The emblogification of Google News

I find it’s increasingly difficult to search Google News / ‘Sort by date’ for broad news searches such as: future trends. It used to be possible. But Google News is currently saturated with questionable auto-blogs which pump out press-releases from companies which purport to sell dubious ‘market reports’ and stock investment opportunities. Every sector is covered with a report from hat-cleaning machines to salty nuts. Presumably the scam here is that if someone is stupid enough to try to buy a copy of the worthless market report, they’re a sure-fire ‘mark’ for a stocks-and-shares scam run from some boilerhouse telesales office in Whereisitagin. Some of the smaller U.S. town newspapers are also relaying the press releases. Even when one adds search modifiers such as: -“markets” -“earnings” -“scenario” -“strategies” -“outlook” -“ratio” it’s still nearly impossible to do the sort of broad-sweep search that used to be possible.

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Something for the weekend #8

Optimism and causes for optimism, spotted in the media this week:

* Smashing capitalism: British exports hit a record high / UK’s National Living Wage increases are making SME jobs more fulfilling / U.S. Economy is booming… and “Labor Department puts unemployment at 17-year low”.

     → Smashing news, keep it up!

* Trump-tastic!: “American optimism about the next generation’s future is up seven points since 2016. According to a recent Gallup poll [sample size: 1,503 adults], about 6 in 10 Americans (61%) say it is very (18%) or somewhat (43%) likely that the next generation will have a better life than did their parents.” Gallup stated: “Americans are generally feeling optimistic about the direction of the economy, and recent Gallup polling suggests that Americans still think the American dream is alive.” A related Gallup poll asked women about how well they’re doing: “Fifty-three percent of American women say they’re thriving”.

     → My Google News search suggests this has been buried by the media since its release two days ago, as it has only been covered in about four news outlets. And one of those, still deep in Trump Denial Syndrome, feigned a perplexed air and asked: “Major mystery: Why are Americans suddenly so optimistic?”

* Taking waste for a spin: A new spinout company from the University of Oxford is “founded on technology that can turn waste from plastic, tyres and biomass into high quality transportation fuels and chemicals”.

     → Admittedly it’s only a new startup, but the technology involved is from a highly reputable university and it appears to be sound and scalable. There’s also good news this week of the discovery of new ways to extract the firmly-embedded plastics found in electronic waste such as old circuit boards.

* Moo knew?: “Impacts of soil carbon sequestration on life cycle greenhouse gas emissions”.

     → The link is to is a very dense peer-reviewed science paper, but the paper is handily translated into plainer-English by the bovine boffins at The Cattle Site: “Our four-year study suggests that [multi-paddock] grazing can potentially offset greenhouse gas emissions [to the extent that] beef production could be a net carbon sink”. It appears that a few relatively simple and do-able changes in how we raise beef cattle can vastly reduce their various forms of greenhouse gas emission, and even make raising beef cattle into a carbon sink — while also cleaning up local fish streams. The McDonalds fast-food-chain appears to have jumped on this beefy new science, and are saying this week that… “By 2030, the company plans to work with suppliers and franchisees to cut emissions 36% compared to 2015, even as the chain grows.” Now if only they can do something similar for all the litter that their ignorant customers generate.

* Great steaming fools: “A History Lesson in Technological Optimism: Simon, Jevons, and Lardner”.

     → The Competitive Enterprise Institute looks back to the 1840s and finds much the same moaning and gloom about the steam engine as we later endured in the 1970s under Erlich et al, and with much the same effects. We can now see that… “Those who gave in to pessimism and fear did little more than inflict misery (and their own hot air) on the rest of humanity”.

Something for the weekend #6

Your weekly round-up of optimism in the media:

* Another grip in the wall: The Queen’s Crown Estate has installed a new type of moss wall in central London, for tests and trials. It’s a vertical “City Tree” green wall of mosses, cultivated to thrive in urban areas [and theoretically] capable of gripping onto and reducing air pollutants “including nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter from the surrounding area by up to 30%”.

     → It has nice seats with backs, too. Such seats are becoming all too rare in the UK, as any opportunity to sit down in comfort for free is slowly but assiduously being removed from public spaces.

