Is this one of the nation’s worst fire seasons?

It has been a bad fire year but some mainstream reporting is getting ahead of itself and seems more intent on providing a propaganda message. In fact, its the worst fire season since … 2015!

Propaganda:

Note the reference to “in one of the nation’s worst fire seasons”.

And:

“worst fire seasons we’ve ever seen”?

Some news writers confused record spending with record wildfires. While there is a linkage, it is not an accurate 1:1 correlation nor is the spending inflation adjusted.

Data:

  • As of September 15th, 2 of the last 10 years burned more acres, and 4 of the last 10 years had more total fires – to date per the National Interagency Fire Center (screen snapshot taken on September 15th, 2017).

It has been a bad fire year, but 2 of the past 10 years were worse – to date – and 4 of the past 10 years had more total fires – to date. And in the context of the last 100 years, it is not unusual and not even close to being “one of the nation’s worst fire seasons”.

Reporting

Many news reports correctly note questions on how the nation has funded (or not funded) wildfire suppression and management. My state’s US Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has been pushing since 2013 for more funding and pro-active management of forests, saying fuels have grown precipitously during a time that fires (a natural process in the west) have been aggressively suppressed.

Oregon Public Broadcasting has a good and lengthy explanation of the issues related to western wildland fires. If you would like to learn more, read it!

It is not fake news to say this is a bad wildland fire year, but the stories slide in that direction when marking it as one of the nation’s worst fire years. That claim is false, based on the data, above, from official government sources.

It is unfortunate that news reporters were unable to spend a few moments with Google in order to add context to their reporting.

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We have lost our ability to think?

The Seattle Times publishes an opinion column advocating Medicare for All.

The column gives quotes of insurance prices with and without Medicare (the author of the column is now on Medicare) and says, see, Medicare costs so much less why can’t we do this for everyone?

Incredibly she left out that she has spent her entire working life subsidizing Medicare by paying Medicare payroll taxes.  She fails to recognize the accumulated Medicare fund is subsidizing those lower prices (a fund that runs out of money in about 2024). The Medicare tax is 1.45% (employer) + 1.45% (employee) or 2.9%, plus 0.9% for certain high wage earners, yielding a maximum 3.8% Medicare tax on wages.

From the hundreds of comments to the column, no one noticed this error. Of course Medicare costs less when you leave out decades of payroll taxes. Duh. Have we lost our ability to think?

Further, as well documented, Medicare is the big kid on the block who pays providers less than anyone else, who in turn, make it up by charging everyone else more.

There may or may not be good reasons for “Medicare for All” (I can think of both advantages and disadvantages) but this column takes a prize for cherry picking idiocy in propaganda messaging. Sadly, the Seattle Times lacks sufficient adult supervision to catch this error: where were the “layers and layers” of editors and fact checkers?

With such a whopper of an error, this column appears to be propaganda messaging by the Seattle Times. By cherry picking, they have created a false argument to favor Medicare for All. The error seems obvious, but then, they are getting away with this as no one seems to see the problem! See how easy it is for propaganda – even blatantly false messaging – to sway public opinion?

Source: Medicare for All: Health care is a right, not a privilege | The Seattle Times

TV news focuses on political outrage and selling eyeballs to advertisers

TV audiences can’t get enough news coverage of Donald Trump. Reporting on pretty much anything else is ratings poison.

Source: Broadcast News Misses Ratings Bonanza With Too Little Trump – Bloomberg

This year I had a chance to travel to several U.S. states. Among all the people I met, politics was avoided. Most seem fed up with politics and the purveyors of politics and definitely fed up with the culture of perpetual outrage.

Media targets a narrow demographic of the perpetually outraged that eats this up for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and then shares their outrage on social media, with links to the “news”! And then the outraged come back for more!

Print publishers and broadcasters are counting the clicks – and outrage sells eyeballs to advertisers. They know what they are doing.

