417 stories
·
39 followers

Feature: Can Facebook Fix Its Own Worst Bug?

1 Comment
Mark Zuckerberg now acknowledges the dangerous side of the social revolution he helped to start. But is the most powerful tool for connection in human history capable of adapting to the world it created?

Read the whole story
cjmcnamara
2 days ago
reply
here it is. here's the sentence: "Facebook’s entire project, when it comes to news, rests on the assumption that people’s individual preferences ultimately coincide with the public good, and that if it doesn’t appear that way at first, you’re not delving deeply enough into the data."
sirshannon
1 day ago
Now I feel like quitting Facebook was shirking my civil duty.
Share this story
Delete

weird beliefs and the hermeneutics of suspicion

1 Comment
This probably belongs on the blog for my How to Think, but since I haven’t started blogging there yet, I’ll just go ahead and put it here.

As I’ve said many times, Tim Burke is one of the bloggers — I guess blogging isn't wholly dead, it’s just mostly dead, like Westley when he’s taken to Miracle Max — who really helps me think, so it’s sad (if understandable) to hear his tone of discouragement here. “I don’t know what to do next, nor do I have any kind of clear insight about what may come of the moment we’re in.” Sounds like something I’ve thought myself.

But then he picks himself up and makes a useful contribution to a problem that a good many people are worrying over these days, which is why so many people believe so many things that aren’t true — or, to put the problem in one form that I’ve written about before, why so many people mistrust expert judgment. Tim:

First, let’s take the deranged fake stories about a pizza restaurant in Washington DC being a center of sex trafficking. What makes it possible to believe in obvious nonsense about this particular establishment? In short, this: that the last fifty years of global cultural life has revealed that public innocence and virtue are not infrequently a mask for sexual predation by powerful men. Bill Cosby. Jimmy Savile. Numerous Catholic priests. On and on the list goes. Add to that the fact that one form of feminist critique of Freud has long since been validated: that what Freud classed as hysteria or imagination was in many cases straightforward testimony by women about what went on within domestic life as well as within the workplace lives of women. Add to that the other sins that we now know economic and political power have concealed and forgiven: financial misdoings. Murder. Violence. We may argue about how much, how often, how many. We may argue about typicality and aberration. But whether you’re working at it from memorable anecdotal testimony or systematic inquiry, it’s easy to see how people who came to adulthood in the 1950s and 1960s all over the world might feel as if we live on after the fall, even if they know in their hearts that it was always thus…. The slippery slope here is this: that at some point, people come to accept that this is what all powerful men do, and that any powerful man – or perhaps even powerful woman – who professes innocence is lying. All accusations sound credible, all power comes pre-accused, because at some point, all the Cosbys and teachers at Choate Rosemary Hall and Catholic priests have made it plausible to see rape, assault, molestation everywhere.

Tim then gives other examples to illustrate his key point, which is, if I may summarize, that people who believe things that clearly aren’t true, that seem to us just crazy, actually may have good cause to adopt, if not those particular beliefs, then a habit of suspicion that leads to such beliefs. To which I’ll add an example of my own.

Recently I was listening to an episode of the BBC’s More or Less podcast which discussed what some researchers call the “backfire effect”: the tendency that most of us have to double down on our beliefs when they’re challenged or even simply refuted. (The most influential study is this one.) An example given in the podcast is the belief that vaccinations cause autism, and Tim Harford and his guests point out that when parents are shown there there is no link whatsoever between vaccination and autism, rather than agreeing to vaccinate their children they simply fall back on other reasons for refusing to vaccinate. Harford mentions that one such reason is the belief that vaccines are promoted by a medical profession in collusion with the big international pharmaceutical companies to sell us drugs we don't need — and then they move on without comment, as though they’ve clearly demonstrated just how irrational such people are.

But hang on a minute: isn't that a legitimate worry? Don't we actually have a good deal of evidence, over the past few decades, of unhealthy alliances between the medical profession and Big Pharma leading to some drugs being favored over others that might work better, or over non-drug treatment? And haven’t these controversies often focused on the exploitation of parents’ worries in order to overmedicate children — as with the likely overuse of Ritalin?

No, I’m not an anti-vaxxer, I’m a pro-vaxxer. And the anti-vaxxers are definitely making a logical error here, which is to generalize too broadly from particulars. But those parents who think “I suspect doctor-pharma collusion and so will decline to vaccinate, while also taking advantage of herd immunity” are not ipso facto any less rational than those who think “Doc says it, I believe it, and that settles it.”

The key point here is that the hermeneutics of suspicion is not a train that you can stop, even if you wish you could; nor should it stop, given what Tim Burke points out: the horrifying record of abuse of power by people who wield it. But that train needs brakes to slow it down sometimes, and one of the key topics we all should be reflecting on is this: What could the leading institutions of American life do to renew trust in their basic integrity? As Tim suggests, there's no evidence that the Democratic Party — or for that matter any other major American institution — is giving any discernible attention to this question.
Read the whole story
cjmcnamara
8 days ago
reply
"The key point here is that the hermeneutics of suspicion is not a train that you can stop, even if you wish you could; nor should it stop, given what Tim Burke points out: the horrifying record of abuse of power by people who wield it. But that train needs brakes to slow it down sometimes, and one of the key topics we all should be reflecting on is this: What could the leading institutions of American life do to renew trust in their basic integrity?"
Share this story
Delete

Berlin’s Version of “Progress”

1 Comment
No Uber, no smartphones, no stress
Read the whole story
cjmcnamara
8 days ago
reply
"Our drinks came, and we fell into a deep and uninterrupted conversation that struck me as unusual, although I couldn’t say why at first. I noticed, here and there, patrons lighting analog cigarettes and blowing real smoke. I wanted to Google whether or not Berlin had a smoking ban, but Josh reminded me the bar had a strict no-smartphone policy (which I later realized barely had to be enforced): like smokers in Paris or New York, Internet junkies have to step outside to check their email."
Share this story
Delete

Martin Shkreli Is Still Talking

2 Comments

On a recent evening, Martin Shkreli was drinking beer at Tuttles, a bar in the Murray Hill neighborhood of Manhattan that has sticky wooden tables and sports playing on TV. He was taking a break from two activities that now consume much of his time: writing computer code for a new company he heads and meeting with his lawyers in anticipation of his upcoming criminal fraud trial.

