News Briefs 16-12-2016

“The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything...”

  • Footprints in volcanic ash reveal ancient family secrets.
  • Odd genetics of seahorse, revealed.
  • Reactor nears limitless energy.
  • Top six science stories of 2016.
  • Your fallout escape route.
  • Tweaking the theory of gravity.
  • World’s tiniest radio receiver.
  • Ocean world discovered on ceres.

Quote of the Day:

“There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory mentioned, which states that this has already happened.”

Douglas Adams

News Briefs 15-12-2016

How to be a good parent. You can thank me when you see the special looks on your little ones' faces...

Thanks @AnomalistNews and Ronnie.

Quote of the Day:

The human mind is the only place in which there are undoubtedly gods.

Alan Moore

News Briefs 14-12-2016

Radio gagarden...

Thanks @CatVincent.

Quote of the Day:

We do not “come into” this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree.

Alan Watts

EdgeScience #28

Issue 28 of the free PDF magazine EdgeScience is now available to download from the website of the Society for Scientific Exploration (SSE). In the new issue:EdgeScience 28

  • "The Paranormal Future is Now", by Darryl V. Caterine
  • "Columbus-Come-Lately: An Overview and Update of the Ancient-Transoceanic-Contacts Controversy", by Stephen C. Jett
  • "The Scientific Zig-Zag: On the Value of "Crazy" Ideas", by S. D. Tucker
  • "Unequivocal Spontaneous Psi", by By Douglas M. Stokes

Grab the free PDF of EdgeScience 28 from the SSE website, or purchase a printed copy from MagCloud for just $4.95. Please consider a small donation to help the EdgeScience team continue with this excellent publication, via the link on the right-side of the webpage. And join the SSE if you want to keep up with the latest academic research into the 'edgier' areas of science.

News Briefs 13-12-2016

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more...

Quote of the Day:

One of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.

To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.

To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.

Douglas Adams

'Fake News' and the Death of the Original Dream of the Web

Clinton's alien baby headline

There has been a lot of talk in recent months about the 'fake news' epidemic, mostly in relation to the recent U.S. election. It's been an ongoing problem for some time though - I eventually gave up correcting friend's Facebook posts (usually about the threat of immigrants), because they actually didn't seem to care. "Sure it might be a fake story, but it doesn't matter because it kind of gets at the truth."

The trouble is, these things do matter. When a Muslim kid gets bullied in a Western country, it's because of a mass of fake news has pushed public sentiment in a certain direction. This shit has consequences.

But I find myself in an unusual position, because I run a website devoted to speculative theories ranging from the paranormal, through conspiracy, to rewriting history. If there is to be any purge of 'fake news', surely the Grail should be one of the first against the wall?

I think the difference (perhaps I'm mistaken) is that we are always careful here to be clear that we are "exploring the fringes of science and history", and that things we post are often speculation or early, preliminary evidence (for some time now, our logo has also featured the phrase caveat lector - 'let the reader beware'). We also often urge readers to not "believe" anything, most especially things that confirm your own biases.

This is important. All of us involved in exploring the edges of knowledge - and especially those of us 'broadcasting' this information - have an ethical responsibility to urge caution, rather than to convince. Because, as I said above, this shit can have consequences.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the current wave of conspiracy-related stories. I love reading about conspiracies, following the trail of links to uncover hidden truths, and I think there are definitely more conspiracies happening at any time than skeptics would have us believe. But investigating conspiracies can sometimes take you deep, down a deep it's hard to find the way out.

If you're going to walk into a family pizza store with an assault rifle, even when the 'intel' isn't 100% (more like about 3%), you're doing it wrong. Really, really wrong.

If you're going to tell someone whose child was murdered that they are an actor and should be ashamed of themselves (or even make death threats against them), you better be beyond sure that you're correct. I mean, 30-foot-thick iron clad sure. Because if you're wrong, I really can't think of too many lower acts than attacking the parent of a murdered child. And guess what: you are wrong, because I've seen nothing even close to solid evidence that Sandy Hook was anything other than a horrible mass homicide.

The danger of allowing the idea of conspiracy to occupy your brain is that soon enough it will pull up a chair in the executive office and start issuing orders to purge itself of dissenting co-workers. Evidence that pulls down your favourite conspiracy theory is suddenly planted, or a false flag, or some other Machiavellian maneuver of the grand plan to pull the wool over your eyes.

Sadly, the truth of the matter is that, in many cases, the real conspiracy is simply that of lying hucksters who are trying to make a dollar off of you. Yeah, you know who I'm talking about.

The web of 2016 is an entirely different place to the web of 1998, when I started this site. Back then there was a real spirit of people creating websites to help share knowledge, linking up with other similar websites (remember 'web-rings'?). I'm old enough to still feel the vestigial frisson that came just from hearing the words 'Netscape Navigator', a signifier for a portal to a whole new world of hyperlinked knowledge.

Fast forward 18 years, and the internet paradigm has turned from knowledge-sharing to money-making. It's a goldrush, but instead of gold the prospectors are digging for eyeballs. Your eyeballs. But there's a lot of prospectors out there, and only so many eyeballs to go around, so how do you get rich? By appealing to people's lizard brain. Appeal to fear, appeal to belief confirmation, appeal to base instincts ranging from sex drive to curiosity. Fake news is just one part of this greater phenomenon, known as 'click-bait'.