* No more ‘secret science’: The USA’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will make all of its science and data public, adopting a policy suggested by the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

     → Specifically the EPA… “will reverse long-standing EPA policy allowing regulators to rely on non-public scientific data in crafting rules. [and in future] EPA-funded studies would need to make all their data public.”

* He cracked it: “Why The ‘Father Of Fracking’ Probably Deserves A Nobel Peace Prize” suggests The Federalist.

     → “George P. Mitchell has unleashed a ripple of wealth and peace around the globe.”

* The rising tide of cash: Saudi Arabia plans to invest $10 billion in buying a group of islands in the Indian Ocean.

     → According to increasingly questionable computer models, these islands should have long since sunk beneath rising waves.

* Pop up!: In the face of continuing high levels of piracy and sharing (and some frankly mediocre pop music-making) the U.S. Music Industry sees fastest growth in more than 20 years

     → “U.S. recorded music sales climbed 17 percent to $8.7 billion last year, the second straight gain in domestic revenue, the Recording Industry Association of America said Thursday.”

* It’s a riddle: “Bad news is sudden, good news is gradual” says Matt Ridley (author of The Rational Optimist).

     → In the face of huge and increasingly well-documented reasons for optimism “… the bias against good news in the media seems to be getting worse.”

* New science, old school: A new book, Rock, Bone, and Ruin: An Optimist’s Guide to the Historical Sciences.

     → Geology, palaeontology, archaeology and ancient genetics are seeing surging progress, and also very significant synergies with each other and with Big Data. The book suggests that this… “gives us every reason to be optimistic about their capacity to uncover truths about prehistory”. The author… “examines and refutes arguments for pessimism about the capacity of the historical sciences [and] argues for a creative, open-ended approach, ’empirically grounded’ speculation.”

* My bad: Thomas Sowell’s new book Discrimination and Disparities demolishes claims that ‘bad outcomes’ in life are always attributable to discrimination and prejudice.

     → The new book has a very clunky and offputting cover, but it’s great to see Sowell is still cogent and publishing timely new works at age 89.

* Happier frogs: In French only, the book Environnement : les années optimistes (trans: Environment: the Optimistic Years)… “reports the most significant environmental gains made in recent years.”

     → Though I note that its list of reasons for optimism appears to omits the overall re-greening of the planet.

* Sprogs with nogs: Martin Seligman’s well-regarded 1995 book The Optimistic Child: A Revolutionary Approach to Raising Resilient Children is being republished in the UK as an affordable Kindle ebook. I see that a Trantor unabridged audiobook edition also became available in the UK in 2017.

The underlying psychology of Generation Snowflake

An interesting observation in the latest issue of The Atlantic. Its “Study of Studies” sidebar column offers another few pieces of the puzzle on how a worldview of optimism/pessimism emerges in an individual. The first is that if one is pessimistic, one may appear to have a more urgent and serious communication style, and thus be more socially attractive. That seems valid. The other is that…

“Optimism can also beget disappointment [on a personal level]”

The example given here is of a student who hopefully expects a good mark for an essay, but gets a lesser mark. However it references only one short psychology paper. The paper’s 2010 date is ‘pre crisis’ in psychology, and the sample was 77 “students in a psychology class”, so one has to be a little cautious. One class of malnourished and hungover hormone-addled adolescents does not extrapolate well to the general population. The paper cited is: Sweeny and Shepperd, “The Costs of Optimism and the Benefits of Pessimism“, Emotion, Oct. 2010.

Simplistic, then, but the finding rings true. Such a habitual year-on-year pessimism (arising from unrealistic irrational optimism) could easily become ingrained at the personal level, given the right personality types and intelligence level. Certain types of adolescents could later use that habitual approach to shape their early understanding of the larger world.

The study notes that the biggest irrational optimists appear to be aware of the trade-off between ‘happy-go-lucky today / dashed down tomorrow’…

“people seem to be aware of the potential costs of optimism — participants who predicted higher scores before feedback also anticipated experiencing greater disappointment should they perform poorly”

But they’re willing to pay the price. This seems to relate to the idea that the ability to imagine longer time-horizons is a factor in optimism/pessimism. If you can’t really imagine a time more than a few weeks ahead, why worry about the essay that has to be delivered in eight weeks time, at the end of term? It would thus be interesting to see how such findings fit with each student’s time-horizon and intelligence level. Are the less intelligent and more impulsive students more inclined to be irrationally optimistic about their test scores, because they naturally lack a long time-horizon?

