Spot the Ad Content

I imagine readers here will do fine with this, but it’s something you might want to try with your students. Ask them this: Can they spot the advertisement on this page? (click to enlarge).


Even better, show them a couple of these and ask if there is any advertising on the page.

A list of articles currently on Digipo

It’s a wiki, so it’s messy, with a lot of duds. But as we get towards the end of the semester/quarter, a number of classes are showing up and adding pages (often as group work, so one page = multiple users).

Here’s a list of articles in various states. Expect incomplete work when you click through — but if you want to make them better, sign up and edit! And if you really want to help, get your class to try it!


Aspartame: A harmless food additive or a deadly carcinogen?

Breitbart Leaks Audio Of Paul Ryan Trashing Trump

Are Bald Men Sexier?

Title (Black Activist Also Rally for Injust White Police Shooting)

Black Friday Deaths, 2016

Black Justice

Black Activists Launch Monthly Fee System

Bloomberg’s Slice

California Democorats Attempt to Make Fake News Illegal

Out of Focus

CNN is “fake news”

Common Core Prediction

Police Shootings vs. Police Shot

Oil Pipeline Leak in North Dakota

Trump Education Secretary to get rid of Common Core

DNC Emails and Russia

Status: Unclear

Trump’s Pick for EPA post is a climate change denialist

Title EPA Stayed Silent on Flint’s Tainted Water

Status: Resolved

“Remembering” False Memories

First Born Child is the Most Intelligent

Fukushima Thyroid Cancer

Women considered better coders – but only if they hide their gender

Bill Would Allow Government to Locate People with Tracking Device


Hair Loss Claim

Hillary Clinton and the Rust Belt Recount


Hobby Lobby Divorce

El Niño and climate change

Pole Position

Taking Up Music Increases IQ


Irish Weather Forecaster Killed By Lightning on TV

Islamic Refugee / Ohio State Attack

Jewish Population Chart

“Why couldn’t you just keep your legs together?” Judge Robin Camp

Khilaf Krafts Hijab

Latest News Analysis

Lazy American Women

Minnesota Premiums

If you want less police violence, hire more female cops

Mozart’s Sister was just as talented as Mozart


Is the National Anthem a Celebration of Slavery?

Nature Deficit Disorder

Nineteen Dead WWII Vets

North Carolina Voter Suppression

NYPD Hijab Threat

About That “Vanishing” NYT Norway Article

Can we transclude a OneNote into this thing?

Environment & Energy

Outliving Carrie Fisher

Palin’s Nativia

Paul Krugman Bankruptcy

Racial Profiling

Video Games and Sexism

‘Pope Francis Laundry’ Service Opens for Homeless in Rome

Trump Voters more influenced by Racist and Sexist attitudes than the promise of economic reform

Radioactive Boars Being Hunted in Fukushima

Return to the Bubble?

Rice and Syria’s Chemical Weapons

Sample Articles

People Absorb Energy From Others

First Born Children Are More Intelligent

Selfie Takers tend to overestimate attractiveness

Sexism and Mental Health

Shinzo Abe’s Trust

Being Single is Now a Disability, According to the World Health Organization

Smart people need more time alone

New Urinal Will Both Wash and Dry Genitals

Source Shortname

News Analysis

Status Definitions for Questions of Fact

The “Dangers” of Dripping

Hiring Bias or Bad Interviews?

Three Million Illegal Votes

Trans Population Suicide Rate

Trump’s drug use could explain erratic behavior

Trump’s team is asking for the names of Energy Department employees who worked on climate issues

Trump Mumbai Ad

Trump Opts Out of Private Daily Briefing

Trump Washington Hotel Lease

Who Shot Who at UW?

Nagging Your Daughters to Success?

Atmospheric carbon levels pass the point of no return

The Weather Channel Founder Rejects Global Warming

Smart Wife, Happy Life?

Title (Women vs. Men: Who Needs More Sleep)

European Physics “Journal” and 9/11

14 Signs of Fascism

Title (Change)

Freak storm pushes North Pole 50 degrees above normal to melting point

Ambassador Location

APSA Address Embraces Fascism in 1934

Title: Van Full Of Illegals Shows Up To Vote Clinton At SIX Polling Places, Still Think Voter Fraud Is A Myth?

Why I Use Reverse Image Searches to Teach

People wonder why I do so many reverse image searches as activities. The answer is bit complex, so hang with me a second.

The reason isn’t that reverse image searches are the most important thing or the easiest thing. They’re pretty rare stuff. The reason I use them is they are a powerfully clear example about how finding your way back to a source can clarify the truth of matters. They are an analogue of all the more boring stuff we do on the web, but the skills are the same — look for other sources, use date filters to move back to the original, compare the original with the newer version to see if it has been significantly altered.

