Archive for the ‘Who thought that was a good idea?’ category

Too Dumb To Live: Meet The Pre-Darwin Award Contenders

July 7, 2014

I actually caught this phenomenon a couple of days ago (and was twitted on Twitter for being so late to the party), but the phenomenon of “Coal Rolling” is now an object of wonder and bemusement at a number of the usual suspects.

For those of you who have managed to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to this point without suffering the knowledge of this particular stupidity, here’s David Weigel to explain it to you:

Forty-five second YouTube clips don’t come any more American than “Prius Repellent.” It starts with a camera angled from the passenger side window of a truck, pointed at the namesake Japanese hybrid car. After 12 establishing seconds, the cameraman moves and points out the back window, where viewers can read the ominous decals:

←PRIUS REPELLENT→

At 23 seconds, the engine revs and the viewer finally learns what the arrows were pointing at. Smoke pours out of dual stacks, right in the path of the Prius, which retreats into the rear view. The truck’s passengers share a well-earned chortle.

That’s right.  These Real Americans™ pay good money to modify their vehicles so that they can run less efficiently and pollute more, because, you know, that’s how Hydrocarbon Jesus wants it.

I know, I know.  The good Lord must have loved assholes because he made so many of them.  But these folks are double-secret-probation cute that way:

There are videos of “hot babes” getting rolled on, and a mega-popular video (more than 3 million views) of an annoying Prius driver complaining about diesel. “She makes me want to do a John Force style burn out right in front of her,” observed one critic on DieselBurners.com.

The derp is deep here.  Let’s say you want to roll some of your own coal.  There are sites to help you do that.  Here’s one — complete with a bit of pure weasel DNA up front:

 

Disclaimer: This article has been published for entertainment/educational purposes only. We do not recommend you modify your truck in any manner for the sole purpose of soot/smoke production. Not only may excessively high EGTs cause engine damage, but these acts are having detrimental repercussions on our industry. Consider reading the article “Smoke Responsibly” for further information, including how you can help. There is a time and a place to roll some coal – don’t give the tree huggers any ammunition to support further emissions restrictions.

I’m trying to imagine the time and place…and too late re the tree huggers.  TPM reports today that this is (obviously) illegal as hell anyway.  But never mind, it turns out that there’s a way to roll coal the “right way”:

The best way to blow some serious black smoke is to go all out. Larger injectors combined with aggressive custom tuning will let you lay down some massive clouds of black smoke – the ultimate coal roll. Injectors increase the amount of fuel that can be dumped into your engine per injection cycle, while the tuning keeps the engine thinking it needs more diesel. Throw in a larger injection pump to keep fuel pressures high and add a water-methanol injection system to keep EGTs down and you have the perfect combination. With the flip of a switch, leave your challengers in a stream of thick black soot and then clean up the exhaust stream to keep the authorities happy.

I don’t know what’s most pathetic.  The idea of some strangers just trying to get from here to there as “competitors” — think of the terror hidden in that statement, the sheer gut-churning fear of the unknown — or the urge to spend the most possible money to spend more money doing nothing but half-burn all that $4-and-up diesel.

A lot of us liberals pointing and laughing at these assholes have noted that the whole idea is a way for the carbon-industrial-complex to screw more cash out of the credulous, but a lot of folks seem to have missed the other point.

Black_Country_–_Borinage

Partially combusted diesel is…no way to put this gently…not good for you.  Not at all:

Exposures have been linked with acute short-term symptoms such as headache, dizziness, light-headedness, nausea, coughing, difficult or labored breathing, tightness of chest, and irritation of the eyes and nose and throat[citation needed]. Long-term exposures could lead to chronic, more serious health problems such as cardiovascular disease, cardiopulmonary disease, and lung cancer.[11][7][8] The NERC-HPA funded ‘Traffic Pollution and Health in London‘ project at King’s College London is currently seeking to refine our understanding of the health effects of traffic pollution. Ambient traffic-related air pollution was associated with decreased cognitive function in older men.[10]

Mortality from diesel soot exposure in 2001 was at least 14,400 out of the German population of 82 million, according to the official report 2352 of the Umweltbundesamt Berlin (Federal Environmental Agency of Germany).

