Rationally speaking, is a presentation of New York City skeptics dedicated to promoting critical thinking, skeptical inquiry and science education. For more information, please visit us at NYC Skeptic's Doug. Welcome to, rationally speaking, the podcast, where we explore the borderlands between reason and nonsense. I'm your host master and sort of with me, as always, is my co-host, Julia Gillard. Julia, where are you?
I am in California on a business trip, so I am technically not with you for the first time in our two year history. But as you know, I am always with you in spirit, of course.
And what are we going to talk about today? Today we have a guest in the studio where I am not. Howard Schneider is the dean of the School of Journalism at Stony Brook University. And for more than 35 years was a reporter and editor at Newsday. For nearly 18 of those years, he was managing editor and then editor of Newsday. He is the executive director of the Center for News Literacy, which is devoted to training the next generation of news consumers.
It's a course that has spread to us since its origin to twenty nine other universities around the country. And he also helped found the Center for Communicating Science with Alan Alda. And last but not least, he has been an honored guest at Nexxus in our very first year, which is how I first made his acquaintance.
So, of course, you know, that's where the real prestige is to remind people, of course, that's the not the Northeast conference for science and skepticism. Oh, right. I don't know. That's right. Welcome, Howard. Thank you so much for joining us.
It's my pleasure to be here. And we should also add as a further disclosure that actually I was one of the people on the committee that hired Howard Stern.
I'm not sure I knew that. So that's nice to know at this point.
I'm so glad we're the kind of show that have major revelations unbeknownst to the guests. To the guests. Right. Right. So I always envisioned myself hosting. So so, Howard, what we wanted to talk to you about today was a cluster of topics about the role of the media in dealing with sort of controversial issues involving potential misunderstandings of science and and pseudoscience and what role you feel the media should play, what things you feel the media could be doing or should be doing to help improve people's understanding of what's going on in the world and in science in particular.
And this is something that was treated in the in the panel that you were on at the Northeast Conference in Science and Skepticism a few years ago, where I think you disagreed with a few of our other panelists on how much responsibility the media has for making sure that the public understands which side of controversial scientific issues are, you know, where the truth lies.
I mean, the media certainly has responsibility.
I think the point I made then was that there are two other stakeholders in this equation, one one of the scientists themselves who consistently complained often bitterly about how the news media covers controversial subjects.
And yet those scientists are reluctant to talk to the media or to even make what they do accessible to the public and to there's the public often bringing tremendous personal biases, cognitive dissonance, and only wanting to believe what they want to believe to the table.
And you've got to deal with all three parts of that equation to solve this problem.
So in some sense, are you saying that the media is kind of like the piano player? It's easy to shoot at him because he's sitting there.
It's always easy to shoot to be, oh, you just look at who's running for president. You know, everybody's blaming the media. Everybody blames the media. And that's been going on for 500 years.
So it's not them ever since there has been the media.
Exactly. But the point is, however, you did say, I think correctly, that there are at least three stakeholders in this game, still, the media is one of them now from from the point of view of a journalist.
Therefore, let's let's start with one of your complaints, which is the scientists themselves. What would you like ideally a scientist to do when talking to you or two things we need?
I think we need scientists to do one, we need to make them understand that they are public citizens. First and most important thing, they have an obligation. This is not an add on. This is not a burden.
They have an obligation to communicate effectively with the public. They need to be able to tell the public what they do, what they know, what they don't know, how they know, what they know. In part, many of them are being supported by taxpayers. I spoke to a bunch of scientists and I reminded them that AIG was not the only outfit that had to be accountable to the public. It didn't go over too well. But the notion here is that people are doing things with public money.
They have a responsibility. So one of the most important thing is the recognition of that. And I don't think that many scientists recognize it. Then there is the actual content of what they say and their ability to communicate. It's not enough to say, I'm going to tell you what I know. And if you don't get it, it's your problem. It's not my problem. That is not communication. That is not communication. And so it's important that scientists recognize that what they know is half of communication, their ability to connect with their audience is the other half of the communication.
That's why it's the only book we created, the center that's attempting to train scientists, current and future scientists in how to do this effectively.
