the numerically chilling 12/21/2012, the world will end. I mean, the end has to come sometime, right? And if there are still journalists when that time comes, they’ll need a plan on how to report on our last days.
A journalism powwow held last fall, attended by heavy hitters like Google, the New York Times and the Knight Foundation, featured freewheeling discussions of things like present and future business models to monetize the news industry, and so on. But the loosely scheduled so-called “un-conference” also featured a white board, where anyone could pose a topic. And Andrew Fitzgerald, manager of editorial programming at Twitter, suggested a session on reporting the apocalypse. He told me back in December that the group settled on two scenarios, alien invasion and global pandemic. Fitzgerald said the idea came to him after all that talk about the future of the news.
ANDREW FITZGERALD: I was standing there looking at the white board myself and I thought, “But what about the real future.
What about the end of time?”
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You wrote in your blog post, "You wake up on a Tuesday, make yourself some coffee, open your laptop, check Twitter, to find space ships are suspended over our planet's major cities, preparing to attack." So how did you think things would play out from there?
ANDREW FITZGERALD: Well, we borrowed the scenario, admittedly, from Independence Day, which I am a secret fan of…that model of the aliens appear, there is a short period of time before they begin any sort of action, and so you have a period of time of spreading information, in which our communications infrastructures are still working.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: A lot of the technology is going to be the first thing to go - no Internet, maybe no phone communications, or at least cell phones. So how do you even begin as a journalist to get the information out?
ANDREW FITZGERALD: Human communication has this rich history of different formats, everything from carrier pigeons to smoke signals, to ham radio, but we don't have a lot of experience in, say, ham radios, which is the format we decided would be probably the best one to use. You can — you could probably fit a tweet around a pigeon's leg.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So [LAUGHS], but seriously, how are you a journalist, in the classic sense, during an alien invasion? What would you cover?
ANDREW FITZGERALD: When the aliens invade, the first thing that you need to do is do some service journalism. Report where they're moving, what they're up to. You need to explain alien anatomy, such that people know that what looks like an alien's hand is actually its mouth, and so you don't want to - move your delicious human guts anywhere near that appendage.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So what was the reaction among your journalism cohort when someone raised the idea that perhaps journalists ought to engage in getting the aliens' side of things?
ANDREW FITZGERALD: There was a fair amount of shouting down.
First, we talked about which celebrity journalist would be first —
- to interview Zlorg, the alien lord, full well knowing that there was a high percentage chance of them not surviving the interview.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Geraldo Rivera! [LAUGHS]
ANDREW FITZGERALD: Uh, no names, no names.
Very quickly we started talking about the political reporting on people who thought we should listen to the aliens verses people who didn't think we should start listening to the aliens.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Did it break down along party lines?
ANDREW FITZGERALD: I believe the phrase was "Alien-Hugging Democrats vs. Alien-Killing Republicans."
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] Now, you note that David Carr, the media columnist for the New York Times, observed at the un-conference, that in conflict journalism it's the symmetries of war that keep journalists safe, and that there's no symmetry in our war with our would-be destroyers. What does that mean?
ANDREW FITZGERALD: The fact that these two sides are warriors battling with one another, as a journalist, you are in a separate role that is not a part of that symmetrical relationship. And so, it is the battle between these two sides that protects you. Unfortunately, in alien conflict it is the ultimate asymmetry in warfare, the ultimate Other.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, every single war ever fought has involved the home team and the Other, with a capital "O." That's why war after war you always hear about "the Other" killing babies. Most of these stories are made up, but they keep reappearing so that they seem less than human; they don't value life the way that we do.
ANDREW FITZGERALD: And maybe we would learn this in the sit-down one-on-one with Zlorg, in which we talk about, you know, his upbringing. Maybe they value life more, and maybe they have a, a reason why humanity must be eradicated that we should listen to.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Let's go to the global pandemic scenario. The big discussion around the possible pandemic was whether it'd be okay to suspend the facts. What did you mean by that?
ANDREW FITZGERALD: I wanted to raise the question of whether or not one should not wait for verification and put information out there and give it a rating, say, “We don't really believe this is true, we give it a 3 on our pandemic watch truth scale.” The journalists in the room roundly disagreed with this idea. Everyone raised the point that actually, in these disaster scenarios facts are even more important. The example that really resonated with a lot of people in the room was Katrina. The rumors that propagated during those first couple of days, many of which turned out to be absolutely untrue, were widely reported in, in mass media. We decided that for journalists, in a time of apocalypse, the facts are actually even more important.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So you considered the world ending in alien invasion and the world ending in a pandemic. Uh, I'm surprised you didn't consider a scenario which many futurists believe in, that the robots will eventually take over.
ANDREW FITZGERALD: [LAUGHS] It was our planned third apocalypse to go through.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] So let's say it really happened, which would you prefer, to be devoured by aliens or killed in a global pandemic?