When you do an image search you see how the flood of misinformation that somes at you in a search can often be filtered down to a higher quality trickle via smart filtering that gets you closer in time and space to the original source.

It’s also meant to be a bit Foggian (and sorry, I know that Fogg is a divisive figure). But in the spirit of tiny habits, if I can get you to right click on images — muscle memory for the initiated — then maybe I can slow you down enough to get you to do a couple other things.

But enough of that background theory. It’s 4/20 today. So with that in mind, what did this sign really say?


(For the record, we call this a “sign-holding exploitable”.)

Polarization and Expressive Responding

Something I’m fascinated with right now — expressive responding in polls. Consider this chart which recently made the rounds:

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That’s right, after the election, Republican confidence in the economy skyrocketed, from -46 to +27. Meanwhile, Democratic confidence moderately declined. But what does that mean, really? Does that mean that partisan identity is so strong that people literally change their opinion overnight?

The thing is it can’t mean that. Look at that steady level of economic despair among Republicans about the direction of the economy. That -47 score Republicans gave the economy in 2016 is equivalent to the level of confidence in the economy during the Great Recession. That’s really low. That’s world-is-going-to-end-tomorrow low.


A naive reading of this says that for the eight years of the Obama administration Republicans were just as suspicious of the economy’s stability as when the entire economy was on the brink of collapse in 2008/09. They were scared every day that they were going to lose their jobs and the economy was going to collapse around them.

But here’s U. S. car and light truck purchases over the past fifteen years.


From the EIA

As the chart shows, when you’re nervous about the economy, you don’t run out and buy a new car. Even with the Cash for Clunkers program in 2008/09, demand for new cars in those years collapsed. No one buys a car when they think they may be out of a job tomorrow.

As the economy came back, however, demand returned to normal. This was a direct expression of people’s confidence in the economy — their willingness to take out a five year loan to get a new car. We can see the purchase of cars as a proxy for not what people want to express, but what they actually believe.

Fine, that’s just U.S. autos. But you can see proxies of confidence wherever you look. They bottom out during the crash and slowly come back.

So was it just Democrats, with their confidence, buying all these cars and engaging in new mortgages? No, of course not. The truth is the Republicans in the poll are not truly pessimistic, at least not at the level of economic intuition. Rather, they are using the poll to express a feeling about (or prejudice against) the current administration.

How far do people take this? Well consider this: when Trump voters were shown these two pictures of the Trump (photo A) and Obama (photo B) inauguration and asked which picture showed a more people, 15% said photo A had more people.


As the researchers note:

 If there were no political controversy, any respondent who took the time to look at the photographs would see more people in the image on the right than the one on the left.

Clearly, some Trump supporters in our sample decided to use this question to express their support for Trump rather than to answer the survey question factually.

Polls, in other words, might slowly be becoming junk. We don’t actually know how many people believe Obama was a Muslim, or how many people believe the DNC rigged the election. The answer is surely some people believe each thing, but they are lumped together with people who use the question as a general proxy for expressing something else, as a way of advancing what is seen as a team agenda.

One thing to note, this seems to be more prominent on the Republican side (asymmetric, as they say). Aside from the consumer confidence pattern above there’s the Obama bombs Syria/Trump bombs Syria question.  Thirty-eight percent of Democrats supported Obama’s plan to bomb Syria in 2013, and a nearly identical number of Democrats supported Trump’s action. Republicans, however, were lopsided: 22 percent supported Obama’s plan, but over 86 percent supported Donald Trump.

And while race has something to do with that asymmetry, it’s not just race: Republican trust in government, for example, has been mostly dependent on which party controls the presidency, whereas Democratic trust in government has been stable since Carter came into office, with a dip during the years of the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina:

But again, I’m not quite sure how to read this. Is this really the level of trust? Or is it expressive responding? Or are the two things so intertwined it’s hard to tell?

Interestingly, you see that pattern emerge in the Carter administration. and of course the Carter administration is where partisanship begins to take off in the DW-NOMINATE scores as well, which are about voting patterns of legislators (and not generally considered expressive):

I’m aware of the many explanations of the DW-NOMINATE score increases, and also aware this is a big dig into a small signal, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about.

Also, I’m thinking that these poll responses — going back to the 1970s — show a lightweight, non-digital form of participatory propaganda. You get the call from the pollster, and you see this as an opportunity to further the interests of your party by ever-so-slightly affecting the poll results, bringing them in line with the party talking points (the economy is strong, the government is trustworthy, the crowd was huge). It’s like an early form of online reposting, trying to amplify the signal of the message you want to advocate, even if you may have some reservations about the truthfulness of the claims.

