Moulton Lava

Moultonic Musings

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Scathing Glances

Speaking of scathing glances, I'm glowering at Wikipedia these days.

In an idle moment last week, I looked up the article on Affective Computing to see how up-to-date it was. I'm attached to the Affective Computing Research Group at the MIT Media Lab in the role of an unfunded Visiting Scientist. The latest project there is to develop technologies that will help people on the Autism Spectrum make sense of emotion cues that they have difficulty processing on their own in real time. This is like providing handy calculators for everybody else, because most people have difficulty quickly doing math on their own in real time.

Anyway, the article included a link to the Director of the Affective Computing Research Group, so I clicked on that to see what it looked like.

I was appalled.

The biography section was thin. A couple of sentences. Then there was a prominent section about an unrelated controversy over Darwinism and Creationism.

So I filled in the biography, essentially by copying material verbatim from the official MIT faculty biography pages.

And I deleted the section on the creationism controversy as it had no bearing on the subject, and because it presented factually incorrect claims derived from propaganda on a Creationist website which the NY Times had written a story about.

The Discovery Institute (DI) is a think tank associated with the Center for Science and Culture (CSC) — a controversial public relations and political action group that pushes Intelligent Design as a pseudo-scientific alternative to scientific theories.

Notwithstanding the highly politicized nature of the Center for Science and Culture and the Discovery Institute, there are legitimate scientists working in technical fields adjacent to the more prominent areas of Darwinian models who point out that Natural Selection is but one of many mechanisms at work, and that the others (which some of them are working on) are being overshadowed. For example, in Cell Biology and Biochemistry, there are very complex organic molecules which change through mechanisms unrelated to Natural Selection. More to the point, the origin of complex structures like DNA is not well understood. DNA is a self-replicating molecule, but it needs the mechanisms of the cell to complete a cycle of reproduction. How all that complicated stuff ever got started in the first place is still a scientific mystery, and is well beyond the scope of Darwin's model, which only addresses how new species arise from existing ones through natural selection.

Much of this is all very technical and arcane, and of relatively little interest to the general public. But more than a few scientists are concerned that the better-known Darwinian component overshadows the other branches, leaving the public believing that Darwin's model covers it all (including the origin of life itself).

So back in 2001, about a hundred scientists, in fields like Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Biological Systems Theory, Computer Science, and Nano-Technology signed a statement calling for doing a better job of sorting out which theories accounted for which observations, and making sure that Darwin's model of Natural Selection wasn't mindlessly invoked beyond its legitimate scope. Recombinant DNA and Genetic Drift, for example, should be given equal time. And Genetic Engineers and Nano-Technologists, who are engineering extremely complex molecules also weighed in on the conversation.

In 2006, the Center for Science and Culture (along with the Discovery Institute) seized upon that caution and spun it into a controversial public relations campaign attacking Darwin and promoting the teaching of the pseudo-scientific alternative known as Intelligent Design. The Discovery Institute cited the complaints of the other scientists, enabling the Center for Science and Culture to claim that over a hundred scientists "dissented from Darwin" and had signed what some observers called an "anti-evolution" petition back in 2001.

So the NY Times ran a story about the brouhaha and interviewed a handful of the scientists, who dismissed the CSC's unsupported spin on their debate and gave their own (highly technical) reasons for their views.

You'd think that would be the end of it, but a few fanatics (including a cabal of anonymous and ethically challenged editors on Wikipedia) launched an ill-conceived campaign to document the dispute. And that is why all that mokita appeared in the biography of my colleague in Affective Computing. She sides with the technicians who could care less about the public brouhaha. She thinks that science should be done diligently and that students should learn how to carefully examine the evidence for their theories and to make sure they understand the scope of alternative, adjacent, and overlapping theories. She's interested in science education, not noisy public relations campaigns.

But you wouldn't know that from reading the Wikipedia biography. You'd think she's a raving lunatic in favor of the the CSC's campaign, and therefore worthy of ridicule, abuse, and harassment.

But try to excise any of that inappropriate material from her Wikipedia biography! No way. A small army of fanatics will instantly revert it, claiming the NY Times article as a definitive and reliable source to assert that what the CSC says about those 100 scientists is a verified fact -- that they are certifiably anti-evolutionary dissenters from Darwin, unqualified to speak on the issue of rigor in science and science education.

Now I happen to believe that publishing false and defamatory material about a living person is a no-no. But I have no power to stop the Wikipedians from propagating the dubious claims of the DI or the public relations slant of CSC as if it were the ground truth. Why? Because the NY Times reported a story about it.

So I am disgusted with Wikipedia.

And I fear for the future of science education in our culture.

And I also fear for the concept of ethics in online journalism.

Color me bummed out.

25 Comments:

Blogger JC said...

