Friday, November 18, 2016

What's happening?

I have read several books related to genetics and human evolution.  One aspect of human development that has gripped my imagination is communication: speech/listening and writing/reading.  Our vocal apparatus, our ability to remember and use words from many sources, our ability to translate from one of our languages to another, all create powerful tools for sharing and developing thoughts and more. A small group of people discussing a theme is a sophisticated tool for rapid analysis of complex and interrelated problems and questions.  

I have been impressed with Biblical references to gossip and a sharp tongue.  Clearly, people were aware of the power and importance of communication and libel in those days, as they are today.  However, as well explained in "Too Big to Know" by David Weinberger, we have new forums, new ways to communicate today.  We can get people from nearly any sort of life, occupation, country, training, conviction, background, opinion talking to each other, or at least talking passed each other, trashing and insulting each other.  No matter what your credentials are, I can state or imply that you are deluded, mistaken, hoodwinked, promoting a given cause openly or secretly.  You can do the same to me.

Depending on where either of us reveals our ideas (book, blog, social media, article) others may well be motivated to join in our discussions or name-calling.  We may use a common approach these days to bolster our statements by citing references or supporters.  Right here and now, I may state that Harry Jones, President of Amalgamated Farms and Factories, Inc. completely supports and agrees with my position, even though I haven't made my position clear and even though I just made up Harry, his last name and firm.

Which brings us to "fake news".
The link goes to a Google search page of the words "fake news", which I have heard used lately, mostly in discussions about whether rumors and statements known to be fanciful influenced the recent election.  Cathy O'Neil in her blog Mathbabe, mentioned the subject of fake news today.  There have been several articles about the sources of news and information people use today.  It seems that rumors and information conveyed from one writer on Facebook or Twitter to another is a very popular way to get a handle on what is happening in the world.  

Prof. O'Neil is the author of the book "Weapons of Math Destruction", which examines the widespread use of computer algorithms in many aspects of our lives today.  In reading about fake news, I have encountered this list created by Prof. Melissa Zimdars of Merrimack College of communication and news sources, sorted according to the general level of "truthiness", to use a modern term.  It is only today, I guess, that teenagers in central Europe, trying to write "clickbait" headlines could affect what people the world over think has happened.

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