UMW Talk, Condensed

My University of Mary Washington talk was exciting because it was new territory, but a tad less concise than I generally like. It was about an hour.

That’s too bad about the length, because the talk was a really great introduction to the subject, and I need an intro I can link to for beginners.

So I cut the text down to 35 minutes, and then I filmed me giving it and put it up on YouTube. Is that weird?

It’s weird, isn’t it? Whatever, I’m weird.

I think it makes an intro into the issue that I might be able to reuse. I also got to use a better balance of examples. Anyway I wanted to thank UMW for having me and supporting this work, both through the invitation and the incredible work their students are doing in this space.

(I suppose I could have just said this is a new presentation, instead of an edit. Would that be less weird?)

It’s still a bit of a long video for use in a class, but who knows, maybe I’ll get it down to 15 minutes in a month or so.

Creating a Wikipedia for Fact-checking

There are many ways in which wiki is the perfect vehicle for a fact-checking site.

  • First, the nature of the wiki consensus helps guarantee a fair treatment of issues from multiple perspectives.
  • Second, the nature of wiki (when a particular scale is met) is that it is quick to respond to new information — much quicker than more institutional processes.
  • Finally, wiki is iterative — which means as new information comes to light, fact-checking articles can be kept up-to-date, even years after the fact.

Unfortunately, there are many ways in which it is not a good fit.

  • First, Wikipedia civility often falls down around contentious issues. In fact-checking, EVERY issue is contentious.
  • Second, Wikipedia is prone to vandalism. It gets corrected quickly, but maybe not enough for a fact-checking site.
  • Third, Wikipedia grew organically over time — culture got set before the stakes were high. Can culture develop when it’s high-stakes from day one?

Do the pros outweigh the cons? I’m not sure. But it seems to me a promising idea worth exploring. We’re trying this idea with student authors across multiple schools at And so far it’s kind of sort of working:


How Wiki for Fact-Checking Is Different than Wikipedia

People will ask (as they always do) “Isn’t Wikipedia a fact-checking site already? What would be the difference?”

The difference is that Wikipedia structures knowledge topically. You can have an article on “Buffalo” or “The Pentagon Papers” or “The 2012 Benghazi Attack”. What you can’t have is a page on a claim, which is how fact-checking sites are structured.

So, for instance, in our student project above, one of the students submitted a claim “Women coders considered better than men, but only if they hide their gender.” That’s a great claim for a fact-checking page, but there is no corollary in Wikipedia.

Our fact-checking wiki has two major parts to every article. The first is the origin of the claim. This claim comes from a headline that references a study that may or may not support that conclusion. But the author does the work of tracking the claim to source.

Here’s an example of what that looks like on another claim about the Fukushima thyroid cancer rate.


Origin and Prevalence demonstrates the claim originated from a video put out by an anti-nuclear advocacy group, called Fairewinds Energy Education, and has been widely covered in both right-wing and left-wing media.

Even if we find a study that does support the headline,  a good article on the claim would place that result in the context of previous and subsequent work, noting the strengths and limits of the study. Does the study confirm previous work, or buck against it? Is it more rigorous than previous work? Less rigorous? Structured somewhat differently? In our wiki we use the Issues and Analysis section to do this:


Screenshot showing the Issues and Analysis section of a DigiPo wiki page on the Fukushima thyroid cancer rate.  A study is found that supports a lesser conclusion, but placed into context of subsequent work it appears that study was flawed.

There are similarities here to Wikipedia, but the focus of the article is to eventually get to that short summary of the truth at the top, not to cover a topic. In this particular article that summary turns out to be

Summary: The larger claims come from a misreading of statistics. Most experts, looking at the same data, believe that Fukushima has had little to no effect on thyroid cancer prevalence.

The rest of the page leads to the creation of that short snippet that an average reader can understand. It’s not about coverage, it’s about analysis. This is a piece of what people do on Wikipedia as they adjudicate the validity of various statements, but here it is the structuring principle.

Now, should this claim be rated “false”? Or is it better termed “Highly Unlikely”? That’s a great dicussion to have. Wouldn’t it be great to work it out through wiki?

Someone Else Should Build This Instead of Me

We are currently running DigiPo on a Dokuwiki install on Reclaim Hosting. It works for what we are doing. And I think it’s an interesting experiment in the use of wiki in education. I plan to support it as long as I can.

But I’m not a great developer or system admin. I’m an instructional designer and a community builder with a theoretical bent.

What I would love to do eventually is partner with someone on the software side, and just push students there to post. In my dreams, someone wants to spin off a specific sort of wiki site, the way that Jimmy Wales took his Wikipedia background and created Wikia around the culture of fandom. I know a fact-checking community is not as hip as the latest pages on Yuri on Ice, but we could give it a try.

