Fake News

News
News

All news is fake to some extent. When a reporter watches some event unfold he or she will have their own in-built and acquired biases, no matter how hard they try to keep them under control. Those who watch or read the news report will also have their own leanings and belief systems. In addition they will tend to view only those sources which fit with their world view.

Although I attempt to show that “news” as such is a severely distorted view of events, and that everyone has their own viewpoint on news events depending on their innate beliefs and acquired biases, this phenomenon is not restricted to news and the events that get reported by the news media. We filter all that we see through the sieve of these beliefs and therefore what we see conforms to our world view and naturally this acts to confirm these beliefs in our minds.

Beliefs Knowledge and Truth
Beliefs Knowledge and Truth

Back in 1991 Jean Baudrillard said that “The Gulf War did not happen“. Of course, he did not mean that the events referred to as “The Gulf War” or “The Liberation of Kuwait” did not happen, but that the events as reported by the US authorities and others were highly edited and presented in a way that but the US and its allies in the best possible light. Baudrillard also contended that the so-called war was not a war in the usual sense as the American troops did not directly engage in conflict with the opposing forces.

I am not arguing on the rights or wrongs of the Gulf War, as that is not the main purpose of my posting here, but that what was reported by the Western media was a distorted view of the events that happened during that war. As I live in a “Western” nation, the view that I and billions of others had was highly tilted in the direction of the United States. If I had been able to see the reporting of the Iraqi media, I am sure that I would have a very different view of the events. Similarly it too would also be highly distorted.

Destroyed tank
Destroyed tank in Gulf War

Neither viewpoint could be considered “right” or “wrong”, as such. Neither is intended to be an accurate record of what actually happened, while the events as reported happened, the interpretation of the events may omit or emphasise some aspect over others. One report may record that several “insurgents” or “terrorists” were killed, while another report of the same event will record that some “freedom fighters” were killed. One report may leave out the fact that “non-combatants” were killed while the other may call them civilians and children.

In recent times though, so-called “fake news” has had some attention in the media itself. Kellyanne Conway used the phrase “alternative facts” to explain the claim that President Trump’s inauguration had the “largest audience to ever witness an inauguration – period – both in person and around the globe”, when less partial estimates put the crowd at a much lower level than it was at the previous three inaugurations. She was widely ridiculed for this, though, to be fair, she maybe meant to say “alternative information” or “incomplete information”, as she has claimed.

Presidential inauguration
Presidential inauguration

Unfortunately for that interpretation, she later referred to something that did not happen. This may again have been a slip of the tongue or incorrect remembrance of the event referred to, but two such slips probably indicates that she should not be doing the job and should let other handle the interaction between the White House and the media. However while the media is focusing on her missteps they are not focusing on the President, and that may be the whole point.

Of course, “alternative facts” or alternative interpretations are not found just in politics, but in many walks of life. How many people have watched a sports match and have been surprised by the interpretation of the way that the match went that appears in the media. One group of supporters may think that the referee was biased in favour of the other team, while the opposition’s supporter might believe that the referee made the right calls. Of course it may depend a great deal on whether or not your team won!

Referee (Massimo Busacca)
Referee (Massimo Busacca)

However, in spite of all that I have said above, there has been a rise in recent time of true “Fake News” sites. These sites publish news items which are simply not true and the intent of these sites is to deliberately confuse and deceive those who read it. One interesting consequence is that China supported Americans who accused Facebook of spreading false news.

The most controlled regime outside of North Korea pointed out that in the free for all of democratic and liberal societies anyone could set up a web site and promulgate false news and views. In China however any site which published fake news would be hit by the full weight of the state. Of course the issue with this is that any site publishing views opposed by the state would be shut down immediately whether or not the news was actually fake.

The article on Chinese support for the opponents of fake news on Facebook come from the Huffington Post, and as such contains its own biases of course. Therefore the amount of credence that you put on the above article will depend on your political stance. However, it is likely that while the Huff may post satirical articles, it is unlikely, in my opinion, to post out and out fake news. Just use your brains when you read it, and be aware of your own and the site’s political biases.

