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mother narrative

Can growth continue indefinitely? Hm. Let’s think about what compound growth really means.

‘Let us imagine that in 3030BC the total possessions of the people of Egypt filled one cubic metre. Let us propose that these possessions grew by 4.5% a year. How big would that stash have been by the Battle of Actium in 30BC? This is the calculation performed by the investment banker Jeremy Grantham (not of Downton Abbey-fame) Go on, take a guess. Ten times the size of the pyramids? All the sand in the Sahara? The Atlantic ocean? The volume of the planet? A little more?’

Please, please, please read this article by journalist and environmental activist George Monbiot to find out (the above paragraph is shamelessly plagiarized from the article, in fact).

Or read my ridiculously concise summary. Here it is.

1) If we go on like this the planet is f…..

2) If we f… up the planet, we’re f….., too.

3) In other words: ‘If we can’t change our economic system, our number’s up.’

4) ‘The mother narrative to all this is carbon-fuelled expansion: Our ideologies are mere subplots.’ (cf. here)

5) Do the maths yourselves or read this article by investment banker Jeremy Grantham. It’s not very CSR, I promise.

6) Did you click the article? No? Why not? No interest? Bit embarrassed maybe? Not a topic for polite conversation?

7) Exactly the point Monbiot makes. We’re destroying the planet’s biosphere. It’s blindingly obvious to everyone who gives it a single, not particularly clever thought. But the one thing that cannot be sorted out later is the great taboo:

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Hey, I’ve started reading Swedish newspapers!!! Not yet criticizing style or correcting commata. But it’s fun (more about the f-word later). Bit like reading poetry. Wondering what the author wants to tell you, etc. Here’s the piece I tried my heuristic powers on this morning. Nima Sanandaji in SvD writes an op-ed about career, life, realistic and unrealistic expectations. Key message: Not everyone can have a hipster job.

Hipster

Not sure what a hipster is, really. Have been assured that this lady fits the bill. This wikihow tells you everything you need to know to become a hipster. Been thinking of trying it myself but was… erm… dissuaded.

So what’s the message for students in stratcom and strategic PR?

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Trying to cope with the fact that Lund and Uppsala dropped out of the top 100 of the Times Higher Education World Reputation Ranking. Applied at Karolinska immediately, the only Swedish Institution left in the top 100. But they didn’t want me.

Sure, you’re a ‘doctor’, they tell me, but not a real doctor. Cheeky b…!

Real doctors treat more than one species! I protest. Hopelessly off topic, but hey who cares?!?

Read Tove Lifvendahl’s ‘krönika’ in SvD, March, 9, 2014, comes the reply. Then you’ll understand! 

Say what?!? The GoogleTranslate of that particular piece is a bit funny. So I sit down and read it old-style, i.e. in the language it was written in. Interesting explanation for the demise of Swedish academia, no doubt. Ouch!  ‘Priset för den avmätta självnöjdheten borde betraktas som alltför högt’ sounds pretty strong to my delicate ears. Can’t judge whether it’s true, what it really means, whether I agree with Mrs. Lifvendahl’s agenda for universities in general. But check it out and form your own opinion.

And in case you wonder: the LU lion’s youngest cub, this institute, is not affected by the avmät-erm-självnöjd-thingie-problem. 

Meanwhile, I turn to theconversation. Always do in times of trouble. Article about Corruption in Higher Education captures my attention, naturally. Author one David Watson, Oxford professor. Nothing exciting, really. Just the usual outrageous stuff.

But then the guy defines the core business of universities. En passant. Just so.

Many scholars have pointed out that academic communities are much better at critique than at self-awareness. By behaving well, and by taking care of their core business of telling truth not only to power but also to themselves, universities should be on the cutting edge of reducing corruption, with a view to eliminating it. It is a tough requirement, but one which we ignore at our peril.

Core business of telling the truth? Honestly? It’s been a while since I saw the T-word without scare marks. Thought it had gone out of fashion.

 

 

In the Philosophy of Science-class, students had to write papers answering the question: Are the social sciences science? Ha ha, hopelessly naive! The more appropriate question is: Is science real?

image001

Not exactly true, it seems. Computer-generated fake papers have been accepted at conferences in the engineering sciences.

 

These papers are so funny…

Thanks, Philip, for drawing my attention to this article in a newspaper curiously called The Guardian about fake-papers churned out by computer programs, then eagerly accepted at conferences and in journals (as long as you pay the conference fee). And we’re not talking about cultural studies as in Alan Sokal’s days. Quote by one of the guys who authored the program:

“I’m psyched, it’s so great. These papers are so funny, you read them and can’t help but laugh. They are total bullshit. And I don’t see this going away.”

