Disinformation about Disinformation: L. Gordon Crovitz's Information Age

When one spouts disinformation about disinformation, does it make it information? No, it’s L. Gordon Crovitz’s “Information Age,” the weekly poorly informed and poorly reasoned blather about information policy in the Wall Street Journal.

Recall that Crovitz recently wrote about the invention of the Internet and online privacy. I wrote about these last two columns, and this week in the Journal Crovitz tries to backpedal, with the standard trope that his “Who Really Invented the Internet?” article was controversial—”It [became] for a time the most read, emailed and commented upon article on the Journal’s website, with more than 1,000 comments.” It was popular in the same way that reality stars enjoy popularity.

Crovitz tries to explain that he was reacting to President Obama’s recent speech about government and business. Crovitz responds that:

• Government alone didn’t create the Internet.

• Government didn’t help build the Internet in order to create commercial opportunities.

• Companies that succeed on the Internet do not succeed because of government.

Of course, this is not what Crovitz said last week. He said:

If the government didn’t invent the Internet, who did? Vinton Cerf developed the TCP/IP protocol, the Internet’s backbone, and Tim Berners-Lee gets credit for hyperlinks.

But full credit goes to the company where Mr. Taylor worked after leaving ARPA: Xerox.

Full credit. Not shared credit.

To Crovitz’s second point, government builds a lot of things that have secondary uses in the commercial market. The many inventions of NASA, for instance, were first developed to execute space travel, and these technologies find their way into the commercial sector.

To Crovitz’s third point, companies do succeed on the Internet because of government. There is plenty of interaction and cooperation between high tech companies and government, and that is why high tech companies are not libertarian. If high tech companies were severed from the government gravy train, innovation would suffer. We’d have fewer drones and other wonderful technologies.

More fundamentally, so many internet entrepreneurs came from America’s college and university system, where big government funding helps develop leaders like Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Steve Wozniak and others.

This tech libertarian “I am an island” meme is fully debunked by Paulina Borsook’s Cyberselfish. In that book, Borsook lampoons arguments of Crovitz’s sort: “The most virulent form of philosophical technolibertarianism is a kind of scary, psychologically brittle, prepolitical autism. It bespeaks a lack of human connection and a discomfort with the core of what many of us consider it means to be human. It’s an inability to reconcile the demands of being individual with the demands of participating in society, which coincides beautifully with a preference for, and glorification of, being the solo commander of one’s computer in lieu of any other economically viable behavior…”

But back to Crovitz:

Supporters of big government don’t want to hear about the private-sector contributions to the Internet…

What is Crovitz’s basis for this crazy talk? This is an unhinged straw man argument. Any sensible person recognizes that private-sector contributions are critical to all sorts of ventures.

…but today the Internet is defined by individuals using it for their own purposes—communicating, accessing social media—and critiquing opinion columns. Many innovations are via free, open-source software. Perhaps we can all at least agree that the Internet boom began in the mid-1990s when the government shut down its remaining role, leaving the Internet to the power of the people.

The government never shut down its role in the internet. Has this guy ever heard of the Department of Commerce and ICANN? Or the NSF?

How did this guy get this column and is there no one at the Journal that recognizes it for what it is, or is this a case of crank magnetism?

Galileo, Semmelweis, and YOU!

To wear the mantle of Galileo, it is not enough to be persecuted: you must also be right.
–Robert Park

I used to spend a lot of time on the websites of Joe Mercola and Gary Null, the most influential medical cranks of the internets (to call them “quacks” would imply that they are real doctors, but bad ones—I will no longer dignify them with the title of “quack”). I’ve kept away from them for a while in the interest of preserving my sanity. Unfortunately, Orac reminded me this week of the level searingly stupid and dangerous idiocy presented by these woo-meisters.
Continue reading “Galileo, Semmelweis, and YOU!”

Denialist award—Andrew Schlafly, Esq.

I am giving out a previously non-existent award today to a truly great denialist. Andrew Schlafly, spawn of anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly and some long-forgotten sperm-donor (ironic, eh?), was not content just being the legal counsel to the uber-crank Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. No, he had to take it one step further, and clog our precious intertubes with Conservaepedia, a repository of all things stupid. In fact, there is so much stupid there, an entire wiki is devoted to documenting it. I was newly enraged when a commenter over at the “blogging on peer-reviewed research” site tried to use this pile of electronic dreck as a legitimate reference.

