best when viewed in low light


Missing what moves us

Understanding a YouTube phenomenon

SmartBrief on ExecTech | 05/26/2009

Susan Boyle is a creation of the Internet. Her rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" on her first appearance on "Britain's Got Talent" was breathtaking, but her performance during the semifinals was cringe-inducing in places where her voice wavered and rasped. The beaming judges, however, said she nailed it, and the audience was wild for her. The world had already voted long before she sang, not by calling the show's official voting line, but by watching her on YouTube in record numbers -- an audience she never could have reached otherwise. This may be the most enchanting example yet of the democratizing power of the Internet. --Caron Carlson

[It's not about democratizing, or talent. It's about transcending image.]

Too fucking awesome not to re-post

Physical cosmologies


Reading this post makes me so enraged that I must find all bad scientists and kill them!

[Thanks, Ted!]

Media Violence, Aggression, and Policy

There's no solid evidence that violence in media causes violence in society, certainly not at the level that would warrant any kind of policy response. Here at Terra Nova, this has been discussed again and again and again and again and again. Yet the issue will not die, or, more accurately, a misguided conversation continues and at times certain points need to be reiterated. The immediate spurs to this post include a) getting an email about videogame violence effects from an undergraduate at another school, b) seeing one of Indiana's PhD students give a talk on videogame violence, and c) seeing media effects being debated at the International Communications Association meeting in Chicago this past weekend. Researchers continue to pursue evidence for a causal link between violence in media and real-world violence, and important people in the real world still think there's some sort of emergency.

Common sense objections to the agenda and the urgency are legion, best summed up here and here. Yet there are deeper issues, of a scholarly nature, that need to be addressed as well. Research in the field of media violence effects is generally ill-conceived, poorly executed, and result-driven. I have seen few things that I would describe as findings - results that become a permanent part of my view of the world and how it works. Before any more PhD students waste their careers on bad science, let's once again put the cards on the table.

To begin at the end: Scientific research should not be framed as the pursuit of evidence for something. To do so violates the important norm of disinterestedness. You are not supposed to care how the numbers turn out. The proper way to think of things is "What causes Y?" not "Can I find evidence that X might effect Y?" The Y here is violence in society. We know that the main causes of violence in society are parents and peers. A disinterested scholar would stop there. Yet in media violence research, the norm is to go looking for a link. One senses that in most papers, nothing would be sent to the journal until some evidence for the link was found.

How does one get that sense? This is the second major issue: significance. In scholarly writing, the term significance refers to a very specialized statistical feature known in most fields as statistical significance. It is a measure of the accuracy of a finding. It is also widely misunderstood and improperly applied. (How do I know? Training under econometrician Arthur Goldberger.) Look at it this way: You are the captain of the ship. The engineer comes and says that some rivets in the hull are weakening and are about to pop. Yet you can only fix them one at a time. Your first question is, what rivet is weakest? That is where the engineer should start. Oddly, in psychology and the social sciences, one insists that the engineer start working instead on the rivet whose weakness is most accurately measured. "We think rivet 12 is weakest, but we know more about rivet 34, so let's start there. By the way, rivet 34 seems to be pretty strong. [glub glub glub]"

In media violence research, it appears to be a universal practice that the accuracy of an effect's measurement is presented always first, and often exclusively. The size of the effect is considered secondary, if it is considered at all. In my experience of articles and presentations in this field, I have yet to see a sentence in the following form: "All else equal, a 10 percent increase in this measure of media violence leads to an X% increase in this measure of social violence." This is a very simple simulation of effect, and it seems never to be done.

Here's how the first two issues are related: If the research paradigm is to hunt for effects, and the standard of a "finding" is based on statistical significance, it is usually easy to produce the desired result. The nature of statistical signficance is such that if you mess around with the data set enough, eventually some set of controls and procedures causes the computer to pop out an asterisk indicating statistical significance on the media violence variable. This why the paper says "Although no overall media-aggression link was found, a link was found among children who identify with a violent character." Meaning, if you split the data into those-who-identify and those-who-don't, you find the desired link in the former group. In any reasonably complex data set, there will be some sub-group or some tweak that generates statistical significance. It's a mechanical thing in the end. And thus, when a researcher produces an entire career of papers showing the same result over and over, you get the sense that the disinterestedness norm is being violated. This scholar is not in the least disinterested. He knows what he is after and he is going to find it. The only way that disinterestedness could be restored in this field would be for scholars to forget about statistical significance and examine instead the real-world significance of findings, by means of these simple simulation sentences. Let's talk about the rivets that seem weakest. Assertions of real-world significance are not popped out by SPSS. They cannot be cooked. If media effects researchers want to be trusted, they should abandon statistical significance as the measure of truth.