Well, you know, two points on what you just said. First of all, you're absolutely right, of course, that a large amount of the funding for science does come from the general public, even even the scientists who actually operate at private universities. Their salary might not come from the public, although often their summer salary does.
But but certainly their major funding for the research is usually NSF, NIH or one of the other federal agencies. So that's I think you're absolutely right. Of course, as you know, aware of the problem, there is an entrenched academic culture, frankly, not just the fault of the academics themselves, but also the administrators that enforces a sort of mindset according to which getting grants and getting technical papers out is absolutely and by far the most important thing for your career.
A distant second is your teaching and service, which usually is intended a service within the university, but could in fact, you know, include public service comes as a really, really distant third.
And that suggests that that is a cultural problem, that it's very difficult to overturn.
I mean, I think you're right that it should be overturned, but I think it's beginning to change Masimo. It's beginning to change in the following ways. I think younger scientists surveys and we've done and other people have done surveys, younger scientists seem more willing to talk to the press.
They don't view it as a negative many of the older scientists, because they are very nervous about how the press will deliver what they say.
I think younger scientists understand it may actually help their career, not hurt their careers.
I also think that the scientists are beginning to understand that if they want funding at a time when funding is shrinking, if they want to combat what they view as this flood of misinformation, whether it's about vaccines and autism or climate change, they're going to have to do something.
They just can't be passive. And we've seen that over and over again. When misinformation gets out there, you know, it's very hard to combat and less authoritative people who are very good communicators are very aggressive and are able to counter that misinformation quickly. And I think some scientists are beginning to understand that at Stony Brook, we now have the first department, the first there's a mass course that is requiring first program ever to require these courses in communication for their degree.
Now, it was up to me and I'm a relatively new person to academia because I've only arrived five or six years ago. And when I suggest that the most profound change should be in tenure, that if you made communicating science a tenure requirement, you would see a culture change overnight. But I usually get hooded and thrown out of the room when I mention that, well, I have absolutely support for that.
But I also wanted to point out the second part of the equation that you mentioned earlier, which is scientists are often academics in general.
I often not. They're good at communicating fact. Frankly, an open secret is that often? Not always for sure. They're also not that good at teaching, which is partly related with communicating. There seems to be there's an assumption in within you can I mean that if you're brilliant or very good at your technical job, whatever that may be, you know, molecular biology, fundamental physics or whatever, then automatically.
That means you are also very good at teaching introductory courses in that discipline. In my experience, this is certainly not the case. I mean, there are some colleagues who are brilliant teachers as well as academics, but not that the two are essentially two independent sets of skills. So that may be an additional problem when we're talking.
No, I'm sorry. Go ahead, Julia. Oh, I was just going to say that this problem really seems like the ideal context for a top down solution imposed by the department in just as you were describing the way that tenure decisions are made, because it's a case where there are these positive externalities of a behavior that don't get the behavior being public outreach, and those benefits don't get read by the individual themselves. So it's just a case of misaligned incentives.
People have no individual incentive to do the thing that's good for their entire field in terms of increasing public support for an understanding of what they're doing. So this is economic theory tells us this is a clear case in which you need some sort of top down solution to to make people's personal compensation, personal reward, align better with what they're doing for the field as a whole.
Although there is a self-interest here, it helps the scientists. We've been now training scientists for two years. It helps them get jobs. It helps them get funding. It helps them communicate with colleagues in other disciplines when they need to collaborate for grants.
This is has a societal component, which is very important, but it is personally in the self-interest of scientists to do this.
And just to get back to your point, Massimo, it's not easy to do this for scientists. And so what what Alan Alda has done, for instance, is we're teaching scientists improvisational theatre now.
People say, wait, what are you doing?
You're turning these people into actors or comedians? Absolutely not.
We take these students in physics, biochemistry, we take working scientists. And we've traveled around the country and we teach them improvisational theatre so that they will become dynamically attentive to their audience if you are in improv.
Maximov, you and I are in improv right now, you can't do a thing unless you get a cue from me, either a verbal cue or a cue from my body language. You are frozen. And so by going through that training and we've seen changes, we do videotaping of all of these people before and after they give talks and we give them no, you know, tutorials about how to change.
And we see that there are changes just because they seem to awaken to this idea that there's somebody on the receiving end of this information. Yeah, absolutely.
