A change of technology

Goodbye to a digital bird
Hello to a real bird

This week I deleted my Twitter account and introduced my new chickens to their just-finished chicken coop. These two events are seemingly unrelated. I didn’t intend for them to happen at the same time. In fact, before last week I didn’t even know I was going to delete my Twitter account. Nevertheless, they did happen almost simultaneously and I’ve had this idea in my mind the last few days that there’s something to this coincidence that might be relevant for the future. Twitter is a technology and so is a chicken coop. Could this change of technology be symbolic of the kind of future that is headed our way? Let’s speculate.

I’ll start with the technology I stopped using: Twitter. This year was the ten-year anniversary of my joining Twitter. I was prompted to sign up by colleagues at the job I was working in at the time. Twitter had been around for several years by that point. I had heard good things about it but hadn’t felt the need to join. But I was glad I did. I instantly came to like the platform. The challenge of trying to say something worthwhile in 140 characters appealed to me. But the main cool thing about Twitter was that it introduced you to random things you otherwise would never have been exposed to. It was possible to listen in on interesting conversations between experts in some field. It was quite common to get a hearty laugh out of Twitter and also to be exposed to something interesting or profound. Tweets featuring links to full length blog posts or new products were common. Famous people would drop interesting bits of information, often quite personal. In fact, most people seemed to treat Twitter with a disarming honesty that belied the completely public nature of the platform. You really got a sense of what people were thinking that seemed to be uncensored and unfiltered.

All came to an end spectacularly in the last few weeks with a mass censorship drive that included the President of the USA but the writing had been on the wall for some time. Trump had already broken Twitter. Around the time when he announced his run for the Presidency I had to unfollow a large of number of people whose tweets I had previously enjoyed because their entire Twitter feed had become an anti-Trump rant-fest. This only got worse when he became President. Of course, it was all part of the Trump show that he barged his way onto Twitter or the evening news or whatever and forced the people who despised him to bend to his will. As somebody with no real stake in US politics, I have to admit I found the Trump-on-Twitter show very entertaining. Watching the President of the US sack somebody, or threaten some other country with military action or trade tariffs or whatever live on social media was fun to watch. But it pretty much destroyed the platform. Trump did what he did best and sucked all the energy around himself. But that just meant all the energy came to be about politics and therefore became toxic energy.

Twitter was doing its best to destroy the platform too. The introduction of its new feed was just one example. Didn’t they know that the whole point of Twitter was to get news directly from individuals rather than through officially sanctioned channels? The cool thing about Twitter was to get unfiltered, non-propaganda type news. In fact, the real-time nature of Twitter meant that the news broke there well before those official channels. Often on Twitter you could get video or information directly from some dramatic event happening on the other side of the world at the time it was happening. An hour or two later, the official news channels would confirm what you had already seen with your own eyes. Twitter’s great power was to harness a global network of individuals and let them provide the content. But Twitter couldn’t help itself. It had to provide the ‘news’ and eventually it started shadow banning, censoring and then de-platforming the very people who provided the content. It’s not possible to govern a global social media network adequately via manual labor. I assume Twitter is doing a lot of the work with algorithms and machine learning. The result is opaque, subjective and unaccountable censorship. It’s a rather Kafkaesque way to run things. One day you wake up and your Twitter account is gone and nobody will tell you why or what you did wrong.

I’ll be surprised if Twitter still exists in ten years’ time. But, in any case, my Twitter journey has come to an end. What started as a technology that opened a lot of doors to new perspectives ended as a technology that explicitly closed down those perspectives.

So, it was goodbye to a global communication tool and hello to a backyard egg production tool. The chicken coop is the latest development in another journey I have been on that is now almost as long as my Twitter journey. I have documented it partly on this blog in the garden update sections and my posts on Living Design Process. I suppose you could call it my Green Wizard journey after the name of the book that inspired me to start it– John Michael Greer’s “The Green Wizard”. The Green Wizard ethic is about appropriate tech at the human scale so it’s appropriate that the chicken coop was a retrofit of the small shed on my property.

