Are bloggers good fact-checkers? This week, a prominent scientist made a speech about population that bloggers loudly booed. But were they right? Plus, the war between Apple and Microsoft has come to an end and bloggers couldn't be happier. And what's a Blooker, you ask? Find out below.
And That's How Rumors Get Started
Forrest Mims wrote on his blog that "a few hundred members of the Texas Academy of Science rose to their feet and gave a standing ovation to a speech that enthusiastically advocated the elimination of 90 percent of Earth's population by airborne Ebola." Dr. Eric R. Pianka, a University of Texas professor who the Academy named the 2006 Distinguished Texas Scientist, gave the speech.
Within days, the story catapulted through the blogosphere, making Pianka one of the week's most blogged about people.
But, the story isn't quite true, according to bloggers who have read Pianka's work.
As Jason on Evolutionblog notes, "what he actually believes is that it is inevitable that overpopulation and overexploitation of the Earth's resources will lead to a catastrophic event for humanity, probably via a major outbreak of some disease." Not exactly uplifting news, but the scientist isn't advocating mass destruction, either. He explains his views in an essay, "What noboday wants to hear."
Some bloggers say politics is at play in the misinterpretation of Pianka's comments, pointing out that Mims, chairman of the Environmental Sciences section of the Texas Academy of Science, is a creationist who took issue with Pianka's evolution work.
"Mims then spread this misleading summary to other creationists, from which point it spread into the right-wing community in general," Daylight Atheism writes. Although the slightest modicum of fact-checking would have made it obvious that Mims' accusations were completely false, this modicum was, as usual, not performed, and the predictable torrent of rage and invective followed in utter ignorance of Pianka's actual beliefs.
But the blogosphere is a powerful force, and many bloggers say they have no doubt about "Dr. Doom's" beliefs.
"The lizard man PREACHS that 90% of humanity should be falling down in agony with blood pouring from every orifice of their body," Mickey at New York Blog Of Mine writes. "What I am bit confused about is how the nut bag came to be a respected member of the scientific community, then again all I really have is the word of a few Texans. But his students seem to love him..."
Over at Watchblog, Eric Simonson writes, "Be-a-u-ti-ful. Pianka is sort of the David Koresh of biologists wouldn't you say? It warms my heart to find another dedicated and committed academic hard at work teaching our best and brightest the skills they need to compete in the 21st century, it really does."
A blogger at This Was America is also worried about Dr. Pianka's students. "Must now we worry that a Pianka-worshipping former student might someday become a professional biologist or physician with access to the most deadly strains of viruses and bacteria?," the blogger asks.
Protecting Children From Homeland Employees
While lawmakers last week questioned the commitment of the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to halting the online exploitation of children, bloggers were questioning how the Department of Homeland Security handles this issue among its own employees.
The media was covering the resignation of Brian Doyle, the deputy press secretary of Homeland Security caught chatting online with someone he believed was a 14-year-old girl, but bloggers were talking about another Homeland Security official.
Think Progress alerts readers that Frank Figueroa, the former head of the Department of Homeland Security's program to stop child predators (Operation Predator), pleaded no contest last week to charges he exposed himself to a 16-year-old girl in a mall food court in Orlando and ran away from security officers.
"I'm not sure what's going on at the Department of Homeland Security, but significant background checks certainly are not," Ed at Captain's Quarters writes. "Voters may not remember who Jack Abramoff is come November, but they will certainly remember who hired the Dirty Old Man of the DHS."
Tim at Balloon Juice writes, "Put two and two and two together. Increasing government power, decreasing oversight, lax hiring policies. What kind of person do you think that is going to attract?"
Many bloggers question who Homeland Security is actually protecting. Pete at Disturbing the Comfortable asks if Homeland Security has "predators protecting children from predators?" He says, "Now it appears that the agency in charge of our domestic security is the place to be, if you're a predator. Homeland Security needs to either be totally reorganized or disbanded: the unthinkable has become commonplace."
And Jonathan at Past Peak writes, "Who is going to start protecting us from the Department of Homeland Security? It kind of makes you long for the good old wholesome days of the Clinton administration."
Apples And Oranges No More
The decades-long rivalry between Apple computers and Microsoft has rested on the fact that you couldn't use Windows on an Apple computer. Now, that is all about to change and no one is happier than bloggers (aside from, I presume, Apple stock holders). Apple announced Wednesday that it would offer users of its latest models a simple way to run the Microsoft Windows operating system as well as its own, through software called Boot Camp.
The move was greeted with cheers from loyal Apple enthusiasts who rallied around their computers even before Apple became cool again, thanks to the iPod.
Boot Camp has won over Digital Hobbit, for one. "For the most part, this sounds like a pretty good deal to me," he blogs. "I don't own a Mac, but I am pretty certain that my next computer (Notebook or Desktop) will be a Mac, and this feature adds extra confidence to first time Mac users that they will be able to continue to run their Windows applications."
And in music to Apple's ears, Dave at Dave's Rants writes, "So I finally cracked and ordered a MacBook Pro, I had been planning on waiting for the next revision but the release of boot camp and the fact that some bugs have been fixed made my decision easier. Now the next pain — actually paying for it!"
But Gavin Shearer reads between the lines. "Boot Camp is basically nine months of free marketing for Apple," Gavin writes. "Between now and January the public is going to hear nothing except 'Macs can run Windows!' from the popular press, the blogosphere, and their geek friends. And guess what? By the time Christmas rolls around, a lot of those people who are in the market for a new PC are (finally) going to consider an Apple computer instead of one from HP, Dell, Toshiba or Sony."
South Park Vs. The World
South Park is well-known for its off-beat, non-conformist satire, and even won a Peabody award this past week for it. But last Wednesday's show take on the cartoon riots was perhaps its most daring…and many bloggers couldn't have been happier.
The episode focuses on panic caused by a decision by Fox's "The Family Guy" to air an episode where the Prophet Mohammed makes a cameo appearance…and well, being animated, he would be a cartoon. Everyone fears a repeat of the violent response to the Danish cartoons, so Fox decides to censor Mohammed. For now. The show's second part airs tonight, and the decision is not final.
For the most part, bloggers praised the show's creators and writers as courageous for taking on a sensitive topic.
The Right Hand of God writes, "I know the show is generally crude and filthy (though hilarious), but the point remains that the writers are among the most brilliant and non-partisan writers in television today. One of the few shows that actually does rip on everyone, instead of just picking on one group (usually the right/religious right)."
Count John Noonan at The Officers' Club as another fan. "Sometimes it takes an unlikely hero like South Park to step up and put things into perspective," John writes. And Boogusby also praises the show's courage. "I've been thrilled with South Park since the beginning. Most people act as if Matt and Trey (the creators), really don't have opinions on anything, that they just make fun of everything and everyone. This seems true to most people, but I think they clearly have opinions...They are one of the last voices on Television who will speak up against anything," Boogusby writes.
A blogger at Onegoodmove sees last week's episode as a public service mission of sorts, calling it "South Park at its best, discussing the important questions raised by the Danish Cartoon controversy and doing it in a humorous way."
And The Blooker Goes To...
It was only a matter of time. The winners of the first annual Blooker Prize have been announced. The prize is for books based on blogs and it's awarded by a "print on demand" book publisher.
The Blooker folks say scores of blooks have already been published, both by traditional publishers and self-publishers, and their contest offers "fresh evidence that the oft-touted rumor of the death of books is greatly exaggerated." Check out the winners here.
By Melissa McNamara