I’m convinced: death to Facebook

One of Facebook’s very own internal reports on the state of Facebook has seen the light of day, and it is revolting.

Its revelations include:

  • As of October 2019, around 15,000 Facebook pages with a majority US audience were being run out of Kosovo and Macedonia, known bad actors during the 2016 election.
  • Collectively, those troll-farm pages—which the report treats as a single page for comparison purposes—reached 140 million US users monthly and 360 million global users weekly. Walmart’s page reached the second-largest US audience at 100 million.
  • The troll farm pages also combined to form:
    • the largest Christian American page on Facebook, 20 times larger than the next largest—reaching 75 million US users monthly, 95% of whom had never followed any of the pages.
    • the largest African-American page on Facebook, three times larger than the next largest—reaching 30 million US users monthly, 85% of whom had never followed any of the pages.
    • the second-largest Native American page on Facebook, reaching 400,000 users monthly, 90% of whom had never followed any of the pages.
    • the fifth-largest women’s page on Facebook, reaching 60 million US users monthly, 90% of whom had never followed any of the pages.
  • Troll farms primarily affect the US but also target the UK, Australia, India, and Central and South American countries.
  • Facebook has conducted multiple studies confirming that content more likely to receive user engagement (likes, comments, and shares) is more likely of a type known to be bad. Still, the company has continued to rank content in user’s newsfeeds according to what will receive the highest engagement.
  • Facebook forbids pages from posting content merely copied and pasted from other parts of the platform but does not enforce the policy against known bad actors. This makes it easy for foreign actors who do not speak the local language to post entirely copied content and still reach a massive audience. At one point, as many as 40% of page views on US pages went to those featuring primarily unoriginal content or material of limited originality.
  • Troll farms previously made their way into Facebook’s Instant Articles and Ad Breaks partnership programs, which are designed to help news organizations and other publishers monetize their articles and videos. At one point, thanks to a lack of basic quality checks, as many as 60% of Instant Article reads were going to content that had been plagiarized from elsewhere. This made it easy for troll farms to mix in unnoticed, and even receive payments from Facebook.

Troll farms. It’s all troll farms, as far as you can see. This service I signed up for to keep in touch with family has instead become a service for Eastern European assholes to keep in touch with me.

Although, I guess things do change. If Facebook had stayed true to its original purpose, we’d be using it to track hot girls on campus. The legitimate social functions were just a passing phase in Facebook’s process of becoming whatever the hell it is now.

I’ll be posting my announcement that I’m leaving Facebook right now, and let it sit there for a few days…and then I’ll nuke my account during my Sunday livestream. That’ll be fun.

What are the grifters doing today?

It’s enlightening and amusing to see what the kooks are up to. They live in a world where every stupid idea that tumbles in the arid desert between their ears will find an audience.

  • The Qux. Some ex-Info-Wars reporter has figured out how to get rich: she has “invented” a mysterious electronic gadget called a Qux that she has crowdfunded to the tune of $170,000, and which she’ll sell for $150 a pop. Supposedly, it’s going to filter out the bad left-wing propaganda or vibrations or something from your TV set.

    Except that what it seems to be is some kind of cheap knock-off of a Roku box, and the port layout looks exactly like a generic Linux TV box that sells for $15-$30. It’s going to take you to the future, though!
    They do know their audience, though. They’ll buy it.
  • Purebloods. The super-geniuses of anti-vax are rebranding. They don’t want to be called “unvaccinated” anymore: instead, they are Purebloods. Yeah, they consciously stole it from the Harry Potter books, which, apparently, they didn’t read very closely because the Purebloods were the Nazi-like bad guys.
    Now, of course, they’re coming out with “Pureblood” merch, because it isn’t right-wing stupidity if you don’t make money off of it.

    Makes you wonder what JK Rowling would think of it. She might actually approve.

I do enjoy a good evolutionary psychology take-down in the morning

I read a brilliant review of what may be a brilliant book (I’ll have to read it to find out), Adapting Minds: Evolutionary Psychology and the Persistent Quest for Human Nature” by David Buller. He dismantles a ubiquitous myth among evolutionary psychologists: the idea that women crave wealthy, high-status men, that they’re using a peculiar kind of capitalist economic reasoning when they make significant life-choices about marriage and pregnancy. This appeals to certain kinds of people — incels and “alpha” males and MRAs — who love the idea of the “sexual marketplace” and the notion that with great profit comes great desirability, and the corollary that hey, if you’ve got a girlfriend, you must be a superior Chad.

The evidence, say the evolutionary psychologists like David Buss, is that if you look at polygamous societies where women’s mate choice is freed from at least one artificial constraint, that men can marry as many women as want them, they all come flocking to the highest status males, and high status males have the most offspring. The existence of harems is proof that status is what women are all seeking, and that men with harems are sexually desirable.

(I’ll give you a moment to see the obvious flaw in the reasoning before you read the book’s explanation.)