As noted before, “emotional hooks” are a powerful way to promote anything. When we are “emotionally engaged” we tend to stop thinking and are more susceptible to advertising messages (another form of propaganda).

Consequently, it is in the interest of media to imply politics is the only thing that matters in life as it riles up the perpetually outraged into a frenzy of emotion and social media outrage and sharing. All the better to sell stuff!

(Disclaimer – We don’t have cable TV, satellite TV, over the air antenna or a subscription to Internet TV service – we don’t watch TV news!)

As tech companies regulate speech, will they lose their safe harbor? | Coldstreams

Cross posted from my Internet of Things/Technology blog.

Tech companies have argued they are not and cannot be held responsible for speech, including defamatory speech, hosted on their platforms. Now they are specifically removing some types of speech, implying they can and do have the ability to control speech on their platforms, and therefore, may find themselves losing their “safe harbor” defense against defamatory speech.

Source: As tech companies regulate speech, will they lose their safe harbor? | Coldstreams

Eating too much protein will kill you? No, but it grabs the emotions and gets shared on #socialmedia!

Eating too much protein will kill you? That’s the message left by hundreds of headlines and news stories earlier this week. But the statement was misleading at best and untrue in regards to the individual who died. Yet most stories ran with quotes like this:

Meegan Hefford, a mother of two and bodybuilder, died after an overconsumption of protein shakes, supplements and protein-rich foods.

Source: Bodybuilder mom dies from too much protein before competition | New York Post

or “That Extra Scoop of Protein in Your Shake Might Actually Kill You

The family is calling for government regulation of “protein shakes or supplements”, presumably to require a doctor’s prescription and be dispensed at a pharmacy.

Many news stories about this event imply that eating too much protein will kill you. Which it can, if you too suffer from a rare medical disorder. She had a genetic disorder that caused her body to fail to remove ammonia from the blood stream. That’s what killed her.

The disorder is “urea cycle disorder“:

is a genetic disorder caused by a mutation that results in a deficiency of one of the six enzymes in the urea cycle. These enzymes are responsible for removing ammonia from the blood stream. The urea cycle involves a series of biochemical steps in which nitrogen, a waste product of protein metabolism, is removed from the blood and converted to a compound called urea in the blood. Normally, the urea is transferred into the urine and removed from the body. In urea cycle disorders, the nitrogen accumulates in the form of ammonia, a highly toxic substance, resulting in hyperammonemia (elevated blood ammonia). Ammonia then reaches the brain through the blood, where it can cause irreversible brain damage, coma and/or death.

Men’s Health got the story correct. Days later some of the other headlines morphed into the accurate “Australian mom with rare disorder dies eating high-protein diet“.

The media spun this into a viral fiction suitable for sharing on social media. When push comes to ad revenue, the media pays lip service to accurate reporting: It’s about the clicks and the social media shares. One writer says the media was straight up lying about this story to sell ads (I agree).

To make this work for them, the media down played or censored the rare disorder aspect of the story (censorship, cherry picking). If it is mentioned, it is mentioned in passing or at the end of the article. As shown on our blog, most people only read the headlines (especially those shared on social media) – the headline is the story.

The report – which comes from Australia and has no importance to people in the United States – became a focus because of multiple hooks:

  1. “eating too much protein” puts fear into everyone that this could happen to them (use of fear)
  2. Story involves a 25 year old Mom of two kids (stories about Mom’s with young kids target an emotional response),
  3. The victim was a 25 year old blonde fitness fanatic (she’s cute). You may have noticed that CNN and FOX generally *only* cover “cute lost white chicks”, sometimes for days and weeks on end – yet nearly a million people go missing every year and most are eventually found. But unless the missing are cute or have some other emotional hook attached, there is no news coverage and certainly no national news coverage. The subject’s cuteness is a prime reason for the story to run in the United States (every version of the story I checked had at least one and sometimes many photos of the victim). Heck, this one, with its outrageous fiction headline has five photos of the cute victim! And to further prove the point, the 12 year old story of missing Natalee Holloway is back to “Breaking” and “Developing” news reports today because … she’s cute. Remember, over 2,300 people go missing every day but only the missing cute white chicks get covered by the “news” services with saturation coverage for years.

