mfioretti: stupidity*

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  1. Imagine that, photographers who understand that their work has value. Who then copyright it to give them some legal recourse when people steal their work. And then pursue those who steal said work.

    I still love that he thinks we shoot images to upload to the Internet just so we can sue people for stealing them. That we have teams of people just waiting to pounce. That he actually calls it a “business model”.

    He also seems to not understand that images don’t actually need to be registered in order to have copyright protection. Sure, registration allows you to claim damages and whatnot, but you still own the copyright the instant you create the image. In other countries, there isn’t even a registration mechanism, and you get all the rights (including damages) regardless.

    So, it’s not much of a surprise then that he also doesn’t know that images are copyrighted even if there’s no actual copyright statement accompanying the image.
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2017-10-23)
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  2. At first, the Internet seemed to push against this trend. When it emerged towards the end of the 80s as a purely text-based medium, it was seen as a tool to pursue knowledge, not pleasure. Reason and thought were most valued in this garden—all derived from the project of Enlightenment. Universities around the world were among the first to connect to this new medium, which hosted discussion groups, informative personal or group blogs, electronic magazines, and academic mailing lists and forums. It was an intellectual project, not about commerce or control, created in a scientific research center in Switzerland.

    Wikipedia was a fruit of this garden. So was Google search and its text-based advertising model. And so were blogs, which valued text, hypertext (links), knowledge, and literature. They effectively democratized the ability to contribute to the global corpus of knowledge. For more than a decade, the web created an alternative space that threatened television’s grip on society.

    Social networks, though, have since colonized the web for television’s values. From Facebook to Instagram, the medium refocuses our attention on videos and images, rewarding emotional appeals—‘like’ buttons—over rational ones. Instead of a quest for knowledge, it engages us in an endless zest for instant approval from an audience, for which we are constantly but unconsciouly performing. (It’s telling that, while Google began life as a PhD thesis, Facebook started as a tool to judge classmates’ appearances.) It reduces our curiosity by showing us exactly what we already want and think, based on our profiles and preferences. Enlightenment’s motto of ‘Dare to know’ has become ‘Dare not to care to know.’

    It is a development that further proves the words of French philosopher Guy Debord, who wrote that, if pre-capitalism was about ‘being’, and capitalism about ‘having’, in late-capitalism what matters is only ‘appearing’—appearing rich, happy, thoughtful, cool and cosmopolitan. It’s hard to open Instagram without being struck by the accuracy of his diagnosis.

    Now the challenge is to save Wikipedia and its promise of a free and open collection of all human knowledge amid the conquest of new and old television—how to collect and preserve knowledge when nobody cares to know. Television has even infected Wikipedia itself—today many of the most popular entries tend to revolve around television series or their cast.

    This doesn’t mean it is time to give up. But we need to understand that the decline of the web and thereby of the Wikipedia is part of a much larger civilizational shift which has just started to unfold.
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  3. I don’t see the NUS as the enemy. I support their efforts to defend student rights and back their opposition to tuition fees and education cuts. I just disagree with the way some of them choose to deal with other people’s opinions. Anyone who doesn’t toe the line politically risks being denounced, even over the tiniest disagreement.

    The race to be more Left-wing and politically correct than anyone else is resulting in an intimidating, excluding atmosphere on campuses. Universal human rights and enlightenment values – including John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty – are often shamefully rubbished as the ideas of Western imperialist white privilege.

    I am all in favour of protesting against real racists and transphobes. But the most effective way to do this is to expose and counter their bigoted ideas, not censor and ban them. I’ve often debated religious fundamentalists and homophobes. They’ve lost the argument; leaving them weakened and discredited.
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  4. Linking was the big innovation of the web. I hope we don't end up having to try to explain linking to future generations who have no recollection of an electronic writing environment where words could take you to a whole other place. But I suspect we're going there. Unless somehow we can get Facebook to relent and make it easy to link from words in Facebook posts to other places on the web.
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  5. As jokes go, Sir Tim Hunt’s brief standup routine about women in science last week must rank as one of the worst acts of academic self-harm in history. As he reveals to the Observer, reaction to his remarks about the alleged lachrymose tendencies of female researchers has virtually finished off the 72-year-old Nobel laureate’s career as a senior scientific adviser.

    What he said was wrong, he acknowledges, but the price he and his wife have had to pay for his mistakes has been extreme and unfair. “I have been hung out to dry,” says Hunt.

