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'No Such Thing As a Free Gift' Casts a Critical Eye At Gates Foundation

Slashdot -

theodp writes: The Intercept's Michael Massing takes a look at "How the Gates Foundation Reflects the Good and the Bad of 'Hacker Philanthropy." He writes, "Despite its impact, few book-length assessments of the foundation's work have appeared. Now Linsey McGoey, a sociologist at the University of Essex, is seeking to fill the gap. 'Just how efficient is Gates's philanthropic spending?' she asks in No Such Thing as a Free Gift. 'Are the billions he has spent on U.S. primary and secondary schools improving education outcomes? Are global health grants directed at the largest health killers? Is the Gates Foundation improving access to affordable medicines, or are patent rights taking priority over human rights?' As the title of her book suggests, McGoey answers all of these questions in the negative. The good the foundation has done, she believes, is far outweighed by the harm." Massing adds, "Bill and Melinda Gates answer to no electorate, board, or shareholders; they are accountable mainly to themselves. What's more, the many millions of dollars the foundation has bestowed on nonprofits and news organizations has led to a natural reluctance on their part to criticize it. There's even a name for it: the 'Bill Chill' effect."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

How search engines make us feel smarter than we really are

Boing Boing -

You’ve likely wondered if the internet is having a negative effect on your brain. Perhaps you’ve thought this after realizing the world wide web now serves as a trusty resource when gaps in your knowledge appear, and over time it, you’ve thought, maybe it might be making you less knowledgeable overall because you habitually head to Google if you don’t know the answers to something, search, click, read a few lines, and then promptly forget the factoid until the next time you need it.


This episode is brought to you by The Great Courses. Get 80 percent off Understanding the Mysteries of Human Behavior presented by Professor Mark Leary along with many other fantastic lecture series by visiting this link and ordering today!

Support the show directly by becoming a patron! Get episodes one-day-early and ad-free. Head over to the YANSS Patreon Page for more details.

Fearing that new technology will lead to lazy thinking is an old concern, one that goes back at least as far as Socrates who was certain that scrolls would make people dumb because they would grow to depend on “external written characters” instead of memorization. Just about every new technology and medium has been vilified at some point by that era’s luddites as finally being the end of deep thinking and the beginning of idiocracy. It never happens, of course, and I doubt it ever will.

The latest research suggest that though technology probably doesn’t make us stupid, it can, however, cause us to believe that we are smarter than we really are. Knowing you can search the internet is similar to knowing that you can consult a dictionary or a home encyclopedia or make a visit to the library when truly puzzled – but it’s different in that your brain, and the brains of every other cybercitizen, has become accustomed to the power to almost effortlessly reach into the internet and in a second or two bring back the info previously missing from your head, and you can do that mid-conversation, or while driving, or in the subway or on the couch or in line for a concert. That effortlessness and in-our-pockets availability seems to deeply affect how we categorize what is in our heads and what is not. When we consider all there is to know about a given subject, the convenience of search engines seems to blur the way we think about what we do and do not personally know about the world.

According to the early studies of researcher Matthew Fisher, the side effect of a familiarity with search engines is an inflated sense of internal knowledge. Habitual googling leads us to mistakenly believe we know more than we actually do about any given subject – and here is the crazy part – that intuition persists even in moments in which we no longer have access to the internet. The more you use Google, it seems, the smarter you feel without it.

In this episode we explore what happens when a human mind becomes aware that it can instantly, on-command, at any time, search for an answer to any question, and then, most of time, find it.

After the interview, I discuss a new study that suggests having a Facebook account raises your cortisol levels way higher than normal, but interacting with Facebook in a positive way then lowers those levels to normal. Basically, it’s like smoking. It introduces a stressor that it then reduces. It’s the sickness AND the cure.

In every episode, after I read a bit of self delusion news, I taste a cookie baked from a recipe sent in by a listener/reader. That listener/reader wins a signed copy of my new book, “You Are Now Less Dumb,” and I post the recipe on the YANSS Pinterest page. This episode’s winner is Jon Edwards who submitted a recipe for metacookies, or cookies inside of cookies. Send your own recipes to david {at} youarenotsosmart.com.

Links and Sources


Previous Episodes

Boing Boing Podcasts

Cookie Recipes

Matthew Fisher

Searching for Explanations: How the Internet Inflates Estimates of
Internal Knowledge

Liking on Facebook good for teens’ stress, but being liked… not so much

Historians and detectives keep track of data with open source tool

LXer -

Historians and detectives share many similarities: their investigations are laborious and focused on small details. Bits of information are often murky, contradictory, and complex. Peoples' names might be spelled differently across different sources, especially if more than one language is involved. There's also a time component—they need to know where every possible culprit was at every certain point in time. In the end, they might find out that it was not one gardener who killed the old lady, but two.read more

Coal CEO Thanks Lamar Smith, Asks Him to Expand Probe of Climate Scientists

The Intercept -

In recent remarks Robert E. Murray, the chief executive officer of Murray Energy, the largest privately-held coal mining company in America, enthusiastically praised Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Tex., the chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, for leading an investigation into prominent climate scientists and environmental officials.

Murray, speaking at a gathering in Austin last week for global warming deniers organized by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said he wanted to “congratulate” Smith on his subpoena of Kathryn Sullivan, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Murray then declared that the American Meteorology Association and Union of Concerned Scientists, two private nonprofits that serve the scientific community, also “need to be investigated.”