 

Meet Ike Antkare

Let’s keep the numbers in perspective, right? Given the tens of thousands of papers produced every year, a couple of rotten apples, some accepted as unreviewed papers, shouldn’t be surprising. Yep, but let me introduce you to Ike Antkare. Ike’s mentor and friend, Cyril Labbé, proudly tells us the following:

Since the 8th of April 2010, these tools have allowed Ike Antkare to become one of the most highly cited scientists of the modern world (see figure 3,2,4, 5,6). According to Scholarometer, Ike Antkare has 102 publications (almost all in 2009) and has an h-index of 94, putting him in the 21st position of the most highly cited scientists. This score is less than Freud, in 1st position with a h-index of 183, but better than Einstein in 36th position with a h-index of 84. Best of all, in regards to the hm-index Ike Antkare is in sixth position outclassing all scientists in his field (computer science) (Labbé 2010)

 

You’ve guessed it already. Ike Antkare is fake (although he has a FB-page). Labbé generated Ike’s papers using computer programs and tricked GoogleScholar. Check out this article in nature.

 

Automated Essay

One thing left to do. Tried the essay generator on last term’s topic ‘Are the Social Sciences Sciences?’ Here’s the result. Not sure whether I would have been convinced.

 

An Essay on Are the Social Sciences Sciences?

Are you sitting comfortably? I really, really like Are the Social Sciences Sciences? Though Are the Social Sciences Sciences? is a favourite topic of discussion amongst monarchs, presidents and dictators, Are the Social Sciences Sciences? is featuring more and more in the ideals of the young and upwardly mobile. The juxtapositioning of Are the Social Sciences Sciences? with fundamental economic, social and political strategic conflict draws criticism from the over 50, whom I can say no more about due to legal restrictions. Though I would rather be in bed I will now examine the primary causes of Are the Social Sciences Sciences?

Social Factors

Society is a human product. When Lance Bandaner said ‘twelve times I’ve traversed the ocean of youthful ambition but society still collects my foot prints’ [1] he globalised an issue which had remained buried in the hearts of our ancestors for centuries. While the western world use a knife and fork, the Chinese use chopsticks. Of course Are the Social Sciences Sciences? bravely illustrates what we are most afraid of, what we all know deep down in our hearts.

(…)

If someone handed in a fake paper, please don’t tell. Thank you. Gonna try the grant proposal generator next: http://www.nadovich.com/chris/randprop/

P.S.: Not so sure that Higgs Bosons don’t lie.

Some insights into how Greenpeace activists conducted the “Volkswagen Dark Side”-Campaign. Interesting for rebels as well as stormtroopers.

May the force be with you.

P.S. Still under shock. This video actually contains a passage where James Sadri – the guy in the clip; the one with the cute elephant-t-shirt – refers to VW’s CEO, Professor Martin Winterkorn, as ‘Volkswagen’s head honcho’. Oi oi. Naughty.

 

Another good one by Copenhagen-based professor of philosophy Vincent F Hendricks – recently labelled ‘the voodoo child of social media criticism’ (by me, a couple of secs ago, but let’s cut the details). Railing against social proof again. This time: Democracy in danger.

Check out this great piece on ‘likes’ and ‘upvotes’, infostorms and post-factual democracy. Or read my absurdly abbreviated version.

Here’s how it goes. Hendricks’s article in five steps, a) to e).

a) Humans are easily influenced by others. We’re a bit dumb sometimes. It’s called herding effect. Some people even imitate prominent suicides (ha, can you explain that, Darwin?) Hendricks:

Honestly, how many of us don’t just rely on what the internet says about some government ruling rather than looking at the original document?

b) In our brave new new media world, you and your PR-agency can give opinion X a kickstart by upvoting it right from the start. And then popularity generates more popularity. No matter how silly or unbalanced or opportunistic opinion X is. Herding 2.0, in other words. The tendency, at least, was recently demonstrated in an experiment related in the world’s most prestigious scientific journal SCIENCE. Honestly.