He criticizes the methodology of David Buss and confirms what I suspected but hadn’t yet researched – that David Buss ignores cultural restrictions on female choice of mates. As Buller says:

…in a well-documented study, the anthropologist William Irons found that, among the Turkmen of Persia, males in the wealthier half of the population left 75 percent more offspring than males in the poorer half of the population. Buss cites several studies like this as indicating that “high status in men leads directly to increased sexual access to a larger number of women,” and he implies that this is due to the greater desirability of high-status men (David Buss 1999 “Evolutionary Psychology the New Science of the Mind”).

But, among the Turkmen, women were sold by their families into marriage. The reason that higher-status males enjoyed greater reproductive success among the Turkmen is that they were able to buy wives earlier and more often than lower-status males. Other studies that clearly demonstrate a reproductive advantage for high-status males are also studies of societies or circumstances in which males “traded” in women. This isn’t evidence that high-status males enjoy greater reproductive success because women find them more desirable. Indeed, it isn’t evidence of female preference at all, just as the fact that many harem-holding despots produced remarkable numbers of offspring is no evidence of their desirability to women. It is only evidence that when men have power they will use it to promote their reproductive success, among other things (and that women, under such circumstances, will prefer entering a harem to suffering the dire consequences of refusal).

The fact that Buss can’t be bothered to account for virtual female slavery when proclaiming female choice is typical of the Evolutionary Psychologist approach. Their belief in the power of biology to control human behavior is so reflexive that they can’t be bothered to consider even the most glaringly obvious cultural factors impacting their claims.

It’s so typical of evolutionary psychologists that they would overlook trivial details like sexual slavery that might interfere with their thesis.

My true and honest feelings about the death of Bob Enyart

A decade ago I briefly tangled with Bob Enyart and his pal Fred Williams. They had a show called Real Science Radio where they preached nonsense about creationism — there’s no real science anywhere in it — where they constantly claimed to have disproven evolution and threw debate challenges at every nobody (like me) that they stumbled across. Even then, I was disgusted with creationist debates and wasn’t going to get into it with a kook like Enyart. He sent me a challenge anyway, to explain how a little connective tissue loop in the eye socket called the trochlea evolved. I answered honestly.

I don’t know.

I don’t see any obvious obstacle to an arrangement of muscles evolving, but I don’t know the details of this particular set.

I explained why. We don’t have any intermediate forms for this tendon, so any thing I might suggest would be pure speculation, although I really don’t see anything unevolvable about the feature. I should have added that an interesting approach to answer it would involve tracking its development in some model vertebrate, such as a zebrafish, but I knew that would be a difficult job, given that it had to develop at something like 10-16 hours post-fertilization, not a task I would want to jump into. This is a solvable problem, even if it hasn’t been solved yet, and we won’t get an answer by prayin’ on it.

As you might have predicted, slimy ol’ Enyart declared victory, because of course he did. To a creationist, saying “I don’t know” is the same as saying “God done did it”.

Well, now Fred Williams has announced that Enyart is dead.

It comes with an extremely heavy heart that my close friend and co-host of Real Science Radio has lost his battle with Covid. Bob Enyart was one of the smartest, and without question the wisest person I’ve known. All the while being exceedingly kind and humble, and always, always willing to listen and discuss anything you wanted. It was an honor beyond measure to have been alongside him for 15 years and over 750 science shows. I always marveled how Bob put up with me all those years together. 🙂 When we pre-recorded a show and he asked me to do a retake, I’m convinced that many times he would on purpose follow it with one of his own retakes just to make me feel better. The number of lives he touched is immeasurable and I’m sure Jesus has an extra special place for him in heaven. ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’.
I was with Bob at his last public appearance in mid August in San Antonio Texas for an ex-JW conference. What an incredible honor and great time we had! I fondly reflect on my journey with Bob, from watching his eye-opening TV show in the 90s, to meeting Bob at St John’s church for an Age of the Earth debate (RSR sells that debate and the old earth group doesn’t, in case you are wondering who won), to Bob asking me to join him in doing Real Science Radio, then 15 years of weekly radio shows, culminating in the conference in San Antonio. In between we had many lunches and dinners together, some Nuggets games tossed in, and so many other good times and fond memories. I also really loved Bob’s sense of humor! As an example, the theme of our presentation at the ex-JW conference was “dinosaur blood”, perhaps the greatest discovery of the century that destroys millions of years. During Q&A, Bob responded to a question and asked “what two words do you say when someone says the Earth is billions of years old?”. No one answered, including myself, so Bob turned to me and said “Fred, you’re fired!” (you can see this at 1:12:50 here: https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=4518764224820454&ref=watch_permalink).
Heaven’s gain has left an enormous hole here on earth. Bob’s enduring legacy will live on with the treasure trove he leaves behind, including an amazing website which many have recognized as the best online resource of science confirming the Genesis record, his captivating Bible study MP3s, science DVDs, YouTube videos, etc.
I miss my best friend and mentor. Please especially pray for Bob’s family.