Larry-

Since Larry Fafarman has been indefinitely banned from editing Wikipedia, and now you two are collaborating with mutual gripes about Wikipedia at your blogs,
aren't you afraid that your work together along with your editing articles at Wikipedia dear to Larry's heart will be seen as acting on Larry's behalf in order to get around his inability to edit Wikipedia? In other words, meat puppetry?

3:42 PM  
Blogger Moulton said...

I'm acting on the behalf of ethical standards in online journalism.

I rather doubt I'm the only person who takes issue with the cavalier attitude of Wikipedians when it comes to meeting ethical standards of journalism in the crafting of stories about identifiable living persons.

4:25 PM  
Blogger Cryptic Muse said...

Barry:

I'd love to be of assistance. Leave me a number or send me an e-mail at leon@cc.usu.edu. I'll be in touch at the earliest.

10:30 AM  
Blogger Cryptic Muse said...

Barry:

Such insufferable insolence! Frankly, I'm shocked at the vitriolic and obdurate tone of some of these exchanges. I say this with no measure of exaggeration.

Our ill-tempered friend from New Zealand appears to have taken on the mantle of pundit, defending his reasoning with the frothy fervor of an evangelical Christian.

What troubles me is that he thinks nothing of besmirching the reputation of a respected intellectual on the basis of his personal contempt for her supposed beliefs. This is simply unacceptable and against an ethical code journalists hold sacrosanct.

It is – and ought to be – our purpose to report the unvarnished truth, not a demonstrable distortion that comes across as deliberately misleading, and consequently defamatory.

I do believe Professor Picard must distance herself from the Discovery Institute's political machinations and publicly rescind her endorsement of the offending text. But I also believe that even the brightest of scientific minds might be given to the occasional act of professional indiscretion.

We must rid ourselves of subjective judgment. Maliciousness and spite have no place in biographical journalism.

As an aside, I thought you might find this interesting. Note the contributing credits.

2:47 PM  
Blogger Moulton said...

The position of the rabid clique of Wikipedians (as near as I can understand it) is that a single ill-chosen adjective appearing nowhere but in the headline of only one story (the content of which does not support the sweeping headline) suffices in the minds of the Wikipedians to firmly and irretrievably commit Wikipedia to publishing a demonstrably false (and potentially harmful and defamatory) characterization of 103 scientists, notwithstanding copious evidence to the contrary.

Incidentally, the dude from Dunedin isn't the only Wikipedian frothing at the mouth. I've begun to receive hate mail from other polemic members of the cabal.

I had naively presumed that Wikipedians subscribed to some reasonable standard of accuracy, excellence, and ethics in journalism.

I was shocked and dismayed to discover that such a good faith presumption was unwarranted, as revealed by the immature attitude and unprofessional behavior of the dominant clique of editors there.

As you may know, the Hard News Cafe has picked up my other Op-Ed piece on Media Ethics and featured it on their Opinion page.

3:43 PM  
Blogger Fuckin Broc said...

Jesus fucking Christ, give it up!!! If she wanted off the petition, she could have EASILY gotten off. And if she was so concerned about it, she herself has had many chances to remove herself. It boils down to two options really. Either your "friend" is too stupid to figure out how to do it, which looks like a large possibility, or she really agrees with it. Stop fighting her battles you twisted ID proponent. Your degrees should be yanked for supporting such a bullshit crank science. May I suggest you start researching a degree in Phrenology? It would work well with your general lack of cognitive ability.

4:58 PM  
Blogger Moulton said...

The above anonymous remark was posted from cpe-65-189-129-140.columbus.res.rr.com.

5:07 PM  
Blogger Fuckin Broc said...

the above slightly veiled legal threat was posted by an old man who looks like he is missing a chromosome.

10:01 PM  
Blogger Moulton said...

I've read the history of your UserPage on Wikipedia.

How badly were you stigmatized?

10:58 PM  
Blogger Fuckin Broc said...

congrats on doing rudimentary investigative work using my IP address. amazing job. glad to see those degrees are coming in handy. im also very happy that MIT has allowed the sped kids a chance for success. continue your fine crusade to both try to uphold and circumvent the rules at wikipedia. i am sure you are making your fellows at the DI very happy with your push to prove that logic and mental ability will not stand in the way of inane ramblings of academic washouts.

1:05 AM  
Blogger Moulton said...

I am unfamiliar with the phrase 'sped kids'. I have no idea what that's a reference to.

I'm not a big fan of rule-based systems, except for games like Chess, Checkers, or Go.

I disbelieve in the Hammurabic Method of Social Regulation, and have little faith in the efficacy of rule-based governance to achieve any respectable level of social order.

I have no way of knowing the affective state of anyone affiliated with the Discovery Institute, as I have never made the acquaintance of anyone affiliated with them.

7:35 AM  
Blogger Fuckin Broc said...

color me shocked you don't know what a sped kid is. its seems in your never ending quest to sound like a pretentious jackass (btw, niiiiiiice job with that one), you forgot to learn how to socially interact with other people. Thats all well and good, but don't bring your sad excuse for a lack of interpersonal skills to wikipedia.