50 million Elvis fans

50 million not lonesome tonite. They’re RIIIIIGHT (shriiiiieek!) This is what I found checking around for social proof. Quite interesting examples from bunnyfoot.

c) This is a problem. 1) Because kickstart-upvoting is, er, not not done by political campaigners, spin-doctors etc. 2) because there are fewer and fewer correctives the more we rely on crowd-based opinion generation. Hendricks:

Relying more and more on social media, crowd-based opinion generators and other online “democratic” rating, comment or information acquisition systems not only makes such side-tracking possible and more likely to occur; it also increases the numerical reach of the spreading of false beliefs, be that intentional or not. This is known as an infostorm.

d) We might just get a new brand of politician, as a consequence. In fact, we might have it already: Post-factual democracy. Hendricks:

Infostorms may be generating a new type of politics: the post-factual democracy. Facts are replaced by opportune narratives and the definition of a good story is one that has gone viral. Politics is simply about maximising voter support.

e) This is, once again, er, slightly problematic. Because, and despite postmodernist claims to the contrary, …

… what is viral is not necessarily true, and what is true is not necessarily viral. Maximising votes does not require facts, but then again voter maximisation does not add up to robust democracy. If democracy doesn’t have access to reliable sources of information and instead relies on narratives and social influence then there is no way of distinguishing between junk evidence and facts. Without the ability to make this distinction we may be welcoming the post-factual democracy. Not a pretty picture. (Hendricks)

Moral I: Elections coming up in Sweden. Check your politicians for post-factuality-factor. It’s fun! One-issue-politicians are easiest.

Moral II: Can someone start to grow more socially awkward, bulldog-minded, question-asking-, fact-checking old-school-journalists, please?

Call to Action I: Please go to http://www.theconversation.com, give Vincent a like and comment favourably. So people begin to think he’s right. It’s called social proof, hehehe.

P.S.: Elvis’s hips don’t lie.

bubbles

Scientists sit in the ivory tower. Normal people live in the real world. Well, not anymore. Nowadays, scientists sit in huge underground vaults housing large hadron colliders, author articles with 3,500 authors, calculate their Hirsch-factor. And normal people live in bubbles.

Check out Vincent F. Hendricks on theconversation.com. The guy’s so brilliant I agree with him. And there’s something special about him: Vincent F Hendricks does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this (=his) article, and has no relevant affiliations. Remarkable. Why is he writing, then? He’s promoting this book. But that’s okay.

Back to content. Hendricks speculates that there’s so much content out there that everyone is in danger of becoming trapped in a personal bubble (okay, simplifying a bit here, but not much). Hendricks:

Filter bubbles, for example, happen when the information we receive online becomes so tailored to our existing areas of interest that we are no longer exposed to views that challenge us. If we only follow like-minded people on Twitter, we start to live in a bubble in which counter-opinions don’t feature.

Of course, that’s not the way how it looks like to you in the bubble. In the bubble, you see a lot of counter-opinions. But they either differ only mildly from your opinion. Or clearly are the opinions of complete idiots who… just… didn’t… get… IT.

You’re surrounded by friends united in bashing the idiots.

And so is everyone else.

Nice.

Creating a self-sustaining bubble is the first rule of successful propaganda. Sometimes whole countries are gigantic filter bubbles.

Oh no, here’s a disturbing thought. Vincent Hendricks is the Jimi Hendrix of social media criticism (= Jimi Hendrix was some guitar player back in the 60ies; #badjoke). What if our everyday lives are not necessarily becoming more scientific and rational, more in touch with ‘reality’, more enlightened, due to social media? What if the brave new social media world offers unprecedented opportunity to capture people… in bubbles? Not forever, of course. Only long enough to fleece them. The GFC 2008/2009, just the beginning? Hendricks:

Across spheres, from science to your wardrobe, bubbles share similar structures and dynamics. The term “bubble” is no longer confined to just financial movements. In the information age, it can refer to irrational, collective, aggregated behaviour, beliefs, opinions or preferences based on social proof in all parts of society.

“Social proof” is the word here. Social proof is how you’re fleeced. Millions of flies can be wrong. Shit may not be good for you. Hendricks goes on:

Over in finance, informational cascades have become a major factor in the generation of bubbles, where, as economist Harold Vogel notes, “individuals choose to ignore or downplay their private information and instead jump the bandwagon by mimicking the actions of individuals acting previously”. If you think about your own actions every day, you might uncover some uncomfortable truths about the bubbles you live in.

This behaviour is called “the game of greater fools”, by the way. Tulip Mania, 1637. Look it up and impress people at cocktail parties.

Moral I: The habit to actively seek out alternative explanations for data, even if they contradict your pet theory, jar with your expectations or do not fit smoothly with everyone’s politically correct opinion, GOD BEWARE! is one of the great achievements of human history. It’s one of the pillars of science.

Moral II: Check your bubble.

Moral III: Don’t overdo it. There are idiots out there. People are not necessarily right because they’re alone with their opinion.

P.S.: Higgs Bosons don’t lie.