Since the study of the detrimental health effects of nanoparticles (nanotoxicology) is still in its infancy, and the nature and extent of negative health impacts from diesel exhaust continues to be discovered.

Obviously, the goal of the hardcore coal roller is to give angst and maybe a whiff of the nasties to the fearsome folks who presume to traverse America’s roads in a Prius.  But as videos like this one show — the most likely consumers of soot and other particulates produced by the deep need to f**k up one’s own nest are the folks who want to show the world how much smoke they can blow.

The wheels of Darwin grind slow…but very sure.

By the way — all of this can be considered a distant early preview of my conversation on Wednesday.  In this month’s edition of my rotating gig as host of  Virtually Speaking Science, I’ll be speaking (again!) with Naomi Oreskes, now a professor of the history of science at Harvard.  Naomi was my first guest on the show, back in 2011.

That’s when we talked about the lessons of her book (written with Erik M. Conway) Merchants of Doubt, on the ways a handful of Cold War anti-Communist scientists figured out how to sell lies wholesale, leading to the implausible success of a tiny handful of people in casting enormous doubt on the reality of climate change.

Now she and Larsen have followed that work up with a novella, The Collapse of Western CivilizationThis little work — it’s just fifty pages, not counting notes and such — imagines a future historian analyzing how 21st societies allowed them to fall victim to climate catastrophes that they/we knew/know are in prospect.

It’s a depressing work, and speculative, and the more important for all of that.  If we do go down the road of catastrophe as Oreskes and Conway lay it out, folks like our coal rollers will be a (small but exemplary) part of the reason why.

Tune in.  It should be a useful downer — and funny too.  Naomi is a hoot, the more so given the pathologies she studies

Image:  Constantin Meunier, Black Country–Borinage, before 1905.

Porcine Flight 476, You Are Cleared For Landing

June 20, 2014

Go check on your friendly neigbhorhood Sus scrofa.  Examine the potbellied porker ambling down your too-hip avenue.  Make sure the boar in the corner sty (you could name it Dick Cheney if you’re that kind of person) is still properly rooting about in his muck.  Now look extra carefully:  any ailerons, flaps, wings?

Max_Liebermann_-_Schweinekoben,_Wochenstube

They’ve got to be there.  See this, from our old friend BoBo:

The Iraqi state is much weaker than the Rwandan one, but, even so, this quick survey underlines the wisdom of the approach the Obama administration is gesturing toward in Iraq: Use limited military force to weaken those who are trying to bring in violence from outside; focus most on the political; round up a regional coalition that will pressure Iraqi elites in this post-election moment to form an inclusive new government. [Emphasis added.]

Now I confess to deep uneasiness about everything David Brooks writes, given the argument from negative authority.*  I lack the knowledge to assess but have no faith at all that his potted history of post-genocide Rwanda is reliable.  And then there’s Brooks’ usual reflexive nod to the political value of elite authoritarianism.   Most of all, nowhere does Brooks acknowledge explicitly that the Bush years were a colossal f**king mistake/moral disaster, nor that he was a complicit cheerleader in that catastrophe.

But here you see Brooks implicitly acknowledging the failure of the neocon adventure and, mirabile dictu stating without a hedge, an “on the other hand” or any qualifier that President Obama is getting it right, is wise.

Smacked in the gob am I.

All I can say is:  be careful standing under today as those flocks of pigs fly by.

*I.e. While it’s never reliable to say that because someone is labelled an expert in something, anything they say is likely right (see, e.g. Shockley, William…), it is a very useful heuristic to assume that someone who is wrong a lot is going to be similarly wrong going forward.  That’s especially true for someone — so many in our pundit class — who are wrong for a living.