18 years ago, we just found something interesting and shared it. Now, most of the content you see on the web is finely tuned to appeal to these 'base-level emotions' (the only exception perhaps being fine-tuning for search-engine optimisation).

That news story with Muslim youth burning cars talking about immigrants? Tailored by the marketing department of a British tabloid to push just the right fear/outrage buttons in white western people that they want to learn more (to justify their fear-based beliefs).

That Facebook link saying "You won't believe what *minor celebrity* looks like now", with the image cut-off just so you can't see the person's face? That went through meetings, discussing exactly what dimensions the image should be to pique your curiosity and maximise 'reader click-through'.

Those headlines reading "You won't believe what happened next", and similar. The winner of comprehensive A/B testing to identify exactly which headline gets your finger twitchy.

I could go on and on - nearly everything out there these days is tailored for monetisation. And perhaps more importantly, monetisation strategies are based on manipulating you, the reader, both emotionally and psychologically. As someone with a long history of being involved in the web, I see and note new strategies all the time. The difficulty, for 'the good people' out there still doing websites, is that nearly all strategies for keeping your head above water, financially speaking, are off-limits due to their shady ethics. And so, the 'bad people' succeed and proliferate, continually weakening the original, wonderful web on a daily basis.

Author Charlie Stross summed the current situation up quite well in a Twitter thread last week, condensed below:

If your business model relies on ads for income, you require eyeballs. Easiest way to get them is to generate outrage/emotional kick. Hence clickbait news sites. Hence internet rumours. Hence paranoia. Outrage draws eyeballs to ads, it’s as simple as that.

The ad networks don’t care about truth, honesty, accuracy in reporting, public discourse, or democracy. Just eyeballs and CPM. Trying to build a business on ad revenue is like building on quicksand. FB and Twitter are huge; have to keep growing or die. So FB/Twitter are driven to escalate, become more addictive, push the dopamine reward button harder all the time, to keep selling ads.

Traditional TV/newspaper news didn’t continually escalate emotional engagement because ad space was a rivalrous resource; barriers to entry were steep. New media know they can be killed and eaten in months by upstarts. So the competition to be the most addictive is fierce.

Stross notes that this downward spiral is now seemingly out of control, and "it may be too late to re-engineer the web so that it doesn’t destroy democracy and promote politics of hate on a global scale."

The way forward, as I see it, is for the citizens of the web to take individual responsibility, and aim - as best each of us can - to 'consume' ethically. Just as people buying free-range eggs as an ethical decision has changed that industry, so with the web we can re-engineer the web by rewarding those that are doing good, and ignoring, or challenging, those who are not.

When you come across a link, before clicking think to yourself "why am I clicking this" and make the right decision - because as soon as you do click through to some shit site just fishing for your eyeballs, even if you don't read a thing there, their marketing strategy just got validated and money went into their account. Those headlines range from "too good to be true" to "validating your fears and desires", so it's going to take some work.

Alternately, if you see a website doing good work? Take the time to throw a little bit of cash in their tip jar or Patreon, or at the very least take it upon yourself to promote their work to your friends and on social media. From experience, I can tell you that 'doing the right thing' does not offer much financial reward at all, while people making stuff up are earning $10,000 a month.

It's worth noting though: even while I count myself as one of the "good ones", I also try to make money off what I do (justifiably, in my opinion, to try and cover the expense and time I invest in the site) and have a Patreon account to help support the site - so you should be just as skeptical of what I'm saying.

As a person with long-time involvement in the web though, I do fear for what the web has become, and will continue to evolve into, if we don't start taking individual responsibility.

News Briefs 12-12-2016

It's beginning to look a lot like....Monday.

Quote of the Day:

The struggle for human rights [is] and eternal struggle in which a final victory can never be won. But to tire in that struggle would mean the ruin of society.

Albert Einstein

Red Pill Junkie, Music Video Star!

Before he was famous, Red Pill Junkie was an extra in a music video for Australian band Sneaky Sound System, appearing in their aptly named track 'UFO'. Is this where it all started for our paranormal superhero? The synchronicity is uncanny! He also plays a mean game of Scrabble.

The Mystery of Marree Man

'Marree Man', also known as 'Stuart's Giant', is a massive geoglyph discovered in Australia in 1998. Standing two and a half miles 'tall' (4km) - with a total perimeter of 17 miles (28km) - it is the second largest geoglyph in the world. No ancient mystery here though: Marree Man is a modern creation. But the original creator and their motives remains unknown (though, as the clip above shows, there are some clear suspects).

Just to add to the weirdness:

When the site was discovered, several items were found in a small pit: what appeared to be a satellite photo of the figure, a jar containing a small flag of the US, and a note which referred to the Branch Davidians, a religious group infamous for being attacked in the Waco raid in 1993. These were the only other human artifacts found at the site when it was discovered, apart from some bamboo stakes that had been used to mark out the outline.

Nice to see our good friend Andrew Gough (of The Heretic) pop up for an instant in the clip as well!