I mean, I always thought that the teaching and of course, public speaking, which is a form of teaching, it is in fact a type of, you know, performance, and therefore you are good at it, not only if you know, of course, what you're talking about, that is certainly a prerequisite, but it's it's necessary but not sufficient.
You can be knowledgeable all you want, but if you're afraid, you don't engage, you don't get the attention of your of your audience, then you might as well talk to, you know, to talk to a wall.
And so it is important. And one of the things that has always struck me as strange is that in within the academy, you never get any training on how to teach. Right. You know, you just you throw a great student off the lamp in his spare hours and into the classroom to teach a bunch of students, you know, a lot, of course, or whatever. And you give them precisely no background into how to deal with an audience, how to interact, how to capture and maintain people's attention.
It's it's it's it's insane, I think.
And I think there's another question I'd like to throw out to you and Julia about this, which is that there may be an inherent bias. By scientists in the following way, and this is what we discover and with all the emphasis as scientists appear often to be afraid to be personal, to be compelling, to share their passions, they are data driven.
They are fearful of being anything less than objective. They tell their stories in the way they write their research papers. In this linear fashion, they don't say, here's the point, here's why it's important. They don't say, here's why I got into this field. Here's why I work 18 hours a day. Here's why I am passionate. Here are the dead ends I ran up against. They don't seem. And one of the things we try to do is train them and tell them that they can be compelling and they can be vivid without dumbing down their science or compromising their science.
And I wonder how you and Julia react to that.
Hmm. Yeah, I've had a similar I've had a similar thought regarding the teaching of math that the actual process of coming up with a a mathematical proof or just, you know, mathematical results involves the sort of very organic, like trying this out and it doesn't work. And then you follow this intuition and it leads you to this place and then you have this like, exciting confirmation. And so it's this it's this like quest that you're on with a payoff at the end.
But then when it's taught to people, it's taught and just sort of the simplest way that you can prove the theorem possible. And it might actually bear very little relation to how it was actually discovered. And so what people miss out there miss out on is the experience of what it's like to be a mathematician and follow in the footsteps of someone actually discovering mathematical results. And it's also often not even the most intuitive way to understand a concept.
So why is it taught that way? I'm not a scientist. I'm a journalist. So I know why. Why is it taught that way? Why is the passion drained out of it?
Why is the mystery drained out of it? And the process? If you talk about the public educating the public about science, understanding that scientific truth is provisional, why is that drained out of the teaching of science?
Well, I can tell you that that a similar situation to what Judah was describing math is typical of the of the empirical sciences in this way.
In fact, our you mentioned something earlier that remind me of what the problem is. So if you read any sign, any scientific paper, it's written in a very linear fashion, in a very logical fashion, and it's always the same.
So there is a template, OK, you have an introduction, you have which you explain what the problem is, you know, the big picture. Then you have the materials and methods where you explain to people what you actually done during the experiments. You have the results where you present what you obtained, the data, and finally you have the discussion where you reconnect everything to the introduction.
Now, it's very linear. It's it's it's supposed to be written in a very personal way. Its third person narrative, very dry. I've actually had editors editing out of Reuters because they thought that that was distracting from the point of the paper.
But not only that, so so that's the way it's presented. Right. Which has very little resemblance as as Judith was saying, for mathematics to the way in which things actually go.
But it has even little resemblance to the way in which the paper itself is written. Whenever I advise my other students to how to write a paper, I tell them never, ever start from the introduction. You start, first of all, from the thing you know best and you're done.
It's simpler to explain which is the materials and methods. Then you put together the tables for the results once you got the two central portions of the paper, and then you can go back to the introduction and make a story, basically come up with a story about what it is that you're about to tell them. But you already told them. In fact, you wrote that story and finally you go to the discussion because now you've got the whole picture put together.
So even the way the sequence of writing the paper, it's different from the way in which the paper is actually presented.
And they're so standardised that whatever these that these templates are standardized, that you literally cannot have a empirical paper accepted by a junior unless it is written in that third person, very linear, very structure kind of way.