Image:  Max Liebermann, Schweinekoben, Wochenstube [My German sucks, but the Google machine tells me that this could be read as "Pigsty, Maternity room" -- any help from the commentariat gratefully received], 1887

Oklahoma, Jake

March 13, 2014

I have to confess.  Can’t claim I’m terribly surprised by this:*

There’s not been a lot of discussion of evolution in Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos so far, and yet a very slight reference to it was so upsetting to Fox’s Oklahoma City affiliate that they just “happened” to run a promo for the nightly news over the show’s sole mention it, as you can see in the above video.

Hit the link (to the delightful io9) to see what so spooked the delicate sensibilities of the good folks at Fox25 Oklahoma City.

quot+God+is+an+ever+receding+pocket+of+scientific+ignorance+quot+_a3dcb3c771a4785a3e2fa249e2b4633e

On the one hand, I’m glad:  the competitive advantage of the science-friendly states can only grow in the face of willed ignorance elsewhere.  On the other, I’m terribly sad.  I don’t live only on my block; I’m a citizen of a commonwealth, a country and a member of  a global commons.  The more such idiocy persists, the more we all lose.

*Back when I was working w. Neil deGrasse Tyson on the NOVA series Origins, I made the film on the evolution of the universe to the chemical conditions compatible with earth-like life.  I wanted to call it “In the beginning,” for obvious reasons.  My elders and betters morphed that to “Back to the Beginning” – which manages to offend those who would be offended anyway while losing all the force of original.  So it ain’t just Fox, ya know.

Image via.

Annals Of The Military Industrial Complex

February 4, 2014

Via exceptionally sharp young journalist Taylor Dobbs, this story of the efficiency and national security value of military procurement:

The Dayton Daily News reports that the Air Force has spent some $567 million to acquire 21 new Spartans since 2007, but has found that the Air Force does not have missions for many of the aircraft.

The planes had originally been acquired because of their ability to operate from unimproved runways. But sequestration forced the Air Force to re-think the airplane’s mission, and it determined that they were not a necessity, according to an analyst with the Project for Government Oversight.

…An Air Force spokesman said the program was “too near completion” to be able to terminate the program in a way that does not cost the taxpayers more than building the airplanes and sending them immediately to the boneyard.

Jan_van_Kessel_(I)_-_Birds_on_a_Riverbank_-_WGA12131

An alternate headline would  — should, in fact — go something like this: “Legislators Find Alternatives To Food Stamp Cuts”

Yeah…I’m dreaming.

One more thought: the fetishization of (genuinely brave and self-sacrificing) members of the military is cover for sh*t like this.

Image: Jan van Kessel, Birds on a Riverbank,  1655.

A Lesson In Compassion (From Within A “Family Values” State)

January 30, 2014

Nothing says the dignity of humanity; nothing says kindness; nothing says how a high level of public religiosity makes for a better society than literally ripping  food out of hungry kids hands, and, in front of them, throwing it away:

Up to 40 kids at Uintah Elementary in Salt Lake City picked up their lunches Tuesday, then watched as the meals were taken and thrown away because of outstanding balances on their accounts — a move that shocked and angered parents.

Max_Liebermann_Kindervolksküche

“It was pretty traumatic and humiliating,” said Erica Lukes, whose 11-year-old daughter had her cafeteria lunch taken from her as she stood in line Tuesday at Uintah Elementary School, 1571 E. 1300 South.

Eleven years old!

I’m a dad, as y’all probably know.  My kid is 13 now.  He’s a total pain in the ass about food right now — won’t touch most stuff, including his school’s cafeteria fare.  He takes food from home and we top him up when he gets home.  But he used to get some stuff there.  I remember topping up his account once or twice when I dropped him off — we’d either crossed over into the red or come too close to it.  No one at his school would have dreamed of grabbing his bagel; we’d get a note asking for another five bucks for the system.  That’s how you do it.