A blue Australorp about to step into the coop

From the photos above and below you can see some of the elements that went into the construction of the coop. The bench of the shed has become the upper story of the coop and that is where the chickens roost of a night time. The long plank of wood that forms that walkway to the upper story was repurposed from the shed itself. The step that leads to the outside run was also made from wood that was in the shed. The large plastic pots which are now hopefully going to become nesting boxes when the chickens get around to laying were things I had picked up at a junk store once upon a time. The gate at the entrance to the outdoor run was part of the birdcages that were on the property when I bought it. The chicken wire that can’t be seen in the photo but which is doing time as a fox deterrent on the back fence was also left from the previous owner. So, almost the entire chicken coop is re-purposed from stuff lying around. All that stuff is now part of a piece of technology that will provide me with eggs for the kitchen, chicken manure for the garden and the quirky company of some new feathered friends.

I remember reading once that in terms of energy to transport/energy in the food, eggs were one of the least efficient things you can buy at the supermarket. That is, the amount of energy to transport eggs was very high relative to the energy in the eggs themselves. So, having backyard chickens is a good thing in terms of saving resources. The eggs produced by happy chickens in the backyard are of superior quality to what you can buy at the supermarket and, let’s be honest, the lives of the chickens are just better. Even the free range chooks in the commercial facilities are not exactly living well. So, there’s everything to like about having chickens in the backyard.

A chicken coop is a localised, decentralised and low energy technology. The inputs are the chicken feed and the straw bedding. These require a drive to the pet shop about once every few months. There’s nothing particularly glamorous about maintaining a chicken coop. Pretty sure nobody’s putting photos on Instagram showing them cleaning chicken poop off the roosting bars. But I have a feeling chicken coops are going to be round long after the Instagrams and Twitters of the world have gone the way of the dodo.

If I was a betting man, I would bet that my chicken coop will still be there in ten years and Twitter won’t. If this blog is still going at the time, I’ll be sure to make a post and check my prediction.

Propaganda School Part 10: Lies, damned lies and statistics

I can’t not include statistics in this series and yet the subject is so large that I also don’t feel that I can do it justice within the space of a single post. Nevertheless, we have to talk about it because I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that in the last year we have seen the greatest explosion of statistical propaganda in history courtesy of the corona event. People’s lives in most western countries have been governed by those statistics to an incredible fashion as the increase or decrease in case numbers determined your likelihood of having a job next week or your ability to go out after a certain time of night or see a member of your family or visit a friend or any number of other things you would once have taken for granted but that could now only be granted to you if a particular number moved in the right direction.

One of the strangest things with the corona event was that everybody, including some notable public intellectuals who should have known better, simply took the statistics at face value. But the use of statistics as a propaganda tool has been in play for decades, perhaps centuries. How many people actually know, for example, how GDP or inflation or unemployment are calculated? These numbers are talked about all the time but I doubt more than 5% of society could give an adequate account of how they are measured. This is important because these measurements all have technical definitions and governments often change those technical definitions in order to make the numbers look better. For example, the number of hours needing to be worked in a week for somebody to be considered ‘employed’ has fallen over time. This change has the effect of reducing the unemployment rate, which is something that governments have a strong interest in. But this change in definition is not reflected in the number itself which just shows a simple percentage figure. If you compare the unemployment rate from now to the one from thirty years ago, it’s not really the same but we talk about it as if it is. Also hidden from the unemployment figure are the people who aren’t even looking for work. They are ‘unemployed’ in the everyday sense of the word but they are not included in the technical definition. Then there are the people who ‘underemployed’. They would like to work more but they can’t find that work. They are not happy with their employment status but the government considers them employed and therefore satisfied. It’s in all these hidden nuances where the propaganda value of statistics lies.

There’s a whole book to be written on the misuse of statistics in relation to the corona event but let’s just look at one issue: the definition of a case. In my book on the corona event, I noted the change in the definition of a case from the first SARS event to the corona event which is a move from a case being about symptoms that are diagnosed by a doctor to being about test results that are generated by a lab technician.