I think the underlying reason for that is a desire for not only standardization and, you know, which in theory facilitates communications among peers, but also for objectivity. You want to give this impression because I think it is an impression that the whole thing was done logically from the beginning, that that, you know, everything follows logically from your premises.
But it doesn't it doesn't work that way. It's all more fun the way it actually works.
And I'll even accept that, that there may be even a reason to do that for your colleagues, OK, who are all part of the culture and they get it or hopefully get it.
But now you're talking to different audiences and there's a. Time and place for that communication, absolutely, but now you're talking to the public or you're talking to funders, we talk to one funder in Washington.
We got a federal grant for the center who said that researchers would come before his committee and make proposals. And all of the the members of the committee would put their hands over the microphone and then whisper to each other.
Do you understand what he's saying? Do you understand what he's saying now?
I think one of the records that's not a good one of the great principles of communication is just and this is so simple is understanding your audience. The key here is not to always communicate the same to every audience. And when you're communicating with your colleagues in your specialty versus maybe colleagues outside your specialty, maybe with public officials, maybe with students and maybe with the general public, you've got to adapt. And the question is whether scientists are learning how to do that and they realize they have an obligation to do it.
And I think the culture has to change.
Right. But I think that the resistance there, as you say, I do agree that it's changing. And I actually want to talk a little more about how it's changing in a minute.
But I think that the resistance to do what you're suggesting is that many scientists, many academics and journalists, not just scientists, but scientists in particular, have this feeling that soon as you start changing your presentation and adapting and as you were saying to the audience and all that sort of stuff, you're sort of dumbing down things you're way, you know, so you're lowering your cheapening your message.
But, you know, that's just the reality. It's not a matter of cheapening or dumbing down.
It's a matter of if you talk to to every audience in the same way, it's the likely result is you're going to lose 90 percent of the people.
And so you're wasting your time.
Right, Richard Feynman? Go ahead. I'm sorry.
I think I would say that I'd pick it apart in a slightly different way, that I think it's a pretty reliable heuristic and a lot of cases that when someone seems to be trying to jazz things up or pretty them up, that you should be a little bit suspicious that the ideas can't stand on their own or like they're trying to distract you from the fuzziness of an idea or something like that. And that I think that's behind a lot of the the prioritization of a really clear, straightforward communication in the sciences.
And I think it serves them really well. It just doesn't translate very well into public communication.
I mean, there's nothing wrong with being clear and interesting. It's not a crime to be interesting. It doesn't mean you're dumbing down your science. We've tried it. Last week, we tried an experiment. We had a scientist walk into a bar.
He sat down on the bar and he ordered a beer next to him on the bar was a member, a faculty member in the school of journalism who was also a former producer of 60 Minutes. And they began talking about the Super Bowl. This was a couple of days after the Super Bowl and they began talking about the physics of the Super Bowl.
He was a physicist, changes young who I don't know if you remember Masimo when you were at Stony Brook University. And he began to talk about the physics of sports and about, you know, did Michael Jordan this idea that the famous basketball player could hang in the air longer than other people and that Mariano Rivera, his fastball rises, is any of that really when you look at physical laws and we had 90 ordinary people sitting in the bar, we had arranged this drinking beer and listening to this conversation and then participating.
It was a way it's called science on tap. We're going to do it every month. It's another experiment in breaking down the boundaries here between scientists and ordinary people and humanizing the scientists. And I suspect and we're survey that those people learn some things about physics in that particular setting. I'm sure scientists and there were those there may have felt I didn't learn anything or maybe it was too simple, but none of the science was inaccurate.
There was nothing inaccurate about the science.
But we actually if we're talking about creating changing the culture, this is something I've noticed a lot, at least in New York and especially in Brooklyn, that there's now this culture over the last maybe five to six years of it being really cool, like a cool thing to do at night, to go out to a bar and listen to a science lecture and talk about the secret science club for the secret science.
That's really top scientists come and and present, you know, and really beautifully told stories, too, just like you're talking about Howard, the most exciting parts of the research. But there's also nerd night where people come in and give interesting talks about nerdy subjects. And there's the story collider where scientists and science writers come and tell stories about their lives and their work. And this is I mean, this is like a cool date now. So if we can just if there's any way to spread this culture from, you know, hipsters in Brooklyn to the rest of the country will be golden.