The same goes for sites which promote miracle cures, or medicines which are outside of the mainstream medical province. Sites which promote anti-abortion, anti-vaccination, anti-fluoride, anti-folic acid, and other fringe beliefs really annoy me because they either ignore medical evidence or call into question by invoking conspiracy theories (“Big Pharma” anyone?) Beliefs like homeopathy and many other alternative medical beliefs belong with beliefs in psychic powers – in the rubbish bin of history.

Rubbish bin
Rubbish bin

Photography – Yet Again

Gum Grove path
Path to Gum Grove

I wondered if I had ever written a post about photography. So I checked. The answer was that I’ve done quite a few. Oh well, it’s a big subject!

I don’t count photography as a hobby of mine, but more as an interest. I’ve got a camera, but it is only an enhanced point and shoot, and I sometimes even use the camera on my cellphone. I haven’t bought any camera gear and I probably won’t. Handheld is good enough for me.

Of course photographer want the best picture that they can get, so better cameras and lenses are the way to go, and probably a tripod would be the next buy. Special filters and accessories enhance a photographers art and this can get expensive. Not to mention bulky and hard to carry around.

Fungi
Old and New

I have nothing but admiration for those photographers who will hike kilometres and wait for hours for the right light to capture a particular shot. I’m usually constrained by a number of things that need doing, plus I usually have a dog attached to me when I have the opportunity to snatch a picture.

Nevertheless I try to take good pictures. I might spot the opportunity of a picture and I wrap the dog’s lead around a convenient tree while I compose and take whatever has caught my eye. I usually take a few shots of the same subject to enhance the possibility of one of the pictures being an acceptable one.

First Bridge
First Bridge

Usually I don’t fiddle with the camera settings, some of which are meaningless to me anyway, but occasionally I will experiment with the shutter timings and the aperture settings. I say “shutter” but I’m pretty sure that my camera doesn’t have a shutter.

I have to trust the autofocus as there is way on my simple camera to easily adjust the focus. I can lock in the distance setting by partially pressing the button, and I have done so in the past, with variable results.

Lichen on trees
Lichen on trees

One consequence of the digital revolution is that the potential picture is displayed on a LCD screen rather than through a viewfinder, and these are often difficult to see and compose a picture in. I sometimes take a few pictures of my subject from different distances and different angle, but composing a picture is still difficult.

Fortunately my camera is pretty clever, and the focussing is usually better than I expect. Composition is pretty hit and miss for the reasons I mention above. Usually there is at least one photograph from the many that I take which is acceptable and many are better than I could hope for from my somewhat random shooting method.

Kereru
Kereru on New Zealand Pigeon

It’s not quite a “Monte Carlo” method of taking photographs, but it is close. It’s not often that I get a picture which is better than merely “good”. But even then the picture will not be razor sharp, and serious photographers would probably look down on them. That’s OK, as I don’t aspire to having them blown up to A4 or even A3 and hung on a wall.

So, why do I take photographs? Well, I do post a lot of them on Facebook, so I must feel the need to get others to look at them, and hopefully they will like them and if they like them or don’t like them, hopefully they will say so.

Above the bridge
The stream from above the bridge

My Facebook pictures are public, but most comments come from friends and family, which is understandable as I don’t do anything to publicise them. When friends and family comment on them, others may see the pictures so they do find their way out there.

Facebook and other “social networking” apps have changed photography for me and for millions of others. Without Facebook taking a photograph of oneself is a bit pointless. Who would ever see it? But “selfies” allow the photographer to include his/her self into a picture.

First Bridge
The First Bridge

It’s a form of bragging. The selfie taker is boasting : “Here am I and here are my friends, and we are having fun, in this indiscernible location, and we are drunk as skunks”. OK, well, some selfies are taken in recognisable places and the selfie taker is not under the influence of alcohol, but many, many are.

So the pictures that I and other serious and not so serious photographers post to social media are usually not selfies and most often don’t contain babies, other children, pets and people grinning at the camera. The pictures that I and other posts are in the minority, and of course there is a huge number of pictures that fall into both categories, the trivial and the hopefully not so trivial.

Autumn Colors
Autumn Colours

For instance, the pictures of dogs running where you can’t see their legs and so they appear to be floating are funny, essentially trivial, but make a good photographs, even if it transpires that the pictures were serendipitous. The stunning picture of a sunset taken on a honeymoon, may be snapped on an iPhone, and is arguably less trivial.