See the rest of the story at newyorker.com

Related:
Is Wall Street Responsible for Our Economic Problems?
The Utterly Insufficient Efforts to Separate Trump from His Businesses
A Big Fine, and New Questions, on Deutsche Bank’s “Mirror Trades”
Read the whole story
cjmcnamara
16 days ago
reply
shared just for the headline
Share this story
Delete
1 public comment
sfrazer
16 days ago
reply
Turing, Godel. Funny how he doesn't name companies after himself.
Chicago

We Need More Alternatives to Facebook

1 Comment
Chastened by the negative effects of social media, Mark Zuckerberg says he will tweak his service and upgrade society in the process. Should any company be that powerful?
Read the whole story
cjmcnamara
18 days ago
reply
"Why are we finally now in what’s often called a golden age of television, with culturally influential, sophisticated shows that don’t insult our intelligence? It’s not because broadcasters stopped airing schlock. It’s because the audience is more fragmented than ever—thanks to the rise of public broadcasting and cable TV and streaming services and many other challenges to big networks. It required a flourishing of choices rather than a reliance on those huge networks to become better versions of themselves."
Share this story
Delete

*The Ideas Industry*, the new Dan Drezner book

1 Comment and 2 Shares

The subtitle of this new and fascinating volume is How Pessimists, Partisans, and Plutocrats are Transforming the Marketplace of Ideas.  Think of this as an update of Richard Posner’s work on public intellectuals, but explaining where a world of social media and higher income inequality and greater polarization has put us.  Wisely, Drezner does not idealize the milieu of Susan Sontag and the Commentary crowd, but still some things have become worse, due largely to the lack of trusted gatekeepers.  For one thing, current superstar status encourages shortcuts and pandering and the evolution of thoughtful “public intellectuals” into evangelizing “thought leaders.”  On the macro level, we are in an equilibrium where every position is argued, verification in the eyes of the reader is doubtful, and the level of trust keeps falling.  That in turn lowers quality, which causes trust to fall further yet, and that also has feedback onto the kind of superstars that rise and persist.

And yes, individual offenders are named!  (You’ll have to buy the book for that.)

In my conversation with Dan yesterday, we pondered whether a high water mark of sorts, for the quality of public intellectual discussion, might have been reached in the late 1980s (e.g., Fukuyama, Nye, Huntington, Friedman, but just a hypothesis, I am not attributing this view to him).  Ultimately I still prefer the present day, having become addicted to freedom of entry and large audiences and a higher percentage of weirdos on the content side.  Yet the larger audiences (yes, you!) are a mixed blessing, and the desire to pander to them, and to give them a voice on social media, ultimately may lead to lower quality feedback being passed along to elites.  The ongoing polarization and exaggeration of discussion is hard to stop, for instance one of the most famous and highest status public intellectuals covered by Dan — Paul Krugman — only a few days ago on Twitter called Trump a “corrupt Russian puppet.”  Krugman is not even one of the figures Dan criticizes.

Going back to Dan’s book, what he prefers is — to summarize it bluntly — TED talks with rebuttals and referee reports.  I am fine with the idea, but I wonder if it doesn’t just cement in the outcome where all comments and positions are staked out with both a vehemence and a lack of resolution.  And as Dan himself points out in other contexts, criticism itself cements in the superstar status of the targets in most cases, and a reasonable consensus may be as likely to recede as anything else.  Ideally Dan wishes to ease “idea exit” rather than restrict “idea entry,” but I am not sure you can have the former without some version of the latter.

There is a very interesting chapter on how this new world has boosted the relative status of economists amongst the social sciences, for instance relative to political scientists.  The first person observations about Dan’s own career are extensive and fascinating.

My take on all this is to prefer a higher-trust-in-experts equilibrium for its practical properties, yet without believing the trust actually is deserved, giving me again a slight affinity with Strauss.  Is there an equilibrium where a high level of trust can be maintained more or less forever?  Or is it like an optimal resource extraction problem, namely that most kinds of trust end up being cashed in, you just hope it was for some good purpose (public support for the bailouts to avoid another 1929?, to cite another of Dan’s books.)

Two topics I wish were discussed more were a) the corrupting influence of consulting, and b) the unwillingness of many intellectuals to address particular issues at all, rather than bias in what they do say.  Of course in both cases accountability is harder to enforce; on the former there are typically no public records, and on the latter it is rarely the responsibility of any particular individual to speak up (“I will pontificate on all sorts of things, but I don’t work on that topic.”)  The resulting lack of transparent, identifiable violations can make these problems all the more insidious.

Over coffee, or rather mineral water for me, I challenged Dan on the notion that social trust actually has gone down — not in businesses, I would say — and offered contrarian takes on Jared Kushner and the trajectory of American power, maybe you will hear more about those soon.  In the meantime, this is one of the thought-provoking books of the year, most of all for those who seek to better understand the world we are all swimming in.

The post *The Ideas Industry*, the new Dan Drezner book appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Read the whole story
cjmcnamara
20 days ago
reply
"Going back to Dan’s book, what he prefers is — to summarize it bluntly — TED talks with rebuttals and referee reports." please no
Share this story
Delete
Next Page of Stories