If anyone had stopped my son in the middle of the cafeteria line, grabbed his tray and dumped his lunch?

I can’t imagine what I’d have done and said.  I can imagine what that experience would do to my child — to any kid.  Public poor-shaming –turning some little kid, with no power, no agency, no ability to defend or deflect or do anything, into nothing more than your prop in some twisted morality play about the undeserving proles.  I’m sorry about the run-on there. The rage and refracted sorrow/sympathy for the chidren some asshole(s) decided it was OK to hurt just overwhelms my ability to calm down my syntax.  But you get the point:  this  is no way to teach an 11 year old anything.  Or rather it’s just the right way to learn both that child and all her or his peers how to be the worst we can be.

One more thing:  I’m slamming on Utah in the headline, because I’m sick of sitting here in godless Massachusetts listening to folks from the religiousist corners of our country tell us how we all need to emulate the values in which such places are alledgedly rich.

But I take this personally too.  This isn’t just Utah.  An action like this is the logical endpoint of a culture that frames all things as the battle of the individual against society.  I like living in a social setting.  I think the genius of American democracy in the abstract is that it provides a once-novel way of mediating between levels of association from village on up and the individual.  So when  I hear the words “American exceptionalism,  I’d like them to have some other meaning than that we are exceptional in our capacity to be cruel to hungry children.

Image: Max Liebermann, Kindervolksküche, 1915

Armageddon REALLY Sick of the Bush Family

November 7, 2013

Our accidental president, unfettered by office or responsibility, can now let his fundy freak flag fly:

According to a report from Sarah Posner in Mother Jones, George W. Bush is scheduled to give the keynote address at an upcoming fundraiser for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute, an organization devoted to converting Jews to Christianity in order to bring about the second coming of Christ.

Piero_della_Francesca_-_6._Torture_of_the_Jew_-_WGA17528

Speaking as an aging Bar-Mitzvah-boy-card-carrying-atheist-Jew, I am not going to indulge in profanity, hyperbolic insult, or the ridicule and public shaming that should attend any such gob-smackingly  awesome arrogance and ignorance.  I’ll simply invite the man who is currently to be found in position one, two, or three on the Worst President Ever tables to kindly self-copulate with an oxidized farm implement.

I’ll add just this.  You can tell a great deal about someone from the company he keeps:

Bush will follow last year’s keynote speaker, Glenn Beck.

Well — one more thing.  Glenn Beck?  F**k him too.  Or rather — when the need arises, may he be attended by urologists who failed mohel class.

And (“Our weapons are…Three!) really the last one. I can’t leave this story without noting that the grift is strong on this one.  Hearing the man Charles Pierce has forever dubbed our C+ Augustus speak will set the rubes back from a C-note to $100,000.  That’s a lot of simoleons, enough so that I am inevitably reminded of my co-religionist Jesus’s almost Elizabeth-Warren-like view of the banksters.  But I suppose I just lack that necessary faith that would turn handing over that kind of cash to those kinds of people.

(PS — our weapons are 4! — how’s that “why don’t Jews vote Republican” inquiry going, guys?)

Image:  Piero della Francesca, The Torture of the Jew between 1452 and 1466

Republican Health Care Plan (Die Sooner) Implemented Via Shutdown — Salmonella Outbreak edition

October 9, 2013

Ok.  That title is a bit of hyperbole (you think?–ed.).  No deaths have yet been reported from this:

This evening, the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the US Department of Agriculture announced that “an estimated 278 illnesses … reported in 18 states” have been caused by chicken contaminated with Salmonella Heidelberg and possibly produced by the firm Foster Farms.

Vincenzo_Campi_-_Chicken_Vendors_-_WGA3826

The news and its context (and lots of links, now updated) comes from the invaluable Superbug blog written by the equally prized Maryn McKenna (known to her friends as the internet’s Scary Germ Girl, perhaps for books like this one.)*

That’s not the punch line, though.  Something else makes this latest demonstration of the risks inhering to the US food supply system so infuriating and so scary — something with a distinctly GOP reek wafting through it:

 [The Food Safety and Inspection Service] is unable to link the illnesses to a specific product and a specific production period,” the agency said in an emailed alert. “The outbreak is continuing.”