It’s good that he admits that it was COVID-19 that killed him, but he doesn’t mention that part of their real science show, and a view held by the wisest person Williams knew, was actively, fanatically anti-vaccination and COVID-denialism from a guy who also taunted AIDS victims.

So Bob Enyart is dead. Fuck that guy.

Depressingly accurate lesson

If there’s one thing this year has taught us, it’s that Americans are staggeringly selfish. Not just like your meat-and-potatoes “don’t want to share” selfish. Total apocalyptic “I will let you die rather than inconvenience myself” selfish.

There is such a deep vein of this selfishness running through the country that you can get rich, or elected to the highest political office, or run any corrupt scam you want, if you can just tap into it. It has infiltrated our educational institutions, our churches, our businesses, and our media. It’s the rot that’s going to destroy the country.

Good luck to the future society that crawls over our corpse to take over the world. I hope you don’t catch the disease from us.

Good work, California

Governor Newsom will not be recalled, and he won’t be replaced with a deranged far-right talk radio host. Larry Elder even conceded the election. That’s all good. But get ready for the new normal:

With Newsom projected to defeat the recall, conservative radio host Larry Elder conceded the race early Wednesday morning, telling his audience to be “gracious in defeat.” But his campaign’s tactics in the lead-up to the vote — including open threats to raise doubts about the results in case of defeat — suggest the possibility of a new normal, where Republicans challenge election losses even in heavily Democratic states and without proof of serious fraud or rule-breaking.

The next presidential election is going to be the biggest circus yet. It doesn’t matter who runs, or how the vote goes, the ratfkers will be frantically fking all the rats, every one of them.

Oh, and this stupid, pointless recall cost California about $400 million. Thanks, Republicans, the party of fiscal responsibility.

Tell me about it

Old news.

Nothing gets between a fiercely protective mother spider and her children. Dripping tree resin trapped adult female spiders and baby spiderlings about 99 million years ago, forever showcasing the maternal care exhibited by these arthropods, according to new research.

One of the awkward things about raising spiders is that they don’t just have a few babies, and they don’t just dribble them out a few at a time over a long period…no, when spiders have babies they have a whole lot of them all at once. Yesterday, on top of all the teaching I do on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I had to feed all the spiderlings I’ve sorted out into individual vials, and then I noticed another egg sac had hatched out into a vast cloud of hungry, tiny arthropods, demanding a meal too. I’m nearly out of flies! I’m going to have to double the quantity of flies I grow just to keep up with the ravenous horde!

Futile whining

Ouch. This article hits pretty hard. I’d say it’s an accurate summary of how many faculty feel as a result of the pandemic.

A lot of people get into higher ed because they feel like this is a stable profession. So much of the higher ed workforce over the past few decades has changed in ways that don’t normally break through to public perception. I would say less than half of many faculties are tenured. Other people are contingent, hired every year, every semester. And the workload in a lot of student-facing positions is totally overwhelming for people too. These are people who are working really long hours, often on the weekend. The pay isn’t great, and they don’t really see an opportunity for professional advancement. That was an underlying issue before the pandemic, but COVID showed that the lows can be even lower than what people had anticipated.

To me, the theme of these breaking-point moments is when campuses were asking their employees to give up their own personal lives, to put their health in jeopardy during the pandemic without really acknowledging what that took and what the workers were sacrificing.

Seth Stevenson: As these schools reopen, what kind of reactions are you hearing about mask and vaccine mandates, and teaching virtually as opposed to in person?

If you’re at a public institution, the policies your school can adopt have always been in line with what the state allows. But because masks and vaccines have become so politicized, it’s a good chance that, in Republican-leaning states, you’re not going to have mandates, and people might not even be tested regularly. A lot of schools don’t put up the resources for that. If you’re at a private institution, you’re going to have a lot more flexibility. The campus leaders there are far more likely to mandate masks and vaccines and schools in states that voted for President Joe Biden. So there’s a real anger, particularly in red-state public schools, of people not feeling like the health and safety of their family members is being valued.

The people in charge of these schools are kind of a tough spot, right? They’ve got a pretty complicated challenge to deal with.

I think there is an acknowledgment that, especially at state institutions, to some degree their hands are tied. And I think that acknowledgment is far overshadowed by a sense of, Wow, this institution, my employer, there’s a lot of hypocrisy here.

There’s a podcast associated with it, too. There’s been an interesting rupture as a consequence of the pandemic, and most importantly, the fumbling approach of the institution to it. I’ve had a huge loss of faith in the university and the university administration — I don’t trust them at all to operate in the best interests of the faculty or students.

Also, the politicization is here in the blue states, too. I did not care much for our Democratic governor before, since his primary strength in the election was that he’d appeal to outstate Minnesota, the rural, red part of the state, and that’s what he has done. All along he has taken the minimal steps, and he’s folded up the tent as soon as he could (for instance, abandoning the mask mandate prematurely). I trust him even less now.

Boy, it sure feels good to vent on a blog that will have no effect and that the administration would never read and where my concerns can be totally ignored. It’s so nice and reassuring to know I don’t matter.