But there are at least seeds of what you're talking about.
Maybe, you know, God help us. We can bring it to campuses. Maybe we can even get more students inspired. Not so much, I guess, at the university level, but at. High schools in particular get them inspired to want to be scientists because they can really relate to these people who are doing science in a very powerful way. So I think, you know, that's some of some of the kinds of things that we when we talk earlier here about, OK, you know, there's this misinformation and their science illiteracy and what role does the media play?
You can see that this is a much more complicated question.
And it's not just about science. So it cuts across disciplines. You know, an example similar to the one the ones that Julia was talking about in terms of, you know, making the discipline cool and and popular and all that sort of stuff happens also, for instance, in philosophy here in New York. So I have colleagues in my company and in other departments of philosophy who are absolutely convinced that, you know, the public, the students and everybody is completely refractor to philosophy.
It's one of those things that unless you have this particular interest in this particular passion, nobody's going to care.
I have empirical evidence that that is not the case in film in New York alone that are, by last count, seven meet ups that are devoted entirely to philosophy, something which are pretty specialized. I run one of them. I run it for more than five years, and we had more than a thousand members. Every time that I announce a meetup, it fills up in a matter minutes.
So it's it's not that the interest is not there. It's then on the academic side, there is this assumption that it's not there.
And there is this assumption that, well, people are going to be bored if I talk to them about what what excites me.
And the answer there is, well, they will if you talk about them as a robot, but if you talk to them as an engaging, normal human being who has a passion similar to the passion that an artist might have or a musician might have for what they do, then it's a whole different game.
I think you're right. Can I redirect the conversation a little bit, Howard, and ask you I'm curious if there are any recent scientific issues or controversies that you think were particularly poorly handled or well handled by the media? Like just to throw out an example, the issue with the Large Hadron Collider, a public square over whether it would create a black hole that would, you know, destroy the earth instantaneously. That was like that to me, seems like a sort of example where the media latched on to something exciting, in some sense sensationalistic without really being clear in their presentation of just how credible this idea was.
And it created just even among, like, really smart, educated people. I know it created a lot of concern over the kind of research into the LHC people are doing. So I don't know, maybe you have other examples or maybe you have other thoughts on that.
Well, the first thing I would I would caution people to do is talk about the media, OK, you know, talk about the media, the news media in particular. We're talking about hundreds and thousands of news outlets. We're talking about, you know, in New York City, newspapers that range from The New York Post to The New York Times. We're talking about thousands of news websites. We're talking about bloggers who virally spread misinformation. We're talking about cable television, which has become a culture of assertion.
We're talking about some very good news reports.
So it always gets me makes me uncomfortable when we talk about the media. And I would much rather say, let's focus on the coverage of a particular news outlet or two. And we caution our students in this news literacy course that we teach. We're teaching it to thousands of students to be careful about that. You know that the Hadron Collider was kind of almost fun. I didn't lose any sleep over it.
I don't know anybody who really you know, there was a lot of public buzz for a while.
I'm not sure that is the example I would point to. You know, climate change comes up all the time about whether the news media is giving false equity to those who think that, you know, there are skeptics. There's no such thing as climate change. And, you know, when I look at the news reports carefully, I don't find that. I find most news reports report that there is a consensus of scientists, overwhelming consensus that the earth is warming.
Now, there's a difference of opinion about how fast it's warming, about what are some of the solutions. But most news outlets that I see watching here do not give that kind of false equity.
And yet there's a percentage of Americans that continue to believe and there are some political figures that that continue to say they don't believe in and the idea that the world is actually warming.
So I'm not saying that. And I don't want you to misread me, Julia. There are news outlets that do not do a good job. There are there's irresponsible news outlets. That's the price we pay in America for a very cacophonous, open, you know, diverse press.
But on the whole, I don't I don't see there are many issues that I can think of where there is not.
Good, solid information that's available to news consumers who want to get it, especially on the Web and news outlets, make mistakes. Yes. Is the news media perfect? Not remotely. Even our best outlets make mistakes.