The word case has a general meaning that a layperson would understand. If I say “there were ten thousands cases of heart attack last year” that means ten thousand people had a heart attack. If I say “there were ten thousand cases of malaria” that means ten thousand people were sick with malaria. But, with the corona event, if I say “there were ten thousand cases of covid” that does not mean that ten thousand people were sick. It means ten thousand people returned a positive result to a PCR test. In this way, the case number is misleading. The public understanding of it does not reflect the way in which the number is generated. Given that the asymptomatic rate for tests is apparently around 50%, it’s misleading by a lot.

Consider also the change in the process required for somebody to become a case. With SARS, you became a case by going to hospital with what was presumably an acute illness. A doctor would then diagnose your symptoms and a public health bureaucrat would contact trace your movements to find a link with a prior case. With corona, you can have any severity of symptoms or even no symptoms. You can attend one of your friendly local testing centres where a person will put a stick up your nose and send it to a laboratory where a technician will run it through the process to determine a positive or negative result. That’s how you become a case. The procedure is completely different as is the definition. But we talk about cases of SARS, cases of influenza and cases of covid as if they were the comparable. That’s the danger of statistics.

As with all propaganda, the antidote is to know how things work in the real world. When it comes to statistics, that means you need to know the technical definition of the statistic (not the assumed folk meaning), the person or organisation who defines that meaning, the person or organisation who is responsible for collecting the data, the method of data collection and any mathematical transformations that are applied. That’s before you even get into the methods of data presentation (eg. graphs) or any actual methods of statistical analysis. Of course, that’s a lot of work and most people are never going to spend the time to do that work. Hence, the power of statistics as a propaganda tool.

Here is a paradigm example of statistical propaganda that came to my attention just yesterday.

Note the wording of the headline “The US economy lost 140,000 jobs in December. All of them were held by women.” This is an astonishing claim. Its meaning is clear: every single job that was lost in December was a job held by a woman. That would be an extraordinary fact and, if the tweets that were flying around about the article were any indication, that is how most of the people who read the article understood it.

Of course, it’s simply untrue.  As the article slyly mentions about halfway down “These are net numbers, which can mask some of the underlying churn in the labor market.” The 140,000 figure is an aggregate. What happened in reality was some jobs were lost and some more were added. Individual men and women lost jobs and individual men and women gained jobs but, when you take the aggregate, there were 140,000 fewer jobs overall and 156,000 fewer women were employed. The propaganda effect of the headline is to pretend that the 140,000 figure represents individual jobs losses and not aggregate ones. This is a small but very important difference between an aggregate figure and the individual cases that make it up. The aggregate figure is still notable and the article goes on to explain the quite logical reasons for it which is that the pandemic lockdowns have disproportionately hit industries dominated by women. (In relation to school closures, it’s also notable that some of the school closures were driven by education unions which refused to re-open the schools so presumably these job losses were mostly supported by the employees themselves).

It’s always wise to try and imagine what aggregate numbers mean at the level of the individual as that is the everyday effect of whatever is being measured and that is what most of us really care about. To return to the corona cases, if you have 10,000 cases, that sounds bad. But if 50% of those cases never had any symptoms then it’s less bad. If only 5% of the cases developed into serious illness and only 2% ended up in hospital that means 500 people were really sick and 200 of those had to go to hospital. Suddenly the whole thing takes on a very different perspective. You can then factor in the age and medical status of the people to get a more fine grained understanding of what is going on at the ground level.

The use of statistics ties in very closely with the use of expertise and science in propaganda. Statistics are almost always compiled by experts but one of the main things you are taught in science is to be incredibly precise in your language. This is why maths is the language of science because it allows for precision. An ‘error’ such as the one made by CNN in its headline would earn you a failing grade on a year 8 maths exam, but in propaganda it’s all par for the course. Just a way to nudge you in the direction of the preferred interpretation. In this way, most reporting on science in the media is biased from the outset and actually serves to tarnish the reputation of science and the experts. Rather than deal with that problem at its source, the media has simply decided to label anybody who questions the statistics or expert testimony as a conspiracy theorist.