I mostly like to take pictures of fungi, flowers and trees, not to mention insects and other small animals. I see beauty in a spider or beetle or slug and often try to bring this out in my pictures. Also in fallen leaves or leaves with autumn colours, or the small flowers that others refer to as weeds, but which repay a closer look. Often the structure of such small plants is amazing.

Basket Fungus
Basket Fungus (Ileodictyon cibarium)

I also take pictures that I think of a “records”. Such as the time when the stream turned into a raging torrent during a big storm, or the moment when a Monarch butterfly hatches from it pupa. While some of these may transcend being a record of the event, many are interesting but less of a photograph and more of a picture. The lighting many be wrong and the image fairly dark, but it still shows the insect expanding its wings from mere sacks to the beautiful wings of the complete insect.

There’s nothing wrong with selfies and other similar photographs, but one would hope that the selfie taker would graduate to something better eventually. If what I might term a “proper” photograph is actually better in any real way.

Large Fungi
Large Fungi

Shadows of Reality

Silhouette of a woman in a cave looking at her...
Silhouette of a woman in a cave looking at her own shadow. The image can be used in philosophy (for example in Allegory of the cave) as well as to show psychological principles (for example Borderline personality disorder). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave has people chained in chairs facing a blank wall. All that they can see are the shadows cast on the wall of the cave. When they break free from their chains they discover that reality is not what they believed it to be. In particular, they don’t know what the sun is, having never seen it before. The implication is that we cannot know reality and that we only see shadows of it and must make do with that.

It’s a nice analogy, and presages Kant’s noumenon and phenomenon, where phenomenon is what we sense or perceive and noumenon is what gives rise to phenomenon. Noumenon is fundamentally unknowable through human sensation, and perhaps corresponds to Kant’s “Ding an sich” (thing-in-itself), which I think of as the thing that gives rise to perceived phenomena, but is not and cannot be experienced through the senses or by other means (if such exist).

Plato's Allegory of the Cave by Jan Saenredam,...
Plato’s Allegory of the Cave by Jan Saenredam, according to Cornelis van Haarlem, 1604, Albertina, Vienna (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The nice thing about allegories and analogies is that you can play around with them. Of course, if you push them too far they fall apart, but that is part of the fun. I’m going to push the Cave Allegory a little bit.

You see, the people in the chairs are not entirely without information about the outside world, aka reality. If the shadows move across the cave wall and they are not moving, then something else is! They won’t know what is causing this phenomenon, but they will notice that it changes in a fixed cycle. The shadows sweep across the wall, only for everything to go dark, and then everything repeats. Let’s call it a day.

If the people in chairs watch for long enough they may determine that there longer cycles. Sometimes the shadows reach higher up the walls, and sometimes they are lower. Let’s call these longer cycles years.

When one raises his hand one of the shadows changes. Some of the shadows are apparently related to the people in the chairs! The person in the chair will most likely come to associate one of the shadows with him/her self, and by extension would assume that some of the other shadows are people also.

He or she might not realise that his/her body is actually seated in a chair, and that the shadow which he/she associates with his/her self are merely outlines. This is a scary thought – if the analogy holds, is it not possible that the same is true of us? We may be seeing shadows and concluding that we are the shadows. Maybe there is a wider reality outside of our perceptual cave and we only need to turn around to see it.

However, just like the people in the cave, if we did wake to a wider reality, we probably would not understand what we are seeing – the people in the cave, when they freed themselves, found the sun to be incomprehensible.

I just realised that in Plato’s original allegory, the light that threw the shadows was not the sun but a fire. I’m going to acknowledge my mistake but let it stand, as it makes my point that the people in the chairs are not completely without clues about the wider world, even if their interpretations are wide of the mark.

Science and what was previously known as ‘natural philosophy’ are attempts to describe the shadows that we see. One of our shadows is the rising and setting of the sun. I’ve described elsewhere that the extreme doubter, the ultimate sceptic, doubts that we will see another sunrise, or rather, cannot see any way that we can know absolutely that we will see another sunrise (leaving aside for arguments sake the possibility that we drop dead – that is not what the issue is).