In short, this story used multiple methods of propaganda for the purpose of selling eyeballs to advertisers. The hooks encouraged the sharing of the story on social media, thereby enlarging the potential ad audience.

 

 

Snopes rips the media for fake news stories

An in-depth analysis of the false allegations and misleading claims made against the 45th President since his inauguration.

Source: The Lies of Donald Trump’s Critics, and How They Shape His Many Personas

Read it, please.

I am not a fan of President Trump, did not support him and I am not involved with either the Democrat or Republican parties. I have watched with disbelief, however, as the full power of propaganda messaging has been brought to play by “professional journalists”. There are many, many, many negative things that can be reported accurately and get the point across – but as Snopes documents, reporters have crossed a line into fantasy writing, as if it is their intent to interfere with democracy itself. I have not previously written about this specific topic – propaganda versus Trump – because the topic is overwhelming in scope.

Thankfully, Snopes does an excellent job addressing the absurd levels to which propaganda messaging has become the default position and concludes:

It has to be acknowledged that since January, many of Trump’s opponents, and even lukewarm supporters, have found considerable fault with his policies and behavior, based on accurate facts. There have been many occasions when Trump himself, undistorted and unfiltered, contributed mightily to the four personas we have outlined.

….

[but regarding poorly produced news stories] these sorts of massive exaggerations and gross distortions are even more corrosive and destructive than fake news about diarrhea on the golf course, because they bear some distant relationship with the truth.

Which is precisely how the best propaganda operates – it has at least some link to truth, but bends and distorts that truth to motivate the target to adopt and agenda or take action.

Years ago, I observed the use and power of propaganda to persuade others to adopt someone’s agenda. That led to much study on the subject and to the creation of this blog and Facebook page.

Politics is a minefield of propaganda messaging not only from politicians but also from their fanatical devotees on social media plus their friends in the mainstream media whose bad reporting is shared on social media as confirmation of allegations.

In the linked post, Snopes eviscerates the credibility of professional media (and some of the professional fake news web sites, especially those on social media) due to the media’s having morphed into a full time propaganda operation. In the future (which could be next week), when the Media screams “Wolf!”, few people will believe them anymore.

Remember, there are many, many issues regarding Trump that can be reported accurately and are quite negative for Trump or his policies. There is plenty to bash by just sticking to facts and policies. But the media, as Snopes documents, has become a giant propaganda messaging operation. Discerning truth from such overwhelming propaganda firepower is difficult.

We worry about allegations of foreign nations interfering in our elections but ignore media actually doing so through lies, distortions and inaccurate reporting.

The remarkable power of propaganda

I just scanned Twitter for items about the Affordable Care Act.

I estimate 99% of the Tweets were lies, contained significant errors, left out key information, or significantly exaggerated points. This included linked news stories at main stream news services such as the Los Angeles Times and NPR and others, which contained significant inaccuracies or left out crucial information and data that refuted the thrust of the article.

How many read the ACA? Probably a number approaching zero.

How many researched any of the topics at all? Probably a very small number.

So why are these people posting so much nonsense on Twitter?

Because of the effectiveness of propaganda that has delivered messages to them, which they in turn, regurgitate online, further spreading the propaganda message.

I covered this previously in National public opinion surveys are propaganda messaging in disguise.

Unfortunately, most national surveys of “American’s opinions” are surveys of propaganda effectiveness. The survey itself then adds to the growing body of propaganda messaging on a subject and becomes, itself, a form of propaganda.

You can go to news.google.com and find similar surveys.