But in inScience, you know, there's confusion in the public about a lot of issues, but I'm not sure it's the result of wholesale or widespread malpractice on the part of the news media. I think another factor is. The audience brings so much to this equation, it doesn't bring or it doesn't bring, and they look at their look at there are Americans, a significant number of Americans who still question whether Obama was born in in America. And we had a big religious leader this week, again, raised the question of is really a Christian.
I mean, there is no question that if you would have take a survey of news media outlets reporting on this issue, you would see that there is widespread, especially by any responsible news outlet, has reported that over and over and given documentary proof on these issues.
So, you know, there are other factors here, I guess, stirring things up.
Right. But sort of taking taking the public's level of, I don't know, education and attention span and rationality as as a given as it is. The question, I guess, is whether there are things the media could be doing more of or less of to make the best of the situation. And so I'm thinking of things like I things that are under the media's control. And I know you don't like that shorthand, but do you at the moment, things like when I mean an early sensationalistic results get a ton of buzz and then oftentimes later it's it's followed up.
It turns out it's not a big deal, but that correction gets very little plan. So people go on thinking that they like thinking of the original reporting as being still true. I mean, isn't that the sort of thing the media could make more of an effort to before before you answer?
So I was actually getting in a different way to the same point that you just made, which is, you know, we talk most of the time for this in these areas so far about how scientist should be more engaged with the media and with the public, et cetera.
But there is a dark side to that, too, which has come out in the last few years, which is there's pressure on scientists to sort of sometimes bypass or shortcut the peer review process and go straight to the media.
I know some colleagues who actually have essentially the equivalent of press agencies when before a paper is even accepted for publication, they send it out to the media hoping that it's going to be picked up. And this is a buzz and that sort of stuff, because you're right, it does help their career. But that has the kind of drawbacks that Julia was mentioning.
And I agree with you and Julia. I would say this. There has been a dramatic reduction in the number of specialists working in the news media in the last 10 years in science. And I think this is a very bad for the public and the news media. And I think to that extent, you are right. So we get this report that there may be neutrinos that move faster than the speed of light. And for three days, this you know, it's a great conversation that Einstein Einstein may be wrong.
Now, if you read carefully, many news outlets say that this is preliminary data.
It has not been confirmed, but somehow this takes off in the public consciousness.
And, you know, is it the result that the news media should not have given as much attention to the original reports as it did? Did they overplay, so to speak, that without knowing that this had been confirmed, should they have given it much less attention? It's such a scientifically sexy story. That's a good question.
I mean, you mentioned that story because it is just today's news, which, of course, will be old news about the time this episode actually airs, that apparently there was, in fact, a mistake in the calculation. Right. And it's probably it's not likely at this point that.
Yeah, I think the alien life story a few months ago was another great example, the same kind of thing.
So, you know, I think the one good thing, I think. You know, I think the decision to cut back on science coverage is disastrous for lots of reasons, and one is because I think the public needs to be educated, obviously, and to it requires a level of sophistication in.
This gets to Massimo's point when scientists call you on the phone or a PR agent and and you don't have assigned to a reporter who is well versed and experienced in covering science, you could get trapped into doing bad, bad things.
But the other thing is, I think there is a hunger on the part of many news consumers for stories about awe. And science is about or particularly physics is about oil.
And if you look at The New York Times, I think it was last year or the year before, they did a look at their most frequently emailed stories, the stories that are emailed most, you know that really.
And they were surprised at the number of science stories. And when they looked at those stories, it was the stories that were about the cosmic universe. And there were stories that raise profound questions about what we know and don't know. So I think people are drawn to those stories. The news media just needs to be able to tell them well and be sophisticated about it.
Now, let me ask you a question in a slightly different direction. So we were talking earlier about the new generation of scientists and academics in general getting gradually, if slowly but surely, more involved with the public, with the media, et cetera. Now, we are having this conversation on a podcast episode. The podcast is linked to a blog. I know a lot of my colleagues and of course, I'm myself an academic who have, in fact, started blogs and or podcasts.
How do you see that phenomenon from the point of view of a journalist, not professional journalist?
Well, I'm worried about it a little bit. I can't stop it, nor do I want to stop it. We're in the middle of the most profound communications revolution in 500 years. We have we have made everybody not only a news consumer, but a news producer. We are all now producers. Every time we send a email, every time we send a tweet, every time we post a photograph, every time we create a blog, there are I think they're trying to get the number.
