Needs more arrows

But I like it anyway. It’s a series of charts illustrating channels of communication of science.


I appreciate the distinction made between “Average Citizen” and “Informed Citizen.” Maybe there ought to be another box interposed between “Mainstream Media” and “The Average Citizen” labeled “Fox News/Talk Radio/Other Organs of Propaganda,” though. And shouldn’t there be another arrow from “Mainstream Media” to “Informed Citizen”?

PowerPointing our way to disaster

Neddie Jingo has an appalling example of the kind of presentation used to promote our strategic plan in Iraq. Go take a look and weep—it’s one of those meaningless godawful PowerPoint-style assemblages of boxes and arrows. You know what I mean: a nightmare of chartjunk that distracts everyone into contemplating the relationships of graphical abstractions on a screen rather than actually dealing with the substance behind them.

I’m actually very impressed that he managed to also put together a paragraph actually explaining what the graphic is supposed to mean, and that the paragraph makes sense…and exposes the deficiencies in the plan.

Once upon a time, it took a fair amount of effort to put together a slide for a presentation. It involved photography—that stuff with film—and you had to plan well ahead and put it together with some care. You had to think about what you were going to include. And when you put all that work and planning into each slide, once it was projected on the wall, you spent a good bit of time carefully explaining it to your audience. The slide was an illustration of some data, and the interpretation and explanation was done with the words you used to accompany it.

Now what I see with PowerPoint is a proliferation of graphical noise and short bullet points, accompanying by a steady bloating of the number of slides shown. An image is no longer a piece of real-world data, but something the speaker flashes up as a substitute for saying anything. As the Neddie Jingo example shows, it can be a flying piece of fantasy with no substance behind it at all…but string enough of those together and you can zip through a pretense of a talk without actually having to say anything.

One measure of a good talk to my mind is being able to imagine the video projector failing, and the speaker still being able to communicate a sensible idea to the audience. PowerPoint isn’t the point of your talk, it’s a convenience, a crutch, a tool for making some data visible. Nothing more.

Although it does look like it can also be a weapon of mass distraction when misused by the military.

Rapture Insanity Watch

I keep waiting for the padded ambulance to roll up and men in white coats to leap out, shoot these bozos with a trank gun, wrap them up in a straight jacket, and go howling off to the nearest sanitarium, but no…instead, they get invitations to appear on cable news and babble about the apocalypse. And it’s not just the airhead news media…

…Rosenberg is just one of several conservative media figures who have identified and expounded upon the purported signs of the Apocalypse to be found in the Israel-Hezbollah conflict. During his appearance on Live From…, Rosenberg claimed that he had been invited to the White House, Capitol Hill, and the CIA to discuss the Rapture and the Middle East, and noted—several times—that the apocalyptic events described in his novels keep coming true.

What’s really frightening is that these people don’t exhibit an ounce of critical thinking, and these ridiculous attitudes are endemic in the people who run our country. I’m waiting for some smart, pragmatic, sensible guy in government or the press to stand up and truncate that famous quote: “You have done enough. Have you no sense?”

(via Atrios)

Think before morphing

Oh, good. I saw this WaPo article with a morphing animation of a lemur into SJ Gould, and I was mildly appalled—it’s a very badly done gimmick that doesn’t say anything about how evolution works, and actually grossly misleads the viewer on the morphological transformations that had to have occurred. Fortunately, I don’t have to deepen my reputation as a cranky internet curmudgeon by complaining about it— Carl Zimmer has done it for me.

Transforming grid coordinates is an interesting tool in describing the transformations between forms—D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson did it well—but you need to start with forms you know are linearly related and you’ve got to define and align anatomical features very carefully. Picking random photos of various primates and blending them ain’t it.

Playboy, paragon of journalism

A reader sent in a quote from this month’s Playboy. They understand.

As politics go, we’re surprised so many readers expect us or any publication to provide “balance,” which reflects a belief in the fallacy that there are two equally valid sides to every story. You see this in the debate over global warming and evolution. Thousands of scientists stand on one side of the issue, recognizing that global warming is a problem and that evolution is firmly established, while only a few detractors stand on the other.

Move over, NY Times. Playboy has a more principled journalistic philosophy than you do (or at least, than some of your staff.)

I’d start reading the magazine, except that every time I’ve opened a copy, I find that I can’t quite get past the pictures. They’re too purty.

Noted without comment

Jodi Rudoren née Wilgoren, whose views on journalistic responsibility to accuracy and truth were encapsulated in this comment,

I don’t consider myself a creationist. I don’t have any interest in sharing my personal views on how the canyon was carved, mostly because I’ve spent almost no time pondering my personal views — it takes all my energy as a reporter and writer to understand and explain my subjects’ views fairly and thoroughly.

has been promoted at the NY Times.

Please, O Mighty Press, heed our prayer

Revere and Tara make fun of a silly guest commentary from a very silly man who thinks them evilutionists are cheating by using the term “mutation”—that changes in the virulence of a disease are examples of a “population shift,” which has nothing to do with evolution.

Just a note to any journalists or newspaper editors who might read this: the Panda’s Thumb has a useful list of scientists and other defenders of evolution who are willing—no, overjoyed—to vet these kinds of strange anti-scientific tirades. We’re also willing to help with any pro-science articles you might be moved to write. It’s kind of sad that this list is sitting there, and we rarely hear from any responsible journalists; I think I’ve had 3 calls in a year and a half. What’s the problem, is it just easier to take the press releases the Discovery Institute pushes at you, without bothering with that difficult job of actually questioning any of it?