And you don't like rule based systems huh? No, you do. You just want to come off as some holier than thou jag-off. If you honestly didn't like rule based systems, you would not be working at MIT. You would not have your degrees from your degree mill. Quit spouting off your tired philosophical musings about rule based systems and social regulation. You can thank those very same guidelines for even allowing you to sit in this position and bitch about how much you hate them. Either move to the forest and live like a nomad or stop with your hypocritical ravings. Ok, thanks, bye!

ps, you can just stop your whole attitude on wikipedia as well. the facts are out and they show not only that you have poor logical skills, substandard reasoning abilities, and an over inflated ego, but that you will be quickly shown the door in the face of OVERWHELMING evidence. take your gripes to other groups who don't have to worry about trivial things like standards, evidence, and logic. You will fit in quite, quite well.

9:26 AM  
Blogger Moulton said...

That's a remarkably telling portrait.

9:51 AM  
Blogger Cryptic Muse said...

Barry:

It causes me immoderate grief to note that the whole enterprise appears to have degenerated into a morass of confusion and counterproductive mudslinging.

I was especially dismayed by the venomous diatribe posted here. The writer, in my view, demonstrates a level of coarseness that warrants the harshest rebuke. To characterize someone of your stature as a "sped kid" and an "academic washout" is both factually bizarre and ethically distasteful.

One also gets the impression that your zealous critic has little regard for students with special needs. This is upsetting, to say the least. Do these children not deserve the opportunities afforded every other American? Are they to be unfairly stigmatized for no fault of their own?

Honestly, if the disposition of that blundering ignoramus is any indication, I'm afraid we're fighting a losing battle. It would be best to walk away. Why allow ourselves to be reduced to trading shallow insults?

Personally, I prefer the high road.

8:20 AM  
Blogger Moulton said...

Leon, the disbarred Wikipedian, posting above from cpe-65-189-129-140.columbus.res.rr.com, may not be representative of the thirteen signatories of the Wikipedia Intelligent Design Project.

You can review the complaints against me of some of those thirteen impassioned Wikipedians here and here.

You are also invited to post "outside comments" there, as well, either on the main page or on the discussion page.

9:39 AM  
Blogger Fuckin Broc said...

Did anyone else order a giant cup of pretension? Thank you cryptic muse, you giant jackass for that. God forbid you high and mighty academic (washouts) can see that you are totally, totally fucking wrong. I guess its true what I've learned about a lot of people with advanced degrees. Their heads are so far up their collective asses, they can diagnose their own colon problems.

12:51 PM  
Blogger Cryptic Muse said...

Broc, my troubled friend, you seem to spout vulgarities with the rabidity of someone gone berserk with vengeance; dare I say, as if possessed by a demon!

Privately, I imagine you to be rather like the afflicted child in The Exorcist, spewing bilious language in every direction.

Vade retro satana!

6:22 PM  
Blogger Fuckin Broc said...

I think I would be much, much more comfortable if you did not imagine me privately. Who knows what other thoughts creep into your abhorrent mind.

6:41 PM  
Blogger Skip said...

It comes as no surprise that for all his blathering about his own notions of standards while ignoring Wikipedia's, all Moulton accomplished was to be hoisted by his own petard. Moulton has been banned from Wikipedia.

8:13 PM  
Blogger Moulton said...

Skip, I'd like to quote you on that.

May I attribute that quote to you and identify it as coming from an individual at Macy's San Francisco Operations Center, posting from IP 64.237.4.140 [smtp.macys.com]?

9:10 AM  
Blogger Skip said...

"May I attribute that quote to you and identify it..."

No, you may not. Please remove this information immediately, it is private information.

8:58 PM  
Blogger Moulton said...

You're way too late, Skip.

Google has already cached it, and the Library of Congress has already permanently recorded it for posterity in Minerva.

6:32 AM  
Blogger B said...

Just as you being banned from Wikipedia has been, it would seem.

Your gloating over your uncalled for outing of Skip is as at odds with the learned image you're trying to promote as it is telling.

Going to out me too?

12:54 AM  
Blogger Moulton said...

As you wish, B...

You are posting here from c-24-4-161-213.hsd1.ca.comcast.net [IP 24.4.161.213], located in or near Walnut Creek, CA.

In the meantime, in recognition of Skip's appetite for notoriety and attention, I've asked Barsoom Tork to write a musical number dedicated to him.

6:10 AM  
Blogger Moulton said...

Note:

Blogger Skip, above, turned out to be the powerful Wikipedia Admin, User:FeloniousMonk (Paul Mitchell), who was later unanimously adjudged by ArbCom to be guilty of corruption and gross violations of policy, including "meritless accusations against other editors on multiple occasions."

It was User:FeloniousMonk, together with his cohorts in the ID Cabal, who had personally (and corruptly) banned me from Wikipedia.

9:04 PM  

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