    His wife, Professor Mary Collins, one of Britain’s most senior immunologists, is similarly indignant. She believes that University College London – where both scientists had posts – has acted in “an utterly unacceptable” way in pressuring both researchers and in failing to support their causes.

    Certainly the speed of the dispatch of Hunt – who won the 2001 Nobel prize in physiology for his work on cell division – from his various academic posts is startling. In many cases this was done without him even being asked for his version of events, he says. The story shows, if nothing else, that the world of science can be every bit as brutal as that of politics.

    Hunt had been invited to the world conference of science journalists in Seoul and had been asked to speak at a meeting about women in science. His brief remarks contained 39 words that have subsequently come to haunt him.

    “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab. You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them, they cry,” he told delegates.

    “I stood up and went mad,” he admits. “I was very nervous and a bit confused but, yes, I made those remarks – which were inexcusable – but I made them in a totally jocular, ironic way. There was some polite applause and that was it, I thought. I thought everything was OK. No one accused me of being a sexist pig.”

    Collins clutches her head as Hunt talks. “It was an unbelievably stupid thing to say,” she says. “You can see why it could be taken as offensive if you didn’t know Tim. But really it was just part of his upbringing. He went to a single-sex school in the 1960s. Nevertheless he is not sexist. I am a feminist, and I would not have put up with him if he were sexist.”
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  6. I have had so many conversations or email exchanges with students in the last few years wherein I anger them by indicating that simply saying, "This is my opinion" does not preclude a connected statement from being dead wrong. It still baffles me that some feel those four words somehow give them carte blanche to spout batshit oratory or prose. And it really scares me that some of those students think education that challenges their ideas is equivalent to an attack on their beliefs.

    No, the fact that you believed it doesn’t make it any more valid or worthwhile, and nobody owes your viewpoint any respect simply because it is yours.
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  7. Social media has diminished us in many ways. But the foremost, I often think, is that it’s turned us from dumb to stupid. We don’t think we don’t know, anymore — which is what, sitting in a great library, surrounded by knowledge, we might have once thought. We’re convinced we do. That’s far more dangerous. If society today seems to be in peril, perhaps it’s an epidemic of stupidity that is contributing.

    In other words, we believe in a false egalitarianism of opinion. Do you really know as much about the human body as the doctor? About the economy as Joe Stiglitz? About politics as Frank Fukuyama? You might believe you do. But that’s precisely what stupidity is. The simple truth is that your opinion doesn’t count unless, at the very least, you’re smart enough to know how dumb you are — and that being dumb is OK, because that way, one can learn. Your opinion begins to count, in a word, when you’re not just stupid.

    Let us all learn the limits of our own ignorance. That, as Socrates pointed out, is the beginning of true knowledge.
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  8. The trouble with ignorance is that it feels so much like expertise. A leading researcher on the psychology of human wrongness sets us straight.

    What’s curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.

    This isn’t just an armchair theory. A whole battery of studies conducted by myself and others have confirmed that people who don’t know much about a given set of cognitive, technical, or social skills tend to grossly overestimate their prowess and performance, whether it’s grammar, emotional intelligence, logical reasoning, firearm care and safety, debating, or financial knowledge. College students who hand in exams that will earn them Ds and Fs tend to think their efforts will be worthy of far higher grades; low-performing chess players, bridge players, and medical students, and elderly people applying for a renewed driver’s license, similarly overestimate their competence by a long shot.

    Because it’s so easy to judge the idiocy of others, it may be sorely tempting to think this doesn’t apply to you. But the problem of unrecognized ignorance is one that visits us all. And over the years, I’ve become convinced of one key, overarching fact about the ignorant mind. One should not think of it as uninformed. Rather, one should think of it as misinformed.

    An ignorant mind is precisely not a spotless, empty vessel, but one that’s filled with the clutter of irrelevant or misleading life experiences, theories, facts, intuitions, strategies, algorithms, heuristics, metaphors, and hunches that regrettably have the look and feel of useful and accurate knowledge. This clutter is an unfortunate by-product of one of our greatest strengths as a species. We are unbridled pattern recognizers and profligate theorizers. Often, our theories are good enough to get us through the day, or at least to an age when we can procreate. But our genius for creative storytelling, combined with our inability to detect our own ignorance, can sometimes lead to situations that are embarrassing, unfortunate, or downright dangerous—especially in a technologically advanced, complex democratic society that occasionally invests mistaken popular beliefs with immense destructive power (See: crisis, financial; war, Iraq). As the humorist Josh Billings once put it, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” (Ironically, one thing many people “know” about this quote is that it was first uttered by Mark Twain or Will Rogers—which just ain’t so.)