But what if this whole process were monstrously delayed, until after leaving the cocoon of education? Consider the changed nature of that cocoon in the late 1990s and 2000s: i) the cultivation of a vapid universal “self-esteem” in schools; ii) the “all must have prizes” culture (see Melanie Phillips et al), rampant grade inflation, the dumbing down of the curriculum so that low-grade teachers could handle it; iii) the severe curtailment of children’s ‘free range’ engagement with the natural world, their diminishing opportunities to learn how to handle individual autonomous freedom, and iv) also the constant lurid invocation of dire (but statistically highly improbable) dangers set against a pervasive drumbeat of political correctness.

In which case the habitual year-on-year pessimism which Sweeny and Shepperd pinpoint would have been delayed in multiple ways over many years, with the most susceptible personality types perhaps being the worst affected. Possibly then contributing to the monstrous temper-tantrums we’ve been suffering recently, as certain large parts (not all) of the Millennial generation finally encounter the real-world after 20-odd years of smothering and cocooning.

Doubtless others have a better handle on the murky depths of these psychologies than I do, and have already said this better than I can in a hasty blog post. For instance, I hear that the new Vox Day book SJW’s Always Double Down has several chapters which make a forensic assessment of the psychology of the loud-but-small activist segment of Generation Snowflake. But it seems to me that some of Sweeny and Shepperd’s ‘thwarted psychology’ of optimism/pessimism may be at the root of their troubles.

The kids are alright

What a pathetic response from UK journalists to news of the apparent drop in ‘Saturday and evenings job’ child employment. Not one of them once mentioned online income. Instead there was the usual moaning and pessimism as their columns tediously progressed as if on auto-pilot. They obviously didn’t have even even the mildest inclination to spend three minutes searching Google News for kid entrepreneurs.

It’s not just a few kid entrepreneurs, either. In the USA, “22 percent of 16- to 18-year-olds say they make money online and 16 percent say they work for themselves” and that’s just the ones who were willing to admit it to a 2017 IBM survey. So far, none of that type of income gets tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The phenomenon is probably even bigger in the UK, for various reasons including our creative industries savvy and our better broadband coverage (broadband is often dire in rural America).

While the UK’s newspaper-delivery rounds may have gone the way of the dodo, the bright kids of the post-Millennial generation are staying out the rain and cold and selling on Etsy; doing fan-art commissions on DeviantArt; power-blogging about fashion and make-up for the freebies (which are then sold); doing paid book reviews; eBay trading; selling their weird gloop; staging cool photos for Instagram; starting entire online empires and much more. The maths nerds among them are probably trading in Bitcoin and Cryptokitties, too. And you can be sure that all of that is not starting on their 16th birthday, but long before, whatever the ‘age verification checks’ might say.

Which is all very positive, and a cause for optimism for the future. But they’re not going to tell a “nosy snooper” from a dodgy-sounding “UK Commission” or “Institute” about their side-stream income, now are they? Especially if they’re using their big brother’s PayPal account.

A New Festival of Britain

A proposal: A New Festival of Britain.

“The original Festival of Britain in 1951 was planned as an ambitious celebration of British achievements in the fields of the arts, architecture, industry, science and technology. It was also seen as a good way of lifting the doom and gloom from the shoulders of a weary nation and showing the people of Britain that, for all the hardships they were experiencing, the future was bright and exciting with British scientists, designers and inventors leading the world.

Following the referendum in 2016 and the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union, we believe at This England that it’s time to start making plans for another festival: to mark our new-found independence in two years’ time and to celebrate all that is best about our magnificent country and its people.”

Nice idea, but I’m just haunted by the naff-and-tat that was New Labour’s awful “Millennium Dome”. Better to disperse a New Festival of Britain rather than centralise, probably, to prevent it being captured and turned by the usual suspects on the left. Or turned into a creaky old nostalgia-fest.

Better to have everyone doing their own thing, regionally and locally, but you only get funding and accreditation and branding for your event / exhibition / etc if it conforms to guidelines and is optimistic and positive and future-facing.