I don’t actually believe that we are sitting in any conceptual chairs, so we can’t leap out of them to get a wider view of reality in the sense of the allegory, but we do describe the world in terms of what we see, just as those in the cave do. We have no better access to reality than they do. We just have a better class of shadows as it were.

That’s why I find it amusing when the headlines read that scientists have found the Higgs Boson, or that they have detected gravity waves. Oh really? I do not suggest that the Higgs Boson has not been “found” or that gravity waves have not been detected, of course, but no one have ever seen the Boson or watched a gravity wave passing by.

One possible way the Higgs boson might be prod...
One possible way the Higgs boson might be produced at the Large Hadron Collider. Similar images at: http://atlas.web.cern.ch/Atlas/GROUPS/PHYSICS/Conferences/2003/aspen-03_dam.ppt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No, what they have in fact done is theorised about these things, designed experiments that should show a blip in a graph or find an anomalous number in the printout of their experiments, and this is what they see. They see the predicted blip or the anomalous number.

These results however based on existing theories. Starting from theories about matter and what it is made of. Atoms, you say? Oh OK, we have experiments (from long ago) which show that matter is made up of atoms. We know a lot about atoms from experiments and theories, but no one has ever seen one or held one in his/her hands. We are sure, though, that matter is basically made up of atoms.

English: Some common molecules and the atoms t...
English: Some common molecules and the atoms that they are made from. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, certain results of these experiments lead to the question of what atoms are made of. So we end up with a (very accurate) theory and experiments which show the existence of sub atomic particles. Some of these theories lead to the theory of the existence of the Higg’s Boson. It is required if some of the theories are correct.

I don’t know the details, but experiments have been done which reportedly appear to show the existence of the Higg’s Boson. What they show is results which are consistent with the stack of theories the top one of which predicts the existence of the Higg’s Boson, and the lower theories predict various behaviours down to the lowest level, those that theorise that matter is fundamentally atomic.

English: Crystal structure of vanadinite. Gray...
English: Crystal structure of vanadinite. Gray: lead atoms, orange: vanadium atoms, green: chlorine atoms, blue: oxygen atoms. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Those are our shadows on the wall. We describe what exists by using theories based on what we can see. We see the blip in the graph, and celebrate our theory which is underpinned by other theories down to the lowest and most general theories. However, we can’t get out of our allegorical chairs and turn to actually look at what exists. That’s where the analogy breaks down – there are no chairs and there is no wall. However what we are looking at are shadows.

The Tyranny of the Minority

English: LGBT pride parade in Madrid (Spain) 2...
English: LGBT pride parade in Madrid (Spain) 2008 Español: Desfile del orgullo LGBT en Madrid (España) 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It would be nice if everyone could agree what is fair and what is not. In an ideal world a believer in a religion would agree with a believer in another religion that they both have the right to believe as they wish. Instead we find believers in one religion continuously killing believers in another religion.

One of the problems is that the holy books TELL believers to kill, in various dreadful ways, those who do not believe in the holy books, so for a believer the killings are justified. Naturally those being attacked also have a holy book that tells believers to kill non-believers, so we have a religious war.

This book is considered the most important of ...
This book is considered the most important of the Baha’i faith. Kitáb-i-Aqdas (The Most Holy Book, 1873) is, however, NOT translated into Swedish yet, and no layout for the front has been devised or developed. Therefore I have created a dummy cover, a pretended cover, with the intention to illustrate a wikipedia article about a book that eventually will be translated into Swedish. The appearance of the Aqdas in Swedish and its face is completely my own invention. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most religious believers would probably characterise themselves as “moderate” believers and would probably condemn those extremists and countries that practise killings in the name of the religion. They would point out that when the deity instructed believers to kill, it was in specific historical circumstances (such as when followers of another region were trying to wipe them out) and that to apply the injunction in modern times is perverse.

Most of the time, I’d suggest, the average believer would be happy to get along with believers in another region, but is instructed to shun them by a small number of “militant” believers and teachers. The would be moderates are bullied and coerced by the militants into actions which they would not normally contemplate.

English: Street Preacher A Christian street pr...
English: Street Preacher A Christian street preacher by the war memorial at the junction of High Street and Moss Street. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, such things don’t just happen in religious societies. When people see their standard of living fall, when they are thrown out of jobs because the jobs are being shipped overseas, or because technology is making their jobs redundant, they may fall under the sway of someone who tells them that their situation can be improved and that person if the best person to achieve that feat.