This is the exact situation that CDC and other about-to-be-furloughed federal personnel warned about last week.

As Maryn emphasizes:  we are confronting a potentially deadly public health crisis with legally enforced ignorance:

 At the CDC, which operates the national foodborne-detection services FoodNet and PulseNet, scientists couldn’t work on this if they wanted to; they have been locked out of their offices, lab and emails. (At a conference I attended last week, 10 percent of the speakers did not show up because they were CDC personnel and risked being fired if they traveled even voluntarily.)

To mix metaphors — when you have a political party determined to spin the cartridge on the whole country, eventually the hammer will find a loaded chamber.

Go read the whole of Maryn’s reporting.  This isn’t skittles. It’s illness and misery, the possibility of life-long diminishment…and maybe deaths too, as always with the most vulnerable, kids and the elderly, squarely in the cross hairs.

Even if, as I deeply hope, the current outbreak passes with minimal harm to our fellow citizens, that just means we got lucky.  As long as Republicans see the shut down as a game in which they must put “points on the board” we’re on the hook for the news we know will come.

To take it one step further:  the dominant view within the modern Republican party is one that in essence denies the existence of society.  In the Tea Party view — the one shaping the entire party’s vision — the US is and must be a nation of individuals, atoms; there is no concept that we might act in concert to ends other than those we can address one by one.

From that perspective deciding we don’t need food safety inspectors makes sense.  It’s my job or yours to make sure we cook that chicken breast all the way through, that we sterilize our cutting boards, that we never forget to soap off our knives between cuts, that we never eat with friends less cautious than ourselves. (I’m following Maryn’s argument here, btw.)

One could choose to live that way.  Kids would die, from time to time, and maybe grandpa too, before he needed to go.  Such deaths would be the price of my freedom, a definition of liberty renders every other person around me a kind of ghost: there, but not so much so that I need act as if they are just as real as me.

That’s what’s at stake in the current impasse in Washington.  I don’t want to live with ghosts. I want friends, I want colleagues, I want a society — civilization.  Hell!  I want chicken inspectors, and it’s a privilege, not a burden, to live within a system that’s figured out how to  have them.  That the Republicans don’t seem to get that is why the current version of the party (no longer) of Lincoln must be ground into the dust.

Factio Grandaeva Delenda Est.

Update:  Per Mike the Mad Biologist, this news:

A sweeping salmonella outbreak has become so serious that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called back 10 furloughed staff members to monitor this and other outbreaks.

Progress.

*You can get the word directly from Maryn via my conversation with her on the Virtually Speaking Science podcast.

Image:  Vincenzo Campi, Chicken Vendors1580.

Please Proceed, GOP

October 6, 2013

Josh Marshall over at TPM picked this up, but I can’t stop myself from echoing his thoughts here.

The only actual pleasure I’m taking out of our current circumstances — in which one major political party has decided to refight 1861-5 via the legislative process* — is the degree to which or Republican friends are exposing their political id ever more unmistakably.  Instance(n)** for your delectation:

Screen Shot 2013-10-06 at 8.52.35 AM

Like my grandmum would have said, if she said such things:  should the FSM feel moved to give you enemies, oh, please, dear Noodly one, make them stupid.

R’amen.

*Really, this is more like the late stages of the 1840-ish to 1860 maneuvering of the Southern rebels, attempting to achieve their aims by procedure as the gateway drug to armed treason.

