Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bigger the Better? Not So Much.

The WikiLeaks information dump of over 90,000 documents covering the war in Afghanistan has some journalists quite worried. Not just about the content of the reports (although there is plenty to be concerned with on that front), but about what the reaction to the leak means for the media and the public. Specifically, the lack of much reaction at all. NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen points out that often huge revelations produce the smallest consequences (how sadly ironic). At some level, the information overload is so great that people just ignore it and move on to something more bite-sized.
Some quotes: 
'We tend to think: big revelations mean big reactions. But if the story is too big and crashes too many illusions, the exact opposite occurs.' My fear is that this will happen with the Afghanistan logs. Reaction will be unbearably lighter than we have a right to expect— not because the story isn’t sensational or troubling enough, but because it’s too troubling, a mess we cannot fix and therefore prefer to forget.
Last week, it was the Washington Post’s big series, Top Secret America, two years in the making. It reported on the massive security shadowland that has arisen since 09/11. The Post basically showed that there is no accountability, no knowledge at the center of what the system as a whole is doing, and too much “product” to make intelligent use of. We’re wasting billions upon billions of dollars on an intelligence system that does not work. It’s an explosive finding but the explosive reactions haven’t followed, not because the series didn’t do its job, but rather: the job of fixing what is broken would break the system responsible for such fixes.
The mental model on which most investigative journalism is based states that explosive revelations lead to public outcry; elites get the message and reform the system. But what if elites believe that reform is impossible because the problems are too big, the sacrifices too great, the public too distractible? What if cognitive dissonance has been insufficiently accounted for in our theories of how great journalism works… and often fails to work?
I don’t have the answer; I don’t even know if I have framed the right problem.
Regardless of how it is framed, I think Rosen has identified a troubling problem. How does one communicate truly consequential ideas or findings in a way that has real consequence? How do you get someone out from under a pile of information to go act (and react) in the world? Is it a matter of being overwhelmed into paralysis or not really caring to begin with? Some questions worth considering.

The rest of Rosen's post also brings up a number of points about the nature of WikiLeaks (the "world’s first stateless news organization") and the rise of the political press. Read it here.

Related article at Slate: The WikiLeaks Paradox
And another (added 7/29): How to Give (and Take) a Leak - drip irrigation works better than a monsoon

Thursday, July 15, 2010

They're Made Out of Meat

Just came across a short story that brought me back to the beginning of high school. It'd be fair to say it was one of the first pieces of writing to get me interested in the whole mind/body problem and philosophy in general. I had completely forgotten about it. It's pretty amazing (in a gross but awesome sci-fi way).

They're Made out of Meat, by Terry Bisson

"They're made out of meat."
"Meat. They're made out of meat."
"There's no doubt about it. We picked up several from different parts of the planet, took them aboard our recon vessels, and probed them all the way through. They're completely meat."
"That's impossible. What about the radio signals? The messages to the stars?"
"They use the radio waves to talk, but the signals don't come from them. The signals come from machines."
"So who made the machines? That's who we want to contact."
"They made the machines. That's what I'm trying to tell you. Meat made the machines."
"That's ridiculous. How can meat make a machine? You're asking me to believe in sentient meat."
"I'm not asking you, I'm telling you. These creatures are the only sentient race in that sector and they're made out of meat."
"Maybe they're like the orfolei. You know, a carbon-based intelligence that goes through a meat stage."
"Nope. They're born meat and they die meat. We studied them for several of their life spans, which didn't take long. Do you have any idea what's the life span of meat?"
"Spare me. Okay, maybe they're only part meat. You know, like the weddilei. A meat head with an electron plasma brain inside."
"Nope. We thought of that, since they do have meat heads, like the weddilei. But I told you, we probed them. They're meat all the way through."
"No brain?"
"Oh, there's a brain all right. It's just that the brain is made out of meat! That's what I've been trying to tell you."
"So ... what does the thinking?"
"You're not understanding, are you? You're refusing to deal with what I'm telling you. The brain does the thinking. The meat."
"Thinking meat! You're asking me to believe in thinking meat!"
"Yes, thinking meat! Conscious meat! Loving meat. Dreaming meat. The meat is the whole deal!  Are you beginning to get the picture or do I have to start all over?"
"Omigod. You're serious then. They're made out of meat."
"Thank you. Finally. Yes. They are indeed made out of meat. And they've been trying to get in touch with us for almost a hundred of their years."
"Omigod. So what does this meat have in mind?"
"First it wants to talk to us. Then I imagine it wants to explore the Universe, contact other sentiences, swap ideas and information. The usual."
"We're supposed to talk to meat."
"That's the idea. That's the message they're sending out by radio. 'Hello. Anyone out there. Anybody home.' That sort of thing."
"They actually do talk, then. They use words, ideas, concepts?"
"Oh, yes. Except they do it with meat."
"I thought you just told me they used radio."
"They do, but what do you think is on the radio? Meat sounds. You know how when you slap or flap meat, it makes a noise? They talk by flapping their meat at each other. They can even sing by squirting air through their meat."
"Omigod. Singing meat. This is altogether too much. So what do you advise?"
"Officially or unofficially?"
"Officially, we are required to contact, welcome and log in any and all sentient races or multibeings in this quadrant of the Universe, without prejudice, fear or favor. Unofficially, I advise that we erase the records and forget the whole thing."
"I was hoping you would say that."
"It seems harsh, but there is a limit. Do we really want to make contact with meat?"
"I agree one hundred percent. What's there to say? 'Hello, meat. How's it going?' But will this work? How many planets are we dealing with here?"
"Just one. They can travel to other planets in special meat containers, but they can't live on them. And being meat, they can only travel through C space. Which limits them to the speed of light and makes the possibility of their ever making contact pretty slim. Infinitesimal, in fact."
"So we just pretend there's no one home in the Universe."
"That's it."
"Cruel. But you said it yourself, who wants to meet meat? And the ones who have been aboard our vessels, the ones you probed? You're sure they won't remember?"
"They'll be considered crackpots if they do. We went into their heads and smoothed out their meat so that we're just a dream to them."
"A dream to meat! How strangely appropriate, that we should be meat's dream."
"And we marked the entire sector unoccupied."
"Good. Agreed, officially and unofficially. Case closed. Any others? Anyone interesting on that side of the galaxy?"
"Yes, a rather shy but sweet hydrogen core cluster intelligence in a class nine star in G445 zone. Was in contact two galactic rotations ago, wants to be friendly again."
"They always come around."
"And why not? Imagine how unbearably, how unutterably cold the Universe would be if one were all alone ..."

Apparently, some fans also made a short video version of the story.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Article Published in ACSM Health & Fitness Journal!

"Injury Risks for the Female Athlete" is finally out in print!! After hopping and squealing around my room in excitement, I sat down and read the From the Editor at the beginning of the journal:
The risk of injury is low when doing moderate-intensity physical activity, but increases with exercise intensity, especially in a competitive environment. And in this regard, female athletes are at a higher risk than male athletes. In her feature, Injury Risks for the Female Athlete, Marielena Groeger, B.A., provides a concise review of women’s unique physiological and biomechanical responses to exercise that influences risk, and outlines measures that can be taken to prevent injury. Given the large number of girls and women involved in fitness programs and competitive sports, this article is an important read for all of us.

Yeah! So super happy about this.

(If you wanna read it, email me and I'll send you the final PDF)

And thanks to Hannah for this very relevant article in the NY Times about exercise science and women.