a blog of data, dystopia and despair

  • Ponderances on Infinity

    I’ve been thinking a lot about the true meanings of never and always. These are difficult concepts for humans to ponder and grasp.

    That’s why I’ve been pondering death and the universe. Rather than a morbid fixation, my thoughts about death are general practical since they encapsulate the core of many challenges humans face.

    As I’ve mentioned before, death has essentially already happened. Not just to me, but to everyone and everything to ever live, to every proton in the whole universe. It barely even matters when someone dies since everyone is dead for the same amount of time – forever. Even any immortals surviving to the heat death of the universe have the same blank infinity of knowing and doing and feeling nothing to look forward to.

    Death is the great equalizer in this regard. It’s also the great neutralizer. We humans scramble wildly to accrue memories before we die…why? It’s not like we can take them with us. It’s not like others can remember them for us. Any archive of work we leave behind, any lasting impacts our lives have on others and the world around, will be similarly forgotten without a trace. The sun will explode, our solar system destroyed and ever byte of data, every spark of life, every memory ever made will be lost and never recovered.

    When? It doesn’t matter. Eventually. Inevitably.

    That’s the weird thing about time. We experience it as a linear sequence of events. But that’s just how we perceive it, only ever existing in a singular now until they day we transition to existing in an expansive always. The only difference between now and always are the limits of our perceptions. Our brains simply cannot fathom infinity.

    1

    The Infinite Hotel Paradox2 demonstrates just how out-of-hand things can get when trying to parse infinity.

    If you really ponder it deeply, since numbers are fractionally infinite, a single second could be sliced up in such a way to last forever. But while this is rationally and mathematically true, we could never possibly perceive or experience that (even when waiting for test scores or at the DMV).

    So if our minds cannot perceive of fundamental realities we can prove in ways outside of our immediate experience, what other truths of the universe are we missing? What else is beyond our grasp, our unknown unknowns?

    Coming to a solid answer might literally take us forever.

    1. TED. “The Infinite Hotel Paradox - Jeff Dekofsky” YouTube. January 16, 2014. Link 

    2. “Hilbert’s paradox of the Grand Hotel” Wikipedia. Link 

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  • All Hail The Onion

    People have a hard time distiguishing between news, fake news and satire. Luckily there’s a nice guide for that. The fake news plague isn’t new, but it’s certainly worse than ever.

    But The Onion has been blurring those lines for years and years for maximum satirical effect. Rather than trying to deceive readers, the satire is obvious, absurd and biting, often unearthing several grains of truth.

    Its sister site, Clickhole, hasn’t been around as long but has quickly become even more relevant as it skewers the influx of 21st Centure clickbait sites in the same way its predecessors mocked print media.

    Satire long has held a valuable position in societal discourse, plus they can be pretty consistently hilarious. Here’s a running tally of some of my favorite pieces from these sites.

    The Onion

    Hijackers Surprised to Find Selves in Hell

    Blue Angels Hold First Ever Open Tryouts

    Black Guy Asks Nation for Change

    Ho Ho Ho, I Saw You Masturbating

    Planned Parenthood Opens $8 billion Abortionplex

    Obama: Help Us Destroy Jesus and Start A New Age of Liberal Darkness

    NASA Completes 52-year Mission to Find, Kill God

    New Seaworld Show Just Elephant Drowning in Large Tank

    Clickhole

    Education FTW: ‘Sesame Street’ Showed Grover Laying An Egg That Elmo And Ernie Both Hatch Out Of To Teach Children Not Everything Can Be Explained With A Catchy Little Song

    8 Characters I Created To Teach My Kid About Dental Hygiene That Have Unfortunately Come To Life

    Which One Of My Garbage Sons Are You?

    Can You Match The Pigeons To The Way They’re Ruining My Whole Life?

    Major Disappointment: This Little Boy Wanted SpongeBob SquarePants At His Birthday Party, But His Parents Could Only Find A Square Man Who Claims That He Lives In The Ocean

    We Put 700 Red Dots On A Map

    It’s The Sponge. You Love The Sponge.

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  • An analysis of media alignment

    There have been a few attempts to make a directory of fake news sites to guide social media users away from reading and sharing misinformation.

    Some are great1, some are good1, some are okay2 and some are downright abysmal3. Most have been subject to criticism from both sides of the political aisle.

    So I still felt pretty unsatisfied. We could go so much deeper.

    I’ve taken a stab at compiling a data of news websites – both real and fake – that I will maintain and update in response to new information and feedback.

    This directory not only tracks which publications are fake, but which are trustworthy, those that are merely partisan (or hyperpartisan) and those that are legitimate information sources regardless of their leanings.