For those of you who might have forgotten, Conservaepedia hit teh ‘tubes a little over a year ago, with a mission to counter the horrid liberal bias at Wikipedia. Well, no one is going to accuse Conservapaedia of liberal bias. In fact, the entire site is essentially a demented play book for reactionary Christian cults and denialists.

I don’t want to take you too far through the looking glass, but here are some fun examples of reactionary lunacy for you.

Continue reading “Denialist award—Andrew Schlafly, Esq.”

Now this is the genetic fallacy

Hey Luskin. This is what a genetic fallacy actually looks like.

The Darwinists devoutly desire to avoid the true history of their creed, and usually the media assist in the cover up–unknowingly, I would like to think. The “Inherit the Wind” trope that is monotonously employed by journalists–not to mention Judge Jones of Dover, PA fame–derives from the play and movie of that name. But this cliché, which is the source of what many journalists think about the subject, was fiction and not even aimed at the evolution issue so much as the danger of McCarthyism in the 1950s. The real Scopes trial in 1925 was rather different. And so was the biology textbook that was at the heart of the Scopes trial.

Hunter’s A Civic Biology was racist. It advocated therapeutic eugenics–and it was widely used in schools around America, not just in Tennessee. John West’s forthcoming book, Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, includes an extensive examination of the subject as it relates to the popularity of eugenics in general.

Congratulations therefore go to Garin Hovanissian, who brings up the topic of the Hunter biology textbook in The Weekly Standard. We are coming up on the 100th anniversary of Darwin’s birth in 2009, so you can be sure that Inherit the Wind will be shown in thousands of high school and college classrooms, where it will be lovingly presented as an approximation of the truth. It might be useful before then to dig up all the speeches of William Hunter, the racist and eugenicist, and of his champion, the great H. L. Mencken. The fullness of the truth will be found there. How hard will the Darwinists fight to keep the students from learning about that?

Just thought he might like to know what one looked like. “Darwinism was once used in a racist textbook and racist people liked it – therefore there is something wrong with the science and you should believe ID”. He’s got some poisoning the well there too, going after H. L. Mencken and Hunter for being bigots. It has nothing to do with the validity of the science of course. And Mencken wasn’t just a racist and eugenicist, he was also sexist, anti-semitic, anti-woman, anti-child, anti-foreigner etc. Mencken pretty much hated on everybody. It’s not exactly a secret you know. It’s also totally irrelevant to the validity of the science.

Profile of a Crank – Julia Stephenson

Ben Goldacre at Bad Science is leading the way on opposing this new absurdity of “electric smog”, and one of it’s leading proponents in Britain, Julia Stephenson.

It’s really too easy. Remember the crank HOWTO? Well, she’s just about a perfect example.

It all started when she got wifi in her apartment…
Continue reading “Profile of a Crank – Julia Stephenson”

Beware the bashers of peer review

I’d like to hear from some other sciencebloggers and science readers what they think reform of peer-review should look like. I’m not of the opinion that it has any critical flaws, but most people would like to see more accountability for sand-bagging and other bad reviewer habits. Something like a grading system that allows submitters to rate the performance of their reviewers, then editors of magazines would tend to only consult with reviewers that authors felt were doing a fair job of evaluating their paper.

The drawback of course would be that reviewers might start going easier on papers just because they don’t want bad grades.

One thing I do know for sure though, we shouldn’t take advice about peer review from HIV/AIDS denialists…
Continue reading “Beware the bashers of peer review”

Logical Fallacies

Almost everybody knows about the fallacies of logic, formal and informal, that are routinely used in arguments with denialists. While these fallacies aren’t perfect examples of logic that show when an argument is always wrong, they are good rules of thumb to tell when you’re listening to bunk, and if you listen to denialists you’ll hear plenty. I wish they’d teach these to high school students as a required part of their curriculum, but it probably would decrease the efficacy of advertisement on future consumers.

The problem comes when the denialists get a hold of the fallacies then accuse you, usually, of ad hominem! It goes like this.
Continue reading “Logical Fallacies”