Bigfoot in Russia?
Use your words

Rumours, misinformation and the debunking problem

Over the last several months, Craig Silverman, author of Poynter’s Regret the Error blog, has been tracking the way rumors and unverified claims spiral through the news. He founded the website Emergent not only to trace the rumors, but to track how the press deals with debunking them. Well, patterns are already emerging…and they will make you sad.

Some notes from an On The Media segment that I found fascinating…

‘Headline-body dissonance’ is when the reporting of the news in the body of an article doesn’t pair up with the headline summary, typically by making a seeming factual statement in the headline and then walking that back in the article using language like ‘allegedly’ and ‘reportedly’.

An ‘innuendo headline’ is one that makes claim or an accusation, but with a question mark on the end of it. Eg: ‘Bigfoot sighted in Russia?’ (See also: Betteridge’s law of headlines: “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.”)

These innuendo headlines are problematic as first readers have to understand the claim seemingly being made, so they naturally process it as true. Even after reaching the question mark in most cases readers lean towards the headline being true.

For news organisations the simple act of addressing rumours can give them an air of credibility, even when the intention is to correct the record.

“Theres a connection between repetition and belief.”

The very process of debunking a rumour can have the effect of cementing the misinformation in the minds of those that prefer the false narrative.

Silverman: “This is called the ‘backfire effect’. When deeply held views are challenged our instinct is not to say ‘oh, let me understand your point of view on this’ it’s to double down on those beliefs and to reject what’s being told to us, and this is one of the reasons why debunking is so difficult.”

“Another reason is that when you’re the debunker you’re almost like a spoilsport. You’re kind of ruining the joke, especially when it comes to an entertaining story.”

On The Media: Uncorrected Rumors

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Earthrise restored

Direct comparison of the original photo to the restored version

Between 1966 and 1967 NASA sent five Lunar Orbiter spacecraft to the Moon. Images from these spacecraft were used by mission planners to select the Apollo landing sites.

The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) is a project funded by NASA, SkyCorp, SpaceRef Interactive, and private individuals to digitize the original analog data tapes from the five Lunar Orbiter spacecraft that were sent to the Moon in 1966 and 1967

The first image to be successfully recovered by the project was released in November 2008. It was the first photograph of the Earth from the Moon, taken in August 1966.

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Light-based media

The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project

The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) is a project to digitise the original analog data tapes from the five Lunar Orbiter spacecraft that were sent to the Moon in 1966 and 1967.

Gallery

Old-style British Rail logo at Sevenoaks station

The arrows of indecision. The barbed wire. The crow’s feet. In the 50 years since he drew up one of the UK’s most recognisable symbols, designer Gerry Barney has probably heard them all. But he doesn’t mind.

The story of the British Rail symbol began in 1960 when a 21-year-old Barney successfully applied for a job as a lettering artist at the prestigious Design Research Unit (DRU) in London, and quickly established a close working relationship with the studio’s co-founder, Milner Gray. Despite being forty years older than his new employee, Gray seemed to have found a kindred spirit in Barney – he became the first person in the studio permitted to work on the head designer’s drawings, and the first to address him directly by his first name.

“I was a lettering artist, I wasn’t a designer.”

“The designers at DRU were given the brief and, to my knowledge, it didn’t satisfy Milner. So he threw it open to the rest of the studio, six or seven people. I just happened to think of this symbol.”

British Rail identity

Appropriately enough, Barney first sketched the idea ‘on the back of an envelope’ while taking the Tube to work. “When I got to the office I drew it up,” he says. “It was exactly how I drew it the first time, with straighter lines. I just had to formalise it.”

“In the BR [British Rail] symbol, the lines aren’t all the same thickness: where the angled bars meet the horizontal ones they will appear thicker at the join, so they actually widen slightly going out. But that comes from lettering, where you have to pay attention to the counters; the spaces that are left, not the thing you’re drawing. They work together.”

References

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Craft and creativity

The untold story of the British Rail logo

Writing of the project in the pages of Design magazine in 1965, Robert Spark reflected on some of the basic visual elements that DRU created for British Rail: the symbol, the logotype and a palette of house colours. These elements would then be applied to every part of the railway system, from locomotives and rolling stock, to stations and offices, signposts, posters and publicity material, uniforms and cutlery. Even by the standards of today’s multimedia applications, it was quite an undertaking.