The issue of significance goes beyond statistical significance, however, into the realm of policy significance. The media violence field gets its energy from its ostensible policy relevance. Yet the research questions are not framed in a way that is helpful for policy. The policy question is simple: If we regulate media violence, will social violence fall? But the research asks: If we expose this person to violent media, how will he act in the next hour? The latter is not relevant to the former. Or, there does not seem to be a good theory explaining why the latter is relevant. Yes, there are diagrams of boxes and arrows known as theories, but they are really just conceptual overviews, informal and heuristic, and cannot be used to measure or explain how a social effect emerges from a lab effect. As an example, suppose we use an Aggressometer to measure a person's aggressive mental state, and find that viewing Star Wars increases the Aggressometer by 20 percent. The question now becomes, if we show Star Wars generally in the public, we are generally going to have a 20 percent increase in Aggressometer readings. What theory tells me how this is specifically going to change the crime rate? I need to know that, because I need to evaluate policy in a common sense way. Keeping a million kids from watching Star Wars costs society $7m in lost entertainment value. Is the purported value of crime reduction more or less than that? A box-and-arrow diagram does not help. If the research is going to stay focused on the mind, we need a good theory to connect mind outcomes to policy outcomes - otherwise the research isn't relevant for policy and should be labeled as such: "Warning: Not For Use By Legislators."

Of course, the research could move away from the mind and frame itself where the policy questions live. There are some papers doing that; one piece by some economists and the longitudinal study by Huesmann, Aron and colleagues. These papers are worth of examination, because they state their findings in terms of the issues that motivate the research. But, of course, the findings conflict.

Why would they conflict? Why is it so hard to find answers in this area? Fuzziness. The media violence - aggression field has chosen to study two things that do not admit accurate observation. What is media violence? What kind of a thing is it? The policy debate seems to assume it is a continuous variable that acts as a gloss on a piece of media. Thus, you can apparently make a movie less violent by taking away an explosion. Similarly, what is aggression? It appears to be taken as some sort of negative gloss on a person, such that if you make them more aggressive you make the world a worse place. Needless to say, taking aggression and violence as separable from the whole entities in which they are observed is a fuzzy and probably fundamentally wrong-headed way to approach things. You could, if you wanted, study the relationship of dog's ears to the sounds of motors, but you'll never find solid evidence that dogs get happy when their people drive into the garage. You need to study dogs and people, not ears and motors. In fact the only reason you might study ears and motors separately is that you had some agenda to promote the motor industry by showing that it makes dogs happy. But of course, that wouldn't be disinterested.

I cooked up a silly example. Consider the following report:

"Textiles scholars have studied the effect of softness in cloth on affection. Children rubbed with soft cloth as opposed to scratchy cloth self-report significantly higher levels of affection and exhibit more affectionate behaviors (hugging teddy bears, for example).Responding to these findings, and acting out of a concern about the dramatic declines in affection in recent decades, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children's exposure to soft cloth be maximized. The State of California has mandated that all cloth sold to minors must meet a minimum standard of SS+ (from the industry's cloth softness self-rating system). Unfortunately, the laws have been struck down as an improper extension of government authority, as stated in the 28th amendment ("Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of the textile manufacturer"). Nonetheless, pressure continues for some sort of government response to the softness-affection crisis."

Ridiculous, of course. The PTA's insistence that school kids wear velvet boots would last one rainy day, and that would be it. But to be more specific about what's wrong here:

1. The research deals with vague value-laden concepts, not objective observables.
2. The findings are not disinterested. Somebody's looking for something.
3. There is no evidence of a crisis at the social level.
4. The pediatricians' recommendation to parents assumes thoroughly incompetent parents.
5. So does the policy.
6. The policy asserts an unrealistic level of measurement and control.
7. The relevance of the findings for the policy is nowhere demonstrated.
8. "Significantly" refers to statistical significance, not real-world significance.

There's not much difference between the cloth-softness debate and the media violence debate, unfortunately.