  • 9% of American’s Feel Shingles Vaccination is a Priority
  • Many believe race relations will worsen under Trump
  • 68% of Americans believe humans are causing warming
  • 71% of Americans consider granola bars to be healthy

Surveys often follow a period of concerted propaganda messaging in the media.

In these and other cases, the survey is primarily measuring the effectiveness of the propaganda messaging around a subject. Most American’s understand little of the facts or logic for any of these items (and many more). Survey respondents are regurgitating the view given to them by propaganda messaging and the methods used to persuade masses of people.

 

Solar eclipse will increase fire danger?

“Drought over, but eclipse event will raise fire danger”

That is the odd headline of a KATU local TV news report about Oregon State. Authorities think more people will visit Oregon in the summer of 2017 because of a solar eclipse. Since humans cause wild fires, this will increase the wild fire risk.

To strengthen the claim, the local news story emphasizes:

“According to the National Park Service, 90 percent of wildfires in the United States are caused by humans, from unattended campfires, discarded cigarettes or arson.”

Source: Drought over, but eclipse event will raise fire danger | KATU

Wild fires are a serious threat to life and property and the majority of wild fires in the U.S. are indeed caused by human factors.

But two items in the story are misleading:

  1. The 90% figure comes from here. The actual percentage is 84% (and 44% of total area burned) from the PNAS journal article analysis of wild fire records from 1992-2012. This data point was oddly rounded upwards (0.84 rounds to 0.8, not 0.9) as the larger number has a greater emotional impact, a clue we might be seeing propaganda at work. Further, about 60% of the fires inside National Parks are caused by humans, which is not the figure you perceive given the quote above.
  2. In Oregon 48% of wild fires are human caused, not 90%, according to peer reviewed research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (authored by the same scientist who wrote the 1992-2012 analysis). Click on the link, then click on the SI tab, then download the supporting data PDF. Go to the last page of the downloaded PDF document. Search down for OR and read first 3 columns for % of total fires caused by humans or lightning.

Consider the above in the context of propaganda messaging:  KATU delivered a propaganda message that 90% of wild fires in Oregon are started by humans. This claim is not true for Oregon but is the number anchored in the minds of KATU TV news viewers and web site readers.

This propaganda could lead to state-level activism for increased laws, regulations and funding to reduce “90% of wild fires caused by humans”.

Wild fires are a serious threat to life and property in the U.S. and in Oregon State. The purpose of this post is to illustrate how the news media is an active participant in propaganda messaging and made no effort to verify the authenticity of the information and report on the subject accurately. And given the headline (most people read only headlines on social media!), how many will incorrectly conclude that solar eclipses cause wildfires? 🙂

(I notified KATU news of the above and they did not even acknowledge my note to them. I personally watched the May 20, 2012 solar eclipse visible in Northern California. Oddly, there were no concerns about eclipse related wild fires, even though California was in the midst of a drought.)

Most car crashes caused by cellular phone usage?

I saw an item on a Facebook group where the general meme was that everyone knows cellular phone usage while driving is the cause of most vehicle crashes. The data, however, paints a remarkably different picture. Cellular phone usage, per the government’s own data, is a minor causative factor in vehicle crashes.

There are many causative factors in car crashes: one category of causative factors is “distracted driving”. Cellular phone usage is a subset of “distracted driving”.

The U.S.government’s National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published a report in 2016 on distracted driving, with data up to 2014 (the most recent data available).

Here is what they write on page 1:

“A distraction-affected crash is any crash in which a driver was identified as distracted at the time of the crash.

  • Ten percent of fatal crashes, 18 percent of injury crashes, and 16 percent of all police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2014 were reported as distraction-affected crashes…”

Let’s restate this:

  • 10% of fatal crashes involved a driver distraction
  • 18% of injury crashes involved a driver distraction
  • 16% of all reported crashes involved a driver distraction

The proportion of those distracted driving incidents where a cellular phone was a causative factor is a subset of these percentages (see tables in the report):

  • 7% of 10% of fatal crashes or less than 1% of all fatal crashes
  • 13% of 18% of injury crashes or about 2.3% of all injury crashes
  • Cellular phone usage for “all crashes” (including non fatal, non injury) is not provided in the report but is likely similar to the two other categories.