    What education often does appear to do, however, is imbue us with confidence in the errors we retain.

    What education often does appear to do, however, is imbue us with confidence in the errors we retain.
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  9. The age of Big Data makes it easier for Polarised Groups to mine for “facts” that appear to support any conclusion they want them to. For those who know no better and just want something to believe in, it can be an intoxicating illusion. Such stories fill a certain vacuum. The abundance of free-flowing information and the collapse of the traditional gatekeepers has had an erosive effect of authorities’ ability to control their respective narratives. Such narratives can either evolve and accommodate new information, such as the Catholic Church’s adoption of heliocentrism and evolution, or reject critical new information and succumb to polarising effects, as has happened to evangelical Christians in the United States with their spiral into creationism and fundamentalism. But even as old narratives adapt to the new information ecology, the general trend (in the West at least) is that religious or political ideologues are collapsing in on themselves, unable to control the flow of information. It has led to a hunger for contraband information that further erodes established authorities, a belief that somewhere in the secret archives of governments and corporations lies information that will make the rest of it make sense. This sentiment was articulated by a speech by Julian Assange in 2011;

    “This generation is burning the mass media to the ground. » We are reclaiming our rights to world history. We are ripping open secret archives from Washington to Cairo. We don’t know yet exactly where we are. But we can see where we are going. The change in perspective that has happened over the last year is what this generation is going to use to find our lighthouse.”

    And as these archives empty into the petabytes of other information freely available online and from there filter through into our everyday lives, the world begins to resemble less a robust story and more a dadaist wasteland of contradiction and confusion. For many, not even the powers of cognitive dissonance can save their beliefs from crumbling apart. So we look for signals in the noise, new ways of constructing information structures from the ruins of the old. Amidst such chaos and uncertainty, Polarised Groups offer just this, something to believe in. A certainty that as we saw in Asch’s experiments, even as it flies in the face of empirical reality, cannot help but draw in new acolytes.

    But as you will recall, Asch experiments also showed that the presence of skeptical voices has a powerful dampening effects on irrational group behaviours. So do facts. In his paper “The Law of Group Polarisation” Sunstein cites “persuasive argument” via the injection of accurate empirical information as a key factor in “depolarisation” of groups. The bad news is that the narratives constructed by Polarised Groups have inbuilt defence mechanisms to circumvent the unwelcome presence of facts and skeptical inquiry, geared at only adopting favourable facts and making unwelcome facts taboo. Interestingly, the tactics used by many such groups are eerily familiar, and all seem to make abundant use of the word “troll”.
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  10. Techdirt recently wrote about Spain's imminent and almost unbelievably foolish new copyright law designed to prop up old and failing business models in the publishing sector. Mike mentioned that it was potentially disastrous for things like fair use, Creative Commons and public domain material -- so broad is the reach of this new law's "inalienable right" for publishers to be paid when snippets of works appear elsewhere. Now Paul Keller has put together a great post on Communia's blog exploring the details of this particular threat:

    The law creates a right for 'electronic content aggregation providers' to use 'non-significant fragments of aggregated content which are disclosed in periodic publications or on websites which are regularly updated' without the permission of the rights holder. However such uses require payment of a 'fair remuneration' to the rights holder (via a collecting society). This is a right that content providers already have and can choose to license or waive assuming the non-significant fragments are copyrightable and absent an applicable exception or limitation. What this new legislation does is eliminate the ability of providers to choose how to exercise this right, and impose a mandatory royalty on reusers even for content that has been made available under a public license such as Creative Commons or that is otherwise available under an exception to copyright or in the public domain.

    The current reform of Spain's copyright law incorporates a new levy on universities that is related to open access to publications. Under the policy, universities that want to share research or other content for free will be prohibited from doing so beyond the confines of their institution and personnel. In other words, if you are an author from a university and you want to share beyond the academic world and someone links to your journal article, that person must pay even if you do not even want the payment. A percentage of these fees will be collected by the Spanish agency CEDRO (Centro Español de Derechos Reprográficos) and the virtual campuses of universities will be required to comply.
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