As educated consumers of propaganda, we should always take every statistic, graph and chart shown in the media with the highest scepticism. If you haven’t got the time to find out exactly what the numbers mean, it’s best to assume they are simply being used to push a particular angle on the story.

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Propaganda School Part 9: Buzzwords

A buzzword is a fashionable term that comes into use seemingly out of nowhere and often disappears just as quickly. Buzzwords are very popular in the corporate world where they function as a kind of marketing tool for middle managers whose jobs by their very nature are ambiguous and ill-defined. Buzzwords serve to give the appearance of dynamicity or action. They are a kind of propaganda in that it’s the willingness of the reader and the community to accept their use which defines their power rather than any actual meaning they convey. This is not to say that buzzwords are meaningless and, in fact, often perfectly good words get used as buzzwords. But, when they do, their meaningfulness always diminishes.

Let me give one of my favourite examples of this process from the wonderful world of corporate IT where I make my living. At a company where I once worked they decided to give everybody a copy of a book the name of which I can’t remember. Management wanted everybody in the company to be on the same page about our new product development direction and this particular book apparently captured everything perfectly (was our new product direction stolen straight from a fashionable book? You bet it was.).

I tried to read my copy of the book but gave up about a quarter of the way through. Nevertheless, I did come across a phrase that was about to become a familiar part of my work life. It was called minimum viable product. The author of the book gave a quite specific technical definition of this term which was something like “the minimum number of features from which you can learn something.” The idea was for companies to get their products in front of customers as early as possible so they could get feedback. It’s a good idea. I would say it’s common sense but in the corporate world common sense is a rare commodity. In any case, that’s what the phrase and the book was explicitly about – learning from your customers.

Other people in this company read the book too and the phrase minimum viable product became an instant buzzword (or, should that be buzzphrase?) Everybody started using it. But, and this is the key point, they were not using it in the way in which the author of the book meant it to be used. They gave it the meaning “minimum number of features deemed politically expedient by management”. Of course, this was exactly the process that had always been used in the company where managers decided on the number of features based on their own considerations which were always kept top secret. The whole point of the book was the break out of that mindset and the phrase minimum viable product was the way to encapsulate the new mentality. Rather than adopt that mentality and use the phrase in the way it was intended, the old mentality was kept while the buzzword was used to give the appearance of a new way of working when in fact nothing had changed at all. Meet the new buzzword. Same as the old buzzword.

This little accidental social experiment revealed what I think is a very important point about propaganda that is often overlooked: propaganda doesn’t necessarily need to be conscious. When we think of propaganda, we think of evil people in dark rooms cooking up mischief. But propaganda can and does arise spontaneously in groups of people. It is actually a byproduct of shared interests. None of the managers in this company I used to work for had a secret meeting to agree to start misusing the phrase minimum viable product. It just happened organically. Their interest in this case was to keep the same control over the product delivery that they had always enjoyed while giving the appearance to their superiors that they were in fact following a new and dynamic process. This is, in fact, one of the main functions of propaganda: to give the impression that one thing is happening while a completely different thing is actually happening.

In the corporate world, buzzwords are also in the interests of another group of people: the incompetent/borderline incompetent. There are a lot of people in the work world who barely know how to do their jobs. But they do know how to remember the right buzzwords and this gives them the appearance of knowing what they are talking about. Most of us who work in such environments have had the revelation of finding out that somebody was completely incompetent. The surprise comes because they gave the appearance of competence because they knew the right language to use. Just like a sharply tailored outfit can make even an out of shape person look good, buzzwords and jargon can function to give a veneer of competence to the professionally challenged.