People and their Art are certainly worthy of study. But if we are going to be scientific about it, there are certain rules that must be followed. Following those rules might mean that some questions simply elude us. They cannot be answered in the way that Science-Capital-S demands. In such cases it is better to pursue other rhetorical strategies.

If you want me to believe that regulating violence in media would make our world a better place, you'll have to walk me around the world and through history, and help me to imaginatively experience a culture in which control of expression led to more happiness. I wander around in history a lot - it's been a hobby for decades - and i don't know of any such culture. Even fantasizing about the future, I am not seeing anything good.

In the end, I suspect that media violence research has been motivated primarily by aesthetic concerns. The Three Stooges are disgusting and vulgar, whereas King Lear is sublime. Why are we watching so much crap? Back in the day, you could make the aesthetic plea directly: Look here, you are watching bad art, and you shouldn't - just because it is bad. Today, aesthetic disgust gets channeled into sciency-sounding condemnations of entire media forms for their "effects." In our free-thinking age, no one can effectively change anyone's mind by asserting that Grand Theft Auto is simply adolescent, an 1812 Overture of bullying and nastiness, of low appeal. But because the age is also utilitarian, you can make the case that Grand Theft Auto has "bad effects:" like cigarettes, you say, its use harms others.

Edward Castronova on May 25, 2009 in Academia | Permalink


Mock, yeah, ing, yeah, bird, yeah

According to the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center [wait, there's a "national evolutionary synthesis center?!"], the singing behavior of mockingbirds may show us something about the development of human language and music.

Interesting suppositions, Doctor.

[Or this, maybe]


Fat monkeys diet

[Evolutionary dieting?]

Wii just want to have fun

Ugh. Sometimes you game designers are so blind it's funny. But it's not funny.

The Wii fit is a forward-looking tool for 3D immersive gaming. And girls do, in fact, like to play videogames! [We've been proving that over and over again in sales and surveys for the past few years!]

Want to know what to do with the Wii fit? Here's a couple ideas:

Dancing with the stars




Here's the thing: We actually want to PLAY GAMES, so don't leave out the fun part! Martial arts is awesome, but not if you're in a Wii-white room - engage us with a narrative and a purpose. Fencing could be incredible, but put us in armor and set us on a quest against the Red Knight and we'll be a lot more into it.

And the other thing: Nintendo, you really need to work on the board - it's gotta be thinner. A max of 1/2 inch off the ground or its real promise will never be realized because everyone will be tripping over it. Stubbed toes really break immersion.




Coachella Valley May 19, 2009

- Denise Goolsby, The Desert Sun

Virga — water that falls from the clouds and evaporates before it hits the surface — kicked up the wind for for about 20 minutes Monday afternoon.

The change of weather — which seemed to come out of nowhere — sent sand flying and blew clothes and hair askew.

Edward Armstrong was standing beside his gray Honda Camry pumping gas at the Arco am/pm at Date Palm Drive and Ramon Road in Cathedral City when the virga hit about 11:20 a.m.

“It wasn't like this a little while ago,” Armstrong said.

“It was clear, and all of a sudden you turn around, and it's all windy and you can't see anything,” said Maria Perez, the station's cashier, looking through the store's windows.

Virgas are normal during this time of the year, National Weather Service meteorologist Stan Wasowski said.

The lower atmosphere is really dry, thanks to a long, rainless period in the desert, he said.

Higher above, the water — which is evaporating — cools the air below and sinks to the surface, causing a downdraft or microburst, he said.

Airport revelations

Airport screenings


Jerry B Games, Inc

The word on the street is that Jerry Bruckheimer is actually starting his own game studio.

In addition to another PotC whatever-the-fuck, we can probably expect some other IP translations. Tell me you're not psyched for:

"National Treasure: Search For Something Legendary"

"Deja Vu: Deja Vu"

"Coyote Ugly: The Girl From Great Neck"

So much to look forward to


Big Ups David!

David A-for-Awesome Antognoli, formerly of Funderstorm Games, just published his first commercial videogame!

It's called The Conduit. Go buy it!


Mars map

Venus map

Happy motherf^@%er's day

It took three years for the game RapeLay to generate the moral outrage of the 'powers that be'.

Then again, it took Marilyn French 80 years to make a point - and one that was frequently found contemptible (as she surely expected) by the audience to whom it was most readily applied. [Just saying]



I'm too lazy to do it myself, but I'll put it out there - what can we do about a Rainbow Connection/Marine Corps recruiting commercial mashup?