Portrait of the blogger

The most amusing coverage of the Nature top science blogs article comes from The Technology Chronicles, which begins by calling scientists “sober, dispassionate, precise” and suggests that we’ve abandoned “Olympian impartiality” to compete with Cute Overload. I get the impression the author hasn’t ever met a real scientist. Nick will love being called a “budding Matt Drudge.”

We need more cute, huh? OK, I can do cute. I had to run my photo through a face transformer to do it, but here I am, rendered a bit more adorably than in real life.


Now I just sit back and wait for the fans to roll in.

(Thanks to Lindsay, who took the original photo.)

The continuing assault on blogtopia

What is this, a few journalists have discovered blogs for the first time and have decided they just don’t like ’em? This fellow Zengerle seems to see them as a threat to the Republic, and now some guy named Quin Hillyer at the American Spectator weighs in, with some devastating complaints.

  • He is shocked at the funny names. “What the heck, for instance, is ‘Echidne of the Snakes‘ or ‘Nyarlathotep’s Miscellany‘?” Whoa. Burn. I’m sure glad I didn’t pick a weird name for my blog.
  • He doesn’t get Fafblog. He seems to think it’s about stilted writing, rather than some of the sharpest mockery of the Right around. Satire and humor are things that Serious Journalists do not use, I guess.
  • He doesn’t quite understand how links work. “Here’s a test: Visit any blog site that has a list of permalinks to other blogs, and pick the most seemingly off-topic link you can find. Within three blog links, you’re likely to find somebody advertising ‘Nude Live Babes!’ or ‘Celebrities In The Raw!’ or somesuch.” It’s true. I have discovered that you can get from my site to Michelle Malkin or Little Green Footballs in only two clicks. I am so ashamed.
  • There’s the horrible narcissism. “The blogs particularly lend themselves to a bizarre combination of attention deficit and what I’ll call the ‘Shouting-From-The-Rooftops Syndrome,’ a malady in which every utterance is deemed worthy of broadcast because, well, it’s mine, dammit, and I now have a forum on which to broadcast it.” Unlike, say, a print journalist for the American Spectator, who would never write an article expressing his gosh-wow reaction to discovering there is pr0n on the intarweb, and that you can get there by clicking on links. He would only write important stuff.
  • Worst of all, blogging tempts one into sin. “But what it doesn’t encourage is reflection, patience or, to stress again, discipline. And its wild informality, including the use and misuse of the written world, does not lend itself to careful persuasiveness.” That’s right, diversity and creativity are wicked…and are probably much too liberal for Mr Hillyer. People who write every day, day in and day out, for years can’t possibly have any discipline—writing because they love writing? Horrors! Where are the deadlines, the editors with whips, the challenge of a requirement to make Dick Cheney sound sensible and important? And how can you possibly find careful persuasive writers when the Nude Live Babes beckon?

Oh, well. Quin Hillyer (hey, wait a minute…what is he doing complaining about funny names?) really just cares about us. He even gives us parenting advice.

So, a memo to parents: Don’t let your children sit at their computers all day long. Even if they must be inside (outside exercise is often better), encourage them to read books and newspapers, to play board games, even to write notes to each other with pen and paper. That way they’ll learn to communicate rather than just to emote.

Good point. I should kick the kids outside and tell them to enjoy some fresh air and blue skies today. But my kids do read books. They don’t seem to care for the newspapers much, and the magazines they read are probably not the ones Hillyer would approve (my oldest does read The Economist, though…), but he’s wrong, otherwise. Our kids are adopting and modifying new media—is he aware of how much the youth are texting and IMing and MMORPGing and blogging and MySpacing and Facebooking together? I am, barely, but I’m not going to discourage kids from innovating because I’m a cranky old fart who thinks writing doesn’t count unless it’s done with the Palmer method on a Big Chief pad. And it’s gotta be serious, dammit. None of this high-falutin’ satire.

Mac tech bleg

I have a DVD of The Horror Express, starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Telly Savalas. There’s a short clip of a conversation I’d like to extract as an mpeg or quicktime movie—even extracting just the audio would be nice.

It’s a classic. Christopher Lee is explaining his discovery of an ancient fossil to a beautiful woman:

Lee: That box of bones, madam, could have solved many of the riddles of science. If the theory of evolution is confirmed, if the science of biology is revolutionized, if the very origin of man is determined…

Beautiful woman: I have heard of evolution. It is immoral.

Lee: It is a fact. And there is no morality in a fact.

It’s intercut, by the way, with scenes of Peter Cushing doing an autopsy on one of the victims of the fossil (it’s a horror movie, of course—the fossil comes to life and wanders about a train in pre-revolution Siberia, sucking the minds out of people with its red glowing eyes. There are also zombie cossacks), sawing open a dead guy’s skull to expose his brain.

They just don’t make movies like that anymore.

Anyway, if anyone can tell me how to pull out this very short (less than a minute) segment on a Mac OS X machine, I’ll put it on the web. You know you all want to hear Saruman/Count Dooku/Dracula endorsing evolution.


Your suggestions worked, and I’ve now got the movie converted and edited out the part I wanted. It did take hours for the decoding to finish, but I just let it run in the background, so it wasn’t too painful.

Now, if you want, you can listen to Christopher Lee declare that evolution is a fact, and there is no morality in a fact (250K .mov audio file).