ANDREW FITZGERALD: You know, I think I would probably choose alien invasion if, for no other reason, than at the very end to know that we weren't alone in the universe.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Good answer. Thank you, Andrew.
ANDREW FITZGERALD: Thank you so much.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Andrew Fitzgerald is manager of editorial programming for Twitter.
Every science fiction geek has to start somewhere. For me and for many, many others, possibly even Stephen Colbert, it started with Ray Bradbury, who died this week at 91.
[“THE COLBERT REPORT” CLIP]:
STEPHEN COLBERT: Ray Bradbury’s work introduced us to fantastic far-off worlds and bizarre futures, yet in his work nothing was stranger than what he found hidden in the human mind. So tonight, I want to honor his memory in a way I’m sure he would appreciate, by burning this copy of Fahrenheit 451.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Science fiction, once a denigrated genre, is denigrated no more by knowledgeable readers, and it’s so wide-ranging it hardly qualifies as a genre, especially as rendered by Bradbury. His Dandelion Wine was an elegy, his Martian Chronicles an allegory. His most famous book, Fahrenheit 451, was that bluntest of literary objects, a cautionary tale about a future where firemen burn books.
[“FAHRENHEIT 451” CLIP]:
JULIE CHRISTIE AS CLARISSE: Tell me, why do you burn books?
OSKAR WERNER AS GUY MONTAG: Well, it's a job like any other, good work with lots of variety. Monday, we burn Miller; Tuesday, Tolstoy; Wednesday, Walt Whitman; Friday, Faulkner; and Saturday and Sunday, Schopenhauer and Sartre.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Bradbury long contended in interviews that Fahrenheit 451 never was about government censorship. His fear was that TV and even radio would kill books, shrink our attention span, damage our relationships.
In the book, fireman Guy Montag describes his wife Mildred stretched out on the bed, quote “Like a body displayed on the lid of the tomb, her eyes fixed in the ceiling by invisible threads of steel, immovable, and in her ears the little seashells, the thimble radios tamped tight, and an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk, and music and talk coming in, coming in on the shore of her unsleeping mind. Every night the waves came in and bore her off on their great tides of sound floating her wide-eyed toward morning.”
And yet, despite Bradbury’s claim that he feared people and machines more than the government when it came to the real or metaphorical burning of books, he said in many interviews that state censorship was very much on his mind.
RAY BRADBURY: When I was 15 years old Hitler burned books in the streets of Berlin, and it, it terrified me because I was a librarian, and he was touching my life. All those great plays, all that great poetry, all those wonderful essays, all those great philosophers. So it became very personal.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Perhaps Bradbury’s censorship worries receded, as our devices proliferated, because he insisted that that was the real problem. As he told the L.A. Times in 2010, “We have too many cellphones, we’ve got too many Internets. We have to get rid of those machines.” In 2009 he told Yahoo!, who wanted to make an e-Book of Fahrenheit 451 to, quote “Go to hell.”
It reminds me of what another great science fiction writer, Douglas Adams, once observed. He said, “Anything that is in the world when you were born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything invented after you're 35 is against the natural order of things.” Bradbury’s great talent was to project the human mind and heart into a strange future and imagine how they would fare.
For Bradbury, it seemed technology defined the strange future. He used to say “I don’t try to describe the future, I try to prevent it.” A failure of the imagination? Well, he was only human. In the end, he had to submit to an e-book and to the competing interpretations of Fahrenheit 451. But those were small concessions in a life so well lived and so well loved, even as he projected himself into a future without Ray Bradbury.
RAY BRADBURY: Here lies Ray Bradbury, who loved life completely.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What am I saying? He’ll be there in the books he feared were dying. They’re not.
[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]:
RAY BRADBURY: We are all the sons and the daughters of time, so I thank the universe for making life on earth and allowing me to come alive here.
[ELTON JOHN SINGING “ROCKET MAN”/UP AND UNDER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: “Rocket Man,” by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, was apparently inspired by Bradbury’s short story, “The Rocket Man.” Ray Bradbury died this week at 91.
BOB GARFIELD: That’s it for this week’s show. On the Media was produced by Jamie York, Alex Goldman, PJ Vogt, Sarah Abdurrahman and Chris Neary, with more help from Eliza Novick-Smith and Amy DiPierro, and our show was edited this week by senior producer Katya Rogers - and Brooke. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Our engineer this week was Andrew Dunne.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Ellen Horne is WNYC’s senior director of National Programs. Bassist composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. On the Media is produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR. I’m Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I’m Bob Garfield. Brooke, you're off to Mexico.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Yep, we’re going to be reporting on the state of the Mexican media. And listeners, you’ll be able to follow it all on our blog, so go to onthemedia.org to check it out.
BOB GARFIELD: Hasta la vista, baby.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Gracias, Bob.