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St. Petersburg's Internet Research center
Life on the Internet

A professional Russian propaganda troll tells all

Dmitry Volchek and Daisy Sindelar talk to former professional Russian troll Marat Burkhard about his well paid work perpetuating a pro-Kremlin dialogue online:

There are thousands of fake accounts on Twitter, Facebook, LiveJournal, and vKontakte, all increasingly focused on the war in Ukraine. Many emanate from Russia’s most famous “troll factory,” the Internet Research center, an unassuming building on St. Petersburg’s Savushkina Street, which runs on a 24-hour cycle. In recent weeks, former employees have come forward to talk to RFE/RL about life inside the factory, where hundreds of people work grinding, 12-hour shifts in exchange for 40,000 rubles ($700) a month or more.

St. Petersburg blogger Marat Burkhard spent two months working at Internet Research in the department tasked with clogging the forums on Russia’s municipal websites with pro-Kremlin comments.

RFE/RL: How many departments are there at Internet Research?

Marat BurkhardBurkhard: It’s a modern building, four floors. There’s a LiveJournal department, a news department, a department where they create all sorts of images and demotivators (Editor’s Note: Demotivators are satirical graphics that tend to undermine their subject matter), a department where they make videos. But I was never in those departments. Each of them has its own office, tables, and computers, and no one prowls around from place to place. Everyone stays in their spot.

The entire article is fascinating and includes multiple example case studies. These trolls work in teams of three — a troika with a well defined process: Villain Troll > Link Troll > Picture Troll.

Burkhard: Our department commented on posts. Every city and village in Russia has its own municipal website with its own comments forum. People would write something on the forum — some kind of news — and our task was to comment on it. We did it by dividing into teams of three. One of us would be the “villain,” the person who disagrees with the forum and criticizes the authorities, in order to bring a feeling of authenticity to what we’re doing. The other two enter into a debate with him — “No, you’re not right; everything here is totally correct.” One of them should provide some kind of graphic or image that fits in the context, and the other has to post a link to some content that supports his argument. You see? Villain, picture, link.

Ukraine, rise up! Southeast, sit down, don't make a fuss, and put up with it.

Translation: Ukraine, rise up! Southeast, sit down, don’t make a fuss, and put up with it.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: One Professional Russian Troll Tells All (via)

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You Are Not So Smart
Humans and other animals

How we naturally think vs. the scientific method

In the most recent You Are Not So Smart podcast, host David McRaney broadcasts a 2014 lecture he gave at DragonCon about ‘just-so stories’, contrasting how we naturally think with the more formal scientific method.

“Throughout all of our history we kept falling into this giant hole of stupid, and the only way we could climb out of that hole was to create a tool by which we could do that climbing. That tool is of course the scientific method. Without it we get into a lot of trouble, because this is the way we naturally think:

“You have a emotion or an intuition and then you form a biased conclusion (I’m sure you’ve seen this on Facebook before). Then you seek supporting evidence through motivated reasoning, you stop when you think you’ve found enough evidence. That’s actually called in psychology the ‘make-sense stopping rule’. You only question the disconfirmatory evidence; everything else passes through. You argue for your conclusion with logical fallacies and then you feel smug. And then you repeat all that if you get challenged and you avoid all challenges.

“The unnatural way we think is that you have an emotion or intuition, but then you form a hypothesis and you have observation and experimentation to see if it confirms your hypothesis. Then you disconfirm it and if you disconfirm it well enough you can let other people replicate what you’ve done then you debate and you argue and everybody gets together and then based off everything you’ve learned you can form a theory and then you can feel smug.”

I’ve been perfectly guilty of this behaviour myself.

See also: How to sound smart in your TEDx talk

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Artist rendering of New Horizon over Pluto

On July 14, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will fly past Pluto, and we will map that distant world and its moons for the first time.

The New Horizons team plans to assign names to the features on the maps of Pluto and its large moon Charon, once we have seen them in sharp detail this summer.

At the Our Pluto site you can suggest your ideas for names and vote for your favourites. The ballot closes on 7th April 2015, so get in there quickly!

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Shape of things to come

Help name the new places NASA will discover on Pluto and Charon!

At the Our Pluto site you can suggest names for the features that will soon be discovered by NASA’s New Horizons probe.

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Renderman
Light-based media

Pixar’s RenderMan is now free!

RenderMan is now free for all non-commercial purposes, including evaluations, education, research, and personal projects. The non-commercial version of RenderMan is fully functional without watermark or limitation.


In this video subsurface scattering is demonstrated using the skin shader from RenderMan For Maya on an Alien from Toy Story.

Currently there are only RenderMan plugins for Maya and KATANA, but Cinema 4D and Houdini support is on the way. Personally I’m hoping someone will get on Blender support ASAP.

RenderMan Plug-in Support 
  Supported Underway Potential
Maya      
KATANA      
Cinema4D      
Houdini      
3DS Max      
Modo      
Rhino      
Lightwave      
Blender      
Nuke Supported via AOVs, LPEs & Deep Textures

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