But this is the number. At the end of 2011, there were one hundred and seventy nine. Million blocks, OK, and they're being created at the rate of one hundred thousand an hour, I think it's a million. It may be more.
Most of those blogs are just filled with assertions and impressions by people ranging from those who have great expertise to those who have no expertise. We are now awash in a sea of blogs.
So I worry that the inability of the public to discriminate between what information is reliable, what information is authoritative, where is it coming from, what are the credentials of the person giving me this information? How do I know it's true? Have I verified it someplace else? Those kinds of questions, when they are not asked, can lead to people believing that everything that they see or read is true.
And suddenly this hierarchy of information, the notion that some information is more important, valuable and authoritative than other kinds of information begins to wash away. So that's what I worry about.
Yeah, but as you mentioned, the word credentials. And that's interesting because that's one of the things that I look for whenever somebody sends me a link to a new blog that I haven't seen before, you know, as you said, there's hundreds of thousands, millions of them.
So you don't have time to read even a fraction of them. So one of the first things I usually do, first thing I do is to go and look if there is any information, biographical information about the person who is actually writing or editing the blog.
And, you know, depending on what I read there, I might actually give it, you know, five more seconds and take a look or not. The other thing is that I, in fact, standard sort of traditional news outlets like The New York Times that actually have now started having, you know, collections of blogs.
The The New York Times has, as far as I know, the only philosophy really blog of any newspaper, The Stone.
And, you know, although the quality of of what it's doing there varies, it certainly is an excellent effort to bring philosophy to the general public by academics.
I am not remotely opposed to the notion of blogs. And by the way, blogs are a funny word. You know, there are some blogs that are well reported blogs.
People go out and find information and documents. There are blogs that are purely opinion blogs. There are blogs that aggregate other people's information. There are blogs filled with impressions and so and personal recollections. So, you know, the blog is just another platform.
I'm not saying I'm saying that this this acceleration in the ability of people to just generate information, I think was Eric Schmidt, who is when he was the CEO of Google, said at one point that we now generate as much information in three days.
As a society, as was created from the dawn of time until 2005, and I mean, you know, it's so I just worry that people get awash in this information.
And when people get too much of anything, they either turn off and become passive. And if they become passive, then they don't do their job or they fail to begin to make those kinds of decisions.
And you're talking about a very sophisticated audience. You're a very sophisticated person.
How many emails, Julia, do you ever get from friends who don't check out where they're coming from?
I get them all the time. My friends know by now not to send me that, so I have a selection bias going on, but I do take your point.
I got a couple last week from people in my family about some non-existent bill being pushed by a congressman who they didn't like. And it looked like this was a real thing. And all you had to do was go check out and find out that the bill was not posted on a government website, that Snopes had already said that it was a was a hoax.
And who's the most dangerous person, Mossimo, you can get an email from? Who's the single most dangerous person, according to all the studies.
It's not a trick question. No, no.
This is Julia, who's the most dangerous person. Oh, no. I'm afraid you're going to turn the question on me. I don't know what. It's your mother. I'm. Oh, no, I'm not kidding.
I like her that you're you're warning me against. I am. Please don't I don't want to break up any relationship. You have this good relationship. You know, when I say your mother, all the surveys show people you trust.
You get emails from people you trust. You tend your critical thinking. You know, you get an email that says this is not a scam and from a stranger and you right away say this is a scam. As soon as you get something from somebody you know well, a colleague and I get it, what surprises me, I still get it from people I generally feel are knowledgeable people, but they still send emails around that that are just, you know, fallacious or have, you know, they're misleading or they're hoaxes and they just do it.
And I like you. I send them back, you know, with a with a note saying, you know, what are you doing?
A quick link and debunking link that just give me a great idea for the next app in Google Labs. That can be like an automatic link to the latest SNOP database text like like a hoax that your email is referring to your linking to. It'll automatically check Snopes to see if it's been debunked and it'll it'll appear with a little red warning, you know, when your friend gets it saying actually this has been debunked or are you sure you want to send this email?
That's a good that's a great that's a good idea. That is a good idea.