“They’re crony capitalists, they’re making a fortune off of you the taxpayer,” said Murray, who stood up to praise the Texas congressman again on the next day of the conference. After receiving the second round of compliments, Smith thanked the coal executive and took a seat next to him.

Watch Murray’s remarks below:

Smith, who gained notoriety for serving as the chief House sponsor of the Stop Online Piracy Act, a bill widely decried for promoting Internet censorship, is now leading the charge in Congress against the scientific community.

Since assuming the chairmanship of the House Science Committee, Smith has led a series of attacks on the scientific consensus around global warming, including hearings at which Smith and other GOP lawmakers berated officials involved in creating climate policy. Smith has also proposed legislation to create political criteria for studies funded by the National Science Foundation and to cut the budgets of scientists involved in climate research.

In recent months, Smith has adopted more aggressive tactics. In June, NOAA scientists published a study in the peer-reviewed journal Science that refutes claims that global warming has “paused” or slowed down, a popular argument among climate change deniers, including Smith. In response, Smith issued subpoenas to the scientists who participated in the study, as well as to NOAA director Kathryn Sullivan.

Smith’s subpoena goes beyond scientific data and asks for all “communications between or among employees.” Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Tex., the ranking Democrat on the committee, charged Smith of “furthering a fishing expedition.”

Critics say Smith’s investigations are designed to intimidate scientists whose research may pose a financial threat to the fossil fuel industry, which donates heavily to Republican Party politicians. Slate writer Phil Plait notes that Smith’s subpoenas appear “more like politically motivated strong-arm tactics than an actual attempt at oversight.”

“Scientists should not be subjected to fraud investigations or harassment simply for providing scientific results that some may see as politically controversial,” wrote seven leading scientific societies in a tersely-worded letter sent to Smith on November 24.

Murray, the founder of Murray Energy, disputes government data on global warming, claiming that regulators are “not telling hardly any truth.” “The earth has actually cooled over the last 17 years,” Murray told a trade publication last year, explaining a lawsuit he has pending against the Environmental Protection Agency.

After discussing climate science, Murray sharply criticized Hillary Clinton’s $30 billion proposal to shore up coal miner pensions and retrain workers that have been impacted by the downturn in the coal industry.

Speaking about “my coal mining families,” Murray said, “30 billion dollars of your money? These people don’t want welfare.” Murray continued to argue that miners “are just people who want to work in honor and dignity” and “will never leave” the coal industry “because economically, they’re forced to never leave.”

This year, Murray Energy announced layoffs of around 1,800 workers, or 21 percent of the company workforce. Murray Energy has reportedly pressured workers to participate in campaign events and to contribute money to Republican politicians. In July, the Labor Department accused the company of intimidating employees who reported safety and fire hazard violations.

The donors to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the sponsor of the event, were inadvertently disclosed in 2012. In one year alone, Koch Industries donated $159,834 and a Koch-controlled family foundation gave $69,788. Other fossil fuel donors included Crownquest Oil & Gas, AEP Texas, ExxonMobil, VF-Russia, Texas Western Energy Corporation, ConocoPhillips, Devon Energy, Chevron, and Henry Petroleum LP.

Brooke Rollins, the president of the foundation, took a moment during the conference to explain how the event was conceived.

“About a year and a half ago, a supporter of ours that I know well and is a good friend, said ‘Brooke, I think we really need to pull together the best and the brightest who are debunking the myth of climate change and global warming,'” Rollins said. She then revealed the friend in the audience who helped inspire the event: Bud Brigham, a hydraulic fracturing executive.

Photo: House Science Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Tex.

The post Coal CEO Thanks Lamar Smith, Asks Him to Expand Probe of Climate Scientists appeared first on The Intercept.

The First Online Purchase Was a Sting CD (Or Possibly Weed)

Slashdot -

tedlistens writes: On August 11, 1994, 21-year-old Dan Kohn, founder of a pioneering, online commerce site, made his first web sale. His customer, a friend of his in Philadelphia, spent $12.48, plus shipping costs on Sting's CD "Ten Summoner's Tales," in a transaction protected by PGP encryption. "Even if the N.S.A. was listening in, they couldn't get his credit card number," Kohn told a New York Times reporter in an article about NetMarket the following day. According to a new short video about the history of online shopping, there were a few precedents, including a weed deal between grad students on the ARPANET and a 74-year-old British grandmother who in 1984 used a Videotex—essentially a TV connected to telephone lines—to order margarine, eggs, and cornflakes.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

It’s illegal to make private copies of music in the UK—again

LXer -

The UK's 2014 private copying exception, which allowed you to make personal copies of your own music, including format-shifted versions, has now been definitively withdrawn, according to The 1709 Blog. As a result, it is once more illegal to make personal backups of your own music, videos or e-books, rip CDs and DVDs to standalone digital files, or upload your music to the cloud.

VTech Hack Exposes Data On 4.8 Million Adults, 200,000 Kids

Slashdot -

New submitter lorenzofb writes: A hacker broke into the site of the popular toy company VTech and was able to easily get 4.8 million credentials, and 227k kids' identities using SQL injection. The company didn't find out about the breach until Motherboard told them. According to Have I Been Pwned, this is the fourth largest consumer data breach ever. "[Security specialist Troy Hunt] said that VTech doesn't use SSL web encryption anywhere, and transmits data such as passwords completely unprotected. ... Hunt also found that the company's websites "leak extensive data" from their databases and APIs—so much that an attacker could get a lot of data about the parents or kids just by taking advantage of these flaws."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.


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