Random links

Bjorn Lomborg on Twitter
"No, Tuvalu not sinking into ocean. Actual science shows Tuvalu 𝗶𝗻𝗰𝗿𝗲𝗮𝘀𝗲𝗱 land area 2.6% because of more accretion than loss from sea level rise" (with link to study)
The AI Ethicist: Fact or Fiction?
"Drawing from a pool of ethical dilemmas published in the New York Times column “The Ethicist”, we compared the ethical advice given by the human expert ... with AI-generated advice. ... Our findings revealed no significant difference in the perceived value of the advice between human generated ethical advice and AI-generated ethical advice. When forced to choose between the two sources of advice, the random subjects recruited online displayed a slight but significant preference for the AI-generated advice, selecting it 60% of the time, while MBA students and the expert panel showed no significant preference."
Equality bias impairs collective decision-making across cultures
"Replicated across three countries (Denmark, Iran, and China), we show that participants assigned nearly equal weights to each other’s opinions regardless of true differences in their competence—even when informed by explicit feedback about their competence gap or under monetary incentives to maximize collective accuracy."

How many Jews live in Israel?

This is one of the more-interesting datapoints I've seen regarding the current situation in the Middle East:

As the original source notes census data suggests about 7.4 million, but 50% of Gazans think the correct number is a million or fewer. Here's an interesting quote from the piece on how it impacts the prospects for peace in the region:

Lacking basic knowledge of Israeli society is also correlated with support for attacks on its civilians; in TWI polling conducted in the West Bank, there is a twenty two percentage point increase in those who say that attacking ‘all Israeli Jews’ is a bad thing among those West Bank residents who have a more realistic perception of Israeli Jewish demographics.

Random links

The Psychology of Online Political Hostility: A Comprehensive, Cross-National Test of the Mismatch Hypothesis
"hostile political discussions are the result of status-driven individuals who are drawn to politics and are equally hostile both online and offline. ... we offer initial evidence that online discussions feel more hostile, in part, because the behavior of such individuals is more visible online than offline."
The unequal treatment of demographic groups by ChatGPT/OpenAI content moderation system
Wonder to what extent this might still be true: "the system classifies a variety of negative comments about some demographic groups as not hateful while flagging the exact same comments about other demographic groups as being indeed hateful." It's easy enough to create a differently-aligned AI.
Democrats and Republicans aren’t divided by gender, they’re divided by marriage
"What would it look like if a major publication decided to produce a feature on masculinity but then assigned all the articles to women? Well, it would look a lot like Politico’s The Masculinity Issue, which did exactly that. ... one theme throughout the feature was that, in Katelynn Fossett’s words, over the last few decades, “women are voting for Democrats more, and men are usually sticking with Republicans.” ... Adding marital status to the mix, the GOP advantage among married men shoots up ... and shrinks among unmarried men to just 7 points. ... what most people don’t know ... is that among married women, Republicans still maintain a sizable 14-point advantage"

How should you follow breaking events?

The events of days past made me think back to this article from the Washington Post: As false war information spreads on X, Musk promotes unvetted accounts:

... owner Elon Musk personally recommended that users follow accounts notorious for promoting lies.

“For following the war in real-time, @WarMonitors & @sentdefender are good,” Musk posted on the platform formerly called Twitter on Sunday morning to 150 million follower accounts. That post was viewed 11 million times in three hours, drawing thanks from those two accounts, before Musk deleted it.

Both were among the most important early spreaders of a false claim in May that there had been an explosion near the White House. The Dow Jones Industrial Average stock index briefly dropped 85 points before that story was debunked.

Emerson T. Brooking, a researcher at the Atlantic Council Digital Forensics Research Lab, posted that @sentdefender is an “absolutely poisonous account. regularly posting wrong and unverifiable things … inserting random editorialization and trying to juice its paid subscriber count.”

The War Monitor account has argued with others over Israel and religion, posting a year ago that “the overwhelming majority of people in the media and banks are zionists” and telling a correspondent in June to “go worship a jew lil bro.”