That’s how buzzwords function in the corporate world and it’s not much different in the public discourse. Whenever you have buzzwords you have some group who benefits from them and who get to determine their meaning. This year we have seen an explosion of buzzwords related to the corona event. The interest groups in this case are primarily the government and public health bureaucracy but also scientists and corporations related to public health. They have been the ones pushing the buzzwords. In fact, the very name of the supposed ‘new’ disease, covid-19, was created by the WHO. Others buzzwords we have learned include lockdown, social distancing, super spreaders, flatten the curve, levels one through four or tiers one through five depending on where you live etc etc. Here in Victoria we had a new one recently where the Premier designated the City of Sydney a Red Zone (or was it a code red, I forget). The point was, Sydney was now bad. Who came up with the phrase Red Zone? Is this a technical phrase used in public health or did somebody just make it up? Are there other categories like Yellow Zone or Green Zone? Who knows? And who cares? The point of buzzwords is not to be informative. Go back a year and ask anybody and they would have no idea what any of these words meant. They sprung into existence this year and suddenly everybody started talking about them as if they had always been there. The ability to create and define the meaning of buzzwords is actually a real form of political power and hence is an important facet of propaganda.

When buzzwords are brought into the general discourse from science, they can often obfuscate real issues. In recent weeks, we’ve seen a rather ridiculous form of this as virologists in the UK apparently discovered a new kind of sars-cov-2. The media struggled to know what to call it. Mostly they used the word strain but they also called it a variant and a mutation. As it happens, strain and variant have quite specific scientific meanings and using them interchangeably is not acceptable. Sars-cov-2 is itself a strain. So, saying there was a ‘new’ strain was a pretty bad error as it meant that there was really a ‘new’ virus. But in the public discourse, close enough is good enough. A strain or a variant or a mutation are all of the same efficacy when it comes to usefulness as a buzzword. In this way, important scientific distinctions are done violence when the words that define those meanings get thrown around willy-nilly in the public discourse. But, of course, our corona response is based on science, you know?

Buzzwords are usually very easy to identify because nobody in normal life uses them. In day-to-day affairs between people, buzzwords have no place. It’s only in political and quasi-political situations where buzzwords are used. So, if a word gets used that is not part of everyday language but is only ever used by corporate or government types, it’s probably a buzzword. A buzzword is by definition is a kind of power play. Like all propaganda, it aims to impose a meaning onto the world rather than uncover or share a meaning about the world. Scientific language is about precision. To fail to distinguish between strain and variant there would be a grave sin. But in propaganda it doesn’t matter. And the author of the book on product development I read in my old job is probably still tearing his hair out as corporate managers continue to use the phrase minimum viable product to mean what they want it to mean and not what he said it means.

Reader Exercise

It’s very tough at the moment to find any buzzwords (or any news at all for that matter) not corona-related but here is a nice satirical piece in the RT which makes fun of some of the corporate marketing blunders for the year. Some of the associated buzzwords are included. Have a read through and see if you can identify them.

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Propaganda School Part 8: Appeal to Authority

Appeal to authority is when you cite the opinion of some supposedly authoritative person or institution in order to justify an argument you are trying to make. Appeal to authority is mostly considered a fallacious form of argument but it touches on some deep aspects of human nature. It’s natural for us to gravitate to the opinions of well-known people on a subject if for no other reason than that they have probably built their career or reputation in that field and so should know more about it than we do. On the other hand, especially in science, it’s the argument or research itself that should be the thing we pay attention to and not the person who made it. That’s good in theory but even science is full of examples where people lent excessive weight to an idea because the scientist who came up with it was an authority figure in their field.

As a social species, we humans seem to be hardwired to believe statements made by people in positions of authority. This can go to ridiculous extremes as I have seen in my professional life. I remember one particular project I was involved with where the manager on the project, who was a high ranking manager in a very large company, was a complete moron. I mean that quite literally. This particular person would often speak total nonsense. It was quite common for the team to be having a meeting where everybody was reaching a shared understanding of a problem only to have this person walk in and start talking.  You could instantly feel your brain turning to mush and the shared understanding would evaporate into thin air. What was even stranger, though, was that the pronouncements of this person came to be a guide to our work. This wasn’t just for political reasons in that the person was the highest ranking in the group. People actually seemed to believe what the manager said. That’s the power of authority.