It helps if the person is charismatic, if the person claims that he/she is going to overturn the traditional ways of doing things, if the person is not part of the establishment, if the person intends to disrupt the current ways of doing things.

What actually happens is that the the person stumbles when he/she tries to shake things up. Some things will change, but far more things will remain the same. Many processes and procedures have reasons for their existence, though it is good to challenge them now and again.

My point is that the directions of our lives are directed and controlled by a small number of people. They may be politicians, or business people, or religious leaders. We may get to choose between them, but as types, politicians are very similar, regardless of party affiliations. Generally they are leaders while the rest of the population are followers, just getting on with their lives, trusting the leaders to lead us in the right direction.

This is a workable model, and has served us well for the most part. Sometimes a maverick comes along to lead us in a direction that in retrospect seems bizarre or counter intuitive, and the unmotivated majority is dragged in a direction that they would not have wanted to go. Sometime a leader is so powerful that he/she does things that give him/her power over the population that they would normally not cede to the leader, and we get a depot or dictator. But dictators die and rarely are they followed by an equally despotic ruler.

We pretty much expect others to, basically, run the country for us, but I’ve noticed in recent years the rise of a new type of tyranny, the tyranny of the minority. A few people, for their own ends, prevent the silent majority from having what they want.

For instance some people refuse to have their children immunised, which means that their children can catch diseases and while the disease may turn out to be mild for their children, their children can then infect smaller children who are too young to be immunised and who may react badly to the disease. Children die in this manner, and this is preventable.

If there was a law that all children hove to be immunised, then these deaths could be prevented and as a bonus the disease could be wiped out. In my opinion anyone who lets their child become a carrier for a disease should be charged with manslaughter as the very least.

Most people are happy with chlorine being added to tap water. It ensures that tap water is safe to drink. However in the developed countries a militant few are campaigning to stop chloride being added to tap water, and in some places they are winning. They are winning by using scare tactics and misinformation.

This anti-chlorine web page is typical and uses both techniques. Firstly it mentions that “chlorine gas was used with deadly effectiveness as a weapon in the First World War.” This is a fact, but it is also a big scare as the concentrations of chlorine gas used in the First World War were massively higher than the trace of chlorine left in tap water by the disinfection process.

English: Using a pool chlorine indicator to te...
English: Using a pool chlorine indicator to test for chlorine gas escaping from a solution of acetic acid and sodium hypochlorite. Note the amount of yellow in the drip suspended in the gas. The same amount of chlorine gas is made with addition of acetic acid as without acetic acid. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Secondly, the article mentions that “a recent study conducted in Hartford, Connecticut found that women with breast cancer have 50-60 percent higher levels of organochlorines (chlorine by-products) in their breast tissue than cancer-free women”. This is misdirection as there is no evidence that the organochlorines entered the body through ingested water.

Did I mention that the one person quoted extensively in the article was employed by a filter manufacturer? Shame on Scientific American for publishing an article with such an obvious bias.

English: Water Filter Standing in a field besi...
English: Water Filter Standing in a field beside a minor road. There are some old foundations nearby which suggest that there might have been a building here at one time. See the manufacturer’s plate here 441663. Arran is just visible in the distance. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is one way that the minority tyrannises the majority. They come up with spurious and unscientific arguments that are plausible to many people and persuade the authorities that they will launch lawsuits if the authorities persist in whatever the minority doesn’t like. They demand their “right” to chlorine free water, or bread without folate, or the right to not have their children vaccinated, or similar.

This denies the rights of the majority, who either want chlorine, folate or don’t want disease carriers giving whooping cough or measles to very small children, or more likely don’t care one way or the other, but accept that what the authorities are trying to do is beneficial. Which stinks, in many ways.

SCHOOL CHILDREN TESTING WATER FOR PURITY - NAR...
SCHOOL CHILDREN TESTING WATER FOR PURITY – NARA – 543915 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(I add illustrations to my blogs, not because I agree with the points that the illustrations may be making but because they are related in some way to my topic. Please be aware that the words are the important thing, and the illustrations are only decoration and may not reflect my point of view.)