The Truth

I’m honestly not sure anymore. Is there such a thing as The Truth? If so, is it important?

This was a post a friend of mine put up on Facebook that really got me thinking:

A new poll reveals Americans have a wildly overstated view of COVID-19’s impact with respect to total infections and total deaths as percentage of the population.

Poll Question: How many people in your country have had COVID-19
Americans Answered: 20% (66M)Reality: 1% (3.3M)

Poll Question: How many people in your country have died from COVID-19
Americans Answered: 9% (29.5M)Reality: 0.04% (131K)Americans overstated the death number by 225 times.

So, here’s my question: is this a bug or a feature? Is mis-informing people, maybe to the point of fear, a good thing if it produces the result you want (more caution, more mask-wearing, etc)? Do the ends justify the means?

The second question: if it is fair game… is it fair game for everyone? Is it fair game for the people you disagree with to exaggerate, say, the damage of protestors? Maybe to characterize them as rioters so that you fear them?

Let’s zoom out even further, with respect to the election:

Is this ok? I’m personally comfortable saying these were misleading, after reading them.

But if so, is this ok? I think this is misleading too. Am I wrong? This was not blocked as misleading.

I think a lot of truth is black and white, but not all of it. Even the parts that are black-and-white are subject to uncertainty, mistakes, and new learnings as time progresses. Moreover, if you trust gatekeepers to be truth-evaluators, you’re probably asking the impossible. At best you’re asking them to be editors for a narrative that reflects their worldview. They can’t do any better.

Here are a few big questions:

  1. Should truth be policed? If so, who do you trust to police it?
  2. Is it ever the case that things that are untrue/misleading are still net-positive to spread?

I’d argue (1) no, I don’t trust anyone, I want transparency on the source and would not trust every downstream gatekeeper. And (2) that it’s possibly true, but I still want people to be free to speak ‘truth’ against those arguments.

What do you think?

News and Stories

I get a lot of my news from social media. I call it “news” but I’m not sure that’s the right word for it. I get stories. Lots of them.

The thing about feeds of news, like 24-hour TV news, is that they have no beginning or end. I didn’t really notice it before this year, but now I think it’s important.

With published news formats that are constrained to a start and an end, the publisher gives you a huge amount of information just by determining what goes at the beginning. Front Page news on a newspaper, or the Top Story in a nightly news broadcast were very clear signals that you’re getting what the publisher thinks is the most important information. They have a sense for its importance, in part, by reviewing all of the things that happened over some unit of time (last 24 hours, last week).

In a sea of stories on the other hand, it’s extremely difficult to figure out what the “news” is. There’s no step-back and review over a given period of time. It’s on you as the reader to figure out what’s important. As more details unfold and a story is updated, it’s on you discern when to skip a story you’ve already read, or to re-read about a topic that has been revised. In the rush to push stories into feeds, reporters are incentivized to create more stories on less information, and keep publishing new stories as more facts are discovered. Logically, this isn’t a new “topic” but it’s indiscernible unless the reader puts in a ton of work.

Search results, as a reflection of the Internet itself, aren’t much better. If you want to know what the absolute latest understanding is on an event, and you search for it, you’ll just get back a collection of stories again. A few months ago I was trying to understand the details of the Russian election interference controversy. Now, at least, I can link to a Wikipedia page. Enough time has passed that a community of people has been able to piece together something resembling a summary of current information. But, at the time I was lost… all I could find were collections of stories each telling part of the story, and each assuming I already had different bits of context.

I don’t think an unending river of stories is ever going to be a workable way for humans to make sense of the news. I don’t know what the solution looks like, and I don’t think it de-facto requires human curation, but at this moment I think 24-hour news and social media feeds are making it harder to consume information. At present, episodic programs such as weekly TV/podcasts/publications, are the best option I see that’s available.

NFL Playoffs 2010: Week 2

Wow, what a crappy round of predictions last week. I blew 3 out of 4.

This week I’m picking all upsets except the Patriots over the Jets. So: Ravens, Packers, Seahawks. If the Seahawks upset Bears, it would tee them up for a massacre in the NFC Championship. But, I still hope they can pull it off.

"Fancy" Mixed Nuts

I was wondering what the “Fancy” in “Fancy Mixed Nuts” referred to, and found the Wikipedia article on the subject. The article is fascinating (and short). The detail of nut regulations at the federal level is impressive, although as it turns out “fancy” doesn’t have a legal definition, nor is it regulated.

The quote at the end is so funny I’m skeptical that it’s true:

In a 1915 federal case against “fancy mixed nuts” that were argued by competitors to be an inferior grade, U. S. v. 25 Bags of Nuts, N. J. No. 4329 (1915), the court declined to accept a trade standard:

“It seems to me that until the Department establishes a set standard of quality… it would be altogether unsafe… to make them amenable to such a vague and indefinite standard as I understand the Government seeks to establish by the testimony of men engaged in the business of handling nuts.”

NFL Playoffs 2009: Week 1

Let’s see if I can do better than two years ago, where I blew a game in every round.

  • Indianapolis over San Diego. Sorry, maybe I’m a little bitter that the 8-8 Chargers are in the playoffs while the 11-5 Patriots aren’t. In any case, I think Indi is the better team.
  • Baltimore beats Miami. I really don’t think this one will be close.
  • Atlanta beats Arizona. This is a tough one… I’m largely basing this on the fact that Arizona is not consistent, even though I think they’re probably the better team.
  • Minnesota over Philadelphia. This one is tough to call. The Eagles are another team that can be really good when they show up, but really bad also. I’d give the edge to the home team, even though Philly is favored.

Too cool to bash the French

So although everyone agrees Iraq is in violation of resolution 1414, the French said they’d veto any resolution that supports the use of force against Iraq. With this move, it became cool for US citizens to really bash the French.

Now that’s not cool, but it’s become cool to be the guy who observes how uncool it is to bash the French – how childish that is. It’s cool to call those who bash the French a bunch of childish neanderthals.

Well I’m starting a new trend, it’s called bashing the people who bash the people who bash the French. Aside from the phony air of “I’m to good for this” they give off, really most of them are guilty of the same childish activity except they direct it at other things. The same people who say it’s immature to make fun of French people seem to think it’s perfectly okay to use equally childish insults against President Bush. Oh, it’s just fine to make fun of President Bush, but this other country… the sophisticated land of France… lay off them! That’s just too much. The US was so immature when they said “if you’re not with us, you’re against us”, but the French remain a sophisticated culture when they threaten to veto any resolution authorizing the use of force against a country that is clearly in posession of dangerous illegal weapons.

Well it’s time to get your noses out of the air, you hypocritical closet self-loathers. It’s now cool for us to make fun of you guys.

I encourage everyone to join this new movement.