How one becomes recognised as an authority figure is not a straightforward matter. One of the foundational myths of our culture is that we live in a meritocracy and that the people who are in positions of authority got there on merit. It’s a nice story but it’s certainly not true on the whole. As my story of the moronic manager shows, people who are very dumb can rise very high especially in the corporate world. A guy I know who is a well-known figure in his field used to joke that the way he became recognised as an expert was to simply start calling himself an expert. He also published a book. It was a self-published book. But in the early days of self-publishing nobody knew the difference between self publishing and traditional publishing. Thus, calling yourself a ‘published author’ at that time was considered by most people to be a guarantee of expertise and so people would instantly believe that he was indeed an authority. How else could he have got a book published?

Being quoted or published in the media is another way to become an authority figure. There is a symbiotic relationship between the media and the ‘experts’. The media uses experts to justify a position on an issue and people who want to be known as experts will try to get themselves published in the media. Having seen just a glimpse of the inside of academia through my honours degree, I can say that there is a lot of jealousy among the faculty about the academics who get featured in the media. This is especially so because the expert game is almost zero sum. Once a newspaper has featured an expert once they tend to want to use them again as it’s simply easier to go with the same person as last time. Thus, it tends to be certain academics who will become the recognised authority on a subject in the public eye while other equally, and perhaps more, competent colleagues are overlooked. From the point of view of the journalist and the broader public, science is science. If we want to know something about linguistics, we should be able to ask any linguist and get the answer. Same for physics. Same for microbiology. Same for epidemiology and so on. But inside academia scientists and scholars usually know who is competent and who isn’t and they know it’s not necessarily the most competent who seek the public spotlight. We’ll see a classic example of that shortly.

There are also other individuals and groups who claim to speak on certain subjects not because of scientific expertise but simply because they represent a point of view. I once knew a guy whose brother had somehow became the media’s go-to man on the subject of men’s rights. The guy I knew was one of the nicest and most generous people I have ever met. I only met his brother once but they were like chalk and cheese. The brother was a deeply weird guy. He had apparently had a bad breakup with his wife and had turned the episode into a personal quest for justice on behalf of all men. This led him to start a men’s advocacy group. The group had only a handful of members and certainly would never have qualified for the attention of the mainstream press. However, the man got himself into the papers by getting charged with stalking his ex-wife. From memory, he was acquitted of the crime but his behaviour and outspoken attitude had caught the attention of the media who then started to use him as an ‘expert’ whenever subjects such as child custody or similar divorce issues came up.

This man was an example of what you might call the anti-expert. These figure prominently in propaganda as they ostensibly represent the other side in an argument but they do so in a way that the media knows will be unpalatable to the majority of the population. As far as I could tell, this guy had some valid points about men’s rights in relation to child custody after a divorce. But the way he spoke and his general demeanour and appearance marked him out as a bit of a whack job. That’s a feature, not a bug, when it comes to propaganda. If the media wants to favour one side of the argument, they will choose a seemingly reasonable and logical person to represent the side they favour while having a nutter represent the other side. They thereby give the appearance of balance while also swaying the reader’s opinion. This kind of thing happens all the time and is a variation on the guilt by association theme from post 1 in this series.

The use of experts and appeals to authority form a very common part of the media landscape. As educated readers of propaganda, we should always be questioning the experts or authority figures presented in the media. Who are they? Why were they chosen? Which other experts or authority figures were not chosen?

For this week’s first example, I can’t help but turn yet again to the RT for a semi-comic example of the appeal to authority. Check out this short article about corona in Russia. Why it’s semi comic is because the expert in this case, Maxim Starodubtsev, makes a statement that is a complete non sequitur. I’ve tried to parse it several times but whichever I do it I simply don’t know what he’s talking about. It’s possible this was simply a bad translation from the Russian but the other statements attributed to Starodubtsev in article also don’t make sense. As a result, the whole article doesn’t make sense. It’s an article that doesn’t really say anything. But it does feature an authority figure to say it.