Roughly stated, it looks like Musk was recommending that people follow two accounts, one with a pro-Israel slant and the other with an anti-Israel slant (with what looks like a Lebanese flag in its profile). It'd probably be a bad idea to just follow one of those, but following two accounts with opposite slants doesn't strike me as a bad idea. That said, both of these are high-volume accounts - i.e. potentially good to follow if you've got a lot of time to spent on twitter, but otherwise perhaps not great.

Meanwhile the media doesn't seem to be doing a great job itself at covering things. Compare the claim that the twitter accounts Musk mentioned were "early spreaders of a false claim in May that there had been an explosion near the White House" to major media outlets covering the events in Israel and Gaza. See, e.g., Reason's "Disinformation reporter Ben Collins failed to correct the Gaza hospital story":

Take the Gaza hospital explosion, for example. On Tuesday, reports surfaced that the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza had come under attack, resulting in as many as 500 deaths. The New York Times ran with "Israeli Strikes Kill Hundreds in Hospital, Palestinians Say." Underneath this headline was an image of an obliterated building—readers who squinted would have noticed that this was not the hospital, but a completely different target.

The Times' only source for information about the explosion was the Gaza Health Ministry; mainstream reporting noted that Palestinian authorities laid the blame squarely on an Israeli airstrike. Subsequent intelligence reports from both Israel and the U.S. provide credible evidence that the hospital was most probably struck by Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist group.

Did Collins soberly wait for these facts to come in? Nope. The award-winning disinformation expert helped circulate the inaccurate claims of the Palestinian authorities. When other voices on social media recommended caution, Collins chimed in to assert that any delay in reporting the horrific casualty numbers represented a profound moral failing. (Casualty estimates have yet to be confirmed.)

This sounds bad enough, but it doesn't yet even note that the Palestinian Health Authority cited is operated by Hamas, one of the parties to the conflic. The New York Times was far from alone in messing this up, with this article outlining how this seems to have continued:

... some continue to mislead. A CBS Evening News report on Wednesday quoted a doctor at the hospital as saying that the IDF had warned the hospital director to evacuate the facility “less than 48 hours” before the blast, with the implication that it may have been a warning about the intended strike. (It turns out that the IDF had been issuing such warnings to numerous facilities in the area.) While the CBS report acknowledged President Joe Biden’s statement that Israel is not responsible for the strike, it did not mention the strong factual evidence supporting this statement; instead, it focused on protesters across the Middle East who continue to blame Israel. On the same day, the Washington Post ran an analytical piece that seemed to treat the IDF and Hamas versions of the blast as equally credible without mentioning any assessments by independent sources. (By contrast, when the BBC News contacted analysts with weapons expertise, three of the six experts who gave an opinion thought that the evidence conclusively disproved an aerial strike while the other three felt it was inconclusive; none said the evidence clearly supported Hamas’s claims.)

(The later BBC investigation is different from its initial coverage).

I'd think that major media sources immediately swallowing the one narrative with little in the way of question contributed towards the cancellation of the summit that Biden was supposed to attend in Jordan with Egyptian and Palestinian officials from the West Bank. That seems much, much worse than a short blip in stock prices.

By and large in the case of breaking news I'd reccomend:

  • If you have a lot of time, high-volume accounts with a range of biases can work well, possibly alongside things like prediction markets. There are also some people with decent track records haunting twitter, though again it takes quite some time to dig through the information:
  • For the average person, give it a couple of days to wait for the dust to settle and for more analysis. Even then you could still consider giving some attention to sources with a variety of biases. (Al Jazeera still asserts Israeli responsibility for the explosion at the hospital, though it seems far from convincing to me and it should be noted that Al Jazeera is owned by the Qatari state which is currently sheltering senior Hamas leadership. It should be noted that the tweet pointing at those experts on twitter with track records of accuracy came from the feed of Murtaza Hussain who write for The Intercept, a source more sympathetic to Palestinians than a lot I see in Western media).

By and large I don't think that the mainstream media has been any better than Twitter at covering current event. If anything I'd say that those reporters who describe their focus as fighting disinformation tend to frequently be amongst those most vulnerable to it. I'm not quite this cynical but also not far off.

EDIT: Should also add the recent article New York Times Rehires Hitler-Praising Hamas Propagandist for Gaza Hospital Coverage.


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