If someone has the site, we have the pedagogy, and an army of teachers and students who would just love to engage with a site like this. We can focus on the pedagogy and community-building.

Is anyone out there with the resources to build and promote a major site like this feeling this? Want to talk?

Obamaphones and Misinformation

There are a couple of grafs in a recent NYT article that sum up our current civic information environment. From a story about Trump voters being surprised Trump is cutting their benefits comes this gem:

Moreno was sitting at a table with his boss, Rocky Payton, the factory’s general manager, and Amy Saum, the human resources manager. All said they had voted for Trump, and all were bewildered that he wanted to cut funds that channel people into good manufacturing jobs.

“There’s a lot of wasteful spending, so cut other places,” Moreno said.

Payton suggested that if the government wants to cut budgets, it should target “Obama phones” provided to low-income Americans.

The “Obama Phone” is an old chain email and Facebook legend that has gotten an occasional boost from Fox News. It’s not a myth — there is a kernel of truth to it. Phone companies have since the 1980s charged a fee that subsidizes phone coverage for the poor — typically those at or just above the poverty line. For the past ten years, that has included options to cover a very basic amount of cell phone usage. The idea is that like heat or water, basic phone service is a necessity in the modern world, and should be subsidized. It comes out of a tradition that actually subsidized poor white regions more than anything else.

There’s a few things here to note:

  • The program was established under Ronald Reagan in 1984.
  • It expanded into cell phones under George W. Bush.
  • It benefits all people at or near poverty.
  • No tax dollars are spent on the program.
  • The program does not subsidize the cell phones, it merely offers free basic phone service to poor customers.

As most presidents since Ronald Reagan have understood, modern people need phones — they need them to call 911, schedule meetings with social services, look for work, and keep in touch with caregivers. It was unproblematic for a long while. It was not a partisan issue. We subsidize a lot of things for the poor in this country — heat, electricity, rent. Phones are a piece of that. Have been for 30 years.

And then “Obamaphone” happened. When Obama became president, like so many things the program became racialized through the use of false chain emails. Here’s one picked up by Politifact in 2009, which they rated “mostly false”:

“I had a former employee call me earlier today inquiring about a job, and at the end of the conversation he gave me his phone number,” the e-mail said. “I asked the former employee if this was a new cell phone number and he told me yes this was his ‘Obama phone’… TAX PAYER MONEY IS BEING REDISTRIBUTED TO WELFARE RECIPIENTS FOR FREE CELL PHONES.”

The lifeline program is big — it’s a couple billion dollars overall. Still, it’s not funded by the government, but by that $2.50 cent or so charge you’ve seen on your bill for decades. Run through the misinformation engine of the internet and talk radio, however, it becomes a major reason for the deficit, and creates a script of white victimization even when voters find their own programs cut by the guy for whom they voted. Their perception, egged on by chain email, the Drudge Report, Rush Limbaugh, Facebook, and Fox News commentators is that while workforce development programs for white people are being cut, out-of-work inner city black folks are chatting up their friends on free phones given to them by the government because they are on welfare.

So bizarrely, the cutting of the programs the white working class is receiving just reinforces a sense a white victimization, which strengthens, not weakens, their allegiance to a President Trump.

This may be good politics for the Republicans, but it makes it impossible for anyone (including Republicans) to govern. Why? Because the entire worldview of the voting public rests on lies which strengthen political identity at the expense of keeping voters out of touch with reality. So despite net immigration from Mexico being negative, crime being at historic lows, terrorist violence being a fraction of what it was in the 1970s, voters who follow misinformation on the right live in a different factual universe, immune to reality.

Proposing rational solutions to voter problems in such an environment is as impossible as a modern doctor trying to propose medical solutions to a 16th century patient who believes health is powered by the humors, or psychological solutions to someone who believes that clinical depression is the result of demonic possession. Solutions exist, but to understand and approve them requires the acceptance of a known body of facts. Currently those known facts are so tied up with issues of identity that policy knowledge is close to useless.

And before the left gets too haughty about alternate universes — my sense is in the past couple months the Left is starting to catch up with this alternate-reality building. And as with the Republicans, that might be good politics, but it creates a situation where governing is impossible, because voter perceptions of reality are so warped that their expectations are ridiculous.

I don’t know what the answer to this is. It’s not entirely new — I know that people have believed ridiculous things for a long time (since the beginning of time, really). But the level of belief — the sheer scale and coherence of the alternate world average people are constructing — feels new to me in my lifetime. It’s not just that people believe in the Obamaphone. It’s that 90% of what people believe about politics is Obamaphone-level junk news. I don’t know how you quantify that, but I wish someone would try.