**where (n) is an arbitrarily large number.

Somalia On The Rio Grande

May 10, 2013

If it were just a matter of Texans killing Texans — with the victims embracing their fates — then I might be willing to let it all go with an “everyone to hell in their own handbasket”  reaction.  But, of course, the generalized Gresham’s Law tells us what follows from this kind of thinking:

Five days after an explosion at a fertilizer plant leveled a wide swath of this town, Gov. Rick Perry tried to woo Illinois business officials by trumpeting his state’s low taxes and limited regulations. Asked about the disaster, Mr. Perry responded that more government intervention and increased spending on safety inspections would not have prevented what has become one of the nation’s worst industrial accidents in decades…
Alfred_Rethel_001

This antipathy toward regulations is shared by many residents here. Politicians and economists credit the stance with helping attract jobs and investment to Texas, which has one of the fastest-growing economies in the country, and with winning the state a year-after-year ranking as the nation’s most business friendly.

Even in West, last month’s devastating blast did little to shake local skepticism of government regulations. Tommy Muska, the mayor, echoed Governor Perry in the view that tougher zoning or fire safety rules would not have saved his town. “Monday morning quarterbacking,” he said.

Raymond J. Snokhous, a retired lawyer in West who lost two cousins — brothers who were volunteer firefighters — in the explosion, said, “There has been nobody saying anything about more regulations.”

I’d be surprised, except for the fact that there’s nothing out of the ordinary here, if you look at matters like a (certain kind of) Texan:

Texas …is the only state that does not require companies to contribute to workers’ compensation coverage. It boasts the largest city in the country, Houston, with no zoning laws. It does not have a state fire code, and it prohibits smaller counties from having such codes. Some Texas counties even cite the lack of local fire codes as a reason for companies to move there.

Hold on a moment there, buckaroo!  No fire codes? That’s a reason to locate in Texas?

I guess the goal here is to reduce the incovenience of contracting with Bangladesh.

Seriously — if you think it an act of social responsibility to demand clothing retailers to demonstrate proper work place safety for their imports, shouldn’t we demand the same of, say every oil and gas company, refiners and all, that deliver products from Texas to the rest of these United States?

Anyway — guess the inevitable consequence of such “pro-business” concern. No prize for correct answers:

But Texas has also had the nation’s highest number of workplace fatalities — more than 400 annually — for much of the past decade. Fires and explosions at Texas’ more than 1,300 chemical and industrial plants have cost as much in property damage as those in all the other states combined for the five years ending in May 2012. Compared with Illinois, which has the nation’s second-largest number of high-risk sites, more than 950, but tighter fire and safety rules, Texas had more than three times the number of accidents, four times the number of injuries and deaths, and 300 times the property damage costs.

As I said at the top…if this were a problem for Texans alone then there is a part of me that says that they voted for this government (and regulatory regime), and they should enjoy what they’ve gotten — good and hard.  But (a) this ignores the fact that those most at risk are those with the least access to the levers of power, and even in a deep red state like this one, there are lots of folks who don’t want to be blown up in their back yards.  Some solidarity seems in order.

More broadly there’s (b):  Texas’s drive to hold harmless private businesses for any consequences of their decisions puts pressure on every other state.  There are alternatives, and lots of non-feral players recognize that there’s more to a positive business climate than crap schools, an immiserating approach to health care, a failure to provide worker and public safety, and an incentive structure that rewards environmental malice.  But to the extent that Texas is successful in attracting enterprises to its let-any-harm-happen frontier, the downward pressure on other states exists.  Bad laws, bad regulatory frameworks drive out good, just like Gresham could have said.

National Republicans are, of course, complicit in this drive to put ever more Americans at risk.  In the context of weak state protection for its citizenry, the onus falls on the federal government, through agencies like but not limited to OSHA and EPA.  But they aren’t meeting that task, and won’t.  There are lots of reasons why not, including some an Obama administration could address (and that we should push for), but a big part of the reason lies with the long-running effort by the GOP to hollow out government from within.

So, yeah, Texas remains too small for a country and too big as an asylum.  I know it’s a near impossible task to imagine dragging it, kicking and screaming, into the Century of the Anchovy.  But for our own sake, if not for theirs, we gotta try.