I have actually one more crazy idea for you, Howard. I'm curious to hear what you think of this. I was thinking about when I compare my experience going to blogs or news sites that just update with the latest stories versus my experience going to websites that are sort of compendiums of information on a particular topic that gets updated. But it's all the updates all happen in the context of a discussion of a particular topic. And I learn far more from going to the latter than to the former.
Like whenever I read a new blog post or new news story doesn't it's never really clear how it fits into the context of all the other stuff on that topic. So I'm wondering if maybe like as newspapers start to move to a more online focused format, maybe the right format for them is not actually the here's the latest news format. Maybe it's just, you know, here's our section of The New York Times on, I don't know, affordable housing policy.
And like, every time there's a new news story that comes out, we're going to update the section, changing the information to make it more current. And we will, like, notify you on the front page that, hey, there's an update to our body of knowledge about affordable housing. Go check it out. What do you think of that?
You know, I think I'm open to some suggestions. I don't want to turn back the clock. We've let the cat out of the bag. We are addicted as a society now to novelty, to newness.
You know, we have people getting up in the middle of the night, going to the bathroom and checking their Blackberries.
I don't think we're going to break that habit. But the notion that we might reconstitute it at least part of the newspaper world.
So the newspaper online would still give you all of the newest things that are happening. I think they have to make an effort to do that. I think we need that. But then to reorganize the the archival piece or to reorganize a different newspaper, in essence, online around the lines you suggest is an alternative. I wouldn't replace it, but it would be something that might be a terrific addition to.
Yeah, right. OK, I guess it wouldn't have to be a replacement. But anyway, you're one of the highest up people in the media world that I know. If I just wanted to get my pitch in, it's OK.
We might get record and we got to think differently.
Well, we are out of time for this section of the podcast and we're about to move on to the rationally speaking picks. But before we do, I'd just like to remind all of our listeners to register for this year's Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism known as Nexxus for short Messman. I will be there recording a live episode of the nationally speaking podcast and that we have a fantastic lineup of speakers and panelists talking about topics like this and many others. I encourage you all to go to the website Nexxus dot org.
That's an iceberg as soon as you can because we do expect to sell out this year. OK, now we're going to wrap up and move on to the rationally speaking pic.
Welcome back. Every episode, Judah and I make a suggestion for our listeners that has called our irrational fancy. This time we ask our guest, our schnieder, for he suggested Howard. Yeah, my suggestion is a website called CPG Dog CPG stands for the Committee to Protect Journalists, and in 1981, a group of American correspondents concerned that their colleagues who were operating overseas and worked for other government, you know, and in other governments and were of other nationalities were going through incredible periods of incarceration, abuse, harassment, murder.
And they came together to form a non-profit organization. And they have a website.
And I have to tell you that of all of the websites we expose our students to at Stony Brook in the news literacy course of all of them, this one uniformly gets the most reaction, because when you go on this website, you will see what's going on around the world and it will shock you.
You will see the kind of battle for information going on day in and day out. You will see, for example, where journalists are being arrested. You will see what's being done or if anything's done, you'll learn that nine hundred journalists have been killed in the last 20 years every four a month or murdered somewhere around the world. We've had three one New York Times correspondent who died while covering Syria, who died of asthma to other journalists, were killed this week in Syria.
You will learn about the fact that in almost more than half of these cases, the journalists are not murdered or not killed because they're in battle, but they are murdered and targeted and selected often by the governments to be killed just because of what they do.
It's a very powerful site. It's a compelling site. If you care about freedom of information, if you care about censorship, if you want to learn about what's happening in other parts of the world. See P.J., Doug.
Thank you so much for bringing that to our collective attention, Howard, and thank you so much for being such an entertaining and enlightening guest on this episode.
It was my pleasure. Have a good trip back from San Francisco. Thank you so much. This concludes another episode of the rationally speaking podcast. Join us next time for more explorations on the borderlands between reason and nonsense.
The rationally speaking podcast is presented by New York City skeptics for program notes, links, and to get involved in an online conversation about this and other episodes, please visit rationally speaking podcast Dog. This podcast is produced by Benny Pollack and recorded in the heart of Greenwich Village, New York. Our theme, Truth by Todd Rundgren, is used by permission. Thank you for listening.