Dr. Ron Paul Says ‘Flu Hype’ Designed To Scare Americans

By Ralph Forbes

An international businessman who performs major work for the Department of Health and Human Services told AFP that fear mongering by Washington and the World Health Organization about swine flu is an attempt to scare people into allowing global control of the healthcare system.

From 300,000 to 500,000 cases of flu are reported in the United States each year and 30,000 to 40,000 die, he pointed out. At the moment of this interview, 100 cases of the flu variant called “swine” had been reported. Yet, all of the major newspapers and news broadcasts breathlessly report on the “swine flu pandemic” to the virtual exclusion of other developments throughout the world.

Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Janet Napolitano, Department of Homeland Security flack, take the absurd position that the United States is under a dire threat of a swine flu epidemic but Mexicans, legal and illegal, should continue to be welcomed as they cross the border into this country. The swine flu outbreak originated in Mexico City, with 2,000 cases so far.


But the public hysteria continues, with some wise dissent. “I am outraged . . . [It’s] an evil political maneuver . . . blatant advertising efforts to panic the people into taking swine flu shots . . . those who were responsible should be held morally accountable to the American public,” said Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), M.D.

The swine flu pandemic has knocked the bad news of the economy and the torture scandals off the front pages. Talking heads repeat the official line—“We have no real answers”—of the latest swine flu scare, but the real news is what the establishment news media fails to tell you— or quickly kills if it leaks out.

“How did it start in Mexico, where did it emanate from? We’ve been able to find that out in all previous pandemics. The question now is to get at the heart of how this started—did it start from the occasion of viruses coming together or did it come out of a lab? All those questions have to be answered”—Ret. Army General Russell Honor� on CNN.

Why was the initial epicenter of this flu attack in sunny Mexico, long after the seasonal influence was over? How did at least four different varieties of swine, avian and human flu viruses—from four different parts of the world, North America, Asia and Europe—all travel to Mexico and unnaturally reassert their genetic sequences into a mysterious recombinant chimera?

“This strain of swine influenza that’s been cultured in a laboratory is something that’s not been seen anywhere actually in the United States and the world, so this is actually a new strain of influenza that’s been identified,” said Dr. John Carlo, Dallas County medical director.

This interview revealing “cultured in a lab” was buried in the Memory Hole under a tidal wave of “it’s a mystery” experts, disinformation and planted nonsense. “Cultured in a lab” solves a lot of mysteries.

Why does the H5N1 virus subtype—in nature a benign, commonplace virus which most birds carry with no harm to themselves or humans—suddenly become a virulent killer? Many say this mis-named “Spanish flu” (really the “Kansas flu”) was an artificially created variant of H1N1. It killed some 50 million to 100 million people worldwide from 1918 to 1919.

This Kansas Killer was extinct in the wild—until Jeffery Taubenberger of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology dug up pathological specimens so that germ warfare specialists could experiment, using recombinant DNA techniques to insert the lethal genome into countless mixes of viruses.

Why does this so-called “swine virus” primarily kill young, healthy adults—much like the deadly “Spanish flu” of 1918, with the unnatural phenomenon known as cytokine storm? Natural influenza strains produce the worst symptoms in young children, elderly adults, and others with weaker immune systems.

Why has Baxter International Inc. been chosen to head up efforts to produce a vaccine for the Mexican swine flu? In December 2008 Baxter International Inc. was caught shipping live avian flu viruses mixed with vaccine material to medical distributors in 18 countries, including Germany, Austria, Slovenia and the Czech Republic.

Why are Bilderbergers, such as former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, George Shultz, Lodewijk J.R. de Vink, et al., “lucky” enough to invest in Roche, the manufacturer of Tamiflu vaccine, which the media is touting as the way to save your life if infected with the mystery virus?

Why has there been an epidemic of bizarre deaths among some 80 of the top microbiologists—including David Kelly, who was “suicided” for blowing the whistle on the lies used by the neo-cons to start the war against Iraq—since the recent surge in weaponizing the deadly “Spanish flu” genome?

Ralph Forbes is a freelance writer acting as one of AFP’s Southern Bureau chiefs. For answers to many more questions and for FREE Books exposing the vaccine hoax go to

(Issue # 19, May 11, 2009)

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