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March 07 2012


Can Geeks Defeat Lies? Thoughts on a Fresh New Approach to Dealing With Online Errors, Misrepresentations, and Quackery

This afternoon, I’ll be at MIT for this conference, sponsored by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard and the MIT Center for Civic Media and entitled “Truthiness in Digital Media: A symposium that seeks to address propaganda and misinformation in the new media ecosystem.” Yesterday was the scholarly and intellectual part of the conference, where a variety of presenters (including yours truly) discussed the problem of online misinformation on topics ranging from climate change to healthcare—and learned about some whizzbang potential solutions that some tech folks have already come up with. And now today is the “hack day” where, as MIT’s Ethan Zuckerman put it, the programmers and designers will try to think of ways to “tackle tractable problems with small experiments.”

In his talk yesterday, Zuckerman quoted a helpful—if frankly, somewhat jarring—analogy for thinking about political and scientific misinformation. It’s one that has been used before in this context: You can think of the dissemination of misinformation as someone akin to someone being shot. Once the bullet has been fired and the victim hit, you can try to run to the rescue and stanch the bleeding—by correcting the “facts,” usually several days later. But, psychology tells us that that approach has limited use—and to continue the analogy, it might be a lot better to try to secure a flak jacket for future victims.

Or, better still, stop people from shooting. (I’m paraphrasing Zuckerman here; I did not take exact notes.)

From an MIT engineer’s perspective, Zuckerman noted, the key question is: Where is the “tractable problem” in this, uh, shootout, and what kind of “small experiments” might help us to address it? Do we reach the victim sooner? Is a flak jacket feasible? And so on.

The experimenters have already begun attacking this design problem: I was fascinated yesterday by a number of canny widgets and technologies that folks have come up with to try to defeat all manner of truthiness.

read more

July 15 2011


Talisman Energy Shelves "Friendly Fracosaurus" Coloring Book After Colbert Smackdown

Talisman Terry, the Friendly Fracosaurus, has been officially suspended from his duties as an unconventional gas mascot. The cartoon dinosaur was used to narrate Talisman Energy’s company coloring book which described the dangerous process of unconventional gas extraction as safe, clean and patriotic.

Talisman Energy decided to shelve the promotional material after numerous reports criticized the company for engaging in child-directed propaganda. The coloring book, called “Talisman Terry’s Energy Adventures,” portrays gas drilling processes in simplistic and euphoric terms, giving the impression that these controversial drilling techniques, which are connected to numerous instances of air pollution and water contamination, are environmentally beneficial. The 24-page book features images of drilling sites with smiling wildlife and overarching rainbows.

Talisman Energy has been cited for numerous environmental violations and has one of the worst drilling records in Pennsylvania, a fact the children’s book made no mention of.

The controversial book became national news after it was reported by Stephen Colbert on Monday. “The Colbert Report” created its own Fracosaurus parody, showing Terry depressed and killing himself in a methane explosion after lighting a cigarette in the shower. Similar incidents have occurred across the States when methane contamination of domestic water supplies creates a highly explosive build up in confined spaces, like bathrooms.

Soon after the spoof, Talisman Energy announced on Fox News that they had stopped distributing the material. Company spokesperson Natalie Cox tried to downplay the tide of criticism by saying that “there’s two sides to every story.” The company is “not going to continue to dispute the intent of a children’s coloring book,” she said, adding, “we’re going to take our company’s focus to where it should be.” 

The coloring book has also received some negative response from U.S. Representative Ed Markey, D-Mass. Markey, at a recent Energy and Mineral Resources and Agriculture Joint Subcommittee hearing, referred to Talisman Terry as a “loveable dinosaur” who “playfully promotes the benefits of natural gas and paints a picture of a magical world filled with smiling rocks and grinning animals.” The problem, he says, “is that unless you are a ‘FRACK-A-SAURUS’ named ‘Talisman Terry,’ this world doesn’t exist.” 

Communities suffering the effects of unconventional gas extraction, he continues, suffer “contamination of water supplies, loss of property value, deteriorating health conditions, dead livestock, and destruction of pristine forest and agriculture lands.”

When Talisman spokesperson Cox says the company is prepared to ‘take their focus where it should be’ we can only hope she means to address these concerns for community and environmental health.

Sponsored post

July 12 2011


Stephen Colbert Skewers Talisman Energy Over Gas Fracking Coloring Book

Stephen Colbert devoted a must-see segment of The Colbert Report last night to the subject of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), mocking gas company Talisman Terry for its coloring book propaganda, "Talisman Terry's Energy Adventure" [PDF] and generally eviscerating the gas industry's efforts to greenwash fracking in the wake of widespread public concern over water contamination and other threats posed by the industry's drilling operations.

Colbert's team certainly had fun mocking Talisman's "Friendly Fracosaurus" character, revealing some "bonus pages" of the dinosaur facing his "violated ancestors" and committing suicide - frackicide? - by lighting a cigarette in the shower.  These references were surely amusing to viewers of Gasland and other followers of the fracking controversy.

Watch the video:

Video courtesy of The Colbert Report.

June 13 2011


Tom Ridge Claimed "I'm Not a Lobbyist" on Colbert Report, But The Facts Prove Otherwise

Tom Ridge, on the Thursday, June 9 edition of the Colbert Report, claimed he is "not a lobbyist." A quick glance at his resume shows that nothing could be further from the truth.

Ridge, now 65 years-old, has worn multiple hats throughout his extensive political career. Among them: first ever head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under the Bush Administration from 2003-2005, former Governor of Pennsylvania from 1995-2001, and former Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from from 1983-1995.<--break->

Upon leaving the DHS in 2005, Ridge commenced his career as a lobbyist, opening a lobby shop known as Ridge Global, located in Washington, D.C, an entity he still currently heads. Beyond this stint, though, Ridge is also a paid "consultant" (a.k.a. lobbyist) for the Marcellus Shale Coaltion. This Coalition is a "trade association" in disguise, for in reality it is a gas industry-funded lobbying organization.

That aside, one must look no further than the Pennsylvania Department of State's lobbyist registry for the real smoking gun evidence. (See attached lobbying disclosure for Tom Ridge.)<!--break-->

The registry shows that the Coalition has 11 lobbyists registered to advocate for fracking in the Marcellus Shale region, and in Pennsylvania in particular, among those listed include Coalition Executive Director Kathryn Klaber and Tom Ridge. The registry also shows that their paychecks come from none other than Ridge Global.

Open Secrets, a project of the Center for Responsive Politics, shows that since 2010, the Marcellus Shale Coalition has recieved $90,000 from Ridge GlobalOpen Secrets also shows that Ridge is currently a paid lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, chairing their National Security Task Force. Furthermore, he is the current recipient of a $900,000 a year paycheck from the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

And yet, though the evidence against his claim is quite damning, Ridge had the chutzpah to begin his June 9, 2011 interview on the Colbert Report with a bang, claiming he is "not a lobbyist."

Not a lobbyist? Under what definition, exactly?

As it turns out, Ridge has previously been scolded by the Justice Department for failing to properly register as a lobbyist. Perhaps Mr. Ridge needs to review the definition of 'lobbyist.'  Here is the Washington Post's definition, for instance: "A person who tries to influence legislation on behalf of a special interest."

Mr. Ridge's work on behalf of the gas industry clearly qualifies as lobbying under any reasonable review.


AttachmentSize Tom Ridge PA Lobbying Disclosure.pdf7.31 MB
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