In the age of the internet, it’s incredibly easy to look up the experts and authority figures who are cited in the media so that you can get a feel for their worldview and how it is being used by a particular media outlet. Maxim Starodubtsev doesn’t return a great deal from a search, presumably because he’s a Russian and doesn’t get translated into English much. Possibly that’s because what he says doesn’t make any sense. This next example does make sense at least in purely linguistic terms. It’s one that I came across while doing the research for my book/blog series on corona and I think it really highlights the power of checking up on the experts who are quoted in a media article.

Corona has been a bonanza of expertise with authority figures being called on daily to fill the pages of newspapers or the minutes of a television news broadcast. This article from the NPR is a case in point. It features a large number of experts and authority figures giving their two cents on the issue of whether sars-cov-2 came from bats. But the expert that caught my attention was one near the bottom of the article – Peter Daszak. Daszak is a zoologist but also a member of a non-profit organisation called Ecohealth Alliance which is a kind of advocacy group for wildlife preservation. I had been researching about the purported bat origins of sar-cov-2 as it was a key point in the public that justified why the virus was ‘new’. As a result, I had seen the name Ecohealth Alliance already and, after some searching to recall where I had seen it, I retrieved another scholarly article that was also about bats and coronaviruses. At the bottom of the article is the text “In the version of this article initially published online, the authors omitted to acknowledge a funding source, USAID-EPT-PREDICT funding from EcoHealth Alliance, to Z.-L.S. T”. Putting two and two together, I realised that EcoHealth was funding published scientific research. That struck me as odd given that they are a non-profit with clearly political/social motivations. In the NPR article, Daszak was being presented as a scientific expert and yet his organisational affiliation was a political one. A quick perusal of the Ecohealth website confirms this.

In my corona book, I noted that this was an example of a trend that’s become all too common in modern science where the funding is provided by groups who have a political interest in producing certain findings. Hardly a recipe for rigorous and unbiased research. That’s a reason to be extra careful about scientific experts and even cited research that are presented to us in the media. So, this was a really good example of where doing a quick bit of research on an expert paid dividends.

Imagine my surprise then when Daszak popped up on my radar just recently for almost exactly the same reasons that I had stated in my book. A couple of months ago, Daszak was chosen to lead a task force investigating whether the sars-cov-2 virus emerged from a virology lab in Wuhan. Recall from the articles above that Daszak had been a strong exponent for the bat origin theory (even though there is actually no evidence for that theory at all). Well, it turns out his scientific peers also think he has a massive conflict of interest in heading the task force and the article is about their objections. The article is also fascinating as it features scientists talking openly about the politicisation of their field especially in the wake of corona. The reason why it’s so perfect for the subject of this post is because, just the like the media must choose an expert to represent a story, so the task force must choose a leader for a task force. But that doesn’t mean the rest of the scientific community agrees with that. In this case, there was open and very public dissent. The Daszak story is the perfect example of why we as readers of propaganda should always assume that whenever a scientific position is proferred in article you can be sure there are many scientists who would disagree with it. If they are not in the article then there is a good chance they have been left out on purpose.

Even scientists can get called ‘conspiracy theorists’ for proposing theories that go against the dominant narrative. Sad to say, this corruption of the science has been going on for quite some time. It was never a good idea to blindly ‘trust the experts’ but it’s a completely naïve position given what goes on in science these days.

Reader Exercise

For this week’s exercise, which I admit will take some time, read the NPR article cited above and pay particular attention to the position of Peter Daszak as presented. Then read the article which contains a number of opinions from scientists in the field on why Daszak is not suitable to lead an investigation into the origins of sars-cov-2. How does the new information you now have about Daszak change your understanding of his expertise and therefore the veracity of the NPR article?

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New Novel: Narquinxa and Xandalus

I’m very pleased to announced that my new novel, Narquinxa and Xandalus, is now available.

It’s a sci-fi, adventure, romantic comedy. It’s my first novel featuring a female protagonist (technically, she’s an alien) and also my first novel that isn’t adults only (if it was a movie, it would be rated M). Think Douglas Adams writing a romantic comedy and you’re in the ballpark.

Available in ebook and paperback through Amazon. Otherwise, check your favourite online book retailer for availability.