    It’s an attempt to categorize purported information sources in a more descriptive, fair and accurate way without necessarily demonizing outlets that focus more on opinion or political agendas.

    Methodology

    I compiled data from the excellent Media Bias Fact Check project, a non-profit dedicated to scoping out the political leanings and veracity of news organizations, blogs and other online information hubs.

    Judging how liberal or conservative a media source is can often be super subjective, completely dependent upon one’s personal sensibilities, but MBFC does a really good job, so this was my starting point.

    From there I built out a database and assigned my own broader ratings based heavily on the MBFC ratings, while also adding another layer of depth by parsing out the partisan from the hyperpartisan. I also attempted to classify sources and publications by whether they were part of what’s nebulously termed “the mainstream media” (even though this is subjective and a misnomer4).

    Definitions

    It’s always helpful to define some terms.

    First, the political leanings:

    Centrist: can be liberal or conservative, often wavering between the two situationally, but overall tries to stand in the middle ground.

    Lean: Most often takes stances or reports stories that could be viewed as left/right of center, but still strives to be fair.

    Partisan: representing the left or right is part of its identity. It owns being on one side, with either liberals or conservatives being their core audience. Can still be fair and self-critical.

    Hyperpartisan: completely died-in-the-wool leftwing or rightwing, sometimes fringe, often unreasonable, never really critical of its own side but extremely hostile towards its perceived opposition. Not necessarily always wrong, can make valid points and share reasonable opinions, but rarely in a balanced way.

    Next, the information types:

    Reliable: generally tries to responsibly report the facts as they know them, applying at least some level of editorial rigor to its content.

    Mixed: a mix of sensationalism, cursory reporting and unverified information occassionally interrupted by good, original stories.

    Unreliable: generally untrustworthy, doesn’t try very hard to verify information, low editorial rigor, deals mostly in gossip, rumors, unsupported opinion and shoddy reporting.

    Satire: those that pretend to be information sources for the sake of humor, parody and entertainment, not trying to be taken seriously or deceive.

    Hoax: those that pretend to be information sources while actively attempting to deceive its audience with false reports.

    Conspiracy: utter, contemputuous garbage, often mixing pseudoscience and outright untruths with wild speculation to generate some of the darkest, most unbelievable lies.

    Conclusions

    So what should you read?

    Anything you like.

    The problem isn’t that there’s a huge variety of different kinds of news sources. That can be an asset if harnessed properly.

    The problem is a crippling lack of media literacy in the general population and the widening partisan cultural divide between right and left. The problem is people on the right or left believing their favorite information source is the only arbiter of truth and facts simply because it generally agrees with them.

    The problem is noise, yes, but also a general inability for people to cut through it to find the signal.

    So read anything you like. I would only implore you to know what it is, where it’s coming from, what kind of information it’s sharing – and not sharing – and what other sources are saying too.

    What you like, what you believe and what you share with others is up to you. Just don’t claim that solid, trustworthy news reporting is being withheld from you or is hard to find. Unless you live in a totalitarian regime, it’s not.

    Despite the constant ragging on the media landscape, there’s probably better, deeper investigative journalism reaching a larger audience today than there’s ever been. It’s just a matter of sifting through the mountains of garbage to find it.

    My advice would be to read things from across these categories. The super basic 24-hour news grind can keep you apprised of the latest, reading newspapers can scrape at the layers beneath that story, partisan opinion sites can lend voice to each side of an issue and even the hyperpartisan hatchet jobs can lend insight into how the fringes are thinking.

    If you need to rely on your Facebook and Twitter feeds, go for it, just simply Like or Follow a huge variety of different news sources and the information will come to you. After that, you just need to read what trickles into your stream.

    All that said, this guide isn’t perfect, this I know. It’s not meant to be perfect, as I’m not sure that’s an attainable goal. People will poke at it, and I gladly welcome constructive criticism. But I hope this attempt at a media guide can at least generate some good discussion and add even the slightest bit of clarity to an increasingly controversial subject.

    1. Media Bias Fact Check Link  2

    2. Kiely, Eugene and Robertson, Lori. “How to spot fake news” FactCheck.org. November 18, 2016 Link 

    3. Couts, Andrew. “Here are all the ‘fake news’ sites to watch out for on Facebook” DailyDot. November 16, 2016 Link 

    4. Fake News Watch Link 

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Datamancy is the work of Frey Hargarten, a data journalist and artist.

Don't take my word for anything -- do lots of research instead. My work here is offered under the Creative Commons license.

Opinions are mine and don't reflect the stances of my employer.

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