The outrage cycle, or why trolling works

Thanks to the world’s esteemed opinion writers, we’ve recently learned why ‘Chinese Mothers are Superior‘, how ‘bogans in shopping centres have no souls‘, and, thanks to Mark Latham, that “anyone who chooses a life without children, as [Australian Prime Minister] Gillard has, cannot have much love in them”.

Trolls the lot of them. Deliberately offensive flamebait.

Now, with a line up of Catherine Deveny, Gerard Henderson and Graham Richardson, I suspect we’re likely to be further ‘enlightened’ by QandA tonight as well.

I wrote recently about the benefits of social reading – that social media can provide a better reading experience than editorially made traditional media – but I’ve since realised that trolling is the clear and present downside downside to this. This post explores how this dynamic works. Continue reading

A Study of Social Media in Science Communication

Guest post by Kristin Alford

Kristin: In November I attended a communications stakeholders meeting comprising representatives from science and research institutions from around Australia. It struck me that again that different organsiations have different goals in undertaking science communications. And then it struck me, that while I am an avid and open user of Twitter, was it also that corporate Twitter accounts needed to have an identifiable personality, someone to connect with? What were good social media practices for science organisations?

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Why Twitter will always provide a more socially responsible reading experience than editorial media

So we hear a lot of whinging that Twitter is just about what people had for lunch. That’s fair enough! I often tell people what I had for lunch, but I don’t tell people where I get my curries from. That would ruin the secret.

Anyway, what I wanted write about here is based on this criticism, but I want to raise a directly opposite argument: Twitter will always provide a more socially responsible reading experience than editorial media.

People on Twitter know this already, what I want to flesh out is why.

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Muzzling sheep: Wikileaks bringing a new D-notice era for Australia?

Wikileaks rally

Liz Tynan and Will J Grant

Legendary British Labour foreign secretary Ernest Bevin probably didn’t say “why bother to muzzle sheep?” during a House of Commons debate in the 1940s on media censorship – there is no official record of him doing so – but the phrase still resonates with those concerned about the tensions between government and media.

Suddenly, the idea of media submission to the information controls set by government has new currency. D-notices, short for Defence Notices, are an antiquated system in which the government stakes out territory it claims as belonging exclusively to the realm of national security, and asks the media not to go there. They are voluntary agreements and are not enforceable in law. Britain has had D-notices since 1912 and still has them today (though now they are called DA-notices – the “A” stands for advisory). Australia had D-notices too, from 1952. In fact, technically we still do. Though the D-notice committee has not met since 1982, that may be about to change.

Are we on the brink of a new D-notice era in this country, as the Wikileaks juggernaut rolls on, spooking governments around the world? The system of voluntary media regulation now being proposed by Attorney-General Robert McClelland does not carry the old Cold War moniker but the name is bound to stick. Continue reading

Building an ANU Campus Map

The official ANU Campus Map is not the most helpful of maps. It is difficult to navigate, awkward to use, and painful to search.

So, we’ve decided to build a new one. Here’s our first attempt via Google Maps – it should be finished soon.

View ANU Campus Map in a larger map

Note, we’re having some technical issues with getting all buildings on to the same page, and getting the map to load in mobile devices (iPhones etc) – if you’ve got a solution, let us know!

Alien Visitation: From ‘The Truth Is Out There’ To ‘I Want To Believe’


This is the text of a talk I gave in a debate with
Mary Rodwell on the topic of alien visitation. The debate will be broadcast by SBS (I believe under the title ‘My Mum Talks to Aliens’) in December 2010.

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Extraterrestrial aliens.

Visitation.

Mysterious happenings.

Odd marks on the skin.

I can’t talk about aliens without thinking about The X-Files. I’m sorry, but I was a teenager in the 1990s. The X-Files offered something cool. The Truth – and this is something dear to my little scientist heart – Was Out There!

As a young teenager living in the murky mists of Far North Queensland, The X-Files offered something special. It offered a coherent view of the world, but one that was just… twisted slightly. The people were the same; the buildings were the same; but something different rested underneath. Watching The X-Files in the 1990s, we were like the muggles of the world of Harry Potter, muggles being introduced to this magical twist on our normal world. While everything was the same on the surface, underneath was a radically – magically – different world of aliens, wondrous flying machines and government cover-ups and conspiracies of the highest order.

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Intimacy and fidelity: situating social media

Human societies are made in media. Gesture and speech, before writing, the printing press and the internet, have not just been vehicles through which we talk about people and stuff; they have fundamentally shaped what societies are and what they can possibly be.

Each successive development in the long train of communications technologies, from the development of speech through to the invention of the internet, has gradually transformed our ability to connect with other people and imagine our community. As writing begat the advanced agricultural society, so too the printing press begat the nation.

In what follows I seek to situate social media in this socio-economic history so that we can begin to think about what it means for academic work and science communication, and society more broadly. Continue reading

Geoengineering: in what possible world?

Geoengineering – the deliberate attempt to manipulate large scale elements of the Earth’s climate system to reduce the impact of climate change – has recently started to build momentum in scientific, policy and popular discussions.

Proposed geoengineering techniques have typically focused on enhancing carbon sequestration (either directly, by capturing carbon dioxide emissions, or indirectly, by stimulating oceanic phytoplankton blooms), or managing solar radiation (via the release of stratospheric sulphur aerosols, or cloud reflectivity enhancement).

The science of this is (to me at least!) fascinating, and can indeed contribute much to our understanding of the complexity of the planetary climate. For that reason I at least partly agree with those (such as Bill Gates and Richard Branson) who support such research.

Yet the question that must be asked here is a science communication one – could such projects ever truly gain enough public support to get off the ground? Would mass popular consent ever exist for the release of stratospheric sulfate aerosols to create a global dimming effect? Given the complexity and scale of the issue, should we even try to have a public dialogue on such options? Continue reading