The data provided by the U.S. government does not support the widespread meme that cellular phone usage is the leading cause of vehicle crashes. Is my interpretation off in space? The report uses remarkably plain language for a government report. Am I missing something?

Why do people believe cellular phone usage is a leading cause if not pre-dominant cause of vehicle crashes?  (This was the conclusion of those in a Facebook group discussing this topic.)

There is no official answer to that question so we can only guess:

  1. Selected (cherry picked) emotional stories are given widespread media exposure
  2. Bad journalism/bad reporting (fake news from “non-fake” news sources) – often using a variety of propaganda methods to convey this. One common approach in news reports is to quote an “expert” (appeal to authority) who says “Over 30% of crashes are caused by cellular phone usage”. This is a common quote in many news reports, none of which substantiate the number except by an appeal to authority.
  3. Propaganda efforts by the insurance industry to promote a reduction in risk (and their costs)
  4. The tendency to generalize from n=small numbers (I once saw a bad driver using a cellular phone, therefore most bad driving is due to cellphone usage, and if most bad driving is due to cell phone usage then this must be the cause of most crashes). This is a”logical fallacy“.
  5. Everyone just knows that cellular phone usage by drivers causes most crashes (both the assertion and the get on the bandwagon propaganda methods).
  6. If anyone cites the data in a social media reply, this unleashes a barrage of name calling (another propaganda method) that if you disagree, you are a denier, an idiot or whatever.

Facts and logic are the enemy of propaganda. When many people believe something to be true, and that “something” is not supported by official data, it is likely that propaganda messaging has been used to persuade the public.

Many on social media are misquoting #Wikileaks

Recent releases from Wikileaks are, without question, exposing ethical failures and outright corruption in our government officials. The emails contain enormous evidence that this is occurring and that our government officials are as corrupt as the worst in the world.

That said, numerous people are posting excerpts on social media that are taken 100% out of context, to say something that is not true.

For example, I have seen this quote widely distributed on social media today, being presented as proof that Hillary Clinton was selling government protection to those who donated to her foundation. But that is not what the email is about:

“This is pretty simple stuff. So Algeria is on the terror list, they want off the terror list, the State Department’s making a decision to do it, they write a check for what? How much? How many million dollars do they write a check for? I don’t know, but Algeria writes a check. You’re from Boston, you know how politics works. They write a really big check to the Clinton Foundation,”

Looks damning, doesn’t it? Until you see that it was speculation from a flaky TV reporter.

The original full text is clear: this is a direct quote from MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough who was creating hypothetical scenarios.

Another example was a quote that Hillary Clinton apparently “hates everyday Americans”. Those words appear in the emails. However, this was in reference to her disliking the typical politician’s use of the phrase “everyday Americans”; she disliked the phrase.

With the normal mass media ignoring the 9,000 (so far) emails released by Wikileaks, and ignoring the documents released by DC Leaks and Guccifer 2, it is easy for poorly done crowd sourcing to take control of the story line and spread untrue statements on social media.

Again, the various released documents and emails contain a documented pattern of sleaze and corruption. There is more than enough to share that is legitimate corruption. However, spreading false statements dilutes the message and ultimately harms the messenger.

Disclaimer: I am absolutely not defending Clinton. The emails indicate a clear and unmistakable pattern of deceit and corruption. The purpose of this blog is to look at how social media is used to spread propaganda. In this situation, social media is spreading untrue statements by quickly taking quotes out of context. The use of out context quotes is a typical pattern common in propaganda messaging, whether by experts or social media amateurs. It is just another form of cherry picking to make a point.

Related: Beware of fake documents on social media purporting to be from Wikileaks