The first step is to remember:  Factio Grandaeva Delenda Est.

Image:  Alfred Rethel, The factory Mechanische Werkstätten Harkort & Co, c. 1834

The Land Of Broken Links

February 6, 2013

Copyright is broken. Intellectual property in general has become a troll’s playground. Jump to that link to see how easy it is for extortionists to invert every rationale for a patent/copyright regime, transforming the support of innovation into simple theft.

But we knew that.

Still:  the latest outrage to hit my twitter feed gave me real pause.  It’s an example of the ease with which private censorship can manipulate the IP legal regime to disappear uncomfortable speech.  I don’t know how many of you know of the excellent site Retraction Watch, founded and run by Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky (full disclosure — Ivan’s a friend of mine).

The site monitors the scientific and medical press to identify and discuss withdrawn research papers — its motto is “Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process.”  The fact of retraction is occasionally a sign of genuine error, but as Ivan and Adam have documented, betting on misconduct is never a foolish option.

Georges_de_La_Tour_-_Cheater_with_the_Ace_of_Diamonds_-_WGA12334

Yesterday Ivan put up a post that differed from the usual fare of discredited research and queries about peer review or the editorial processes involved. Titled “WordPress removes Anil Potti posts from Retraction Watch in error after false DMCA copyright claim”*, the piece documents how an obscure Indian website managed to persuade Word Press to remove ten posts about former Duke University researcher Anil Potti.  As described in an Ars Technica article,

Potti first fell under scrutiny for embellishing his resume, but the investigation quickly expanded as broader questions were raised about his research. As the investigation continued, a number of Potti’s papers ended up being retracted as accusations of falsified data were raised. Eventually, three clinical trials that were started based on Potti’s data were stopped entirely. Although federal investigations of Potti’s conduct are still in progress, he eventually resigned from Duke.

By Ars Technica’s count, Retraction Watch has so far published 22 posts on the Potti case.  Ten of those have now gone missing.  Here’s Ivan:

If you went looking for ten of our posts about Anil Potti today, you would have seen error messages instead. That’s because someone claiming to be from a news site in India alleged we violated their copyright with those ten posts about the former Duke University cancer researcher who has had 19 papers retracted, corrected, or partially retracted.

The claim, as Ivan documents, is bullshit (a term of art, of course, but mine, not deployed by Retraction Watch):

If you click on any of the NewsBulet.In URLs provided in the takedown notice, you will indeed find the text — and images — from ten of our posts about Anil Potti. But as will be abundantly clear to anyone who does so that our text was placed on NewsBulet.In, not the other way around.

In other words, NewsBulet.In is violating our copyright; we are not violating theirs. That’s driven home by the fact that the site did not exist until October 2012, according to a WhoIs search. All but one of the Retraction Watch posts they cite appeared before they even existed.

Retraction Watch is on the case — neither of its two authors fell off a turnip truck recently.  But even if — when — the material gets restored to the site, the chilling power available to those who would use copyright for evil is obvious.  The assertion of bluntly false claims is hassle enough — and if it distorts or simply constrains folks’ ability to cover controversy, then the damage is obvious.

Of course, the problems with copyright (and the patent system) extend far beyond overt nonsense like that which Retraction Watch confronts today.  For a historically grounded insight into our troubles, I highly recommend Lewis Hyde’s Common as Air, in which Hyde examins what our founding fathers actually meant by the intellectual property system they advanced at the birth of the American republic. In the here and now, the problem — or at least one big one — is that it is just too damn easy to disrupt the free exchange of ideas with spurious claims, acts for which there are no consequences sufficient to offer an incentive to play nice.

I have no good idea how to dig out from this mess (though any solution that makes Mickey Mouse cry would be a move in the right direction, I think).  You?

*OK.  I’ll admit that the headline isn’t quite in the “Headless Body Found In Topless Bar” league

Image:  Georges de la Tour, Cheater with the Ace of Diamonds, 1635.


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